‘Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.’
– Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial
1. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
This is the document, and the definition it proposes, that’s been causing all the trouble for Oh Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, and which the party’s National Executive Committee adopted in full yesterday, 4 September, 2018. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which itself adopted this definition on 26 May, 2016, calls it a ‘non-legally binding working definition of anti-semitism’, which makes me wonder why the Labour Party is so eager to turn it into party policy and perhaps, in the unlikely event they form a government, British law. But even as a non-legal document this is a mess from start to finish. The basic definition above is pretty irrefutable: that anti-semitism is the rhetorical or physical expression of hatred against Jews based on negative perceptions about Jewish identity; but when the document goes on to list what it calls guiding ‘illustrations’ of anti-semitism we get into all sorts of unrelated statements that are neither logically consequent upon nor illustrations of the basic definition. It’s been the refusal of the Labour Party to adopt these ‘illustrations’ in full and without question that has been the occasion for the accusations of anti-semitism against Labour in general and Oh Jeremy Corbyn in particular, and which yesterday’s abject concession was meant to silence.
Quite apart from the extraordinary arrogance of expecting any organisation, let alone the largest political party in Europe, to adopt any document in full and without question – as if it were carved in two tablets of stone by the burning finger of Yahweh and brought down from Mount Sinai – the problems begin with the equation of being Jewish with the State of Israel. So we get off on the right foot, let’s be clear that being a Jew is not the same as being a follower of Judaism, since many Jews are secular; but for a lot of people Jews are a race (although there’s no biological basis to that claim) and perhaps a culture (although how that encompasses, say, Ethiopian Jews and Ashkenazy Jews is unclear) or a set of practices (although whether these extend beyond religious rituals and a fondness for gefilte fish is also in question); while the State of Israel is, of course, a country created by the United Nations in 1947 from the British Mandate of Palestine.
To start with, the document begins by definining ‘manifestions’ of anti-semitism as:
- ‘The targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity’
This is total rubbish, which any lawyer would pull to pieces. First, what does ‘targeting’ mean? Does it mean targeted with verbal criticism of Israel as an apartheid state in, say, a Twitter post by a member of the Labour Party; or does it mean targeted with mortar fire by members of Hamas from the ruins of Gaza? Given this statement is being proposed as a definition of anti-semitism, you’d kind of hope the IHRA would distinguish between the two if it doesn’t want to be taken as blanket apologists for Israel’s policies. But leaving aside this emotive and fuzzy use of the word ‘targeting’, how can a state that is not defined by a religion – even Judaism, as the Jewish population of Israel includes many secular Jews; whose followers of Judaism are themselves radically divided (as all religions are) between different factions, beliefs, practices and political goals; and whose population is 21 per cent Arab and 17 per cent Muslim – how can such a state, by any stretch of the imagination, be called or defined as a ‘Jewish collectivity’? Personally I find this a wildly inaccurate and highly racially motivated statement designed to erase in principal what the Israel Defence Forces are busy trying to erase in reality, and as such should be thrown back in the face of the apologists for ethnic cleansing who wrote it.
And that’s just ‘manifestation’ number one. The document’s other ‘examples’ of anti-semitism include:
- ‘Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations’.
Now, I find it really hard to hear anything offensive in this, let alone antisemitic. Since the Labour Party has now adopted this as a definition, if in government they passed it as a law, would that mean that saying that someone such as myself of Welsh heritage (also not a race but certainly a language and perhaps a culture) living in London is likely to support Wales in the Rugby 6 Nations tournament is an expression of anti-Brythonicism? Or that saying that a second-generation Pakistani teenager living in Birmingham might possibly support the Pakistani cricket team when they play at Edgbaston is Islamophobic? I mean, I know this kind of juvenile identity politics is the meat and two veg of Momentum, but is this really what the Guardian has based its accusations of anti-semitism on? And what does being ‘loyal’ to a nation mean anyway? Am I expected to be loyal to the UK when our government decides to sell arms to Saudi Arabia or votes to bomb Syria, and if not, what punishment does the IHRA or the Labour Party have in store for me? Only an organisation trying to censor political criticism of a government would make this simplistic and reductive equation between personal identity and the actions of a state, and the fact our liberal press is defending this is another example of the repressive and censorial ends to which identity politics is regularly put.
But perhaps the worst ‘example’ of anti-semitism this document proposes is:
- ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.’
By removing their legal rights and depriving them of political representation, by stealing their land, demolishing their homes and destroying their communities, and by the daily humiliation, abuse and killing of their people, the treatment of Palestinians by the State of Israel quite clearly bears comparison with the treatment of Jews by the Nazis – not in degree (I hasten to add), but in kind. For all you grammarphobics out there, let me explain that comparisons compare two things, they don’t equate them. But apart from the irrefutable evidence of the appalling if not yet genocidal treatment of the Palestinian people by the current and former governments of Israel and the injustices that are built into the creation of the State of Israel from the Palestinian mandate, trying to pass decrees, if not yet laws, that stygmatise and potentially criminalise anyone who makes this comparison is exactly the kind of attempt to dictate thought and speech that defines fascist states like the Third Reich and, more and more, Israel. If I may state the bleedin’ obvious: if you don’t want to be compared to the political regime that killed 4 million of your own people, try not behaving like them.
