New on openDemocracy

The International Network of Genocide Scholars (INOGS) is holding a conference in Jerusalem this weekend. The initiative has attracted an attack by Israel Charny in the Jerusalem Post under the lurid heading, ‘Genocide scholars who minimize the Holocaust – and some who are coming to town’. This summarised his article published in the pseudo-academic Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, reporting a flawed survey of his friends and acquaintances interested in genocide about their attitudes to the Journal of Genocide Research (JGR), the premier journal in the field which is sponsored by INOGS.

Charny charges JGR and the authors of seven articles (including this writer) with ‘minimization of the Holocaust, delegitimization of the State of Israel, and repeat[ing] common themes of contemporary antisemitism’, and then reports how many of his respondents agreed with each of these charges in relation to each of the papers and the journal as a whole. The exercise is a travesty of social research because Charny personally selected the participants, prejudiced the survey by feeding them his own views and distorted summaries of the papers (rather than the papers themselves or their abstracts), and by using loaded terms like ‘Holocaust minimisation’ and above all ‘antisemitism’.

The ‘boycott’ petition against the conference

At the same time, however, for simply holding the conference in Jerusalem INOGS has come under fire from 270 academics and others who have signed a petition calling on it to respect the academic boycott of Israel, called by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). The petition points to the ‘hypocrisy’ of having the conference in Israel at a time when Israel’s actions are ‘increasingly being viewed through lenses of ethnic cleansing and genocide linked to settler colonialism’, as well as calling the location ‘Jerusalem, Israel’, when the city’s eastern part has been illegally annexed.

The irony of the petition’s first charge is that this is also the core reason why Charny objects to JGR. Seeing Zionism romantically as a ‘heroic nationalism’ rooted solely in Jewish victimisation, he is incensed by the mere suggestion that Israel’s founding through the removal of most of Palestine’s Arab population could be analysed through a ‘genocide’ lens. I proposed this idea in a 2010 debate in JGR following a fuller article in the Journal of Holy Land Studies (the paper was earlier presented at an INOGS conference). It was not an original insight: JGR’s most heavily downloaded paper is one by Patrick Wolfe which, inter alialinked the Israeli case to the wider problem of genocide in settler colonialism.

It typifies Charny’s intellectual sloppiness that he doesn’t seem to have read my original article before condemning me, but it also reflects poorly on the petition organisers that they don’t seem to have been aware of INOGS and JGR’s pioneering roles in promoting discussion of colonial genocide and broaching the subject (very sensitive because of the twin centrality of the Holocaust to genocide studies and to much Jewish identity) of the genocidal dimenstions of the Nakba. Nor do they seem to have picked up on the fact that INOGS was founded partly because of dissatisfaction with the way in which the existing, US-based International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) had been politicised by pro-Israeli scholars, most notoriously in a 2006 resolution echoing Israeli propaganda charges that then-President Ahmadinejad of Iran was threatening a new genocide against Jews.

INOGS’ opposition to politicising genocide studies

I left IAGS after that (although I should mention that in recent years a new, younger leadership has avoided further provocations of this kind). I supported, and still support, INOGS’s opposing stance that it is not helpful for the disciiplinary organisations of academics in a sensitive field like genocide to take political positions on what counts as genocide or a threat of genocide. All scholars in the genocide field have moral commitments, of course, and we should expect individuals to take political positions. But if we are to have professional communities which promote academic rigour and serious scholarly debate on the cases of genocide, then these cases cannot be foreclosed by majority votes on a website.

It is in this spirit, I assume, that my friend Juergen Zimmerer, the INOGS President, and other colleagues on its board have approached the Jerusalem conference. Israel is, naturally, one of the major countries in which the Holocaust is studied and there are key intellectual debates, including the relationship of Holocaust to wider study of genocide (the latter category is subversive in Israel since Holocaust-centrism is hegemonic) and indeed about how the Holocaust itself should be studied, broached in JGR, which it is especially appropriate to take forward in an Israeli setting. There are, after all, many serious genocide scholars in Israel, such as the veteran historian Yehuda Bauer who defended the conference in the Jerusalem Post, as well as ideologues like Charny.

