Friday, 6 May 2016

New green shoots - promising outcome of Holyrood 2016

SNP 63, Greens 6.

It's a good, encouraging outcome. No SNP majority, just two seats short. But, arguably, a better overall result, with greater potential for progressive politics and wider promotion of the Yes case.

Six Green MSPs now hold the effective balance of power, and, in principle, could be well placed to push the SNP leftwards on climate change, fracking, land reform, progressive taxation, welfare powers, poverty, inequality and other vital issues.

This new Green presence should be seen by left-minded SNP members as constructive support for a more radical SNP agenda, a conditional backing for Nicola Sturgeon and the party respectfully articulated by Elaine C. Smith:
I’m also a friend, ally and supporter of Nicola Sturgeon and have been happy to vote SNP for the last 20 years or more. I still did this time – but my second vote went to the Greens. The #BothVotesSNP strategy left me and many others – on the left in particular – a bit uncomfortable. It felt greedy, with a whiff of entitlement – and that sat uneasily with us. I’m sure that the intention was a purely political and strategic one – but it played into the hands of a currently resonant narrative about unchallenged power, both on the right and the left. The release of The Sun endorsement last weekend didn’t help either.
The Green arrival gives potential impetus to a new Yes alignment politics, rather than the case for Indy2 resting too closely with the SNP, vital as it still is in leading that process. Patrick Harvie and his colleagues also sit closely with the SNP in repeating that it's the Scottish people, not any party, who will determine the case for a second referendum, and that they would back any such significant display of public feeling.  

The new Green intake can also help concentrate SNP minds on taking real progressive positions. Andy Wightman, the leading voice of radical land reform in Scotland, is a welcome addition in this regard, as is John Finnie, who left the SNP over its pro-Nato decision.

The aftermath for Labour in Scotland is all too obvious. They could now take this historical low as the defining moment to initiate a truly radical reformulation, notably serious acceptance of the case for independence. Otherwise, it will drift entirely into oblivion. The return of people like Anas Sarwar suggests little chance of any such realisation. It's do or die, and probably too late to do.   

The media have, predictably, focused on the 'great Tory revival'. It is, of course dispiriting to see their increased vote, explicable, in large part, as consolidation of the Unionist 2014 No vote, a right-hardening of class politics over the constitution. Yet, in practice, Davidson will have no effective power in the parliament. They also owe most of their seats to the vagaries of the regional list.

Hopefully, this coming parliament will legislate for a fairer, less speculative system than AMS. One only need look at the SNP's clean-sweep of constituencies in Glasgow, while its massive 111,101 list votes in that regional list gained the party not a single additional seat - and saw the Greens just miss out on a second. Acrimonious debate will, no doubt, continue amongst parts of the SNP and wider Yes community over how the SNP 'minority' government could have been averted. It was always the case that voters couldn't 'game' this AMS system, given the unknowns of constituency seats likely to be won, the unreliability of opinion polls and other human variables. But, while, as proven in Glasgow, Rise and Solidarity always looked unlikely to reach the bar, there was the credible chance of a Green advance. (I voted SNP and Green on that basis, to see Harvie returned on the list, and in moral support of a wider Yes/radical politics.)

Beyond all the 'casino' politics, the case for Indy2 and any more progressive politics will have to encompass much more than the SNP. And the new Greens, just like the SNP, will be judged on just how assertively they strive to make all that a reality. We should take heart from the vibrancy of political engagement still evident post-2014. This election outcome has revealed key new questions for the SNP, and challenges for the Yes left, but there shouldn't be any need for despondency. And, as the election dust settles, it's still good to remember that a majority of Holyrood MSPs still stand for independence.   

Monday, 2 May 2016

Dark motivations behind 'Labour's anti-Semitism problem'

As the political cries and media echoes of 'Labour's anti-Semitism crisis' continue, what rational 'measurement' of those allegations and responses to them might we make?

The real determining factor here, one can argue, is motivational intent. That, of course, is a matter of varying interpretation in itself, all such evaluation being subjective. Yet, it's still an intuitively valuable way to comprehend human actions.

