Blaming the Victims of Racism & Exonerating their Perpetrators – The Upside Down World of David Renton
Blaming the Victims of Racism & Exonerating their Perpetrators – The Upside Down World of David Renton
I have emailed David Renton, challenging him to debate the conclusions in his book, but for some reason he hasn’t responded! You could try reminding him on [email protected] or [email protected] please be polite.
Blaming the Victims of Racism & Exonerating their Perpetrators
The Upside Down World of David Renton
Labour’s Anti-Semitism Crisis
What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It
Routledge, Oxon, 2022
It is an iron rule which allows few exceptions, that those who leave the SWP drift to the right. Dave Renton is no exception.
Renton joined the SWP in 1991, leaving in 2003 only to rejoin in 2008. In 2013 he left the SWP because of the rape scandal.[i]
The details of this scandal are well known. A woman who alleged that she had been raped appeared before the SWP’s Disputes Committee, which consisted of friends of the alleged rapist, National Secretary Martin Smith. Smith was cleared of all the allegations. Instead, it was the victim who was pilloried and questioned about her sexual history and drinking habits. A second woman who supported her was harassed and suspended. The victim herself wasn’t even allowed to attend the conference called to discuss the matter.
Dave Renton has written movingly of his experiences in the SWP and about what happened in 2012/13.[ii] Together with others, he formed RS21.
Renton’s book makes it clear, though, that he has abandoned any form of Marxist or class politics in favour of a subjective identity politics which divorces the politics of race from class.
Renton, as his Wiki[iii] biography makes clear, was a prolific author of books on anti-fascism, racism and Marxism. He wasn’t a run of the mill member of the SWP whose political consciousness is low and confined to sloganeering activism. Possibly his weak point was an understanding of imperialism but the question I ask myself is how can he have been so comprehensively fooled by the false and confected ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign into believing that anti-Semitism was a genuine problem in the Labour Party?
How can Renton have got into bed with Stephen Pollard, the foul neo-liberal editor of the Jewish Chronicle who was a founder member of the Henry Jackson Society? This society’s membership includes Douglas Murray and others who support White Replacement Theory. It is genuinely and overtly racist, representing the far Right of the British Establishment – people like Islamaphobe Baroness Cox.
Does Renton really believe that someone like Pollard is genuinely interested in fighting anti-Semitism as opposed to tarring anti-racists with that brush? Renton’s Damascene conversion to the Right (because that is what it is) is a mystery. In the absence of a cogent explanation I can only explain it as being a return to his class origins.
By his own admission, Renton’s political sympathies during the anti-Semitism witchhunt were with Jon Lansman, a figure who, more than any other, bears responsibility for the defeat of the Corbyn project.
Not once does Renton entertain the idea that Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ crisis might have been manufactured, confected and weaponised in order to remove Corbyn, despite the evidence. Instead he writes that
‘Part of the reason why so few people come out well from Labour’s antisemitism crisis is that we were dealing with the revival a form of racism in relation to which many people had forgotten how to act.’
The whole of the British and US military and political establishment was united in wanting to see an end to Corbyn. For example, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was recorded as saying:
“It could be that Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected. It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.” [iv]
Israeli involvement in Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations was copiously documented in the Al Jazeera documentary, ‘The Lobby’.[v]
The weaponisation of ‘anti-Semitism’ had first been tried out against the Sandinistas and then against Hugo Chavez.[vi] The advantages of such a tactic are obvious. It gave the racist right-wing of the Labour Party and the political establishment the moral high ground. They weren’t attacking Corbyn for his opposition to NATO or austerity. Good gracious no. They were opposing anti-Semitism!
You had the absurdity of Thatcherite journalist Andrew Neil asking Corbyn whether he would apologise for Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ at the last general election. This was the same Andrew Neil who, as editor of the Sunday Times, employed holocaust denier David Irving to translate the Goebbel’s Diaries as well as employing an overt anti-Semite, ‘Taki’, a supporter of the Greek Golden Dawn neo-nazi party, as a columnist on the Spectator.
One of the ironies of Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ crisis was that even the worst racists could become opponents of ‘anti-Semitism’ simply by declaring their support for Zionism and Israel. Not once did Renton explain how papers like the Daily Mail could oppose ‘anti-Semitism’ while simultaneously employing the neo-Nazi political commentator Katie Hopkins as a columnist.[vii]
If Renton had any claim to being a socialist, let alone a Marxist, then surely he would have considered the fact that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Britain’s second major party, in the United States’ closest European ally must have set off alarm bells both in Langley Virginia (CIA HQ)and Tel Aviv. Was Renton unaware of the US’s political record in Latin America and Asia? Had he not read Phil Agee’s Inside the Company?[viii]
According to Renton, Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ spontaneously broke out just as Corbyn was elected leader. It seems as if Renton believes that anti-Semitism is inherent in anti-capitalism.
