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Moshe Machover and the battle for the soul of British Labour

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This week, Moshe Machover, a Jewish mathematician and philosophy professor at the University of London, was expelled from the British Labour party, for having written an article called, “Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism”. The irony could simply not be greater: Machover was taken out by those who do precisely what his article title suggests. (Jonathan Cook has covered the case in detail, here and here.)

As Labor activist Bob Pitt notes in his appraisal of the Machover expulsion, the letter handed to Machover by Labour Head of Disputes Sam Matthews used vague language to substantiate its grounds for expulsion, claiming that Machover uses “language that may be perceived as provocative, insensitive or offensive” (emphasis added) – but that Clause 2.1.8 of the party rules, which Machover is accused of breaching, contains no such provision.

Pitt writes:

“Matthews’ formulation echoes an amendment to party rules [recently] proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement, according to which an antisemitic incident would be ‘defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice’ (emphasis added). But JLM remitted that proposed rule change, no doubt because they knew there was no chance of getting it through party conference. Delegates would have rejected the adoption of a disciplinary procedure that allowed members to be convicted of an offence based merely on someone thinking that an incident was antisemitic, without any objective evidence being required.”

The Labour Party adopted a ‘compromise’:

“According to the new Clause 2.1.8 that was adopted at conference, before disciplinary sanctions can be imposed on a party member over alleged antisemitism it is necessary to establish that their behaviour ‘might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice’. In other words, it is not enough for someone to perceive that an incident is antisemitic and be offended by it; it is necessary for the party to establish that the perception has a reasonable basis”.

In other words, Pitt concludes,

“Matthews is apparently trying to introduce the JLM’s abandoned rule change through the back door.”

This is the back door of “feeling” and “knowing.” It’s that vague sensitivity that is so ethereal, it can hardly be pinpointed at all – and it doesn’t need to be.

This vagueness is already embodied in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of Anti-Semitism, which the UK formally adopted last year. Its problems are apparent already in its lead sentence:

“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.”

Jonathan Cook quotes Stephen Sedley, a former appeals court judge in Britain, who is Jewish, and who has noted the central problem inherent in this very formulation:

“If anti-semitism is defined as a ‘perception’, who is qualified to do the perceiving? And if anti-semitism ‘may be expressed as hatred’, does that not also imply, more troublingly, that it ‘may not be’ so expressed.”

This is only the first of the many problems of the IHRA definition, but it embodies its essential problem: the problem of placing Anti-Semitism outside of the range of objective reasoning.

Last year, UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis told the Sunday Times that Jewish students at universities were confronted with a “wall of anti-Zionism, which they feel and know to be Jew hatred” (emphasis added). This was following a ‘dramatic’ decision by one Oxford student, Alex Chalmers, to quit the Labour club, claiming he had been made uncomfortable by anti-semitic comments, a decision which made headlines (Cook covers this story here). Chalmers argued, without providing any substantive evidence, that many Labour activists “have some sort of problem with Jews.” As Cook notes,

“Almost a year later, and largely unnoticed, a Labour inquiry cleared fellow students of Chalmer’s anti-semitism accusations. But Labour peer Baroness Royall was among those dissatisfied with the outcome. She said: ‘I am deeply disappointed by the outcome and fear it will further harm relations between the Jewish community and our party by confirming a widely held view that we do not take anti-semitism seriously.’ Contrary to his portrayal in the media, Chalmers was far from a disinterested observer of Labour party politics. An investigation by the Electronic Intifada discovered that he had previously worked for BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, another wing of Britain’s Israel lobby.”

Adding to this “knowing and feeling” trend was the influential liberal-Zionist Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland (also a contributor to the New York Review of Books). About the same time of the Mirvis “knowing and feeling” comments, he published an opinion titled “My plea to the left: treat Jews the same way you’d treat any other minority”.

Here, Freedland, in his attempt to ‘tame the left’ (by bringing it further right), made an ostensibly ‘universal’ point:

“On the left, black people are usually allowed to define what’s racism; women can define sexism; Muslims are trusted to define Islamophobia. But when Jews call out something as anti-semitic, leftist non-Jews feel curiously entitled to tell Jews they’re wrong, that they are exaggerating or lying or using it as a decoy tactic – and to then treat them to a long lecture on what anti-Jewish racism really is. The left would call it misogynist ‘mansplaining’ if a man talked that way to a woman. They’d be mortified if they were caught doing that to LGBT people or Muslims. But to Jews, they feel no such restraint.”

