More on cartoons and race.

I couldn’t think of a catchier title for today’s post – if I could’ve, I would’ve, I promise you – so this entry sits under a banal masthead. Ho-hum. But this is not a banal topic, far from it, as the discussion that follows shows. It is the transcript of an exchange on social media following my previous post, So, how DO you draw a caricature of someone with African heritage? It is a vigorous debate between respectful friends who happen, on this particular occasion, to hold diametrically opposite views. I have made them anonymous for the simple reason that the points raised are the important element here, though obviously I’m easily identifiable as “A.”

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[B] Vehemently disagree [with the original post] here. The McEnroe comparison, in particular, is off-base, because a white male of any national origin is still a part of the dominant power structure in any Anglo-European culture, including former colonies like the US (Williams’s home) or Australia (the source of the offensive cartoon). So there can be no racially offensive stereotype in a caricature of him. The cartoon of Williams, on the other hand, draws on powerfully offensive tools of racist oppression and it deserves condemnation. The answer to the titular question is, you don’t.

[A] Wait… you don’t ever draw a caricature of someone with African heritage? You only draw cartoons of white people? That’s what you seem to be saying.

Well, for once we’ll just have to disagree. No one should get a free pass when it comes to satire, and in the case of visual images you either depict someone according to their stand-out features or you just put a blank where their faces should be.

I think you are putting far too much of a political gloss on this, without standing back and looking at the facts of how these drawings are constructed. I don’t actually like the Australian cartoon, and I think it does sail very close to the wind [for obvious reasons I didn’t say that in my post – it would have weakened the cultural point I was trying to make]. My choice of John McEnroe was deliberate – if you’re talking about “dominant power structure” then I beg you to look at the history of Ireland, where John’s heritage is. I think you would have to modify your argument.

[B] If that cartoon of McEnroe was drawn by an English person and/or had been framed in a context contrasting him with someone not of Irish descent, I would absolutely change my argument, because you’re right about the political history there. Not the same thing as racism, but I would take your point. But a caricature is not the same thing as a racial stereotype, and to conflate the two — especially in the context of American racism — is to play with fire.

[C] I agree with B. There is no way for a white person to draw a caricature of someone of African, Jewish, or Muslim descent without being offensive. The line is too thin, and the historical function too painful. Left to interpretation, exaggerated features that were historically used to dehumanize any person of color will always appear racist. I place it squarely in the category of minstrelsy disguised as a privileged artistic medium.

[B] That’s a strong, concise explanation. Thank you for that, C.

[A] Thank you C and B for your comments. I agree with you both that this is a dangerous subject for very good and cogent reasons, and to a large extent I don’t disagree. Don’t assume that I am blind to these problems. However I think your answers illustrate a further problem, not a solution, and that is a challenge to the discrimination of the eye of the viewer. One should be able, let’s face it, to differentiate easily between, say, a political caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Nazi depiction of the “Ewige Jude,” and do so with facility. One should be able to discriminate between a Tea Party placard and Steve Bell’s depiction of Barack Obama in a political cartoon. C, I believe you are saying that a cartoon of Osama bin Laden would have been, ipso facto his religion, unacceptable – but we should be able to discriminate between an islamophobic diatribe and a cartoon of a particular mass-murderer. B, you accept that “a caricature is not the same thing as a racial stereotype” – good, my point exactly! You will both notice that I did not directly defend the Australian cartoon. That’s not up to me, it’s up to the artist himself.

Let me show where your arguments lead. Below are two juxtaposed caricatures. Both are of prominent political figures. One is of Zimbabwean quasi-dictator Robert Mugabe, and one is of former British PM John Major. Each individual has she same stand-out facial feature – the philtrum – and in each case the individual cartoonist has emphasised this feature. What you seem to be telling me is that the cartoon of Mugabe is racist, or cannot be differentiated from racism, simply because it is a depiction of an African, and therefore it should not even have been drawn; the depiction of John Major is, by contrast, perfectly okay. You’re telling me that context doesn’t matter a damn. You’re telling me that a man whose followers were responsible for rapes, murders, abductions, assaults, and displacements gets a free pass because he’s African. And I’m telling you that that conclusion is itself problematical.