Throughout the ‘anti-Semitism’ affair, over two-thirds of Labour members, including Jewish members, rejected the false ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations. Their everyday experience in Labour was of a complete absence of anti-Semitism.[ix] Jews had always made up a disproportionate number of its activists. Renton disregards the views of these members with all the contempt an Old Etonian can muster.
The book itself is error-strewn. Renton says that the ‘first sustained attempt’ to accuse Corbyn’s Labour of anti-Semitism occurred in April 2016. He omits the affair of Oxford University Labour Club, when the Chair, Alex Chalmers – a former intern for Israeli lobby group BICOM – accused fellow members of anti-Semitism on the basis that they had supported Israel Apartheid week.
The first sign that ‘anti-Semitism’ was being weaponised was in August 2015, even before Corbyn was elected, when the Mail accused Corbyn of associating with a holocaust denier Paul Eisen.[x] It progressed from there to attacks on, first, Gerald Kaufman MP and then Vicki Kirby. Renton’s book is marred by sloppy research.[xi]
Renton describes Ruth Smeeth as storming out of the Chakrabarti press conference ‘in tears’, repeating the lies of the yellow press.[xii]A cursory examination of the video shows that there were no tears. ‘How dare you’ Smeeth cried as if she had been upbraided by her Black slave and was leaving to fetch the whip. Smeeth later claimed that she had been sent 25,000 hostile messages. This was a lie. The main recipient of abuse was Dianne Abbot, not Smeeth.[xiii]
Renton has a whole chapter on the ‘bullying’ of Luciana Berger. He doesn’t mention that she was a former Director of Labour Friends of Israel nor that Smeeth had worked for BICOM before entering parliament. For Renton, the Israel connection is irrelevant.
Berger is portrayed as the victim of vicious anti-Semitism. It is true that four fascists were convicted and gaoled for sending her hate mail but no one on the left, least of all in the Labour Party, was convicted or accused of anti-Semitism against her. Berger had a long record, dating back to her days on the National Union of Students Executive, of making false accusations of anti-Semitism.
Berger had been parachuted into the Liverpool Wavertree seat by Blair. She had no connection with Liverpool. Yet what was Renton’s take? ‘The clash between Wavertree CLP and Luciana Berger weakened the left and diminished our moral standing.’
But it is Renton’s treatment of the most prominent victims of the ‘anti-Semitism’ purge – figures such as Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson and myself – that demonstrates his Zionist sympathies.
Renton’s way of dealing with my own expulsion is to avoid mentioning it! It is as if the case of the first Jewish anti-Zionist to be expelled from the Labour Party was too difficult for him to handle!
Renton’s treatment of Jackie Walker is racist. Not once does he ask why one of the few Black Jewish women in the Labour Party should have been targeted by the Jewish Labour Movement. He mentions some of the vile racist abuse she received but never once considers Jackie a victim, still less asks why those purportedly opposed to ‘anti-Semitism’ should engage in racist abuse far worse than anything Berger experienced.
Not once does Renton describe the circumstances in which a private Facebook conversation was broken into by the Israeli Advocacy Movement, a far-Right Zionist group. All of us during private conversations may omit the odd word. On the basis of one missing word, that Jews were among the chief slave owners, Jackie was pilloried for months. Even when she was reinstated, the JLM continued their racist campaign.
When John McDonnell spoke with Jackie at an LRC fringe meeting at the TUC Conference, the JLM removed him as a speaker from their meeting. Two weeks before the 2016 Labour conference, it was clear that the JLM were gunning for Jackie.[xiv]
In another error, Renton says that Momentum immediately removed Jackie as Vice-Chair. Not so. When Jackie was suspended in May 2016, not only Momentum but even Owen Jonessupported her. It was only following that year’s Labour Party conference, months later that Lansman and his cronies removed Jackie as Vice Chair.
On Wadsworth, Renton has less to say but he still blames a long-standing Black anti-racist who had played a key role in the Stephen Lawrence campaign, introducing his parents to Nelson Mandela. Renton sides instead with a supporter of Apartheid. Wadsworth didn’t even know that Smeeth was Jewish, yet Renton quotes uncritically Smeeth’s attack on Marc for ‘invoking antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish conspiracy’ and then says that he ‘should not have used an event intended to prove Labour’s commitment to fighting antisemitism to attack a Jewish MP.’ The Chakrabarti Report was about racism in the Labour Party, not just about anti-Semitism. One more error.