Jonathan Cook has appraised the flaw in Freedland’s point:

Black people, women and gays are groups whose views should be listened to sensitively and considered seriously by oppressor groups, precisely because the oppressor is still in a position to oppress. It is not that white people’s views of racism are worthless; it is that their position of privilege makes it extremely hard for them to consider fully what it is like to suffer a particular form of racism and discrimination, or what it means to be a victim.

But Freedland and the JLM’s views of anti-semitism do not fit neatly into this model of victim-oppressor. When the JLM ties its Jewish identity to Israel – a state that privileges one ethnic group, Jews, over native Palestinians; that was built on the dispersion and ethnic cleansing of that native people; and continues to oppress them through a brutal military occupation – it precisely subverts the notion of Jew as victim.

In fact, it can be argued that this is the very appeal of Israel to Zionist Jews like Freedland and the JLM. They enjoy at a distance the empowerment provided by Israel. This is the excitement, described at length by liberal Israeli professor Yaron Ezrahi in his book Rubber Bullets, of the Jew who is transformed by Israel into a warrior. It is the reason many Zionist Jews are publicly thrilled by the sight of Israeli soldiers, “his and her” weapons casually slung over their shoulders.

Moshe Machover’s article which led to his expulsion is exquisite. That Jews may feel offended because Machover quotes Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich extolling Zionism (1935)– “The government finds itself in complete agreement with the great spiritual movement within Jewry itself, so-called Zionism, with its recognition of the solidarity of Jewry throughout the world and the rejection of all assimilationist ideas”– has really got to be their own problem. These are sound historical facts. Jonathan Freedland can complain all he wants about Ken Livingstone’s comments on Zionist-Nazi collaboration, as so many others have, but in the end these are well documented matters.

These comments do not reflect anti-Semitism in themselves. In fact, the reason they are taken issue with is that they reflect badly on Zionism. And those who are leading the witch-hunt on UK Labour ‘anti-Semitism’, are simply seeking to weaken the Corbynite elements which are more pro-Palestinian, so as to return the party to the Blairite conservatism which is more supportive of Israel, and Zionism. This could thus be called the ‘Blair witch-hunt project’.

Many of those who are sensitive to what Jews may “feel and know” to be anti-Semitism, seem to have very little parallel sensitivity to what Palestinians “feel and know”. You do not have to be a genius to “feel and know” the crushing brutality of Israeli oppression. It’s there every day. In Palestine, you can be administratively detained anytime without charge, on the basis of ‘secret evidence’. You will definitely “feel” it, but you will perhaps never know why you are being incarcerated.

Maybe I have offended some Jews here. Surely, I have. But you can’t expel me from Labour, I’m not a member. And I will keep writing about this, for sure. Because what I “feel and know” is, that what is happening here is very wrong.

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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16 Responses

  1. JeffB on October 6, 2017, 10:48 am

    Just to throw in $.02 here. I had made the comment in the previous articles that attacking Zionism without attacking Judaism requires nuance and care. Moshe Machover’s article up until the last paragraph is a good example of this while nuance and care. Corbyn’s rhetoric is not. It is not shocking that Machover understands Judaism better than Corbyn and thus is able to do a far better job. But it is worth looking and this example for how delicate one has to be to do a good job. There is a lot in that article I’d agree with, some I’d disagree with and excluding the last paragraph nothing I found offensive. I’m probably politically slightly to the right of your typical JLMer and a solid Zionist.

    That article is not antisemitic, you can’t be this nuanced and be a bigot. However the last paragraph is a problem and does cross over. Zionism as a movement based on both colonisation and collusion with anti-Semitism. . “Based on” is over the top. That conclusion is precisely the opposite of the nuance the rest of the article demonstrates. Machover simply understands Zionism too well for me to believe he thinks Zionism is based on colonization rather than has employed colonization or has intrinsic colonial themes. As far as based on collusion with anti-Semitism that’s simply nonsense. Machover knows it is nonsense. Something like “is a political response to anti-Semitism and a cultural engagement with the anti-Semitic critique of Judaism” would be fair.

    I have no idea why he wrote a balanced nuanced article only to switch in the last paragraph into hateful rhetoric he knows to be false. What could have been a good how to example of how to critique Zionism instead demonstrates how leftist anti-semitism works.