Mugabe-Major

[B] The caricature of Robert Mugabe is not racist because the philtrum is not a characteristic exploited by racists to dehumanize black people.

The depiction of Williams is racist because the exaggerated lips and nose have historically been used by racists to dehumanize black people, the exaggerated size and markers of perceived “masculinity” have been used by racists to attack black women, and the portrayal of rage has historically been used by racists to criticize the “angry black woman.”

Those are not caricatures; those are racist stereotypes. The portrait of Mugabe does not meet that definition.

[A] Which neatly supports my point about being able to discriminate and differentiate between the two. Hence you weaken your original argument that a person of African heritage should never be portrayed in a cartoon. Thank you.

[B] That wasn’t the argument you were making. There is a distinction (albeit a fine one) between a cartoon and a caricature, the latter of which is dependent on exaggeration and depending on what is being exaggerated, risks running smack into stereotype. Also, as C pointed out, who is drawing the portrayal and the context of that portrayal matter. My point, which I didn’t elucidate properly at the outset, was twofold: first, as C so nicely put it, is that white people need to be very careful in how they choose to portray people of color; second, that if one is questioning whether or not one should portray a person of color in caricature, the answer is almost certainly no. Unless one is very certain of why one is exaggerating certain features and one is wholly prepared to face charges of racism (which anyone asking the question wouldn’t be), then it’s best not to go there.

[A] Yes it precisely was the argument I was making, but let’s let that pass, as we don’t want to get into a was-wasn’t-was-wasn’t exchange.

But I come back to my original question. Let’s make this specific, let’s take it back to Serena Williams. You spoke about the stereotype of the ‘angry black woman’. Here we have a public display of anger by a black woman that made her look ridiculous. If we want to take the mickey bliss out of that public figure (don’t forget she is a public figure) for that childish display, then how do we do it? Or should we just let her get away with it?

[B] I noted a hint of this in the end of your blog post, but I’m glad you’ve said it aloud now, because it opens the door to the issue that spawned this whole cultural conversation: whether or not her behavior on the court was justified. I view her anger in that situation as both wholly justified in the context of the match and the discriminatory calls by the chair ump and an example of the sexism prevalent in a tennis where male players routinely get away with exactly the same sorts of outbursts. That some people have chosen to chastise Williams for behavior that, in men, is not only allowed but often celebrated exacerbates the sexism of the situation, and that some people — like that Australian cartoonist — then add to it the layer of race and the stereotype of the “angry black woman” (which is not a charge that black women are not angry but a charge that black women are both irrationally angry and also not allowed to be angry) only adds grave insult to grievous injury. While I understand the larger artistic point you sought to make in your blog post, given the context of this specific situation, this might not be the best example to use to make that point.

[A] B, in answer to your point about “behavior that, in men, is not only allowed but often celebrated” I can only shake my head and say “You cannot be serious!” With which notorious quote I rest my case.

[B] You make my point.

[A] No, precisely the opposite. I am a great fan of both John McEnroe and Serena Williams as tennis players. I regard both their outbursts as equally unacceptable, hence my use of the word ‘notorious’. And that, I’m afraid, is that. Note, ‘notorious’ not ‘celebrated’.

[B] You might; the tennis world – and that chair ump in particular – have a different view. Notoriety is cousin to celebrity.

[A] Why on earth would they? The very most I would concede is that views would be split about these matters. many people still regard McEnroe as a bad-tempered brat because of that outburst, and think that it taints his tennis career (I might be among that number). Williams’s outburst will have similar longevity for the same reasons. Not convinced, B.

[B] I would encourage you to search for video of said chair ump, Carlos Ramos, as he ignores or allows outbursts and tantrums from players like Djokovic, Nadal, and your own Murray. I would encourage you to search for television ads in which McEnroe trades on his celebrity as a “brat,” or in which Agassi trades on his image as a “rebel.”

[A] B, this was not about the ump, nor should it be. You are getting further and further from the issue at hand and, I’m afraid, flogging a dead horse.