It is over Ken Livingstone and his comment that Hitler supported Zionism that Renton excels himself. Renton asserts that the purpose of Ha’avara, the trade agreement between the Nazis and the Zionists, was to save Germany’s Jews rather than their wealth. Contrary to Renton’s assertion, people who had capital of £1,000 at their disposal (£50,000 today) would have had no difficulty in finding refuge. To poor and working class Jews, Ha’avara was a disaster because it relaxed the pressure on Nazi Germany to stop the violence.
Renton says that the agreement was ‘condemned by both left- wing (Socialist) Zionists and right- wing (Revisionist) Zionists’. Wrong again. It was the ‘left-wing’ Zionists who negotiated Ha’avara. It was the ‘right-wing’ Zionists who opposed it.
In 1933, very few, least of all the Zionists, thought that Nazism would lead to a holocaust. The idea that the Zionists main motivation was to rescue Jews is absurd. Even when Jews were in mortal danger, Zionism opposed rescue to any country bar Palestine.
Werner Senator of the Jewish Agency Executive warned that if the German Zionists ‘did not improve the quality of the “human material” they were sending, the number of immigration certificates would be cut.[xv] Candidates above the age of 35 would receive certificates ‘only if there is no reason to believe that they might become a burden.’[xvi] German Jews who entered “merely as refugees” were considered ‘undesirable human material’.[xvii]
The point that Renton misses is that Ha’avara was agreed to by the Nazis as a way of destroying the international Jewish and anti-fascist boycott of Germany which was aimed at toppling the Hitler regime.
As the Investor’s Review reported, ‘authoritative opinion is that Hitlerism will come to a sanguinary end before the New Year.’[xviii] David Cesarani suggested that those who doubted the viability of the regime ‘were not engaged in wishful thinking’; the Nazi regime, he said, was beset by enemies coupled with a chronic balance of payments deficit.[xix]
Edwin Black, another Zionist historian, wrote that Ha’avara was ‘a reprieve for the Third Reich, a let-up in the anti-German offensive… (it) could not have come at a more decisive moment.’ [xx] Far from rescuing German Jews, Ha’avara condemned them to Auschwitz.
Baruch Vladeck, the Bundist editor of the Yiddish Forward and Chairman of the Jewish Labor Committee, described how
‘The whole organized labor movement and the progressive world are waging a fight against Hitler through the boycott. The Transfer Agreement scabs on that fight.’
Vladeck contended that ‘The main purpose of the Transfer is not to rescue the Jews from Germany but to strengthen various institutions in Palestine.’ He termed Palestine ‘the official scab agent against the boycott in the Near-East’.[xxi]
It was the Zionist Executive itself that declared that Ha’avara was ‘the sole way of bringing into Palestine the maximum amount of German Jewish capital.’[xxii] It was Zionist activists who spoke of ‘saving the wealth’ and ‘rescuing the capital from Nazi Germany.’ [xxiii]
When Karl Sabbagh suggested that the Zionists were concerned, not with saving Jewish lives but Jewish wealth, Renton accused him of ‘falling into old ideas of Jewish perfidy.’ This shows the depths that Renton has plumbed in his attempt to defend Zionism.
In another error, Renton writes that ‘the pact saved 53,000 lives.’ In fact Ha’avara saved 20,000 German Jews, most of whom would have found refuge elsewhere. Most German Jews came to Palestine on ordinary immigration certificates.
According to Renton, Livingstone was ‘finding excuses to blame the victims.’ He was suggesting that Jews had contributed to the holocaust and that Jews were in fact among the perpetrators of genocide. In other words, by treating Zionism as a political movement that collaborated with the Nazis, Livingstone was accusing Jews of engineering the holocaust.
Using Renton’s ‘logic’, if you criticise Quisling or Petain then you are blaming the Norwegians or the French for the Nazi occupation of their countries. It is not only politically dishonest but anti-Semitic. It blames all Jews for the actions of the Zionists.
The German Zionists at the time represented no more than two percent of German Jews. Jews in Weimar Germany referred to the Zionists as ‘volkish Jews.’[xxiv] The Nazis singled out the German Zionists for favourable treatment. In 1919 Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi’s main theoretician, who was hanged at Nuremburg, had written:
‘Zionism must be vigorously supported in order to encourage a significant number of German Jews to leave for Palestine or other destinations.’[xxv]
Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a leader of the German Zionist Federation, admitted that:
“It was morally disturbing to seem to be considered as the favoured children of the Nazi Government, particularly when it dissolved the anti-Zionist youth groups, and seemed in other ways to prefer the Zionists. The Nazis asked for a ‘more Zionist behaviour.’”[xxvi]
Zionism has always sought an end to the Jewish diaspora, not its perpetuation. The German Zionist Federation [ZVfD] asserted that the Jews were a separate nation, which was exactly what the Nazis themselves said.