    One thing of interests is je does admit himself his critique is mainly the 1930-40s sort of critique. It is an odd critique. I’m sure there were Indians who lived in British India who opposed Ghandi and liked being British subjects, just as there were loyalists in America. But South Asians are not constantly forced to defend against those arguments. It is considered passe India exists, it is real, argument about independence is finished. That should be the uncomplicated status of Israel. I have 0 times in my life as an American been asked by Europeans to respond to Loyalist arguments.

    Ultimately it is worth considering why that is.

    • Mooser on October 6, 2017, 12:25 pm

      “Just to throw in $.02 here.”

      Just think how much more your .02 would be worth if you detailed your education and experience, your qualifications to comment authoritatively on well, everything.
      So please, “Jeffy b” make that investment in your credibility. It’ll pay off, for sure.

    • amigo on October 7, 2017, 12:23 pm

      jeffyboy is throwing his $ 02 all over the place.

      “Just to throw in $.02 here” jeffyboy

      “I’m just going to throw my $.02 into this thread”jeffyboy

      Shouldn,t you be throwing all those $.02 cents into a fund for your kid,s edumacation or purchasing a ticket to your beloved “only democracy (for Jews only) in the Middle East.

      Correct me if I am wrong but isn,t it your claim that Israel has never claimed to be a “Democracy ” for all.

    • Emory Riddle on October 9, 2017, 5:25 pm

      Who cares if Judaism is attacked by words? The Muslims are being attacked by bombs.

  2. Jonathan Ofir on October 6, 2017, 12:16 pm

    JeffB, you write “Machover simply understands Zionism too well for me to believe he thinks Zionism is based on colonization rather than has employed colonization or has intrinsic colonial themes.”

    So you agree that the “colonial themes” are “intrinsic”. In other words, Zionism is BASED UPON them.

    Indeed, also its ethnic cleansing, as part of this colonisation “theme”, was “inbuilt in Zionism”, as Israeli historian Benny Morris said, calling that ethnic cleansing ‘transfer’ as if it wasn’t one and the same.

    In the end, your ‘offense’ with Machover for not being more ‘sensitive’ as it were with his formulations, ends up pedantic.

    • JeffB on October 6, 2017, 1:03 pm

      @Jonathan Ofir

      So you agree that the “colonial themes” are “intrinsic”. In other words, Zionism is BASED UPON them.

      Unquestionably the USA constitution and political constitution has Presbyterian themes. That doesn’t mean the USA is based on Presbyterianism. Zionism also has intrinsic: anti-colonial themes, religious themes, anti-religious themes, Romantic themes, themes from Labor politics…. His statement is simply too strong. It is inaccurate and uncharitable. It is designed to be dishonest and offensive.

      Indeed, also its ethnic cleansing, as part of this colonisation “theme”, was “inbuilt in Zionism”, as Israeli historian Benny Morris said

      Which is fair (though I think Morris even goes too far). Make it stronger and say Zionism is based on ethnic cleansing and it becomes false. Phrase it as offensively as possible so as to whip up hatred of Jews and it becomes antisemitism.

      In the end, your ‘offense’ with Machover for not being more ‘sensitive’ as it were with his formulations, ends up pedantic.

      It ends up as a demand for care, charitable interpretation, understanding, fairness, honesty, etc… A rejection of those ideas ends up being just being offensive even if there are some elements of truth. One sees that all the time here. An anti-zionist says something incredibly offensive, gets challenged on the fact and that backpedals to some sliver of their statement being accurate. Just present the accurate defendable sliver in the first place in context and no one gets offended.

      Every other paragraph but the last in Machover’s piece did that.

      • Paranam Kid on October 7, 2017, 2:07 am

        Zionism is a political ideology for the sole benefit of only 1 ethnic group in a particular geographic area. In that particular geographic area the Jews were in a minority, therefore the ethnic group that was a majority had to be ethnically cleansed in order to establish the balance in favour of the Jews, making them an artificial “majority”. That 1st wave of Zionist ethnic cleansing resulted in 750 000 Palestinian Arabs being either driven from their homes or fleeing out of fear of further massacres such as had occurred at the village
        of Deir Yassin shortly prior to the Zionist declaration.