By the way, that “your own” was below the belt.

[B] In what way [am I flogging a dead horse]? I only meant to offer a personal connection to the larger issue.

And I agree, this has gone far afield, but it rather has to, if I am to demonstrate the larger context in which we must view that cartoon and the discussion surrounding Williams and that match.

[A] Well maybe, but I think we’ve now strayed so far off course that I’m going to have to close this particular debate. We’ll have to shake hands and agree to differ.

[B] Context is key. I think you meant to discuss the issue of caricature in abstracts and absolutes, but in using the specific example of the racist Williams cartoon, you relied on an example that undermines the larger argument.

[A] But B, that cartoon raised the abstracts and absolutes. Without it we would not even be discussing this matter.

[B] Ah! This, then, is where we differ. That cartoon is anything but abstract or absolute, and the choice to discuss it in those terms was yours. All I’m suggesting is that you should probably find a less fraught example. Or, by all means, stick to your guns, but I will remain adamantly opposed to any discussion of that cartoon’s sort of racism that would excuse, even accidentally, how offensive it is.

[A] But if it had not appeared we would not have had this opportunity to discuss an important issue. A “less fraught example” was not currently available, and, being “less fraught,” might not have helped us identify and pursue the telling arguments either way.

I do see the points you are trying to make. I am simply trying to push past them to more fundamental considerations.

[B] I understand your perspective. I would suggest that we are both pushing in the direction of something more fundamental, but my fundamentals are informed more readily by America’s disastrous history – and present – of racism and the fact that, as a white male, I have a responsibility to account for that, so I view the racial issues here as the foundation I want to get to and chip away at. Lengthy and ranging as this discussion has been, I value it and thank you for keeping it going.

[A] You’re welcome. I’m glad that people like us can have this kind of deep disagreement without flame wars!

In reply, however to your point about being informed “more readily” –presumably by your living in America and being closer to the issue – I would urge you not to belittle someone who is able to stand back to get her view.

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So, how DO you draw a caricature of someone with African heritage?

MAC
©John Cox

There is no race-neutral base line for cartoons. There is no white, European default. Whether you like it or not, when someone draws a caricature what they pick up on, consciously or unconsciously, are features that are racially typical or even stereotypical. Consider this caricature of John McEnroe, famous for on-court tantrums. He is the stereotypically curly-haired belligerent Gael, and whether the artist is aware of it or not, he has foregrounded a racial feature.

When Europeans first appeared in Japan, artists there depicted them with prominent noses. Such typical features simply hit their eye. To de-emphasise those features would have been dishonest. The picture below shows a group of early 17c Portuguese visitors to Japan, and includes an African servant carrying a parasol. The artist has emphasised facial features – moustaches and beards, noses, skin colour etc. – as well as the voluminous britches warn by the travellers. This is nothing new.

NanbanGroup

So – serious question – how does one depict a muscular African-American woman throwing an almighty tantrum on the tennis court without relying on racial features? I suggest that it is impossible, they will simply be there. They cannot help but be there. Cartoons are cruel, they can say things in pictures that cannot be expressed in words. Steve Bell of The Guardian has depicted George W Bush as a monkey, Tony Blair as a poodle, Barack Obama as a rat, and Donald Trump as a toilet seat. The meeting of Obama and Trump below is very unflattering to both, especially as it is a direct borrowing of a WW2 cartoon by Low of Stalin and Hitler meeting over the body of Poland.

Trumpobama

Australia has stuck two fingers up to the world over the Serena Williams cartoon, and in doing so has done us all a great favour. It has caused us to realise the point that I started with – that there is no race-neutral base line in that art form – and if our public figures, statesmen, sporting personalities, whoever, do not want to fall foul of the cruel cartoonist’s brush, then they should think seriously about the business they’re in and how they behave in public.

People whose names are what they do.