2. Forensic Architecture
So what’s all this got to do with social housing? Well, in May of this year we visited the exhibition Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Forensic Architecture is based at Goldsmith’s College under Professor Eyal Weizman, and members had visited ASH’s own exhibiton at the ICA the previous year, and had also attended our meeting on the Grenfell Tower fire. We have been interested in the work of the Forensic Architecture team for some time, which seems to us to have parallels with ASH’s work in its expanded conception of architecture as a tool of social justice. When we visited the ICA exhibition, though, we were also struck by the similarities between the uses to which they were placing their architectural interventions.
Forensic Architecture uses the analytic tools of architecture to reconstruct and investigate abuses of human rights and state crimes, from CIA drone strikes in Afghanistan to torture camps in Syria and airstrikes on the Gaza strip. The ICA exhibit that struck us most, however, was that about the Bedouin village of al-’Araqīb in the Naqab/Negev Desert, which at its most populous was home to about 400 people, but which since the early 2000s had been repeatedly demolished by Israeli security forces. The largest of these demolitions occured in 2010, when over a thousand Israeli police riding fleets of trucks and bulldozers, and wielding clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets, drove the residents from their homes. The expulsion of the Bedouin people had begun in 1951, three years after the 1948 war and the enforced exodus known as the Nakba. 90 per cent of the population of 100,000 Bedouins were forced over the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, with the rest concentrated in the most arid parts of the desert and subsequently subjected to repeated harassment by the military, the poisoning of their crops, the repeated demolition of their homes, the erasure of the names of their villages and cemeteries from Israeli maps, the enforced relocation of their communities and the redevelopment of their lands as Jewish settlements.
The basis for the expulsion of the Bedouin from their ancestral lands is the claim by the Israeli government that the Bedouin are nomads, that they had never cultivated the arid desert of the Negev, and as squatters therefore had no ‘right of return’ to lands that never belonged to them in the first place. Despite the huge documentary evidence to the contrary compiled by the residents of al-’Araqīb, activists and Forensic Architecture showing that al-’Araqīb had not only been inhabited and cultivated by the Bedouin for hundreds of years, long before the creation of the State of Israel, but had even paid property taxes to the Ottoman Empire and later to the British Mandatory authorities in Palestine, the Israeli courts have upheld this judgement, and at the time of the exhibition the village of al-’Araqīb had been demolished more than 100 times by Israeli security forces.
All of this sounded very similar – once again, not in degree, but in kind – to the programme of estate regeneration that, under a similar set of lies to those justifying the reclaiming of the Negev desert and the expulsion of the Bedouin, is reclaiming the hugely lucrative land on which the Inner London homes of working class communities are built. Like the Israeli project to ‘make Negev bloom’, estate regeneration is a programme whose implementors do not hesitate to send in the heavily-armed Territorial Support Group from the Metropolitan Police Force when residents and activists refuse to leave; a programme that prepares the eviction of residents by removing their access to community halls and other facilities and systematically running down the living conditions on their estates; a programme that, like the propaganda the Israeli government spreads about Palestinians and the Bedouin, prepares the demolition of their homes with campaigns of smears against estate communities as criminal and anti-social; a programme that demolishes residents homes when they have been evicted and replaces them with properties for market rent and so-called affordable housing for shared ownership and rent-to-buy deals; a programme that, like the Israeli security forces with the Bedouin and Palestinians, evicts long-standing residents from their communities and forcibly relocates them to outer boroughs or out of London altogether; a programme that rebrands the new developments with names designed to attract the middle-class home-owners, buy-to-let landlords and property investors for whom they are made. The result, as with the former Bedouin villages in the Negev or the demolished Palestinian villages in the West Bank, is that anyone wandering around Elephant Park, or Trafalgar Place, or Kidbrooke Village, or Oval Quarter, or Portobello Square, would never guess that they were once home to thousands of working-class households socially cleansed from their now demolished estates.
In his book Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability, Eyal Weizman – himself a Jew who grew up in Israel – calls the early attempts by the Israel government to erase and assimilate the Bedouin into Jewish urban culture – never mind the current attempts to displace, expel and exclude its last survivors from the State of Israel altogether – ‘a kind of racism’; so it will be interesting to see whether the work of Forensic Architecture on this and other investigations into the crimes of the Israel government will be condemned by the Labour Party as anti-semitic under the IHRA definition of anti-semitism as:
- ‘Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.’