The academic boycott of Israel

Thus far, I am sympathetic to the ambitions for this conference. Its programme is impressive. My absence, however, is not accidental. It is one thing to avoid political commitments, as INOGS has managed to do up to now. It is another, when holding an event in a site of conflict, to accept the position advocated by one side and to reject the position adopted by the other. Whether INOGS likes it or not, the academic boycott of Israel is part of this conflict. The boycott is not directed at individual scholars: many academics who support the boycott regularly have contact with Israeli scholars. It is directed at universities as Israeli institutions, which like many others are to a greater or lesser extent complicit in the oppression of Palestinians, as my late colleague Stan Cohen argued in a memorable paper (Hebrew here).

I don’t criticise the specific Israeli institutions which have sponsored the conference, which may well be acting laudibly within the oppressive Israeli climate of which Charny’s attacks are a symptom. It is significant that a West Bank-based institution is also among the sponsors, and Al Quds University was apparently approached to co-host but declined. There is a plenary roundtable, What Does It Mean to Study the Holocaust and Genocide in Israel/Palestine, A Site of Conflict?, in which one of the speakers is Palestinian, as well as other occasions to reflect on Israel-Palestine issues. This will probably a stimulating gathering, and at one level I am sorry to be missing it.

However I don’t see these as good enough reasons to avoid the boycott question. The boycott as a whole (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions, BDS, to give it its proper name) is emerging to the centre of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It offers Palestinians the means of applying peaceful international pressure to Israel to reach an equitable settlement, as an alternative to the violence of Hamas and others. It has been the focus of a huge official and unofficial Israeli counteroffensive, including bans on BDS campaigns in the USA, which has smeared boycotters as antisemitic.

It was unnecessary for INOGS to endorse the boycott; it could clearly have simply avoided the whole issue, in line with its previous position, by holding its conference somewhere else. But by holding a conference in Jerusalem, INOGS has taken a position against the boycott, and it is not one I can support.

I would have respected INOGS’ board more if it had responded publicly to the criticisms of the boycotters, and indeed I made several attempts to encourage it to articulate its position, so that this debate, instead of being brought together in this piece, would have taken place between INOGS and those academics who thought it should not go to Jerusalem.

There is a further irony in that INOGS and JGR have been smeared as ‘delegitimising the State of Israel’, and even antisemitic, despite this decision. No doubt the Charnys of this world will be quick to heap further ignominy on me for the views I am expressing, and will throw in INOGS for good measure.

‘Delegitimising’ Israel

I explained my decision to support the boycott at the time of Israel’s last large-scale massacres in Gaza in 2014, and there is no need to repeat all the arguments here. I will make clear, however, in the light of recent controversies in the UK, that my position on Israel-Palestine has not fundamentally changed since I was commissioned to write on it in 2009 (after the first Gaza massacres) by the editor of Democratiya, Alan Johnson. (Charny should note that Johnson now works for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, BICOM, and was never one to publish an antisemitic post.)

Any reader of these articles will see that I do not oppose the existence of the State of Israel. That is also true of my academic writing referred to above. Charny is unable to engage with the Palestinian genocide proposition (or even Ilan Pappe’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ perspective) in conceptual or historical terms, but only through the starkly political lens of the ‘delegitimisation’ of the state. Yet as Jonathan Freedland has argued, ‘As for the notion that Israel’s right to exist is voided by the fact that it was born in what Palestinians mourn as the Naqba [sic] – their dispossession in 1948 – one does not have to be in denial of that fact to point out that the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and countless others were hardly born through acts of immaculate conception. Those nations were forged in great bloodshed.’

However the corollary of recognising that there is no necessary connection between the crimes of Israel’s foundation and its right to exist today is that the Nakba deserves the same academic attention as the other cases that Freedland mentions, which are increasingly discussed in the colonial genocide literature that JGR has done so much to develop. If research on Israel-Palestine is to advance, it will have to overcome the idea that deep historical criticism of Israel necessarily implies the dismantling of its state and society.

The reason why we have not got to this ‘normal’ stage is Israel’s continuous expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which even more than its failure to address historic Palestinian grievances means that Israel itself has not achieved a stable state. The world has recognised Israel within its 1948 borders, but Israel itself is unsatisfied with these borders. Its internationally illegitimate expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, endorsed in some degree by all mainstream parties in the Knesset, makes it impossible to unequivocally endorse the state.