        And there are of course the 100s of 1000s of Palestinian Arabs massacred from the time the Zionists set foot in Palestine till today.

        But that Jewish “majority” is under constant threat of being turned into a minority again by 2 trends:
        * a net emigration of Jews out of Israel – there are close to 1 million Israeli Jewish expats in the US, plus the ones living elsewhere
        * a higher birth rate among Palestinians than among Jews.

        The 1st trend is not spoken about in Israel as it presents a real embarrassment, while all the focus is on the 2nd. But, the fact is that since both erode the Jewish numbers, the Palestinians have to be continually ethnically cleansed, whilst in the background, the incremental genocide (Ilan Pappé’s term) also does its bit to reduce those Palestinian numbers.

        So, the only conclusion that can be reached is that Zionism is based on ethnic cleansing. Period.

        And that conclusion has absolutely nothing to do with antisemitism (i.e. hatred of Jews for being Jews), it only has to do with calling a spade a spade.

        Your Israel-inspired new, wider definition of antisemitism (any criticism of Israel) is precisely what is pushing up antisemitism. You Zionists ought to be ashamed of yourselves to bring this upon your fellow Jews without asking them their opinion or having an honest & open debate about it with them, but just steamrolling your views upon them. You know what that is called? Totalitarianism.

      • Jonathan Ofir on October 7, 2017, 5:25 am

        JeffB, Machover refers to Zionism as colonialism from the very beginning of the article. Somewhere in the middle he speaks of the settlement enterprise, where he writes:
        “It can be explained by the fact that it is an essential part of Zionist policy. In carrying out this policy Israel is, if you like, following an imperative of Zionism from the very beginning. Once you accept that this is an integral part of Zionism, then you realise it would be strange if Israel did not attempt to implement it. It is not as if it were a policy specific to the current government of Binyamin Netanyahu. It has been carried out by all Israeli governments since 1967 and it took place within the former borders – the so-called ‘green line’ – before 1967. It has been an ongoing policy of Zionist colonisation from the very beginning.”

        You are telling us that you could stomach that, but not his last paragraph where he says that Zionism is BASED on colonization. But he has been saying the same thing throughout.

      • dgfincham on October 7, 2017, 3:49 pm

        JeffB: you say “Make it stronger and say Zionism is based on ethnic cleansing and it becomes false. Phrase it as offensively as possible so as to whip up hatred of Jews and it becomes antisemitism”. No, if it was offensive enough to whip up hatred, it would be hatred of Zionists, not of Jews. It is anti-Zionist, not anti-semitic.

  3. Bumblebye on October 6, 2017, 4:50 pm

    The problem in the Labour Party is its seemingly immovable/unsackable General Secretary Iain McNicol (entertained in Israel earlier this year) and the ‘Compliance Unit’ which carries out the suspensions and expulsions. Many have been manifestly *against* Labour’s own rules, and a few cases have ensued. He was at one stage openly anti-Corbyn, and he and his ‘Compliance Unit’ are still undermining the left as much as they possibly can.

  4. just on October 6, 2017, 5:12 pm

    “Moshe Machover’s article which led to his expulsion is exquisite.”

    It certainly is, Jonathan. Shame, shame, shame on Labour Head of Disputes Sam Matthews et al and JLM.

    “…And I will keep writing about this, for sure. Because what I “feel and know” is, that what is happening here is very wrong.”

    I am very grateful for that.

    I wonder if you’ve seen this:

    “Palestine was the issue at Labour Party conference

    Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn received his longest and loudest standing ovation at his party’s conference when he called for an “end to the oppression of the Palestinian people” and Israel’s “50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion.”

    This was just one of the ways popular support for Palestinian rights was highly visible at the main UK opposition party’s annual gathering last week. …”

    much more @

  5. Paranam Kid on October 7, 2017, 1:43 am

    Jonathan, you’ve done it again: you have hit the nail on the head brilliantly, showing what a pathetic attempt the Labour zionists keep making to “protect” their beloved “country” by imposing their rule & avoiding any real, fact-based, open discussion about threat “country”.
    Glad you committed to keep on writing about this.