Caveat made, let's consider the likely motivations of the main figures accused here of anti-Semitism, of those making the accusations, and the positioning of varying leftists over such charges.

Firstly, what serious indication is there that Naz Shah or Ken Livingstone are in any way driven by a sense of hatred or animosity towards Jews? The fundamental question here is not just the use of language but the emotional feeling behind it. What really matters is whether a person's words and expressions are motivated by actual hatred or animosity towards another person or people due to their religious, racial or other beliefs.

What evidence of such is there against Livingstone and Shah? Precisely none. What they are clearly compelled by is a sense of grievance and opposition to the unjust treatment of Palestinians. Nothing of what either of them said can, on close scrutiny, be regarded as speech or expression specifically hateful of, or antagonistic towards, Jews as people, or disrespectful of Jewish identity. In short, neither are anti-Semitic, and none of their comments seem remotely intended as such.

Nor is there any real evidence to suggest particular hatred or animosity towards Jewish people from within Labour or the broad left. Indeed, beyond generalised forms of racist and religious prejudice, and contrary to the claims of 'vanguard' groups like the CST, there's nothing to indicate any deep, specific hatred or substantive public enmity in Britain towards Jewish people at large. So, too, can most people distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticising Israel.

In the course of much street engagement, I've heard people make occasional clumsy remarks or crass formulations - such as 'Jews run the world' - often buoyed by a sense of anger at what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people. Such comments are obviously facile and counter-productive to the Palestinian cause. But they are relatively scarce and dwarfed by the casual utterances and media-spread impressions we hear of the 'Muslim threat', or that 'Muslims are all terrorists'.

Questionable memes and images float around online, inviting easy repetition by the unwary. Well before her election, Naz Shah appears to have indulged in such. Of course, it's worth noting the origin of Shah's actual tweets in 2014 and how one was grossly misrepresented.

Behind the 'move Israel to the US' graphic lies an actual, crucial point about the shameful collaborations between America and Israel. There was always a better way of stating that message - one, we can be sure, Shah now belatedly recognises. But that doesn't make Shah's conduct, in itself, anti-Semitic. Again, we have to see it in the context of motivation: a moral response, a conscientious feeling, most probably as reactive anger over Israel murderous attack that year on Gaza.

But why, many have asked, in supporting Shah, did Livingstone 'invoke Hitler' in this discussion? Livingstone himself has expressed regrets about raising the point, given the 'disruption' it caused. But what about the essence of his point? Again, let's apply the motivation test.

If Livingstone was using an historical reference to castigate Jewish people, or call into question their suffering, that would most certainly be a slanderous and anti-Semitic act. What, in fact, he was referencing was an actual historical event, the Haavara Agreement, denoting the engagement between Nazi officials and Zionist figures. Nor, for the record, did Livingstone state, as has been consistently misreported by much of the media, that 'Hitler was a Zionist'. His central point was that after Hitler was elected in 1932, the Nazis saw the expedient possibility of removing Jews from Europe to Palestine, and that Zionist forces saw mutual advantage in this. That's a recorded fact, not mendacious conjecture. What motivated Livingstone's critics to present it in any other way?

It's also important to recall that Livingstone was being questioned about the ugly term "transportation" of people. Is it really credible to suggest that he raised this point in order to offend Jewish people? Or was he relating factual background about the history of Jewish people being moved? Again, some argue it was 'politically unwise' to do so over such a sensitive issue. But if we are to talk honestly about Israel-Palestine, all such historical context is important, so long as it's discussed with diligent respect for its victims. Why should such discussion be deemed 'off-limits'? Is it valid subject matter for historians and researchers, but not politicians? What does it say about the paucity of our intellectual life that such comments are only to be scrutinised and judged by tabloid notions of whether they are 'fit' for 'real politics'? What motivates such denigration of qualitative, respectable expression?