Conceptual and normative aspects of forced removal

At the heart of my conceptual position is the proposition that the forced removal of populations is one of the key means through which genocide, the destruction of population groups and societies, is carried out. Corresponding to this, I take a normative position: whole groups and societies should not be forcibly uprooted.

I apply this principle retrospectively to the forced removal of the majority of Palestinians from Israeli territory in 1948, a removal which was partially deliberate at the time and wholly deliberate in the Israeli refusal to allow Palestinians to return after the war.

I apply this prospectively to any proposal for the forced removal of the Jewish population of Israel, and I recognise that the Jewish population needs a state in which it has confidence to protect it. A stable state structure in Israel-Palestine, whether one state or two, needs Jewish as well as Palestinian consent.

However I also apply this principle now to the ongoing forced removal of the Palestinian population from their homes in many parts of the Occupied Territories, and their replacement by Jewish settlers.

Jerusalem: where ‘genocide’ questions are still live

Jerusalem is not just a site of ‘conflict’, in the euphemistic terminology of the INOGS conference programme. It is a site of what many, almost as euphemistically, call ‘ethnic cleansing’, as Palestinians are forced out of their longstanding homes in the occupied east of the city. It is a site in which questions of ‘genocide’, the deliberate destruction of communities, are all too live.

‘Genocide’, wrote Raphael Lemkin, ‘has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own nationals.’

It is true that current dispossession is piecemeal, often legal in the Israeli understanding (although Israel’s domestic law does not genuinely apply when the occupation is illegal under international law), and mostly accompanied by only localised coercion or violence. In these senses it is different from the wholesale removal of a large population, without a shred of legality and with extensive violence, which occurred in 1948.

However it seems to me unarguable that the present dispossession is an extension of the historic destruction of Palestinian society. In the midst of this crisis, genocide scholars cannot ignore the call for boycotting Israel which comes, not from those ‘singling out’ or ‘demonising’ Israel (as BDS’s critics claim), let alone from antisemites, but from those Palestinian organisations which see it as a more potent weapon for justice than rockets, bombs or knives which harm innocent civilians.

This is why I am not in Jerusalem.

My latest post on openDemocracy:  If the B in Brexit stands for Boris and his overweening ambition, the R is for Racism, the method through which Vote Leave aims to achieve the political upset of the century.

In ITV’s two-hour debate, Johnson waffled on about democracy and an ‘Australian-style points system’, his latest migration-management wheeze (courtesy, like so much else, of Nigel Farage).

But down in the engine room of Vote Leave, they are not bothered about debate. Earlier the same evening, they mounted another 5-minute broadcast that would have made Goebbels proud. An old British woman, in tears, was forced to wait in A&E while anonymous aliens edged ahead. A huge number of additional sundry foreigners, including 78 million Turks, were on their way. ‘NHS” flashed across the map of the UK.

Vote Leave’s propaganda comes from the same stable as that Tory classic from 1964, ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour’. But this is the 21st Century, so Leave doesn’t racially insult Turks and Albanians. In any case, the audience, Sun and Star readers, don’t need that. As always with racism, a heavy hint is quite sufficient.

What is this nasty drivel doing on our public television? Vote Leave was made the official ‘Out’ campaign, elbowing out Farage, because mainstream Tories like Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Johnson were in charge.

Now we know that why. UKIP would have been scared to go so low and dirty for fear of the backlash. But Vote Leave has cabinet backing: it can act with impunity.

Vote Leave is Vote Lie. And not just any old lie: a big racist one. If David Cameron had any principles, he’d tell the Brexit ministers to resign. If broadcasters didn’t fear the Brexiteers deciding their funding, they would surely protest. But Leave are going to get away with it.

Like Trump, Johnson has now alienated his party’s establishment, which is lining up to attack him. He can only come to power by stirring up base racism in the electorate – and in the ancient Tory membership who will choose our next ruler.

My article on openDemocracy two days ago.