Kurt Blumenfeld, the ZVfD Secretary, stated in a letter to Walter Rathenau, the German foreign minister who was assassinated in 1922, that: ‘Under no circumstance does a Jew have the right to represent the affairs of another people.’[xxvii]
Donald Niewyk asked whether Zionist assertions of ‘racial and national otherness’ might ‘hasten the day when the Nazis might seek to make Germany judenrein?’[xxviii] The historian Rabbi Jacob Bernard Agus asked if
‘the Zionist programme and philosophy contribute(d) decisively to the enormous catastrophe of the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis by popularizing the notion that the Jews were forever aliens in Europe?’[xxix]
Zionist historians Lucy Dawidowicz and Francis Nicosia described how, in May 1935 Schwarze Korps, newspaper of the SS, wrote that
‘the Zionists adhere to a strict racial position and by emigrating to Palestine they are helping to build their own Jewish state…. The assimilation-minded Jews deny their race and insist on their loyalty to Germany or claim to be Christians because they have been baptised in order to subvert National Socialist principles.’[xxx]
Non-Zionist youth organisations were banned from 1936, whereas Zionist youth groups remained legal up until 1939.[xxxi]
The Zionist leadership welcomed Hitler to power. They saw the rise of Hitler as a golden opportunity.[xxxii] Francis Nicosia spoke of the ‘illusory assumption’ that Zionism ‘must have been well served by a Nazi victory’. Hitler’s victory ‘could only bolster Zionist fortunes.’ [xxxiii]
“So positive was its assessment of the situation that, as early as April 1933, the ZVfD announced its determination to take advantage of the crisis to win over the traditionally assimilationist German Jewry.” [xxxiv]
The Zionist leadership in Palestine was positively enthusiastic. Berl Katznelson, David Ben Gurion’s effective deputy, saw the rise of Hitler as “an opportunity to build and flourish like none we have ever had or ever will have”. [xxxv] Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, was even more enthusiastic: ‘The Nazis’ victory would become “a fertile force for Zionism.”’[xxxvi]
Ben Gurion’s official biographer, Shabtai Teveth wrote that
Etan Bloom quoted Emil Ludwig (1881-1948), the famous biographer, as saying that:
‘Hitler will be forgotten in a few years, but he will have a beautiful monument in Palestine. You know, the coming of the Nazis was rather a welcome thing. … Thousands who seemed to be completely lost to Judaism were brought back to the fold by Hitler, and for that I am personally very grateful to him.’ [xxxvii]
The Zionist national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik volunteered that ‘Hitler has perhaps saved German Jewry, which was being assimilated into annihilation.’[xxxviii] This was somewhat ironic given what happened.
Today, when neo-Nazis and fascists praise the Israeli state for its hostility to Muslims – and when Israel supplies the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion in Ukraine with weaponry – Renton has become yet another apologist for Zionism’s far-Right alliances. Geert Wilders, the leader of the fascist Dutch Freedom Party, explained why Israel is seen as a model ethno-nationalist state by the far right:
‘If Jerusalem falls into the hands of the Muslims, Athens and Rome will be next.’[xxxix]
In discussing Chris Williamson’s suspension, Renton excels himself. He writes:
‘At its heart were complaints that he had used his social media account to promote the standing of other people who had been accused of antisemitism.’
This is mendacious. What led to the suspension of Chris was the deliberate distortion of a speech he made to Sheffield Momentum, portraying it as its exact opposite. In the words of the Independent: Chris Williamson: Labour MP filmed telling activists party is too ‘apologetic’ about antisemitism.[xl] What were Chris’s actual words?
‘We are not a racist party, are we? We’re not an anti-Semitic party. We are the party that stood up to racism throughout our entire history… It was Labour that was the backbone of the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s when we confronted the anti-Semites, the racists, the Islamaphobes on the streets … And now we – Jeremy, me and others – are being accused of being bigots, of being anti-Semites. And it’s almost as we’re living within the pages of Orwell’s 1984. You know the Party that’s done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party.
And I’ve got to say I think our Party’s response has been partly responsible for that. Because in my opinion…– we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic. What have we got to apologise for? For being an anti-racist party? And we’ve done more to actually address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any other political party. And yet we are being traduced.’
It is quite clear that Chris was not saying that the Labour Party had been too apologetic about anti-Semitism but too weak in standing up to the false accusations of anti-Semitism. The bourgeois media stitched Chris up and Dave Renton, the ex-revolutionary is happy to go along with it. So obvious is it that Chris was stitched up that Renton does not even mentionthe Sheffield speech.
