The first political event I can recall attending was a National Union of Students anti-racism conference in either 1985 or 1986, at North London Polytechnic on the Holloway Road. I was president of my further education student union at the time, and as a 17 year old it was quite an experience to be introduced by the donkey jacketed and monkey booted delegates to a new language with phrases such as “pool fares”, “standing orders” and “caucuses”.
In my youthful naivety I thought that racism and antisemitism was the preserve of National Front types and other right-wing cranks and that every delegate at an anti-racism conference would naturally be opposed to all forms of racism.
It came as quite a surprise then when a supporter of black nationalist Louis Farrakhan, in response to some mention of Jews, got up and called the Jewish religion a “gutter religion”.
I think I was equally surprised when a Jewish guy wearing a skullcap – who it turned out was a leading figure in the Union of Jewish Students – got out of his seat and asked him if he wanted a Jewish fist in his face.
The conference wasn’t the same after that. In fact nothing was ever the same after that. I had learned a valuable lesson that antisemitism could be found, in what seemed to me, unlikely quarters.
While I spent subsequent years writing about right-wing racists and antisemites, I was well aware of antisemitism from ultra-left and Islamist sources. Although it is not entirely their preserve either and can be found across the political spectrum.
In 2003 I wrote an article called Anti-imperialism of Fools which dealt with antisemitism on the anti-Zionist left at that time. On hearing about the article in gestation some people asked me not to write it. And when it was published it certainly ruffled a few feathers. More than one person said that they couldn’t really fault what I had said but nevertheless I shouldn’t have published it all the same.
My only regret is that I never wrote more similar articles before and after it.
Among other things, in the article I related how Cuba’s Fidel Castro was so shocked by the nature of Egypt’s anti-Israel propaganda in the Six-Day War in 1967 that he spoke out against it: “True revolutionaries never threaten a whole country with extermination,” he said. “We have spoken out clearly against Israel’s policy, but we don’t deny her right to exist.”
It seems that things have degenerated even further since I wrote that article. Mark Gardner at the Jewish Community Security Trust has published an article on their blog about how the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) is using the winning entry from Iran’s notorious Holocaust cartoon competition of 2006 on their site. As he points out this is just the latest example of the degeneration of the left on antisemitism. The blog post and offending cartoon can be seen here.
This time I don’t need to pull out a decades old quote from Castro. Only last month the now elderly and frail – but sharp of mind – Castro condemned Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his Holocaust denial and antisemitism, and reiterated his unequivocal support for Israel’s right to exist, in an interview with The Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg. You can read Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview here.
Of all the criticisms that one might want to level at Castro, one of them can’t be that he is a lackey of the Israeli state. Far from it, he has been a severe critic of Israeli policies over the years and Cuba broke off diplomatic ties with Israel on the eve of the Yom Kippur war in 1973.
The point is that forthright condemnation of Holocaust denial and relativism is a matter of political principle, no matter what that source is. As Castro says in the interview: “There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”
Just as condemnation of the Farrakhan supporter at the NUS conference should not have been left to the guy in the skullcap, it should not be left to the CST to be the sole voice of condemnation of the publication of the cartoon on the SPSC site.