Boris Johnson has achieved the remarkable feat of making David Cameron (‘PR Dave’) look principled. While Johnson’s ‘agonising’ Brexit choice – apparently after drafting two opposing articles for the Daily Telegraph – was transparently opportunist, Cameron’s ‘Remain’ looks like a strategic decision. Unlike Johnson’s, the prime minister’s deceitful hype surrounding the British ‘renegotiation’ was limited to the tactical.

With this knowledge, what should we make of the divide in the ruling Conservative party, and how will it be affected by the outcome of the 23 June referendum? Where could the referendum lead, not only for Britain and the EU, but for British politics in general? This article is an attempt to explore the challenge which faces all concerned with where the Tories’ division on Europe is leading them – and those they rule over.

Deep differences at the top?

Although Cameron and Johnson are antagonists, there is no ideological and strategic chasm between them. Both are culturally Europhile but politically soft-Eurosceptic. Johnson is no more a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ than Cameron is a EU enthusiast (his former spin-doctor Steve Hilton even claims that he was privately for leaving).

Cameron and Johnson share the general Tory scepticism towards progressive EU legislation and European justice, while recognising the economic advantages of the Single European Market and the free movement of labour. While only Johnson has actually opted for ‘out’, Cameron obviously wagered (when he promised a referendum) that, in the end, Britain could live with an exit.

The question is whether these shared commitments, underpinned by a common formation and deep class ties, will enable them to overcome the antagonisms of the campaign and cooperate in the aftermath of the vote. There are good reasons to think that they will have little alternative but to do so, to avoid a deep party split and a catastrophic, Tory-made crisis in the British economy.

Who would call the shots in a Brexit Tory government?

It is very clear that this will be needed if Brexit wins. Any majority for ‘Leave’ will probably be tiny. Domestic legitimacy will be small and international legitimacy minimal. Cameron and his putative successor, George Osborne, will have suffered a devastating political defeat. The stock market and the pound will suffer immediate hits. The Tories will be straining to avoid compounding the atmosphere of political and economic crisis with a full-scale party struggle.

It seems likely that in these circumstances even Johnson would see the need to maintain a veneer of leadership continuity and party unity. Cameron has signalled via the reliable Matthew d’Ancona that he really would stay on. It would probably suit Johnson to let the departing PM deal with the immediate fallout and steady the ship. In the meanwhile Johnson would be brought into one of the major offices of state (in which he has never served), a surer base from which to launch his leadership bid in due course.

From Cameron’s point of view, this outcome would avoid compounding the humiliation of defeat with his own abrupt removal from office and gain him credit for dealing with the national crisis. It might (just possibly) enable Osborne to rebuild his position for the leadership contest.

Moreover a narrow Brexit and the fact that Cameron and Johnson would probably have to hang together in the first stages point to a Norway-style solution. The hardcore Europhobes would get neither the deep separation nor the low migration that they crave.

… and with Bremain?

In the (currently more probable) event of a modest Remain win, Cameron and Johnson would probably still need to work together. To rebuild Tory unity, Cameron would need to be magnanimous to the Brexiteers, and Johnson is the only essential person in the thin Brexit leadership. Iain Duncan Smith has burned his bridges, and neither the quixotic Michael Gove nor the illiberal Chris Grayling, let alone Priti Patel, is a substantial enough figure to strongly represent the Leave side in a unity government.

Only in the event of a substantial Remain victory could Cameron exclude Johnson, but then he might well stoke civil war in the party and the latter’s victory in the leadership contest which is expected before 2020. It is always better to have your rival inside the tent, pissing out.

Cameron’s signals

Cameron may not be a real One Nation Tory, but his commitment to a single party is not in serious doubt. He and Osborne have also shown themselves astute in avoiding the Downing Street rivalries which bedevilled the Blair-Brown governments.

His decision to avoid any sort of TV debate with Johnson, and to have only indirect encounters with other Tory Brexiteers, is surely a signal of the importance he attaches to rebuilding party unity after the referendum campaign.

Johnson needs party unity …

While Johnson appears more singlemindedly egotistical, it is also in his interest to maintain the veneer of party unity and to rebuild it substantially after the referendum. His was, after all, a win-win choice, premised on the probability that Brexit was unlikely but that he who had nobly backed it would gain support among the ageing, xenophobic party selectorate.