We all know at least one, or at least a few who come close. When I found out that Egypt’s former Minister of State for Environmental Affairs was named Mostafa Kamel, I was aching for him to accept a sideways shuffle into that country’s Ministry of Transport. I know, I know, that’s a cheap crack at the Carry On level. But then I consider that in 1941, when a little boy was born to Mr and Mrs Judge and they named him Igor, that there were only two future careers open to him. One was as the deformed servant of a mad scientist somewhere in the depths of the mountains in Central Europe, and the other wasn’t.

sir-ivor-judge_800321c
Baron Igor Judge, Lord Chief Justice of the Courts of England and Wales.

Let’s be clear about this: Criticism of Israel is NOT the same as anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism, the irrational hatred[1] for and prejudice against the Jewish race exists. Over recent decades, once the immediate memory of the Second World War had faded along with its traces, in a rebuilt central Europe of near-monoethnic countries, neo-Nazis have desecrated Jewish gravestones with daubings of the Hakenkreuz. That might be small beer, but to remaining members of the diaspora it must sometimes seem like the last straw. For nearly two millennia now, thanks to ultra-orthodox Christianity’s interpretation of Matthew 27:25 – “Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children” – a whole race has, in the minds of many, been styled as “Christ-killers.” And when that ultra-orthodox Christianity faded in the minds of atheistic regimes and their populations, the detestation of an entire race as ‘sub-human’ remained. There is no excuse for this hatred and prejudice. Ingrained in our cultures it may have been, but we are rational, and the more rational amongst us have long since risen above this.

desecration
Neo-Nazi graffiti on a Jewish monument.

Accepting every Jew as my sister/brother, however, means that I accept that they are as fallible as I am, as fallible as the rest of us. There is no inherent nobility in being Jewish, any more than there is about being Scottish, or Maori, or Zulu, or Japanese, or anything. To put it simply and crudely, we all fuck up. This means that sometimes we are going to have to tell our Jewish sister/brother “You are wrong.”

At the present time there exists a drive to label any and every criticism of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic. This is a deliberate and cynical attempt to stifle debate about the actions of that state. It goes along with an attempt to smear all leftist political groupings with anti-Semitism, thereby contaminating any attempts by the political left to promulgate their political solutions to any other issue. In the field of deliberate fallacies this is known as “poisoning the well.” The problem with stating this fact, however, does not mean that it is any easier to unpick individual anti-Semitic prejudices from the midst of such criticism. Undoubtedly anti-Semites will criticise Israel, but to extend this any further is to rely on the apples-and-oranges fallacy: “Anti-Semites criticise Israel, leftists criticise Israel, therefore leftists are anti-Semites” just won’t wash! But no, there is no easy way of doing the unpicking.

The problem of ‘Anti-Zionism’.
Honest people often say, “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Zionist.” There are dangers in drawing that distinction, mainly the supposition that everyone else knows what you mean by “Semitic” and “Zionist.” It’s not unknown for there to be that exact confusion in the mind of the people who make such a statement as well. Zionism can be defined simply enough, but it takes a lot more study to fully understand: it is the principle that there should be a homeland for Jews. Again we are beset by the problem of definition. What do we mean by homeland? Do we mean somewhere to live, or an exclusive nation-state, or something between the two? And where should it be? Before Palestine was settled upon, Uganda and Argentina were seriously suggested by advocates within the Zionist movement. When we speak of a Jew, do we imply an ethnicity, and if so how undiluted (for want of a much better term) by other heritages? Or do we imply a religious adherence, and if so to what degree of orthodoxy? And what cognisance do we take of the different shades and manifestations of Zionism? What, for example, do we make of ‘Liberal Zionism’ with its advocacy of human rights and anti-authoritarian stance?

I believe that when those people who say “I’m anti-Zionist” make that statement, more often than not they mean that they oppose Israeli government policy, or that government’s treatment of the Arab inhabitants within or excluded from its borders, or the policy of the demolition of Arab villages to make way for new Jewish settlements, or the state’s occupation of territory conquered in the Six-Day War, or any combination of these and other factors. A difficulty arises because the implacable, extremist enemies of Israel – by which I mean the governments of some of its neighbour states – use exactly the same term to mean the extirpation of the state of Israel in its entirity.

