Over at Liam’s place there’s been a bit of a barney going on about the Alliance for Zionist Liberty and their interventions in the big demos against the slaughter in Gaza. What I’m not going to do is to deal specifically with the AWL’s behaviour, except to not that they do what they do specifically to get a hostile reaction. It’s the same imperative that has them going to left meetings and shouting that everybody else there is an anti-Semite. Basically, it’s a modus operandi that will be familiar from the RCP of blessed memory and the Spartacist League. (Although the Sparts are more literate Marxists, and Uncle Frank was always more interesting.) To be brutally honest, they’re lucky they don’t get beaten up on a regular basis.
What I want to do is take a brief look at the ideological line behind this, as expostulated at tedious length by AWL swami Sean Matgamna. Also spricht Sean:
The Guardian and other media have done most of the work in conjuring up the demonstrations; and the “left”, especially the SWP, have done much of the organising for the demonstrations.
But the politics of the demonstrations have been provided by the Islamic chauvinists. In terms of its politics – support Hamas, support Arab and Islamic war on Israel, conquer and destroy Israel – the big demonstration on 10 January in London was an Arab or Islamic chauvinist, or even a clerical-fascist, demonstration. Their slogans, their politics, their programme, echoed and insisted upon by the kitsch left, have provided the politics of the demonstrations, drowning out everything else.
The clerical fascists have politically hegemonised the demonstrations to an astonishing degree. These have not been peace demonstration, but pro-war, and war-mongering, demonstrations – for Hamas’s war, and for a general Arab war on Israel.
To anyone who was on the big demonstrations, this will make little sense, and will lead to the reader wondering whether Sean is living in a parallel universe. This may in fact be the case, but you have to bring into consideration the AWL’s peculiar use of language. What, for example, is this “kitsch left” that Sean keeps banging on about? Is it a vaguely homophobic jibe about real Trots not eating kitsch? Actually, no, it’s one of the AWL’s standard boo words, referring in this instance to those on the left who actually think anti-imperialism has some relevance to today’s politics.
The same goes for “clerical fascist”, which AWLers use as a catch-all for Muslims of whose politics they disapprove. And in fact, their idiosyncratic understanding of Muslims is a constant source of wonderment, because they will vehemently deny being at all Islamophobic, despite all evidence to the contrary. They will voice their support for “secular Muslims”, by which they seem to mean atheists with Muslim names. They will point to their record on the Balkans, which involved supporting Albanian narco-gangsters who make Hamas look like the Salvation Army, as an example of their kindly attitude towards the right Muslims. Curiously, they are less keen to draw attention to their support for the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s.
Back to Sean:
Placards called for “Freedom for Palestine”, which, for Arab and Islamic chauvinists and kitsch-left alike, means Arab or Muslim rule over all pre-1948 Palestine. It implies the elimination of the Jewish state, and since that could be done only by first conquering Israel, the killing of a large part of the population of Israel.
This is typical of the Matgamnite method. What Sean does is to draw out what he reckons to be the logical consequences of what he personally interprets the slogan to mean. That many, or most, or possibly the vast majority of those holding the placards don’t believe what Sean says they believe (as Sean sort of concedes later) is neither here nor there. Whether this mixture of cod psychology and the reductio ad absurdum is a sensible way to proceed, make your own mind up.
The dominant theme, “stop the slaughter in Gaza”, understandable in the circumstances, could not – in the complete absence of any demands that Hamas stop its war – but be for Hamas and Hamas’s rocket-war on Israel. Even the talk of “the massacre” subsumed Hamas into the general population, and was one variant of solidarising with Hamas, its rocket war, and its repressive clerical-fascist rule over the people of Gaza.
There you go. Unless specific and prominent slogans were raised against Hamas, and these were at least as prominent as those raised against the Israeli state, the demonstrators – even those on the platform demanding a ceasefire on both sides – are ipso facto supporting the actions of Hamas. So does mentioning the civilian casualties. Get out of that if you can. You might object that you don’t support lobbing rockets indiscriminately at Sderot, or mention that Hamas isn’t running a theocracy in Gaza – ask the PFLP, who have no doubt where they stand – but that isn’t the point. Nothing can withstand the bulldozer force of Sean’s rhetoric.
Even the most visible Jews on the Saturday 10th demonstration – Neturei Karta, a Jewish equivalent of Hamas, who for religious reasons want to put an end to Israel – fitted into the general clerical-fascist politics.
NK aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, particularly in the Jewish community, but their theologically grounded objections to Zionism – which were widespread in the Jewish community pre-1939 – are difficult to argue against within the terms of Jewish religious debate. Calling these guys fascists and a Jewish analogue to Hamas is not just insulting but wildly dishonest. I would also lay money that the large majority of Jews on the march were not members or sympathisers of NK, but that’s also irrelevant to Sean’s stream of consciousness.
The demonstrations have also been undisguisedly anti-semitic, more so than ever. Placards equating Zionism and Nazism and about Israel’s “Holocaust” all have implications way beyond Israeli politics and Israel itself. Calls for a boycott of Israeli goods, understandable enough on the face of it, were pretty much central. The main argument against such a boycott is that it is an indiscriminate weapon against all Israelis, and that it would quickly become a targeting of Jews everywhere, in Britain too. A small event on 10 January illustrated the point: a Starbucks café was attacked by some of the demonstrators seemingly because some people thought that it is owned by Jews.
This stuff is straight out of Harry’s Place, where David “Mr” T has been predicting a British Kristallnacht for years. As a counterbalance, one might mention that, whenever Jewish speakers have appeared on antiwar platforms, they have invariably received a warm reception, not least from the Muslim youth. It’s true that there is sometimes a lack of sensitivity shown to the concerns felt even by anti-Zionist Jews, but this doesn’t equate to an anti-Semitic festival of hate by any means. In any case, that’s an issue that should really be raised by Jews within the movement, and not by the most thoroughly goyishe organisation on the British left.
Which itself begs a question. Comrades occasionally ask me whether the AWL’s increasingly frenetic vicarious Israeli chauvinism is some sort of psychological compensation for their lack of Jewish members. I don’t buy that, on the grounds that they have at least one Irish member and that hasn’t prevented them devolving into support for loyalism. It’s probably got more to do with their increasing accommodation, at least in the realms of foreign policy, to whatever imperialism wants to do.
And this brings us back to the good old RCP, who were great at this kind of niche marketing. When a big issue came up, The Next Step would put forward a line diametrically opposed to what everyone else on the left was saying, and often identical to what the right was saying. And it worked, in that it gave Uncle Frank a distinctive product to retail to the kids. Well, the Soggy Oggies have been going that way for a long time, probably beginning with Sean’s brainstorm in 1982 that the Falkland Islanders were a distinct nation with a right to self-determination, following on from which was a practice during the war that managed the tricky feat of being even more patriotic than Militant. The change on the Middle East goes back to 1985, prior to which Sean was denouncing the SWP in particular for not being supportive enough of the PLO. Overnight he started calling them anti-Semites instead, which further marked him out from the identikit left and happily opened the door to a long-running collaboration with the über-Zionist Union of Jewish Students. And so it goes.
And what, after all these contortions, has our swami got at the end of the day? Well, not so much a Marxist cadre as the activist wing of Harry’s Place. To be honest, I think the AWL would have fitted in much better on the “End Hamas Terror” rallies organised by the Jewish Board of Deputies. But then again, they couldn’t have provoked a reaction, which was kind of the point.
Shit. Usually, agents provocateurs are paid by the state for their trouble. The Matgamnites don’t even have that excuse.