In this context, being seen as a catalyst of party division is probably the main thing that could seriously damage Johnson’s chances. This would open the way if not to Osborne then to Theresa May, who has deftly qualified her ‘Remain’ stance with a call for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (membership in which is separate from the EU).

… and avoids commitments

This is doubtless why Johnson has avoided commitments on the key issues. Having toyed successively with a second referendum to ‘re-enter’ the EU and then with Norway and Canada scenarios, has not committed himself to any one model of the UK’s post-Brexit relationship. He has not protested at Gove’s proclamation that the UK will leave the Single Market, but he is hardly bound by his colleague’s opinion.

This is doubtless also why Johnson has criticised Cameron for making promises he couldn’t keep about migration, but has not made any promises himself. While UKIP’s Nigel Farage has talked of limiting immigration to 50,000 a year and Duncan Smith has resurrected the Government’s 100,000 target, Johnson has refused to acknowledge that an overall target is desirable, even if he has opined that the latter target ‘could’ be met.

The new Tory project

Obviously Brexit might well upset the best intentions of a Cameron-Johnson rapprochement. However in the event of a narrow Remain win (the current central projection), the Government will emphasise measures like the repeal of the Human Rights Act (announced in the Queen’s Speech) which will appeal to the frustrated Tory Right, even if they will not satisfy the hard-core Europhobes.

Let us not forget that apart from Europe, not only is the Tory leadership broadly united, but it has a radical project which commands wide support across the Brexit divide, even if a minority of nervous backbenchers have joined the Opposition in frustrating successive measures.

While Cameron’s style has been mostly more patrician than Margaret Thatcher’s, it has been evident, especially since his second victory a year ago, that his government involves a radical project which builds on hers and is arguably even more radical.

Often characterised as ‘shrinking’ the state and ‘privatising’ services, this project is actually more complex. While some areas of the state (welfare, social housing, local government) are being drastically shrunk, the wider project (affecting even areas like health and education where spending is maintained) is a partial decomposition of the state, allowing its creeping colonisation by private capital.

The ‘internal’ state

This approach is widely applied to what we may call the ‘internal’ state, i.e. state institutions which point inwards to the national society. Its most striking expression was the Lansley reorganisation of the National Health Service, which was broken up into a bewildering away of trusts, commissioning groups and property agencies that would relate to each other through an extended ‘internal market’ with enhanced opportunities for private health firms to enter.

Since their unexpected win in 2015, the Tories have lost little time in widely extending this approach to other areas. Building on New Labour’s initiative, the majority of secondary schools had already been made Academies under the Coalition, with local government control replaced by chains of schools under private trusts, and a new category of state-funded ‘free schools’ was created. Although the government has recently retreated on a proposal to extend ‘academisation’ to all the remaining secondaries and even to primary schools, a century and a half of democratic local control of schools has been deeply undermined.

Elected local government in England, of similar longevity, is also a target of ambitious change, involving patchwork ‘devolution’ to a motley array of combined local authorities through business-dominated ‘quangos’ called Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs). Each local consortium is offered enhanced control over a small portion of the rapidly diminishing central funding for local services. Unlike Scottish and Welsh devolution, no new institutions or democratic rights are proposed, except for requirements that most deals are accompanied by elected mayors for what are often incoherent amalgamations of local areas.

These and other changes, some of which were not in the Tory election manifesto, are being pursued through ruthless exploitation of Britain’s system of ‘elective dictatorship’ which has given Cameron an absolute majority for 37 per cent of the vote. In tandem, the Tories are aiming to reduce the numbers of MPs, in changes likely to benefit their party, while refusing to reform the larger and anachronistic House of Lords.

Brexit and the ‘external’ state

In many ways, Brexit is coherent with this project, extending these changes to the ‘external’ state, through which Britain is linked to the wider world. This is why it has such appeal in the Tory ranks. As Jeremy Corbyn suggested in a belated intervention, it would involve a ‘bonfire of rights’, abolishing a swathe of EU rules which protect workers, women and the environment.

There is no reason to believe that Cameron and Osborne would regret these changes any more than the Brexiteers. The Tory divide on Brexit is limited mainly to the Single Market, which the Government, most businesses, especially large and multinational, and even Johnson see as valuable for Britain’s economic success.