  6. Jonathan Ofir on October 7, 2017, 2:47 am

    JeffB, I’m a musician, so I’ll go with your ‘theme’ term concerning colonisation.
    In symphonies, especially from romantic period, you can have a kind of ‘grand theme’. For example in Dvorak’s ‘New World’ symphony nr. 9, the first main theme of the first movement appears later in the symphony, it’s very central. Wagner developed a concept in his operas of ‘leitmotif’ – a ‘leading theme’, which follows the central characters.
    By analogy, colonisation is a CENTRAL THEME in Zionism, as it is a settler-colonialist venture. Machover doesn’t need to get into that in detail in his article, it is discussed so much elsewhere. This is not merely a secondary ‘theme’ for Zionism. It’s what it IS. It is its Leitmotif.
    All the rest is just semantics.

    • Mooser on October 8, 2017, 6:37 pm

      “All the rest is just semantics.”

      That should appeal to “Jeff b”. He’s very philo-semantic.

  7. JLewisDickerson on October 10, 2017, 12:37 am

    RE: “These comments do not reflect anti-Semitism in themselves. In fact, the reason they are taken issue with is that they reflect badly on Zionism. “ ~ Ofir

    MY COMMENT: I continue to get a bit of a vague feeling that although these actions that are seen as “offensive” are complained of under the rubric of anti-Semitism, they would more accurately be objected to as the type of offense associated with “race traitors” (but, for a myriad of reasons, the offensive actions have been objected to on the basis of anti-Semitism).
    I only say that I get a vague feeling about it because I don’t have a sufficiently broad/deep knowledge base to form a definitive conclusion.

    Race traitor
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia –

    [EXCERPT] Race traitor is a pejorative reference to a person who is perceived as supporting attitudes or positions thought to be against the interests or well-being of that person’s own race. For example, one or both parties to an interracial relationship may be characterized as “race traitors.” As another example, a person who supports affirmative action or other policies that allegedly benefit races other than his/her own may be characterized as a “race traitor.” The term is the source of the name of a quarterly magazine, Race Traitor, founded in 1993.[1]

    During Apartheid in South Africa, in which the white minority held exclusive political power, white anti-apartheid activists where characterised as “traitors” by the government.[2]

    Thomas Mair, who murdered British MP Jo Cox in 2016, regarded Cox as a “traitor” to the white race. Mair had also published letters criticising “white liberals and traitors” in South Africa who he described as “the greatest enemy of the old apartheid system”.[3]


    ■ C. VANN WOODWARD (1938):

    . . . The submissive loyalty that the leaders of the New Departure commanded in Georgia conformed to a pattern found in all Southern states after home rule was restored. “The ‘Solid South,’ ” wrote Henry Watterson in 1879, “is a reaction against proscription, attended by misgovernment, and a protest against the ever-recurring menace of Federal interference.” 25 Thus the new discipline was feudal rather than democratic. It was based upon fear—fear of the Negro menace, the scalawag menace, the Federal menace, menaces real and imaginary. As the price of protection, it demanded unquestioning allegiance. White men could not divide on lines of class interest, nor could differences over measures and candidates be expressed at the ballot box. Such matters were settled by the small clique that ran the machine. Democratic forms were observed, but their observance was entirely perfunctory. Party platforms contained nothing but such platitudes as all white men could agree upon. Incompetency and weakness in candidates had to be overlooked for the sake of white solidarity. Suspected graft in public office could not be exposed for fear of Negro domination. Ballot-box stuffing had to be tolerated when white supremacy was threatened. Such was the moral intimidation of this feudal discipline that it was widely felt that to scratch a ticket was “treason to the white race,” and to make open declaration of independence was “an effort to africanize the state.” . . . ~ from page 57 of “Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel”, by C. Vann Woodward –

    ■ ALSO SEE: “Israel’s Weird Elections”, by Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, 1/04/13:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . The Israeli media are already to a large extent neutralized, a creeping process not unsimilar to what the Germans used to call Gleichschaltung. [SEE: Gleichschaltung @ Wikipedia – J.L.D. ]

    All three TV channels are more or less bankrupt and dependent on government handouts. Their editors are practically government appointees. The printed press is also teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, except the largest “news” paper, which belongs to Sheldon Adelson and is a Netanyahu propaganda sheet, distributed gratis. [Naftali] Bennett repeats the ridiculous assertion that almost all journalists are left-wingers (meaning traitors.) [[Race traitors? ~ J.L.D.]] He promises to put an end to this intolerable situation. . .

    . . . In the coming four years, the official annexation of the West Bank to Israel may become a fact. . .


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