The most dishonest part of this book relates to Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon is a former Israeli who became a supporter of the Palestinians. He is also an anti-Semite who internalised Zionism’s Jewish self-hatred and saw in Israel the actions of a Jewish state as opposed to a settler colonial one. Atzmon is also a world famous jazz musician.
In 2005, I organised a Jews Against Zionism picket of Bookmarks, the SWP bookshop, in protest at Atzmon speaking there.[xli] It took until 2012 for Palestine Solidarity Campaign to take the issue of anti-Semitism seriously enough to expel an Atzmon supporter and holocaust denier at my behest.
For seven years, I led the campaign against Atzmon alongside many of those whom Renton criticises in Jewish Voice for Labour. Renton doesn’t mention this but cites, in a footnote, my article in The Guardian of 19 February 2007, ‘The Seamy Side of Solidarity.’ Renton omits the fact that from 2004 until 2011, the SWP, of which he was a member, hosted Atzmon at its events. The SWP defended Atzmon in a statement of 21 June 2005 which is here.[xlii] There is also a useful timeline of the SWP’s relationship with Atzmon.[xliii]
What is curious is that despite the fact that the SWP were still promoting Atzmon, Renton had no problems rejoining the SWP!And for three long years he kept his mouth shut about the SWP’s association with an open anti-Semite. This suggests that Renton’s interest in fighting anti-Semitism is of recent origin and has more to do with his redefinition of anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism.
Renton attacks Chris Williamson for having tweeted support for a petition complaining that Atzmon had been prevented from playing jazz on Islington Council premises. This is dishonest. Having never previously heard of Atzmon, Chris immediately deleted the tweet and apologised.
In my view, his apology was completely unnecessary. I both signed the petition and attended Atzmon’s gig in Brighton. Let me explain. For the seven years that we campaigned against Atzmon, we made it clear that we were not trying to stop Atzmon’s gigs. We had no argument with his music. Jazz was detested by the Nazis as ‘nigger music’ and they fought an ongoing campaign against anti-fascist German youth, like the Edelweiss Pirates, who used jazz and swing music as part of an anti-Nazi subculture.[xlvi]Momentum and the JLM behaved like fascists in pressurising venues to cancel Atzmon’s gigs.
Renton deals abysmally with the long-erased mural by Mear One that was resurrected in 2018 by Luciana Berger. He writes that
‘The most important step in the re-emergence of Labour antisemitism crisis was the re-discovery that, several years before, Corbyn had supported an artist Mear One (Kalen Ockerman) after his mural was effaced for its antisemitic associations.’
This mural was not an innocent discovery. It had been held in reserve in order to attack Corbyn and the Labour Party at an opportune moment.
People have different views as to whether or not the mural was anti-Semitic. It wasn’t obvious to me and nor was it obvious to the Jewish Chronicle in 2015, when it referred to the mural as ‘having anti-Semitic undertones’, a view which it ascribed to others.[xlvii] When the pro-Zionist Harry’s Place ran an article about the mural, David Toube wrote:
‘I’ve seen the mural, in person. It is clearly a conspiracist work…. But were the men with beards supposed to be Jews? Well, possibly – but I’ve seen more obvious stereotypes of Jews deployed in antisemitic art.’[xlviii]
Despite subsequent emphasis on the six bankers’ noses, only two of whom were Jewish, Toube emphasised their beards not their noses. Yet Renton saw the mural as representing the archetypal Jewish financier.
The central fault with Renton’s book is an almost total inability to understand the relationship between race and class. Renton uses the terms ‘prejudice’ and ‘racism’ interchangeably yet they are not the same. Jews in Britain today do not experience structural and institutional racism deriving from the state. What they experience, to some degree, is prejudice based on the past. It is Blacks and Muslims who experience the full force of state and fascist racism and violence.
Renton treats Jews as if they were same people who launched the Great Tailor’s Strike of 1912 and who stopped Oswald Moseley at the Battle of Cable Street in October 1936. The fact is that British Jews have changed enormously since the 1940s. That is highly relevant to their understanding of what they see as anti-Semitism.
In 1945, Phil Piratin was elected as a Communist MP in the Mile End constituency. Half his votes came from Jews. In 2015, under Labour’s first Jewish leader, Jews voted by 69% to 22% for the Tories.[xlix]
Renton speaks with derision about those who posit that Jewish support for Zionism is explained by ‘sociological theories’ (“Jews are all rich, or middle- class… Such theories say little about Jews and more about their speakers”).
