A Palestinian Perspective on Labour’s Anti-Semitism Row

Nimer SultanyThis is a guest post from Nimer Sultany. Nimer is is Senior Lecturer in Public Law, SOAS, University of London. His book Law and Revolution: Legitimacy and Constitutionalism After the Arab Spring won the 2018 Book Award of the International Society of Public Law, and is shortlisted for the Society of Legal Scholars’ Peter Birks Prizes for Outstanding Legal Scholarship.  

 


Imagine the uproar if the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn were to cite Mahatma Gandhi on the question of Palestine (November 1938): “But my sympathy [to Jews’ conditions in Europe] does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me… Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.” It is unlikely that Corbyn would cite Gandhi on this, however. According to the controversial IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which the Labour Party is set to adopt in full, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is anti-Semitic.

The timing of this suppression of free speech is troubling. At the very time the Israeli government is implementing ever more extreme policies that solidify Jewish supremacy vis-à-vis Palestinian citizens inside Israel like me, Corbyn’s critics seek to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to the extent that it would stifle criticism of these very racist policies. At the time Israel routinely kills scores of Palestinians with impunity, Corbyn’s critics seek to deny him the ability to express unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality, and deny us Palestinians the means by which we can express our suffering and name our oppression.

Whereas Corbyn’s critics seek to portray him as “palling with terrorists”, they have no qualms about celebrating, as Mark Regev did, Zionist leaders like Menachem Begin who was the leader of a breakaway alt-right group that murdered British officials and Palestinian civilians. Begin’s actions were part of the Zionist movement’s audacious armed robbery of the Palestinian people’s homeland to establish an ethnocracy.

Are Corbyn and his critics equally selective? Are Begin and Arafat both terrorists-turned-to-peacemakers?  This discourse that makes Corbyn on the defensive is one that supports the violence that maintains colonialism and apartheid but condemns violence that seeks to resist it. It sanctions violence that sustains the longest military occupation since World War II. Yet, it is anti-colonial militants who seek to put an end to this systematic violence who are routinely condemned. The context in which violence occurs is eradicated.

Zionists like Andrew Feldman, the former chair of the Conservative Party, reduce Zionism to “Jewish national self-determination” in order to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Yet, the opposition to Zionism is precisely because it is not “a national self-determination” movement, but rather a settler-colonial movement. Continue reading

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Verticalities of the Mega-Event: The Israeli Giro D’Italia


Samuel Mutter is an MPhil/PhD researcher in the Department of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London. His interests include issues of urban politics, security, space and aesthetics, while his current research project examines the governance of circulation and disruption on the London Underground network.


The 2018 edition of the Giro D’Italia, one of the three ‘Grand Tours’ of men’s professional cycling – alongside the Vuelta a España and, of course, the Tour De France – began in unusual fashion. Rather than starting in any part of Italy, the cyclists set off from the Western, Israeli-controlled side of Jerusalem. The 2nd and 3rd stages were also held in Israel – from Haifa to Tel Aviv, and then from Be’er Sheva to Eilat – before the race returned to more familiar territory for the 4th stage in Catania, Italy. At first, this could simply be taken as an indication of the sport’s increasingly global reach and popularity (while in France, its homeland, it has begun to be thought of as out of date; an old man’s game). Indeed, this is by no means the first time the opening stage of a Grand Tour has set off from abroad. In its 101st edition, this was the 13th time the Giro had started outside Italy. Nor are the other Grand Tours strangers to foreign beginnings: the ‘Grand Depart’ of the 2014 Tour de France, for instance, was held in Leeds, Yorkshire, before making its way south to London, and skipping across the channel.