You know, I can even envisage that some people might honestly wish for the state of Israel not to exist, who would not otherwise lift a hand to hurt a Jew, weird as that whole concept might seem to you! This is the problem – I’m sorry, this article is nothing but a list of problems! – with the whole notion of anti-Zionism, and who is and who isn’t an anti-Semite. I have tried to imagine myself back in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, but before the land-grab of 1948. I believe that I would have been amongst the people arguing against the setting up of the state of Israel in the Middle East. I can imagine myself saying that the idea of people, whose ancestors used to live in the Middle East many centuries ago, carving themselves out a country there was as illogical as a bunch of Americans with English surnames claiming part of what is now Freistaat Sachsen in Germany, because two thousand years before their ancestors had worshipped Woden there. I can imagine myself saying that instead we ought to devote all our energy to salvaging and rebuilding what we could of European Jewry, and the cultural strata that were woven into our countries by them – the richness of the contribution they made to what it meant to be European. On the latter point, the virtually monoethnic nature of central European countries today, and their being a breeding ground for neo-Nazism, indicates that I might have been right! In those days I could easily have called myself ‘anti-Zionist’ out of love for my Jewish neighbour.

A major problem about Zionism which, I believe, has never in the past been addressed, is that it has its roots not in the Jewish religion, or in a reaction to anti-Semitism in Europe, but in the colonialist assumption by Western powers that they had a right to draw arbitrary lines on maps and call the areas contained therein countries, irrespective of who actually lives there. Just about every post-colonial nation-state has borders that a former colonial power drew up. In Africa, these lines cut across ethnic areas and nomadic routes. They have given rise to racial and ethnic imbalances within those countries that have often led to extremes of violence and to unspeakable atrocities. The delineation of Israel can, arguably, be ascribed to the same colonialist assumption – lines have been drawn in the Middle East, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, with little thought to who was actually living there. Small wonder, therefore, that contention followed and is perpetuated[2]. Israel is, in effect, a simulacrum of a colony[3], a colony without a remote imperial or colonial base but a colony nonetheless, with all the problems that brings in a largely de-colonising world. Israel might point out that it is the only ‘democracy’ in an area of dictatorships and theocracies, but that does not remove the fact of its colonial essence any more than ‘democracy’ excuses any of its controversial policies and actions. [4]

But Israel isn’t going anywhere.

Let me state that again: Israel isn’t going anywhere. It isn’t going to go away. Unless and until there is a solution along the lines which I shall suggest later in this article, we have, whether we like it or not, that contentious country and its inimical neighbours. Where on earth could we expect the one, two, three, maybe in some cases four generations who have been born there, and who know no other homeland apart from the one they were born in, to go? It seems we are stuck with them, with the governments they elect, with the policies of those governments, and with the reactions those policies provoke. For now, let me move on to something else…

Comparing Israel to the Third Reich:
One of the current attempts to stifle free speech on the subject of the Middle East, is the claim that any comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany is, ispso facto, anti-Semitic and undeniable proof of anti-Semitism in the speaker. Again this is a very problematical view.

Balkan 2
A scene in a Balkan prison camp.

The Third Reich, its ethno-political policies, and the murder on an industrial scale of the people it regarded with detestation – mainly Jews[5] but also Roma, Poles, Soviet citizens and prisoners of war, homosexual men, communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the incurably handicapped, and simply anyone who they perceived as having crossed them – are unprecedented in 20c history[6]. As a deliberate targeting and destruction of an ethnicity, however, they are unprecedented only in the matter of scale. Wherever extremes of nationalism and ethnism gain a foothold in public policy, a similarity of errors occurs, a trend towards similar types of solution is noticed. During the Second World War, for example, the Croat Ustaše shocked even their German allies by the techniques of extermination used on Serbs, Jews, and Roma. In the later 20c, when Yugoslavia disintegrated, Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Bozniak Muslims, in fact any identifiable ethnic group tore at each other, and gave the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ to the world[7]. Camps of prisoners and deportees took on an appearance that Europe had not seen since the Second World War. I could also mention the Hutu/Tutsi conflict and many, many more. Sadly, the further to the right the government of Israel goes, the more nationalistic it becomes, the more it succumbs to Jewish ethnism, the more it will be in danger of the same basic errors as anyone else. It may avoid details, it may not, for example, build industrial-scale extermination camps, but not the generality. It is, I will maintain, in no way anti-Semitic to warn of this! I would rather see it not happen.