Israel defender John Mann's verbal assault on Livingstone saw him claim that there's no place for such comment in relation to Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis. And there wouldn't be if Livingstone was guilty of ugly revisionism or any questioning of that suffering. He's plainly not. Amid such condemnations of Livingstone sat the inconvenient fact that he had told an unvarnished truth. Unable to dispute the authenticity of what he had referred to, his critics could only resort to the illogical charge that by merely mentioning this historical event, Livingstone was somehow guilty of anti-Semitism by calculated inference. All of which amplified message serves to divert from the real issues such forces want hidden. 

So what might we say about the motivations of those critics? Most of it is lamentably obvious. After right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes had drilled down looking for dirt on Naz Shah, the Israel lobby, alongside an opportunist Blairite faction still seething over Corbyn's ascent, seized the moment to advance their common causes. Key Israel-supporting figures like Stephen Pollard weighed-in, issuing increased fears about the "left's hatred of Jews".

Here we see the coalescing interests and motivations of those alleging anti-Semitism, notably the rearguard attempts to defend and whitewash Israel, to break Jeremy Corbyn, and to counter the rise of BDS.

What many of those converging critics really fear is any historical reference to, or public discussion of, the mass expelling and transportation of 800,000 Palestinians in the course of the Nakba. They don't want any discussion of the Palestinian Right of Return, of the illegal Occupation, of Israel's apartheid state, of the murderous bombing, imprisonment and siege of Gaza, of the children killed and locked up in Israeli jails.

With perverse timing, the despotic Mark Regev, Israel's new ambassador to the UK, has stepped into the fray, using the same malevolent spin propagated over the mass killing of Palestinians to now ratchet-up the 'leftist threat to Jews'.     

So, what, in turn, might we say about the responses and motivations of Labour leftists to such spurious charges, particularly those professing Palestine solidarity? Predictably, the default line for so many was that Livingstone is a 'liability' and had to go.

Key Corbyn allies like Dianne Abbott and Len McCluskey correctly rejected the claim of serious anti-Semitism within Labour, pointing to the internal Blairite plotting. But few were prepared to defend Livingstone or Shah. 

And this is where notable left voices like Owen Jones have more seriously erred, as Ali Abunimah so convincingly reminded him in an illuminating twitter exchange: "To watch @OwenJones84 throw Ken Livingstone under the bus to appease a bunch of hard-right racists is a truly pitiful sight." Jones counters that he has been a consistent advocate of Palestinian rights, and that his supporting of Livingstone's suspension is intended to help 'stamp out anti-Semitism' within Labour. Yet, hasn't Jones's overstated claims, and righteous repetition, of 'pervasive' anti-Semitism within the party only added to the hysteria? What, one wonders, motivates such a positioning? 

Contrary to Jones's mitigations, any earnest defence of the Palestinian cause would more usefully involve resisting the false narrative and pernicious assault being waged by Israel and the Blairite lobby. That's the primary task here. The most destructive inner element of the Labour party is not a handful of misguided 'leftists'. It's Labour Friends of Israel. 

There's no use trying to placate those forces - which, as Abunimah reminds us, will never be satisfied - through party purges and synthetic appeasements. They will always drive for more. Indeed, even while Corbyn and McDonnell, understandably, resort to 'damage limitation' and party management, it's still incumbent upon leftists to resist the narratives forcing such reactions. In short, the priority task of left public figures is not to join the chorus. It's about exposing the motivations of the Israel lobby, those seeking to oust Corbyn, and the establishment media's role in peddling such discourse.

On that note, here's a complaint letter I sent to the BBC (in the hours prior to Livingstone's involvement) regarding Newsnight's coverage of 'anti-Semitism within Labour':
28 April 2016

Re 27 April 2016 edition of Newsnight.

Please can you explain the gross imbalance in this discussion of alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party?

In particular, can you account for the absence of any countervailing voices to the two principal guests, Lord Levy and Baroness Neuberger, as well as the supporting opinions of Richard Angell (Director of the Blairite Progress group), Danny Cohen (BBC Director of Television, 2013 - 2015), David Winnick (Labour MP) and other comments repeated by reporter Hannah Barnes?