However, two things make the Israeli Giro stages stand out. First of all, unlike the UK, where cycling as a sport (as well as a middle-class urban lifestyle; all lycra, sourdough, and frothed milk) has boomed over recent years – especially since the success of the Great Britain track team in the 2012 London Olympic velodrome, and the subsequent Tour de France victories of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome under the auspices of Team Sky (asthma and Jiffy bags notwithstanding) – Israel cannot be said to be in the grips of cycling fever. While thought of as a trendy way of getting around in Tel Aviv, the country has little to no historical pedigree in biking as a competitive sport.[1] If the Israeli Giro is representative of an infectious uptake of cycling in Israel, it is not the symptom but the first case.

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Race and the Undeserving Poor: Response

This is my response to the commentaries graciously provided by Sara Salem, Naeem Inayatullah, Luke De Noronha, Rick Saull, and Lisa Tilley, who also organized the forum.

Sara’s contribution geographically extended my focus on British empire to an engagement with Dutch empire. I found it especially telling that her thoughts on the white-middle-class as the postcolonial container of the national subject implicated white degeneracy in the preservation of empire. My friend, artist Denise LeDeatte, wrote in her art-piece African Violet that the Achilles heel of white supremacy has always been white poverty. I find this observation even more telling after reading Sara’s exacting intervention. I wonder if it’s possible to develop a critique of white poverty that speaks across the diversity of European empires and their postcolonial legacies.

Naeem directed our attention towards the relationship (or not) between hierarchies of race and hierarchies of meritocracy. Naeem and David Blaney’s work on postcolonial political economy has been extremely important to me. What I am always struck by is their commitment to take the claims and logics of late eighteenth century moral philosophy deadly seriously in the formation of political economy critique. This commitment underwrites Naeem’s comments on my book. I think he is implicitly asking: where does it leave us, intellectually and politically, if it is indeed the case that race so exhaustively frames the most influential modern calculus of ethical concern? I provide a partial answer below.

Luke applied the deserving/undeserving distinction to mobility and settlement. I find his intervention arresting. Chapter four of my book focuses on post-war commonwealth migration and the problem, as e.g. Enoch Powell saw it, of settlement. Luke reminds us that the status of being “settled” is always dependent upon others having the status of “immigrant”. The history of settlement is never settled; deserving/undeserving distinctions are continually made through immigrant/settled dyads as much as – or, in intersection with – Black/white divides. Luke’s comments demonstrate the need to develop more capacious understandings of the ways in which sedimented demographics now (always did) structure the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor.

Rick drew attention to genealogies and trajectories of working class resistance against empire and racism. His critique focuses upon the need to account for the contradictions of working class agency when addressing the relationship between neoliberalism and far right forces. I’ll engage in more detail with Rick’s challenge below; but right now, I will just say that, to my mind, the urgency of his critique necessarily grates against the task of accumulating historical evidence, which is a core aim of my book. I can defend the reasons for writing the book as I did, but I can’t deny that his commentary is right to argue that the place in which my argument finishes injects an uncertainty into political action.

Lisa’s contribution is a beautifully understated yet profound critique of white feminism’s complicity in empire. I say understated because the level of her argument requires no grand protagonists to clarify the stakes at play. It is the “ordinary”, the “working class” woman who must – for right or wrong – comply or rebel against the preservation of imperial rule and its attendant racisms.  I think that, when it comes to intellectual work, it is this pitch of register and argument that will tilt the balance in the coming years rather than the high abstract, grand figure-style writing that comes more comfortably to the political economist’s pen. I do wonder where my book falls on this continuum.

All of these commentaries stand on their own as edifying contributions. All raise further questions about the contemporary articulation of race, class, gender and nation – at least as it pertains to Britain/Europe.  But I want to respond to three particular provocations.

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Shilliam’s Undeserving Refusal. Or, why a relational politics of liberation was always (is always) possible

This post, guest authored by Lisa Tilley, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit and follows related contributions by Robbie, Sara Salem, Naeem Inayatullah, Luke de Noronha, and Rick Saull.