Comparing Israeli policy to Apartheid:
Where ethnic separation occurs in a state, where one ethnicity is privileged, then the comparison is inevitable, whether we like that or not. Denouncing those who warn of this is no answer. It is, I will similarly maintain, in no way anti-Semitic to warn of this! I would rather see it not happen.

The state of Israel is just that – a state – with all the vicissitudes and vices of a state, and with a siege mentality, almost a ghetto mentality, not entirely of its own making. Its existence, and the existence of its opponents, internal and external, and downright enemies is a fact, but not a simple fact. There is a complex web of historical and current factors surrounding everything that goes on in and around Israel.

So what do I see as a solution?
The problem (!) with posing that question is the further question of whether I have a right to propose one at all. Arguing that I, as a gentile in a remote country, do not have a right, would be one way of stifling my right to an opinion, of course. But the world is now ‘small’ enough, thanks to mass communication, for most of us to be able to form some sort of opinion about anything that happens anywhere[8]. Even granting that I have a right to an opinion and to express it, however, does not take away the possibility that someone will simply ignore my opinion as one coming from the former colonial power[9].

A further problem – yes, they’re coming thick and fast! – is the fact that questions and statements on this subject do tend to come in closed or loaded form.

“Do you agree that the Jews have a right to their own nation in their ancestral homeland, yes or no?”

“To criticise Israel is to support Hamas, and Hamas is anti-Semitic.”[10]

And such like. I do not allow myself to be trapped by such canards. For a start, nations do not have rights. People have rights. End of. Statist answers bring with them statist problems, and the body of this article has given you ample indication of how those develop. If I believe in anything on this issue, it is in the right of Jews to live in peace. And Arabs. In the Middle East right now, that will not happen, unless and until people, Jew and Arab, abandon statist ideas and realise a commonwealth. The people, not their governments and power-blocs, not those who shout loudest and control the flow of information and opinion – not them, but ordinary Jews and Arabs. That commonwealth will have to be based on communitarian, micro-democratic principles, and those principles will have to transcend ethnicity. They will have to learn to share, to cooperate, not as nations or as a nation but as a confederation of local units. There are models in the region that can be built on. There is the once-noble idea of the kibbutz, which could be harnessed for use, but this time across the ethnic lines. Not so far away, in the unofficially autonomous Kurdish areas of Syria and Iraq, there exists a polity organised on just that kind of confederation of communities, each of which practices participatory democracy.

Until that happens I reserve the right to criticise Israel (and Hamas, and anyone else with their dawks in the Middle East) and to fling back the lie of ‘anti-Semitism’ in the teeth of anyone who directs it at me. But that’s just me, and by and large this isn’t about me…

Official_portrait_of_Jeremy_Corbyn_crop_2While we’re here – ‘The Corbyn Factor’:
For my readers outside the UK, let me introduce the current leader of the Labour Party. UK readers may safely jump to the next paragraph. The Labour Party is a fairly centrist, constitutional party, dedicated to implementing its policies by parliamentary means. I call it ‘centrist’ for the reason that although at one time it had as one of its principles the ownership of the means of production by the workforce (or, in effect, by the state on the workers’ behalf) it was content to operate within a ‘mixed economy’. Moreover, in the 1980s a movement within the intellectual elite of the party led to a total abandonment of the principle of state ownership and an acceptance of neo-liberalism, to the extent that the rebranded ‘New Labour’ government of Tony Blair, from 1997 to 2007, was markedly right-of-centre. In 2015 there was an internal party election for leader. Jeremy Corbyn, then a rather obscure back-bench MP on the left of the party, decided to put himself forward. His nomination was supported by sufficient Members of Parliament to put him on the ballot paper, though many of them later said that they had only given their voices to the nomination in order for it to be seen that a debate was taking place within the Party with a wider range of views than simply the neo-liberal Blairite. To their surprise, Corbyn proved to be very popular. People even joined the Labour Party because he was there, and he won the leadership election. His leadership has nudged the party a little to the left of centre, inasmuch as if elected as Prime Minister he would hope to bring back into public ownership some of the concerns (such as the railway system) which were fragmented and sold off into private hands by Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal regime in the 1980s, and which have had mixed, patchy success (to put it politely) as profit-making businesses.

