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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Is Corbynism anti-Semitic?

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corbynIs Corbynism anti-Semitic? My answer won’t please many people.

It won’t please those who believe that criticism of Israel, and especially questioning Israel’s ‘right to exist’, is inherently anti-Semitic.

I think it’s important to recognise that Israel has existed for seven decades, and that therefore several generations of Israeli Jews exist. These people are no longer Poles, Germans, Russians or Iraqis. They are Israelis, and they have no other home than Israel. Any solution which involves driving them out is no solution. (But this is a straw man; a large majority of Palestinians recognise that Jews are staying in Israel – and even if they didn’t recognise it, they are in no position to drive the Jews out. What Palestinians are struggling for is either a small state of their own next to Israel, or equal rights within Israel-Palestine.)

But I don’t believe it is inherently anti-Semitic to question Israel’s right to exist. I don’t believe any state has an inherent ‘right to exist’. I believe rights belong to human beings, not to states. Anarchists, for instance, question (or simply oppose) the existence of all states without exception. I certainly question the existence of Israel as a ‘Jewish’ state, just as I question the existence of Syria as an ‘Arab’ republic, and of Iran as an ‘Islamic’ republic. If we must have states, I think they should belong to everyone who lives within them, not only to members of a particular religion, ethnicity or ideology. Israel is particularly open to criticism because it was founded less than a century ago on a massive ethnic cleansing, and because, under its apartheid-like dispensation, roughly half of its subjects are disenfranchised in some way or other.

So that alienates the Zionists. But my answer will also upset Corbynites, because it’s clear to me that Corbynism is indeed anti-Semitic. This is because Corbynism substitutes demonology for analysis; that is, it sees the world in terms of goody and baddy states. The USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia are baddies, and Iran and Russia are goodies. Once such a simplistic schema is operational, it becomes very easy to overgeneralise, and thus to erase reality. In this way the predominantly working-class revolution against fascism in Syria, a movement for democracy and social justice, was understood simply as a US-Zionist-Saudi plot against a glorious resistance regime. Syrian revolutionaries were cast as, at best, innocent children manipulated by the devilish white man, or, at worst, savage jihadist barbarians. This is how leftism (or at least the parody version which we see in the 21st Century) unconsciously applies racism in order to serve fascism and (Russian and Iranian) imperialism.

After giving talks about Syria, I and my co-author have often been approached (in ‘left-wing’ spaces) by people asking why, for instance, we didn’t talk about the Rothschilds. Why should we have? we asked in return. Because Assad was ‘attacked by the West’ because he ‘refused to buckle to the Rothschild banking system’. Where do you begin with this? Assad wasn’t attacked by the West. Assad practices neo-liberal economics and welcomes investment from global corporations. And the global banking system is a lot bigger and more complex than the Rothschild family.

More ‘leftist’ questions focused on the supposedly obvious truth that Israel invented ISIS (or perhaps it was Saudi Arabia, or the US, or all three in concert). Or they focused on the Project for a New American Century – as if a paper written years ago by Jewish Americans bears more weight than the unbearable oppression of the Assad regime and the thoughts and actions of millions of Syrians. What Jews think, it seems, becomes part of the inalterable fabric of the cosmos, but whatever Arabs think and do is irrelevant. Such overgeneralisation, again, substitutes lazy and racist grand narratives for facts and analysis, and this practice is at the heart of Corbynism – a parody dressed in the corpse of leftism which is in fact a form of right-wing populism.

Corbyn saying the ‘hand of Israel’ is behind jihadist terror attacks in Egypt is an example of him ignoring reality in order to confirm his demonology. The story he feels comfortable with is more important to him than actual facts. The Islington mural that Corbyn praised, of big-nosed Jewish bankers sitting on the backs of the oppressed, looks like something from a Nazi newspaper. Capitalism is a complex and constantly shifting system, not a conspiracy by one ethnic group. If ‘socialism’ were ever to be relevant again, it would need to address the complexities of 21st Century capitalism, and not slide immediately into conspiracy theories.

It’s good that people become enraged when Israel kills, imprisons and besieges Palestinians. They should be enraged. But when those same people ignore or make excuses for Assad killing, imprisoning, torturing and besieging Palestinians, it becomes clear that they aren’t actually interested in Palestinians, and certainly not in human rights.

Syrians like Palestinians are (mainly) Levantine Arabs. More or less the same people, all inhabitants of bilad ash-sham. If you are upset by the treatment of Palestinians in Israel, but care nothing for the mass expulsion of millions of Syrians, and the murder, torture and rape of hundreds of thousands, then you are someone who is more attached to your convenient fiction than you are to humanity or truth. As such you are a perfect subject of fascism.

We live in an age of parodies. Leftism meant something in the 19th Century, was chained to authoritarianism in the 20th, and is no more than a pose today. The same can be said of ‘liberalism’, ‘conservatism’, and ‘jihadism’ (see AbdulQader al-Jazairi and Imam Shamil for when ‘jihadism’ was a term with an actual referent).

(To be fair, there is still a tiny minority of leftists who are not parodic. But I question the usefulness of the term ‘left’ today. On a recent visit to Madrid I met a Syrian revolutionary activist who receives slander and threats of violence from ‘communists’ but enjoys warm and intelligent solidarity from a group of ‘humanist liberationist socialists’. These two groups are surely opposites, not part of the same movement. The ‘left’ term which seeks to cover both is surely delusionary.)

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 4, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Posted in leftism

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