 

The white working class was first made in the colonies

The white working class, as an unjustly temporally displaced and materially deserving collective (the “left behind”) has become more notably prominent in the collective consciousness from left to right since Brexit. The re-centring of this political construct tells us how much is at stake in understanding this particular configuration of race and class at this conjunctural moment in Brexit Britain and beyond. In Race and the Undeserving Poor, Shilliam’s historical recovery informs us that this white working class, as a political constituency, was first made in the colonies and therefore needs to be comprehended in historical colonial relation. In other words, this formation can only be understood by means of a travelling analysis, one which crosses hierarchies as much as historical and geographical space.

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Seeing Class through Race: Britain’s Racialized Moral Economy and the Construction of a ‘White Working Class’

This post, guest authored by Rick Saull, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit and follows related contributions by Robbie, Sara Salem, Naeem Inayatullah, and Luke de Noronha.

 

Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit, is a major and timely intervention that addresses the development of Britain’s social order and class relations through the vectors of empire and race. Shilliam offers a distinct and compelling account of the racialized moral economy that has defined Britain from ‘abolition to Brexit’ and through which he seeks to historicize, contextualize and explain the Brexit referendum result. However, there is much more in this book – and far more than I can do justice to in this contribution – than an explanation of Brexit. In a prose infused with both a scholarly clarity and a burning sense of social justice, Shilliam charts the way in which race and racial signifiers have been deployed as a means of determining those who are included and excluded as ‘deserving’ of political recognition and access to welfare goods.

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The mobility of deservingness: race, class and citizenship in the wake of the ‘Windrush scandal’

This post, guest authored by Luke De Noronha, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit and follows related contributions by Robbie, Sara Salem, and Naeem Inayatullah.

 

My core argument, then, is that elite actors have racialized and re-racialized the historical distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor through ever more expansive terms that have incorporated working classes, colonial “natives” and nationalities. Elite actors have always been driven in this endeavour by concerns for the integrity of Britain’s imperial – and then postcolonial – order. That has been the case from Abolition to Brexit.

(Shilliam, 2018)

Robbie Shilliam’s book – Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit – offers a rich genealogy of race and class in British politics. It helps us read Brexit, and the widespread invocations of the ‘white working class’ as ‘left behind’ with renewed historical perspective. The book offers up some co-ordinates for a richer critique of the times we are in, providing ‘a history of political domination told through the moralizing discourses and rhetoric of the undeserving poor’. Shilliam’s analysis is sharp and clear, his writing to the point, and his insights profoundly generative for those of us wrestling with cognate questions. He states:

“Deservedness” is a racialized discourse and rhetoric that works to consistently offset the disorders necessarily engendered in the pursuit of empire’s capital. Put another way, political domination in (post)colonial commercial society leaves its trace in the racialization of the underserving poor.

In my reflections on the book, I will not try to summarise its many arguments or its elegant movement through historical periods. Instead, I want to think about its argument in relation to the ‘Windrush scandal’. For me, this is not just about adding a postscript to the text, which was written before the Windrush debacle, but is intended to open up some additional questions about race, class and deservingness in relation to mobility.

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Wooden Stakes: In Response to Robbie Shilliam’s Race and the Undeserving Poor

This post, guest authored by Naeem Inayatullah, is part of a symposium on Robbie Shilliam’s new book Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit and follows related contributions by Robbie and Sara Salem.

 

 

Wooden Stakes[1]

I devote most of my words to Robbie’s conclusion because it is only here that I can play the role of academic critic rather than the admiring fan that I really am.  I don’t mind being the appreciative follower.  But on a first reading of this book, I worried that I would have little to say except for delivering a kind of abstract praise.  I am not one of those readers who understands everything all at once.  I need to re-read books.  For example, it is only on the third reading that I am coming to terms with Robert Vitalis’ White World Order, Black Power Politics.  I built a course around Bob’s book so I could re-read it.  And, I am re-organizing my “Introduction to International Relations” course so that it synchronizes with how Vitalis presents the history of race relations and the history of political economy.

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