Renton tries to caricature any materialist analysis. Nonetheless, it is a fact that Jews have become the most privileged section of the White population. It is this that has led to their move to the right politically. This was symbolized for me by the closure of Blooms restaurant in 1996 in Whitechapel. Blooms had been at the centre of East End Jewish life. It closed because the Jews had moved to the suburbs to be replaced by Bengali immigrants.[l]
William Rubinstein, former President of the Jewish Historical Society, wrote about
‘the rise of Western Jewry to unparalleled affluence and high status (which) has led to the near-disappearance of a Jewish proletariat of any size; indeed, the Jews may become the first ethnic group in history without a working class of any size.’ [li]
Rubinstein concluded that British Jews ‘arearguably more bourgeois now than at any time since the mid-nineteenth century.’ Geoffrey Alderman, the historian of the Jewish community, wrote that by 1961,
‘over 40 percent of Anglo-Jewry was located in the upper two social classes, whereas these categories accounted for less than 20 percent of the general population.’[lii]
By Renton’s logic, Alderman and Rubinstein must be anti-Semitic!
Renton repeatedly demonstrates his ignorance of Zionism as a political movement and ideology. He writes that it was the Dreyfus Affair ‘which caused Theodor Herzl to write The Jewish State and launch the Zionist movement.’ If Renton had read the pamphlet then he would know that there isn’t one single mention of Dreyfus in it. In Herzl’s four-volume Diaries, Dreyfus is only mentioned in passing. The conclusion that Herzl drew from the Affair was that:
‘In Paris… I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to “combat” anti-Semitism.’[liii]
As Jacques Kornberg, another Zionist historian, wrote:
‘The dramatic and engaging notion that Herzl “converted” to Zionism in the wake of the Dreyfus trial is unacceptable.’[liv]
Herzl’s claim was self-serving and only made in 1899, by which time even the army had accepted that Dreyfus was innocent.
Renton questions whether ‘there is a thing “Zionism” which is the same in 2016 as it was in August 1933.’ Elsewhere he writes that
‘Undoubtedly, Israel has changed. The country’s politics are different: with the left in every government until 1977, and the right almost as consistently afterwards.’
Renton clearly has no understanding of what Zionism is. The differences between ‘left’ and ‘right’ Zionism have always been tactical. It was the ‘left’ Zionists of Mapai and Mapam who carried out the Naqba, who placed Israel’s Arabs under military rule for the first 18 years and who began the process of settlement in the Occupied Territories. There is nothing that Likud has done that the Israeli Labor Party hasn’t done. Ariel Sharon, the butcher of Sabra and Chatilla, came from the Labour Zionist movement. Perhaps it has escaped Renton’s notice that today’s far-Right Israeli government contains both the ILP and Meretz (formerly Mapam).
Because Renton refuses to accept that the ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ was confected he finds it difficult to understand why it is that the same people who were campaigning against ‘Labour anti-Semitism’ were at one and the same time tolerant of genuine anti-Semitism.
Renton writes that when the fascist philosopher Roger Scruton defended the anti-Semitic attack by Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister on George Soros,
‘Scruton was rescued from the taint of antisemitism by the Jewish Chronicle’s Stephen Pollard, who accused his critics of having “outrageous[ly] distort[ed]” Scruton’s words.’
Renton should not have been surprised. When, in 2009, the Tories were criticised for entering a coalition with fascists and anti-Semites in the European parliament and for the invitation by Conservative Friends of Israel to Michal Kaminski, the anti-Semitic leader of Poland’s Law and Justice Party, it was Pollard who defended him on the grounds that he was a strong supporter of Israel.[lv]
It is on record that a large number of ex-UKIP members joined the BNP. When Nigel Farage (who has also indulged in anti-Semitic attacks on Soros) was invited to speak to a Jewish Chronicle gathering, Renton notes that Pollard failed to ask Farage why this was so, confining himself to the observation that ‘The question was not asked and could not have been, not when Farage’s talk had been billed as a meeting of friends.’ Renton is incapable of asking how it is that Pollard, who drove the false ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign, was friends with a virulent racist and anti-Semite.
Another example of this failure to understand that Zionism has never had a problem with genuine anti-Semites was how he treated Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and his attitude to Donald Trump. Renton described Mirvis’s intervention just before the 2019 election when he advocated a vote for the Tories as ‘shocking’. Renton writes that:
the Chief Rabbi was unable to say clearly even what he had acknowledged a year before: that Trump was a racist. He began from a weaker position than he had in 2016, and he went further than he had on that occasion in seeking to excuse and justify the behaviour which he was also criticising.’
Mirvis wasn’t the only one. Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, had positively welcomed Trump to power.[lvi] As did the leader of the ILP and now Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog:
“Warm congratulations to the president of the most powerful nation in the world: Donald J Trump!” [lvii]
This is the same Arkush who, when he heard that Corbyn had spent Passover with Jewdas, a leftish Jewish group, described them as a ‘source of virulent anti-Semitism’. Given that Arkush had accused Corbyn of anti-Semitism, anyone with a socialist bone in their body might have drawn the appropriate conclusions.