Corbyn has always struck me as being, basically, a decent man. Unused to political power, he may be gauche, naïve, and ineffectual to an extent. He tried, without success, from his place on the front bench of the Opposition, to make Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons more businesslike, less confrontational, less of a yah-boo shouting match than it traditionally is. The Government benches were having none of that – they yahed and booed as much as ever. Perceived as a ‘leftie’, Corbyn has been the subject of sustained smear campaigns. The latest comes from one of the very problems I have been talking about today – the difficulty in unpicking true anti-Semitism from criticism of Israeli policy. Many in the Labour Party are vocally critical of Israel. Are there anti-Semites amongst them? Probably – it’s difficult to tell – but most likely no more than there are anywhere else. Anti-Semitism is no part of Labour’s constitutional make-up; if anything, like most left-of-centre movements, their emphasis is on class rather than ethnicity. However, because of injudicious statements by a handful of party members, plus the fact that when Corbyn was a back-bencher without any need to take care who thought what about him, he has had dialogues with, and appeared on public platforms with, people with highly questionable views, the inimical privately-owned media have seized on this, and have more-or-less branded him a terrorist and an anti-Semite, or at least someone who is soft on terrorism and anti-Semitism. None of that is true, but they won’t let the facts spoil a good story! These vested-interest media control the agenda, they dictate the way that news is narrated, and that’s that.

There have been demands recently that the Labour Party adopt, in toto, the definition of anti-Semitism laid down by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. They have in fact, under Corbyn, adopted most of them, but have resisted, rightly in my view, those aspects that would stifle debate about the actions of Israel. The howls of protest and the denunciation continue.

It’s all typical of how vested interest goes after anyone who leans even mildly to the left, and its as disingenuous as hell. Enough of this. Let Corbyn fight his own corner, that’s not really  what this post’s about. This has been a diversion…

In conclusion:
I have no time for anti-Semitism, and neither do any of my own comrades on the far libertarian-left. I can’t think of anything more illogical than hatred of someone based on their ethnicity. But, difficult though it may be to define and identify, look for it where it actually is, and do not use denunciation as a tool to silence the voices of those who warn and admonish. I have no time for the proscribing of debate. Openness and honesty is never destructive. It is the only way to liberation and peace.

Shalom to one and all, salaam, peace. Out.

MM

__________

I have spent almost three thousand words on this issue today. It isn’t enough. As succinct as I tried to be, I hit a complication with every statement I made. I hope that someone wiser than I has written, or will write, a book that takes everything I have missed into consideration.

__________

Footnotes:

[1] I was tempted to leave out the word “irrational,” as there is nothing rational about hatred.

[2] By one side or the other. In such circumstances it’s always ‘the other fellow’ who started it. That much we hear when we have sound-bites from Israeli and Palestinian spokespeople!

[3] By which I mean something like ‘a copy without an original’.

[4] For what it’s worth, the Economist Intelligence Unit, a British business related to the publishers of The Economist magazine, devised a system of measuring the state of democracy in the nations of the world. This system, known as the Democracy Index, separates nations into four categories – Full democracies, Flawed democracies, Hybrids, and Authoritarian. The ‘Full democracy’ with the highest score in 2017 in electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties, was Norway. The lowest score on the scale was recorded by North Korea, which sits at the bottom of the ‘Authoritarian’ category. Israel (and, as it happens, the USA) feature in the ‘Flawed democracy’ section. Israel might have been further up the ladder, given its electoral process and pluralism, but appears to have been let down by its score in civil liberties, which was joint second-to-bottom amongst other ‘Flawed democracies’.

[5] In fact something like two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe. A truly staggering figure.