Presenter Evan Davis introduced his guests as reflecting a "debate within the Jewish community" about growing anti-Semitism. Why was no alternative opinion sought from any other figure within the Jewish community?

Also, why did Davis passively accept the generic claims made by Julia Neuberger regarding "the conflation of Zionist to mean Jew" and "this praise of Hitler"? Why didn't he ask for specific evidence of where such views exist within the Labour Party, and the nature of their alleged extent? Instead, Davis merely responded: "That's clearly over the line."

Davis also failed to question Lord Levy over his equating of 'Zionism' with 'anti-Semitism', or his political background, notably his close links with Tony Blair and how that financial backing informed New Labour's friendly positioning on Israel.

In all these regards, the BBC has clearly violated its basic remit to provide impartial coverage and balanced opinion.
I await a response.

One might note here that while it was seemingly acceptable for Julia Neuberger to raise claims of leftists 'conflating Jews with Hitler', without any solid evidence, Livingstone was to be hounded over a much less incendiary comment the next day. Which all proves the kind of stark double standards deployed by the establishment media.

We might also consider here the supporting motivations of the Guardian in this affair, such as liberal notables Jonathan Freedland, Gaby Hinsliff and Marina Hyde.

Not for the first time, Freedland's response to such an issue has been to ask why Israel and Jewish people at large are being 'subjected' to such 'special scrutiny'. Ali Abunimah calls this piece: "Surely the most disingenuous article ever by @Freedland in defense of a brutal apartheid settler colony". Here, we might ask, what motivated Freedland to pen such a "wretched article", rather than ask people to imagine for a moment just what it must be like to suffer for so many decades under the brutal fist of the Israeli state?

Hinsliff, likewise, trotted-out the same 'why Israel?' line, and tortured angst over 'Labour's calamity', piling on even more lurid accusations of the left's anti-Semitic motivations:
But calling for its people to be swept into the sea, or forcibly transplanted somewhere else, or in any other way denying Israel’s right to exist, is crossing a line because that simply doesn’t happen to other countries no matter how oppressive their regime. No other nation state on the planet is constantly asked to prove itself morally worthy merely of being allowed to exist.
Hyde also resorted to the usual Guardian snide-speak, conflating Livingstone with Boris Johnson, while offering an 'embarrassed apology' "for the conduct of my nation." Imagine Hyde having the dutiful conscience to ask what this same British state has ever done for suffering Palestinians, or whether a nation that has invaded so many others and taken the lives of so many souls even has the moral claim to such standing.

The Murdoch press may rightly be seen as beyond the pale in this country, but is there a more sanctimonious, deceitful and vitally power-serving outlet in the land than the Guardian?

As befits its relentless efforts to undermine Corbyn, there's no shortage of space, either, at this despicable paper for Labour favourites like Jess Phillips, who, from her Guardian platform said: "There are very strong feelings in the party about recognising the state of Palestine, as well as strong feelings about the protection of the state of Israel. Most people fall sensibly in both camps." Here, complementing Freedland et al, we see the same, safe liberal obfuscation of a core issue, pronounced as some kind of two-sided conflict in which we must remain respectfully vigilant about protecting the oppressor.

Rather than appease the Israel lobby or play to this liberal media narrative, those truly set on defending Palestinian rights, and justice at large, have been motivated to expose it all. Excellent examples include:

Jamie Stern-Weiner: Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got an ‘antisemitism problem’. His opponents do.

Jamie Stern-Weiner: Fact-checking Newsnight on Labour’s ‘antisemitism problem’

Jewish Socialists' Group: Statement on “Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism”

Ben White: Shifty anti-Semitism wars

John Wight: Antisemitism and the new McCarthyism in our midst

Asa Winstanley: How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis

Please read and share widely. Hopefully, these kind of motivated responses will help motivate others to resist the power-serving distortions being peddled by people like Freedland and the loaded narratives being legitimised by figures like Jones.