Another anti-Semite that Pollard excused was Jacob Rees-Mogg who had tweeted in support of Alice Weidel, the leader of Germany’s neo-Nazi AfD. Mogg had attacked two fellow Jewish Tories, Sir Oliver Letwin and John Bercow as “Illuminati who are taking the powers to themselves.” Yetthe Jewish Chronicle said nothing. Michael Berkowitz, Professor of Modern Jewish History at UCL wrote:
‘With his nod to “Illuminati” – pointed at Letwin and Bercow – Rees-Mogg is knowingly trafficking in the portrayal of Jews as underhanded and sinister. … he has exhumed, embellished, and rebroadcast one of the most poisonous antisemitic canards in all of history.’
Yet what was Renton’s comment on these double standards? Did he question the concern with supposed ‘left’ anti-Semitism coupled with indifference to genuine anti-Semitism? Not a bit of it. Renton writes that:
‘Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, a journalist who is cited several times in this book for the care he took to expose left-wing antisemitism, ran to Rees-Mogg’s defence. “It is not antisemitic to mention the name of a Jew”’.
The Jewish Chronicle has been the subject of numerous successful complaints to IPSOS and has been the subject of four successful libel actions.[lviii] The JC is little more than a propaganda rag, yet Renton praises the ‘care he took to expose left-wing anti-Semitism’. Unbelievable.
What Renton does not understand is that the Zionist movement has never opposed anti-Semitism. As Herzl explained in his Diaries,
‘the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.’[lix]
Renton also attacks Jewish Voice for Labour:
‘The problem in leaning on JVL to provide an objective view of the crisis was that no matter how bad the allegations were, it always found a way to excuse those who were criticised: each of Walker, Williamson, and Livingstone was defended by JVL.’
Renton accuses Glynn Secker of JVL of supporting a ‘conspiracy theory’ for tweeting that Israel had purchased oil from ISIS. Rubbish. Israel’s Military Intelligence Chief, General Herzi Halevy, said exactly that.[lx] Israel admitted arming al-Nusra (Al Quada) in Syria and other jihadi groups.[lxi] Assad was the main enemy of Israel. Turkey, too, was heavily involved in ISIS’s oil trade. Renton has conspiracy theories on the brain.
What Renton won’t face is that there never was a problem of Labour anti-Semitism. Of course in a party of 600,000 there will be a few anti-Semites. Labour no doubt has a few paedophiles but does that mean there is a paedophile problem?
It is the Labour Right that has always been the well-spring of anti-Semitism. Wartime Home Secretary Herbert Morrison kept out thousands of Jewish refugees trying to escape from Nazi occupied Europe. Poale Zion said nothing because the Zionists, too, were opposed to letting in Jewish refugees.
In October 1942, Morrison received a delegation of eminent public figures asking for visas for 2,000 Jewish children and elderly in Vichy France. Morrison refused. Anti-Semitism ‘was just under the pavement.’ A month later, the Nazis overran Vichy France and these Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Like the Zionists, Morrison was said to doubt that there was a holocaust.[lxii]
Morrison was only following Zionist policy, which was that Jewish refugees must go to Palestine or nowhere. And if they couldn’t, then they could not be helped. The Zionists were fiercely opposed to the kindertransport, the decision to admit 10,000 Jewish children to Britain after Kristalnacht. Fortunately the BOD in 1938/9 was still controlled by anti-Zionists. Ben Gurion in a speech of 9 December 1938 explained:
The culmination of the fake anti-Semitism campaign was the complaint to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Renton fails to critique the EHRC and their motives for opening an investigation. How come a body that ignored Islamaphobia in the Tory Party, which had done nothing about the Windrush Scandal and whose first chair was the Islamaphobe Trevor Philips, was so concerned about Labour ‘anti-Semitism’?