[6] This is arguable. If we were simply to play the numbers game, then the forced famine in the Soviet Union 1930s, called the Holodomor in Ukrainian, killed far more. The reasoning behind that famine, however, is still debated, and is less clear than the systematic policy of the Nazis. Again playing the numbers game would lead us to consider the 1959-1961 famine in China, but again the causes of that are less clear.

[7] I could go back further in history and cite the actions of William Wallace during Scotland’s Plantagenet Wars in the 14c who, according to at least one historian, did not care whether he slaughtered men, women, or children. Personally I would gladly see the Wallace Monument torn down.

[8] There is the ever-present danger, of course, that our opinions are largely dependent on the narration of ‘news’ by our mass news media, and that it takes effort to see beyond that narration. And I do not mean by that, that we should take much notice of all the memes that come round on social media headed “What the news media aren’t telling you about…” They are largely eyewash. I mean that we should develop our critical faculty beyond the facile.

[9] A mandate over Palestine was held by the British government between 1923 and 1948. It was hardly a colony as such, but the mandate did embrace the ‘Balfour Declaration’ regarding the setting up of a Jewish homeland and a separate Arab state in Transjordan.

[10] About the only thing I can say about Hamas is, tangentially, that the population of Gaza are very much the underdogs in the whole ME shemozzle. The so-called ‘Palestinian Authority’ does not have a good record on human rights, but that is too complex a matter to go into here. The Democracy Index shows Palestine as a Hybrid regime, along with Lebanon. Jordan and Syria fall in the Authoritarian category. The latter needs no explanation. The Index defines Hybrid as “nations where consequential irregularities exist in elections regularly preventing them from being fair and free. These nations commonly have governments that apply pressure on political opponents, non independent judiciaries, and have widespread corruption, harassment and pressure placed on the media, anemic rule of law, and more pronounced faults than flawed democracies in the realms of underdeveloped political culture, low levels of participation in politics, and issues in the functioning of governance.”

A quick visit to Keats and Chapman

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Chapman had ordered a consignment of fine porcelain figurines – hunters, shepherds, ploughboys, and so on – from Germany. He had given precise instructions as to how they were to be packed, to avoid damage. Despite that, when the packing crate arrived, every single figurine was broken beyond repair. So great was his distress that it was a full ten minutes before what Keats said next sunk in.

“The best-laid plans of Meissen men…”

Don’t be fooled by the “Caring Right”

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Remember when they used to sneer and call the rest of us ‘Tree Huggers’ and ‘Bunny Huggers’?

Well the latest P.R. blitz by the political Right is to portray themselves as People Who Care, as the ‘good guys’. So suddenly they espouse causes, for which they flood-meme social media, that a handful of years ago they couldn’t have given a hoot for, such as the environment, animal welfare, and so on.

And of course there’s Freedom of Speech. Only the Right doesn’t believe in freedom of speech at all – what they believe in is free and unfettered access to any and every platform, which is NOT the same thing. And of course there’s Democracy, about which they only actually care when they’ve won something, so they can say “We won, so shut the f*** up you whining snowflake!” as though their winning something negated our right to protest. They’d soon whine themselves if the boot were on the other foot! In fact they do. A lot.

I was alerted to the phenomenon of the “Caring Right” by the fact that I found that a left-wing acquaintance and a right-wing acquaintance had ‘liked’ the same charity on social media. Don’t get me wrong here, I believe that many of the people who join their ranks do have a genuine regard for some of these issues, and may have been attracted to the organisations who put out these flood-memes because of these issues. But dig a little deeper, and you will find these posts originate in groups who are anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, anti-anyone-with-a-brown-face. Yep, the good ol’ neo- crypto- whatevero-fascists of today.

So don’t be fooled by the “Caring Right” and their cynical astroturfing. No matter how thin you slice it, it’s baloney.

__________

Consuela (my Tejana maid), having finished sweeping out the teepee, is, as usual, reading this over my shoulder. Now she’s telling me I’m ignoring history, and that the Third Reich was bigly into charity work. “What about the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt and the Winterhilfswerk?” she challenges. Aye, right – I bet they helped a lot of people with brown faces!

Alexei