A guest post from Clive Gabay – who has visited with us before – on his recent experience of academic freedom.
In October 2020 I was informed that an article I had written on anti-Corbyn forces in and around the Labour Party, and the ways they relied on racializing articulations of ‘Jews’ in their professed ‘love’ for the Jewish community, had been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. There was one caveat; because of the ‘sensitivity’ of the topic, the editors just wanted to pass the article by the publisher’s legal team. This was to ensure that the editors would be financially protected if someone brought a vexatious case against the journal.
Throughout the subsequent 18 months of to-ing and fro-ing with the publisher’s legal team, the journal’s editors were incredibly supportive, and as exasperated as I became by the various turns the tale started to take. The categorisation of the article as dealing with a ‘sensitive’ topic was one that would however come to be the undoing of what had been decided by three anonymous reviewers to be a publishable article and a contribution to knowledge. I’ll return to the implications of this shortly. First, some details on what unfolded over the following 18-month period, which led to the article finally being pulled from the journal and deemed unpublishable.
In March 2021, four months after acceptance, the publisher’s legal team wrote back that the topic was indeed ‘sensitive’. The article named individuals via their publicly available statements, and the legal advice was that there was a risk that some of these people could sue. At the same time, in the legal team’s opinion, “the article as it stands is open to accusations of political score-settling against Corbyn critics and a lack of good faith”. Well indeed. While I aspire to always write in good faith, I tend to draw the line at those who make racist statements, and facilitate racist governments, and who do so in the name of a community to which I belong. This became more of an issue subsequently, when the legal team also tried to retreat from making any editorial suggestions in the name of showing fidelity to academic freedom, thus leaving the question of legality in the unqualified hands of the journal editors and myself.
Buried in Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s dismissal as a ‘mendacious fiction’ of the Labour Party’s claim that it is ‘doing everything’ it can to tackle anti-Jewish racism in its ranks, are some mendacious fictions of his own. Take his protestation that ‘we have endured quibbling and prevarication over whether the party should adopt the most widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism.’ The definition that he refers to is that offered by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Labour faced criticism from some Jewish groups after it adopted the definition, but left out one of the eleven examples that followed it, which said that it would be antisemitic to claim ‘that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor’.
Cast your mind back to July 2018, when the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph attacked the Party’s decision not to adopt the definition in full. In that month, the Israeli Knesset passed a Basic Law explicitly declaring Israel to be a Jewish state and restricting the right of national self-determination in Israel to the Jewish people. In response, an editorial in the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz branded Benjamin Netanyahu ‘the apartheid prime minister’ and critical Israelis such as Daniel Barenboim had no difficulty describing the law as ‘racist’. Yet the example in question in the IHRA’s definition would have us brand these voices anti-Semitic. Mirvis’s ‘widely accepted definition’ might not command full assent even in Israel. You might say that the example does not preclude a criticism of the actually existing State of Israel as racist, only the more extreme position whereby a (i.e. any) State of Israel would be considered racist. But here it would seem that it is the very ambiguity of the definition that invites ‘quibbling and prevarication’. Indeed this is why Geoffrey Robertson, QC, argued in an independent opinion that the definition was ‘not fit for any purpose that seeks to use it as an adjudicative standard’ on account of being ‘imprecise, confusing and open to misinterpretation and even manipulation’.
This 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
The fourth of our monthly podcasts, turning our attention with ever greater political precision to Corbynmania, Jacorbynism, #JezWeCan, or however you prefer to characterise the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the UK Labour Party. Since before his victory, Corbyn has been stalked by, and occasionally celebrated for, his views on international politics, from the crisis in Ukraine and associated Great Power rivalries to his views on Hamas and from the (non-)renewal of Trident to the UK’s future role in NATO. David Cameron, for one, has attempted to securitise Corbyn, repeatedly arguing that “the Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security”.
And so we ask: what is a leftist foreign policy? Is such a thing even possible? Should the left, in whatever form, be seeking to capture, remake or resist foreign policy? What do the wishlist strands of a left foreign policy look like? Lee, Meera and I are herded into some kind of order by Kerem, and joined by Chris Emery of the University of Plymouth. author of US Policy in Iran: The Cold War Dynamics of Engagement and Strategic Alliance 1978-81 and this post on the history of covert action in Iran.
As ever, consume, cogitate, argue, and share, share, share. Past and future casts are available on soundcloud.
Further resources, including articles discussed in the podcast:
In the last days, the Labour mainstream has not so much fallen as fully leapt into a fit of apoplexy. The cause an opinion poll – by no means solid, by no means a guarantee of future stock value – placing Jeremy Corbyn as the likely winner of the party’s leadership contest. Labour MPs, some now publicly flagellating themselves, nominated Corbyn for a ‘balanced debate’, but apparently couldn’t countenance that it might actually lead anyone to, you know, debate. Corbyn’s moment of popularity is thus sketched as, among other things, “the emotional spasm…an apocalyptic tendency”. John McTernan – a prime mover in the utter implosion of Labour in Scotland – was invited to hold forth on national TV as an oracle nevertheless, where he showed off his great talent in persuasion by calling Labour supporters “morons”. John Rentoul, that other great passé hack, thought recognising the left-wing appeal of the SNP as a factor in Labour’s defeat was like believing in space lizard conspiracy theories.
There was an equal portion of patronising bullshit to go with the name-calling. “Do some research” before you dare to a preference, chided Anne Perkins. Don’t be a “petulant child”, admonished Chuka Umunna. Sunny Hundal came at logic with customary cack-handedness, transforming the clear articulation of principles into a pathology. These are some of the same people who bemoan the detachment of politicians from real people, the decline in party membership, and so on, only to rise up as vengeful furies when a candidate dares to stir energies. All down to an unsavoury populism, natch. This, says Helen Lewis, is ‘purity leftism’, nothing like the necessary compromises of opposition, where you have to be bold enough to endorse 2% defence spending (something “the public” indeed likes, although hardly top of their polled priorities). Blair, of course, can only relate in the terms of triangulation, regurgitating the 1990s whilst pretending to the terrain of the future.
It doesn’t matter that Corbyn’s record is one of social democracy (remember that?). It doesn’t matter that there are trends in his favour. It doesn’t matter that his economic policies are comparatively bold and redistributive. It doesn’t even matter that many of Corbyn’s policies are popular. One line of Blair’s intervention was widely cited: “I wouldn’t want to win on an old fashioned leftist platform”. Few completed the quote: “…even if it was the route to victory“. This is not political argument, nor even Machiavellian electoral planning, but the tantrum-jitters of the self-appointed aristocracy. Having passed out lectures on loyalty and collective responsibility on Monday during the second reading of the Welfare Bill, the dauphins were by Thursday pre-declaring a coup should Corbyn win and practically spitting on their own activists besides. They saw no contradiction. Labour’s experts advocate not political communication but political manipulation, impersonating the enemy to take their place in our collective consciousness.
And so it will go on if any of the appeasement candidates win. Continue reading