3. The Labour Party
The fact the Labour Party is tearing itself apart over this badly-written, right-wing propaganda that should have been sent back to the IHRA with a flea in their ear shows just how weak Oh Jeremy Corbyn is as a leader, how pusillanimous and opportunist are the Party’s ideologues, and how right-wing are what pass for Labour’s principles. The self-perception of Jews these examples seek to illustrate strike me as very different from the Jewish culture I know and love, of Groucho Marx, Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, of Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin and Harold Pinter. It’s a very self-reflexive and self-deprecatory culture, justly proud and paranoid in equal measure of its brilliant and terrible history, and a million miles from right-wingers like Netanyahu, the messianic settlers who want to expand the State of Israel to the Promised Land of Moses, and the Tory-voters of Golders Green. I doubt the politically correct shiksas and Guardianista goyim accusing Corbyn of anti-semitism have the least clue about Jewish identity; it’s just another drum to bang in their incessant Parade of Liberal Virtues. But, as always, their ignorance and posturing will have consequences for the rest of us.
Just because the IHRA definition isn’t yet legal, it doesn’t mean that the accusation of anti-semitism can’t and won’t be used to smear and attack anyone whose opinions or actions they oppose – as Corbyn himself has found out to his cost – or remove lesser mortals such as ourselves from our employment positions. ASH has already been accused of every ‘ism’ going by our Labour trolls, and we’ve no doubt the charge of anti-semitism will follow upon the publication of this article – if it hasn’t already from our earlier article about Corbyn and antisemitism. As a nation we like to watch black-and-white documentaries and imagine ourselves heroically standing up to the McCarthy witch-hunts, the Stasi, the KGB or the Gestapo, but the very present and demonstrable truth about the UK today is that everyone runs and hides when the Thought Police come knocking. At ASH we strongly feel that those of us not under its sway need to stand up to and expose the orthodoxy of political correctness and identity politics that is being used by both the Right and what passes for the Left in this country to silence speech and suppress political opinion and action in the UK. What worries us is not that people disagree with our political, social or ethical opinions – the UK is a deeply conservative country and not one in a thousand of the population share our views; what worries us is that people’s opinions are increasingly being formed by completely irrational arguments such as those contained in the IHRA’s definition of anti-semitism, in the editorials and commentaries in Liberal opinion-makers like the Guardian – let alone in the right-wing press – and in the hysterical echo chamber of Twitter.
As for Labour, whatever unearned vestige of moral authority Oh Jeremy Corbyn brought to the Party by being its leader these past three years – which had nothing to do with his leadership, which has been weak from beginning to end, but was almost entirely consequent upon his own history, as a backbencher, of standing up for the rights of Palestinians – has now gone forever. Labour’s finished. Corbyn and McDonnell were the only thing – however chimerical this perception – differentiating Labour from the Conservatives. All the other MPs are indistinguishable and interchangeable, just like their party’s policies. The Cult of Corbyn died last tonight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he resigns within the week. But whether he does or not, he no longer leads Labour, and the rest of the party knows it. They’ll be dancing in the town halls of London’s Labour councils tonight. Or as the late great Jackie Mason used to say: ‘Demolition, schmemolition: pass the latkes!’
It’s worth considering that, after the Zionist paramilitary group Irgun Zvai Leumi began a terrorist campaign against the British authorities in Palestine – a campaign which included the assassination of Walter Guinness, Britain’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, in November 1944; blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 91 people, Arab, Jewish and British; the capture and hanging of 2 British sergeants in 1947; and, after the departure of the British, the massacre of 107 Arab Palestinian in the village of Deir Yassin in 1948 – in December of that year, during the visit of the leader of Irgun, Menachem Begin, to the USA, 29 eminent Jewish figures, including Albert Einstein and Hannah Ardendt, published a letter in the New York Times condemning Irgun as ‘a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties’. Nearly thirty years later, in 1977, Begin would became Prime Minister of Israel at the head of the right-wing political party Likud, which he had founded in 1973 and which today, under the Prime Ministership of Benjamin Netanyahu, has overseen the shooting and killing of 168 Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border so far this year. It would be interesting to ask the Labour Party whether, having adopted the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, it now retrospectively condemns the greatest theoretical physicist of the 20th Century and one of its greatest political philosophers – both of whom were secular Jews – as anti-semitic. But it is already clear to those of us not willing to be silenced by the threat of this accusation why the current government of Israel and its propagandists are so eager to use it to silence criticism of their party and its policies.
In contrast to the craven populism of Labour’s adoption of the IHRA’s politically repressive definition of anti-semitism, I’ll conclude with this speech delivered to the House of Commons in January 2009 by the late Labour MP, Gerald Kaufman, who under the National Executive Committee’s new policy would now be branded an anti-semite and thrown out of the Party.
Architects for Social Housing