In defence of the Morning Star

Submitted by Matthew on 25 September, 2019 - 9:06 Author: Andrew Northall

Jim Denham's major piece (Solidarity 516) responding to my letter in Solidarity 515 continues to peddle the outrageous accusation that the Morning Star newspaper “actively foments antisemitism”.

Antisemitism is obviously a highly emotive and sensitive issue and in response we need to be really clear, factual and

In plainer language, the accusation “actively foments antisemitism” could read: “the paper expresses hatred to people who are Jewish (whether by religion, ethnicity or culture) or encourages other people to be hostile to Jews”. Does the Morning Star encourage hatred against people who are Jewish? Absolutely not. Of course it does not. Even to put the question in these terms provides the clear answer.

The Morning Star is effectively a broad paper of the left and the labour movement as reflected in both the composition of the Management Committee of the Peoples Press printing Society (the readers’ cooperative which owns the Star) and its readership and supporters.

Its editorial policy is indeed based on the strategic programme of the Communist Party of Britain (Britain’s Road to Socialism) but this simply means it includes advocating a left progressive government with Labour at its core which would implement policies which challenge the wealth and power of the capitalist class and which acts in the interests of working people. Not a million miles from the AWL’s concept of a Workers' Government.

The Star daily provides a broad platform for a wide range of progressive, democratic, left and socialist views to be covered and debated. This is part of a deliberate strategy for building political unity and a bigger mass movement, as part of the BRS in practice. Jim himself regularly has letters published.

The Star strongly advocates a “two state solution” to the Israel/Palestine conflict based on UN Resolutions and including explicit acceptance of Israel’s right to exist.

Jim appears incapable of separating genuine antisemitism from criticism of the policies of the State of Israel from criticism of the current antisemitism campaign, which is very obviously aimed at blunting the current Labour leadership’s current commitment to the Palestinian people and anti imperialism more generally and indeed which appears aimed at undermining, even removing that leadership.

Jim appears to regard any criticism of the State of Israel or the antisemitism campaign against the Labour Party leadership as itself antisemitism, which is an absurd conflation of three very different sets of issues.

The Star is clear there are people on the left who either are antisemitic or express views which are antisemitic. These views and behaviours are repugnant and should be condemned and dealt with. I personally could not regard such individuals as being of the left.

Most people on the genuine left are critical of the policies and actions of the Israeli government or even the State of Israel itself not because it is Jewish (the right wing in Israel and elsewhere would love that to be the case) but because they brutally oppress the Palestinian people and deny their national rights and also and especially in the current period appear to aim at their extinction as a distinct national people.

The position is made more complex and more sensitive in that as Solidarity has rightly pointed on a number of occasions the majority of Jewish people (in say the UK) for understandable reasons feel an instinctive sympathy for the State of Israel as a Jewish state of and for Jewish people and therefore blanket criticism of the State of Israel may appear to be antisemitic.

We all therefore have a duty to ensure our criticism and our modes of expression are clear this is not about the “Jewishness” of the State of Israel but their policies and actions.

Equally, those who defend the State of Israel and its policies and actions can also expect their views to be contested, sometimes vigorously. Whether such people happen to be Jewish or not should be immaterial.

We should criticise their politics and political views in a political, disciplined and appropriate manner and absolutely never resort to personal offence including around ethnicity, religion or whatever.

The John Elder article referred to in the view of the Morning Star itself failed to negotiate these issues adequately or make the necessary distinctions and therefore published a fulsome apology and withdrew the article from the website. Obviously they could not delete the printed or electronic version. The Star on its own admission made a serious mistake in allowing the article to be published in full, it openly acknowledged and apologised for that error and the offence caused. But for Jim this is all “evidence” of the Star “actively fomenting antisemitism”!

Amongst other things, Elder clumsily linked the rise in worldwide antisemitism (which is an objective and worrying fact) with the policies and actions of the State of Israel and indicated worldwide Jewish communities were being exposed to antisemitism because of their continued attachment, advocacy and defence of Israel. That is probably true but what cannot follow from that is Jewish people worldwide being held responsible for antisemitism or have an especial duty to publicly criticise or distance themselves from the State of Israel.

In the majority of his piece, Jim discusses whether antisemitism is “widespread” in the Labour Party or not. He claims that those who deny it is “widespread” are thereby guilty of antisemitism. No, Jim. It is simply a different assessment of the genuine extent of the problem, applying context and perspective. Any antisemitism is unacceptable so whether “widespread” or not becomes slightly irrelevant.

I am not a member of the Labour Party and never have been but I would be astonished and appalled if antisemitism is “widespread” or even worse if that Party is “institutionally antisemitic.” All I know is very few numbers have had genuine antisemitism proved against them (as opposed to being critical of Israel) and have therefore been disciplined. Does that mean there are large numbers who have not been picked up or disciplined, I simply do not know.

I would hope the Labour Party in its disciplinary processes focuses on those who have been accused or found to have expressed hatred to people because they are Jewish.

It is perfectly possible and necessary to clearly distinguish between comments and other expressions which are anti Jewish from those which are critical of the State of Israel, for its actions and policies, not its Jewishness.