However the Prime Minister and Chancellor must also oppose Brexit because they are acutely aware of the general damage likely to British international standing. Brexit would not immediately affect Britain’s membership of NATO, its seat on the United Nations Security Council, or its role in the International Monetary Fund, but it would change its real position in all of these, with serious reputational consequences.

Virtually no European or world leader sees the point of the UK leaving the EU, and many fear its knock-on effects not only on the rest of the EU but on the world economy and global political stability. While Johnson can shrug off these issues (for the time being), they must clearly weigh with those who have to explain Brexit to their fellow leaders.

A new authoritarian populism?

Johnson is currently riding a pro-Brexit tide of nationalism and racism, even if he leaves UKIP to do the dirty work. Cameron and Osborne, on the other hand, believe they can batter it down with sufficiently powerful deployment of the state machine, international allies and mass media.

This is, in itself, a tactical difference. Cameron and Johnson are generally united in their exploitative attitude to racism. Both believe that they can switch on populist sentiment (last May stoking anti-Scottish fear in England, recently promoting Islamophobia in London) in pursuit of their electoral goals.

They may agree on one more near-future scenario. At some point afer the referendum, the Conservative Party will attempt to renew itself under a new leader. If there is a strong Remain win and either Osborne or May is able to block Johnson, the active mobilisation of Brexit’s racist nationalism may be left to a dissatisfied UKIP.

If Brexit wins or performs strongly, however, Johnson may well win the leadership. The temptation to capitalise electorally on the xenophobia of the Leave campaign – rather as Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP capitalised on the rather different nationalism of the Scottish referendum – will be strong.

This Tory Trump – not, pace Kenneth Clarke, a ‘nicer’ one but an English one – could offer Britain a new style of leadership, with indulgence from a sycophantic media. A folksy new ‘authoritarian populism’, 21st century in style but reminiscent of Thatcher’s, could extend Tory rule into a second decade, with a snap general election providing five more years’ legimatation for the whole package of unpopular policies. This is the big latent danger of the Brexit vote.

 

My new post on openDemocracy:

It is said that the Brexiteers have the identity side of the debate sown up. The British, or at least the English, do not feel European. We have our history as a proud, island people – they, on the Continent, have very different traditions. It is remarkable how this myth has taken root, although the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish so obviously share common linguistic, cultural and indeed political roots with other Europeans, and when the whole recorded history of our islands has been so bound up with the Continent. It is particularly outrageous since so many British people have given their lives over the last century, not so that we can retreat into Little England but so that Europe can be free and democratic.

Britain’s post-imperial delusions have been the main reason for blindness to this history. When the Common Market was first proposed, many on the left not only saw it as a capitalist club, but believed that Great Britain remained powerful enough to stand alone as a social democracy, or at least that the renovated Commonwealth could provide sufficient international support. The French president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, is generally credited with puncturing these illusions (which Thatcherism had already undermined) with his speech to the Trades Union Congress in 1988. However the ground had really been broken by the remarkable movement for European Nuclear Disarmament (END) which was launched in 1980, and above all in the speeches and writings of E.P. Thompson.

Edward Thompson was the great historian of the English working class and of those quintessentially English radical thinkers, William Morris and William Blake. He had famous spats with compatriots whom he saw as insufficiently attentive to ‘the peculiarities of the English’, and with a French philosopher whose grand theory seemed, to him, insufficiently grounded in the very English medium of empirical reality. And yet his political passion as a leader of END was not just to end the Cold War, or to remove nuclear weapons, but to unify Europe. Indeed he saw European unity, achieved through popular movements from below as well as through agreement between states, as the key to peace and disarmament.

Unlike some younger disarmers, Edward saw a direct link between Europe’s armed liberation from fascism in 1944-45 and the peaceful liberation from the Cold War blocs which END proposed. The first liberation was very personal to him, and not only because at the age of 20 he had fought through the Italian peninsula in the last year of the world war (he had very mixed feelings about the military experience, explored in his moving essay,‘The LIberation of Perugia’). More importantly, his elder brother Frank had been executed while fighting with Bulgarian resistance fighters in 1944, giving his life, as Edward saw it, for a free and democratic Europe.

