The following letter, in a severely cut form, was published in the current issue of the Weekly Worker.
I am not necessarily complaining about it being cut, as hard-copy publications have limits on space that hardly exist in online publications. However, there are substantial arguments missing from the cut version that obviously have an impact on the debate, such that it is, that is supposed to be taking place on racism, Jews, and Palestinians.
I will say no more at this point, as the arguments speak for themselves.
Tony Greenstein is still peddling the racist pseudo-definition of ‘racism’ against Jews that is used by the bourgeois mainstream to suppress criticisms of Jewish behaviour which would be unquestionable if they were directed at any other people. He states that ‘anti-semitism’ always was concerned with the ‘social role’ of Jews, but fails to explain how criticism of the ‘social role’ of any section of society can in itself be racist. It cannot: except when combined with an ideology that racialises that role, so that the racist element supersedes social criticism. This happened in the late 19th Century when the term ‘anti-Semitism’ was coined by … biological racists as an obviously ‘racial’ term. This was then extended back in time by these racists. In fact, the entire concept of ‘race’ was absent from earlier conflicts.
Two groups of people had an initial political interest in so extending ‘anti-semitism’ back in time: the anti-semites for one, to legitimise their racism and wrap it up in a centuries-long history of conflict involving the ‘social role’ of Jews as a ‘people-class’ of traders in an earlier, Feudal social system (see Abram Leon’s Marxist classic, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, for details). The other being Zionists, who had an obvious interest in promoting the myth that Jews had always been an oppressed ‘race’ who needed to separate from Gentile society. The narrower understanding, that anti-semitism was simply racism against Jews, was dominant among anti-racists before WWII. But since then, particularly with the hegemony of Zionism, a definition based on a ‘social role’ has become dominant, meaning that criticism of oppressive conduct is caught by this definition-creep.
Tony Greenstein is obviously worried enough about his role in this dispute enough to tell the obvious falsehood that I have called him a Zionist. He cannot quote me however, not here or in my more substantial critique of his politics (seehttps://comunistanueva.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/the-centrist-politics-of-tony-greenstein/).
Noting that his very militant words attacking Zionism often contradict his deeds in promoting this Zionist derived creeping-definition of ‘anti-semitism’, does not mean calling him a Zionist. It means calling him a centrist, who is ‘revolutionary in words, reformist in deeds’ according to the classic definition.
It is very odd that Greenstein tries to justify this definition-creep by implying that, for instance, criticism of some blacks by racists for being uppity ‘troublemakers’ does not imply that all blacks should be in a subordinate position. Does this mean that criticism of Jewish bourgeois in Britain and America for contributing to the oppression of Palestinians implies something similar about all Jews? Really? That is a ridiculous implication, and insulting to black people, to compare those blacks who refuse to tolerate racist oppression with those Jewish bourgeois who fund and promote oppression of Palestinians.
Greenstein says that anti-Jewish racism has few roots in Western societies anymore because the social role of Jews has disappeared. There is some truth in this. But what has really disappeared is the reactionary demonology about the Jews being the bringers of radical subversion and revolution. That is what has vanished completely. This is why anti-Jewish racism is utterly marginal, and mainly an ideology of those subjected to ‘racial’ oppression at the hands of Jews or their perceived allies.
Greenstein does not draw the conclusions of his own analysis. He says that holocaust denial in Western societies is invariably anti-Jewish and racist. Pretty much true historically. But then he says this is not true in the Middle East. But all of those other (mainly) Jews he denounces for this derive their doubts about this from the activities of Israel in the Middle East. Some were born there. Obviously, this is the Middle-Eastern root of this phenomenon of Jews who express doubts about the Nazi genocide. To pretend otherwise is simply to deny reality in order to deny the logical conclusions of your own analysis. This is classic centrist behaviour.
In this regard, it is somewhat of a victory for truth that Greenstein finally admits that it was the celebrated Israeli Civil Rights fighter and Nazi genocide survivor Israel Shahak who first used the term ‘Jewish ideology’ to describe the racist ideology that drives the Zionist project. Previously, he has always credited this to Gilad Atzmon, and fulminated against its supposed ‘anti-semitism’. But Greenstein claims to revere Israel Shahak. This is his contradiction.
Greenstein says Shahak’s view of Jewish ideology was historically specific. Indeed, Shahak was only prepared to commit himself to talking about the past 1000 years of this ideology, due to lack of conclusive evidence from earlier. Though the logic of this could easily be concluded by Shahak’s readers to extend back further, to the dawn of Rabbinical Judaism around 200AD, or even back ‘3000 years’ as in the title of Shahak’s book on the subject (Jewish History, Jewish Religion: the Weight to 3000 Years).
As a Marxist, I think that ideas are ultimately subordinate to material changes, so I am sceptical of narratives that focus on ideas as primary and independent factors in themselves, but these are all legitimate subjects for debate to anyone who puts the interests of the oppressed, i.e. the Palestinians, first.
Another centrist who does not draw the conclusion of his own words is Jack Conrad, who wrote in his work Fantastic Reality that the Holocaust as portrayed by Israeli propaganda and indoctrination in the Middle East has the character of a ‘cult’. ’Cult’ has a meaning remarkably similar to the term ‘religion’, as in ‘holocaust religion’ put forward by dissidents of Israeli origin such as Gilad Atzmon. But if the holocaust narrative as put forward by Israel supporters has the character of a cult, then the act of breaking with this cult is likely to be messy and confused, as with other cults. The conclusion that should be drawn from this analysis is: a fraternal discourse with people breaking from a racist state cult, not a heresy hunt in alliance with Zionists which Greenstein has repeatedly engaged in.
This lack of courage has led to a pretty stupid and in the long run, no doubt counter-productive anti-communist witchhunt in the CPGB and Communist Platform, based on phoney and nonsensical allegations of anti-semitism. A full reply to all the nonsense inWW last week is no doubt going to be denied to me, despite the CPGB’s sometime protestations of ‘openness’. A reply has been published, however, and is available online at https://comunistanueva.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/jack-conrads-anti-communist-witchhunt-over-gaza/
Greenstein seems not to have noticed that my previous letter in WW was replying, not merely to him, but also to another letter from John Cable. He has not read it properly and muddles up the material he is replying to. Careful reading of the material will disclose his mistake. Sloppy practices in replying seem in this case to equate to sloppy politics. Greenstein seems to think that because he is someone who (some) people have ‘heard of’, and also because a few Palestinians have backed him up in the past, that means he does not have to argue coherently.
What matters is getting things right, not short-term popularity.