“Zionist” as a code-word

Jim Denham replies

One thing Andrew Northall and I can agree on is that antisemitism is “obviously a highly emotive and sensitive issue and in response we need to be really clear, factual and logical”

But we have a fundamental difference from the outset: I do not accept your contention that antisemitism can be defined as “hatred to people who are Jewish (whether by religion, ethnicity or culture)”, i.e. as simply another form of racism.

There was antisemitism before there was late-19th and 20th century anti-Jewish racism. And there is still antisemitism of different sorts, long after disgust with Nazi-style racism, and overt racism of any sort, became the default position of all decent people.

Early, Christian antisemitism was not based upon race or ethnicity. “The dividing line was the possibility of effective conversion... a Jew ceased to be a Jew upon baptism.” Something very similar can be found in the pages of the Morning Star these days: Jews can be redeemed so long as they renounce Zionism and any degree of identification with Israel.

So I am not saying that the people involved with the Morning Star are racists: but many of them are left-wing antisemites and the paper itself actively foments antisemitism. I gave just one example of an article so crass that even the Morning Star editorial team (in response to a letter from two leading Jewish CPB members) took it down from the paper’s website and issued an apology (hardly a “fulsome” one, though, Andrew: it was a few lines). But, as I wrote in my column, the apology was, in reality, for letting slip what the paper and its political masters, the CPB, really believe.

I fully accept that the Morning Star would not, these days carry a letter (as it did in 2002) stating “the good Jews were all killed in the concentration camps”.

But last year the paper had to apologise to Jewish journalist Etan Smallman after publishing accusations of his alleged “agenda” on Labour antisemitism and on Israel made by Muslim convert and Islamist Lauren Booth.

The paper has also (in September 2012) republished a Counterpunch article by the well-known antisemite and holocaust denier who operates under the name “Israel Shamir” that included gratuitous and disparaging references to Jews: again, a belated and far from convincing apology was issued.

Does this not suggest a pattern of behaviour, Andrew?

You say the paper “strongly advocates a ‘two state solution’ to the Israel/Palestine conflict based on UN resolutions and including explicit acceptance of Israel’s right to exist.” But it does no such thing!

Sure, tucked away in the occasional article (e.g. a recent interview with Sabri Ateyeh of the PLO), the diligent reader will find a passing reference to “two states”, but never (that I can recall) has the paper explained that “two states” means Israel has the right to exist behind the 1967 border as a Jewish state i.e. an expression of the national self-determination of the Israeli Jewish people.

Much more typical of the paper’s coverage of Israel and the Middle East are the regular, lengthy articles by Ramsay Baroud, whose exact politics are hard to pin down, but who clearly supports what he describes as “the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran alliance” – i.e. forces that proclaim Israel has no right to exist in any shape or form. That approach characterises the vast bulk of the paper’s coverage despite the occasional token mention of “two states”.

As for your claim that I appear “incapable of separating genuine antisemitism from criticism of the state of Israel”, let me make myself clear: the social, political and military policies of successive Israeli governments – especially towards the Palestinians — must be condemned. As you rightly say, “we all … have a duty to ensure our criticism and our modes of expression are clear that this is not about the ‘Jewishness’ of the state of Israel but their policies and actions”. The trouble is, Andrew, that time and again (i.e. not just in the John Elder piece), the Morning Star makes no such distinction.

Left-wing antisemites do not just criticise Israel: they deny its right to exist. All too often that’s how the Morning Star’s coverage comes over. And I know from first hand experience within the trade union movement that’s how its coverage of the issues is understood by a lot of its readers.

There are many other related issues I’d like to discuss with you, even though you haven’t raised them: the Morning Star’s routine use of the word “Zionist” either as a pretty obvious code-word for “Jewish” (as in “the Zionist state”) or as something sinister and conspiratorial (as in ‘the Zionist lobby’), apparently ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Jews worldwide (including in Britain) identify as “Zionists” if only because they identify (often critically) with Israel. The “absolute anti-Zionism' (i.e. a total hostility not shown towards other forms of nationalism) that permeates the paper’s coverage of these issues amounts to a comprehensive hostility to most Jews in the world – i.e. antisemitism.

You state that I devoted “the majority” of my column to discussing “whether antisemitism is ‘widespread’ in the Labour Party or not.” Actually, Andrew, I didn’t: if you re-read the column you’ll see that the only appearance of the word “widespread” is in a quote from the Morning Star denying that it is.

In fact, I doubt anyone thinks antisemitism is “widespread” in Labour, in the sense that thousands of members are actively promoting it. What I argued was that it is a serious and significant problem (I don’t speculate about numbers), and that the Morning Star’s coverage consistently denies that this is the case and sometimes comes close to suggesting there is no problem at all. Even worse, the paper regularly calls into question the motives of those who raise the issue, and suggests that it’s all a conspiracy, got up by the Labour right (aka “Blairites”) and/or the “Zionist lobby” and/or the Israeli embassy. And that, Andrew, is indeed a classic antisemitic trope.

Both John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are on record as saying those who deny there’s a problem with antisemitism in the party, are part of the problem. On that basis, the record shows that the Morning Star is very much part of the problem.

Or, to be less diplomatic: it actively foments antisemitism.

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