In the early 1980s, Britons like other Europeans faced another existential threat, compared to which the worst failures of today’s EU bureaucracy pale into insignificance. ‘We Europeans are packed into this small continent,’ Edward noted, while the Warsaw Pact and NATO targeted multiple nuclear warheads at each and every city. (Some of the atmosphere of the time was conveyed in the recent TV drama, Deutschland 83.) Starting from a British base, Edward and his comrades pursued a single-minded strategy not just of linking the burgeoning West European peace movements with each other, but also of engaging these movements with the pressure for democracy in Eastern Europe. This goal set END apart from those in CND who saw removing nuclear weapons as the ultimate goal, and put it on a collision course with Stalinists who objected only to western nuclear systems.

It was a visionary strategy, set out in Thompson’s 1981 lecture, Beyond the Cold War. When first proposed, there were millions protesting NATO missiles on the streets of West European capitals, but apart from Solidarity in Poland (primarily a free trade union, and crushed by a military coup in late 1981), Eastern Europe had only small numbers of open dissidents. Many of them were suspicious of western peaceniks. Yet the end of the 1980s saw millions on the streets of Eastern European capitals, calling for democracy and bringing an end to the division of Europe in essentially the way that Edward and END foresaw. It helped, of course, that Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power in the Soviet Union, and that he and Ronald Reagan began a rapprochement that was unimagineable in 1981, but both of these developments were partly enabled by the peace movements.

After the dramatic revolutions of 1989, not even Margaret Thatcher, and certainly not the British Labour Party, could withstand the European tide. The new Europe had many flaws – new nationalist parties replaced civil society movements in the east, the west helped foist privatisation on the former Communist countries, NATO expanded and increasingly alienated Russia, and a currency bloc was launched which could not withstand the full-blown financial crisis which spread from the United States in 2008. But in the 1990s and early 2000s, the European idea was strong. The German and French governments even stood out against George W. Bush’s catastrophic invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Edward Thompson died in 1993, much exercised by the terrible new wars in the Balkans. The new Europe he envisaged was certainly much more than the EU of the national leaders and bureaucrats, of whose limitations Yugoslavia was an early indication. But their EU expansion was only possible because of how the popular movements ended the Cold War, very much as he had hoped and foreseen.

Doubtless Thompson, if he were alive today, would rail against the shameful failure of the EU to live up to its obligations to refugees and the vindictive policies of the Eurozone towards Greece. I am sure he would excoriate David Cameron for his abdication of Britain’s responsibility for Europe’s refugees, and I can imagine a withering dissection of the Prime Minister’s ‘renegotiation’ of migrant workers’ rights.

But Thompson’s vision leaves no room for Britain’s turning away from Europe to a fantasy mid-Atlantic or neo-Commonwealth position of the kind floated, typically unseriously, by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. The slogan of the progressive pro-EU campaign group, Another Europe is Possible, sums up what Edward was saying in the 1980s in his campaign against the Cold War division of the continent. We have to remain part of the European Union to make a better kind of Europe possible.

The west must prioritise civilian wellbeing in any intervention: my new post on Policy Network

There are three sectors of the conflict with Isis – the war zones of Syria-Iraq, the regional states which provide most of the backing for the wars and where most refugees are based, and western Europe where refugees now aim to come and whose cities Isis is attacking.

There are also three levels of the conflict. The armed conflict is now spreading from the war zones to Europe. The civilian experience of harm is massive in Syria-Iraq, the refugee camps and the Mediterranean, and now shocking in Europe as hundreds are massacred. Finally, in the political-media conflict, Isis uses mass death for propaganda purposes while western governments try to produce responses that will satisfy their populations, amid saturation coverage and moral panic.

We cannot ignore how the intersecting wars in Syria and Iraq involve local armed actors as well as Isis: the Syrian, Iraqi and (covertly) Iranian states, other Syrian armed groups, Iraqi Shi’ite militia and Hezbollah, and Kurdish forces. Wider international interventions are not mainly anti-Isis, but support local actors: the Iraqis and the Kurds against Isis and the Syrian regime (the west), and Bashar al-Assad against the armed opposition including Isis (Russia).