This was clearly an intervention in internal Labour Party affairs by the state. The EHRC is not an anti-racist body. Its treatment of its Black staff demonstrates that it is riddled by racism.[lxiv] Renton, however, ignores this. His criticism of the EHRC was entirely different. The problem in his view was that ‘The EHRC report did little to convey the extent of antisemitism within the Labour Party.’ In other words, the EHRC findings should have been more damning! Renton even fails to mention that the Commissioner who produced the EHRC Report, Alasdair Henderson, tweeted in support of Roger Scruton and attacked the use of the term ‘misogyny’. Henderson is clearly of the far-right.[lxv]
Particularly disgusting is Renton’s attack on Raed Salah, a Palestinian leader from Israel’s outlawed Northern Islamic movement. Salah has been subject to horrific persecution by Israel including being framed on charges of racism. In Israel, only Arabs ever get charged with racism. Salah was issued with a banning order by Theresa May in 2011. He was nonetheless admitted in error to Britain before being arrested by the police. However, at the Upper Immigration Tribunal he succeeded in overturning his deportation order. The charge of anti-Semitism against him rested on a doctored version of a poem that the Community Security Trust had given to the Home Office.[lxvi]
Renton says that the Tribunal ‘concluded that Salah’s words’ at a speech in Jerusalem opposing Israel’s attack on worshippers at the Al Aqsa mosque, ‘did invoke the blood libel.’ Renton is a barrister and he knows full well that the Tribunal’s observations were obiter dicta, in other words, superfluous to the judgement. The conclusion itself is open to question as Salah, in an emotive speech after repeated attacks by the Israeli police on worshippers, never even mentioned Jews and Salah himself maintains that they referred to the Spanish Inquisition. However, Renton failed to quote any other aspects of the judgement.[lxvii]
But let us just suppose that Renton is right and that Saleh did make reference to the medieval blood libel accusation. Was Saleh leading a Christian mob at Easter seeking to butcher and maim innocent Jewish villagers? No he was confronting armed Israeli troops who were firing rubber bullets and using stun grenades against unarmed worshippers. His anger would have been understandable. What was worse? Making an anti-Semitic comment or Israeli troops taking out the eyes of three Arab worshippers as happened last May at Al Aqsa mosque?
This is not academic. Irish peasants, when faced with British savagery, also engaged in anti-British racism. Do we therefore shift the focus to blaming them for ‘racism’. No, socialists understand reflective racism as being a product of the low political consciousness of the oppressed. Salah was not leading an anti-Jewish pogrom. He was the subject of Israeli police pogroms.
The Upper Immigration Tribunal was several degrees to the left of Renton in its judgment. In para. 54, the tribunal found that
‘We consider, however, that, as in the poem, the intemperate language in the sermon is addressed towards the Israeli state rather than Jews as such. Further, the appellant refers at the beginning of the sermon to the Islamic acceptance of Moses and Jesus as prophets. He expresses the inclusive concept of Jews, Christians and Muslims all being “People of the Book” who should “come to common terms”.’
Hardly the stuff of anti-Semitism. The Tribunal also stated (para. 59)
‘We agree with Professor Pappe that the purport of the sermon as a whole was against the actions of the state of Israel towards the al-Aqsa mosque and that the focus was not on the blood libel.’
The Tribunal noted that
‘the sermon was given on a somewhat turbulent day when the appellant had been refused permission to pray at one of the holy sites of his religion, one that he genuinely fears is under threat from the Israeli authorities.’
The Tribunal concluded (para. 78) that:
‘there is no reliable evidence of the appellant using words carrying a reference to the blood libel save in the single passage in a sermon delivered five years ago…. The absence of other evidence is striking, for at least two reasons. The appellant is a prominent public figure and a prolific speaker. The first indictment shows that his speeches are of interest to the authorities in Israel. In these circumstances we think it can fairly be said that the evidence before us is not a sample, or ‘the tip of the iceberg’: it is simply all the evidence that there is.’
Renton did not refer to any of the above. He was only interested in backing up the Islamaphobes of the Community Security Trustwho had handled forged evidence.
Renton ends with warm words for Jon Lansman – ‘who had managed to consistently maintain their support for Palestinian rights’ while opposing ‘anti-Semitism’. But this is also untrue. In May 2016, Lansman wrote in Left Futures that the ‘the Left must stop talking about ‘Zionism’. [lxviii] He prioritised ‘anti-Semitism’ without so much as a cursory glance at the racism of the JLM. People such as Margaret Hodge, the JLM’s parliamentary spokesperson, had advocated all-white housing shortlists which led to the BNP sending her a bunch of flowers.[lxix] Lansman supported the IHRA, whose only purpose was to conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Usually, when reviewing a book, I try to bring out the best in what the author has written. In the case of David Renton’s book there is literally nothing in it worthy of praise. It is dishonest and selective in its facts and ignores that Black and Muslim people were the main victims of the ‘anti-Semitism’ witchhunt.
Renton has become just another in the long line of figures who started out on the left and ended up on the right. Educated – like our own Prime Minister – at Eton, it seems that Renton is returning to his aristocratic roots. It need not have been like this. Tam Dalyell, the anti-war Labour MP, was also an old Etonian but he was an anti-imperialist and one of the finest Labour MPs to have sat in the Commons. Renton, however, has decided to take the road to Tel Aviv rather than, as Tam did, the road to Baghdad.