Interventions are driven as much (if not more) by political-media strategies for domestic audiences. Hence David Cameron’s UK government prioritised the drone assassination of Mohammed Emwazi, following Barack Obama’s example with the killing of Osama bin Laden. Even The Guardian allowed the ‘Jihadi John’ story to swamp the simultaneous Kurdish breakthrough in cutting the road between Raqqa and Mosul, Isis’ two main cities.

Both stories were, of course, eclipsed by Paris. Many hype the latest massacres as a turning point in the conflict. They certainly represent a significant turn in Isis strategy. Paris was the first western capital to be hit since London in 2005, and now it has happened twice in a year. It follows the downing of the Russian airliner and massacres in Ankara and Beirut, which have not had the same western political impact.

The French bombing of Raqqa will do little to stop future attacks, but it helps François Hollande look like he is rising to the occasion. Sadly, his declaration of ‘war’ has unmistakeable echoes of George W Bush’s after 9/11, which set the scene for the fateful invasion of 2003, to which the birth of Isis can be traced.

Clearly Isis needs to be stopped. Intervention that actually helps manifestly more humane forces can be justified. The problem is that Iraqi and even Kurdish forces have been implicated in atrocities – there are reports of Sunni homes burnt as the Kurds liberated Sinjar – while Assad is causing far greater suffering than Isis.

Western bombing itself causes civilian casualties, as the US killing of patients and staff in a Médicins sans Frontières hospital in Afghanistan reminded us. Such ‘accidental’ massacres are a systemic part of the contemporary western way of war, based on ‘risk transfer’ which protects military personnel (in their bombers and drone command centres) at the expense of civilians.

Some western missions successfully avoid civilian death, as France seems to have done so far in Raqqa. However their de-facto Russian allies – French and Russian navies are now cooperating – are less careful, having apparently caused serious casualties in Raqqa and bombed hospitals in other opposition-controlled areas.

No ‘clean’ war is on offer, whether by western bombing or from local allies on the ground. British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is right, therefore, to be cautious about military action. However that caution needs to be set in terms of an active response to Isis atrocities, which he has not achieved.

A progressive response needs to focus on the level of civilian harm in all sectors and on all forms of harm. We need a comprehensive strategy to prevent and alleviate civilian harm.

Airstrikes may have a role in supporting Kurdish and other anti-Isis fighters, but they do not offer a direct answer to the threat to civilians in European cities. The answer is less dramatic than explosions in Raqqa: better intelligence and policing and joining them up within and across European states.

In Europe, moreover, the largest number of much more helpless victims of Isis and Assad are those arriving to seek sanctuary. The left should shame governments of wealthy countries like Britain which refuse to take their share of those who arrive in our continent. As the French former captive of Isis, Nicholas Hénin, has pointed out, nothing will upset Isis and undermine the credibility of their recruitment as much as effective compassion for their Muslim victims.

We must also, however, address the situation of refugees still in the Middle East. We must make their situation more tolerable (as Cameron claims to be doing – but we could do more). But we must also providing safe routes to asylum in Europe – our international duty and the only genuine alternative to drownings, much as governments which fear the UK Independence party or the Front National will try to avoid it.

Finally, we must address the situation of civilians in the war zones. We should explore the scope to create and defend generally safe areas, in conjunction with Kurdish and other non-Isis oppositionists, although it is not clear where this could be done. We should increase international attention to their plight and continually emphasise that leaders of the Syrian regime, Isis and other forces need to face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the International Criminal Court. Since even the worst political settlement would probably be less awful for civilians than the present war, we must seek such a settlement. In that context, but not militarily, western governments do need to work with Russia.

If Paris is to be a turning-point, let it be one in which we finally come to terms with the situation which not only Assad, Russia and Iran, but also western allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel have helped to create – and indeed the west itself with ill-conceived policies in the Middle East over many decades. At the political level, let us respond by prioritising civilian wellbeing all round –this, rather than any domestic political posturing, must be the sole motivation behindmeasures that are genuinely needed to support the overthrow of Isis in Syria-Iraq.

Conceptualising and Theorising Antisemitism and Racism: The Structural Context of Israel-Palestine, Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies 14.2 (2015): 149–164 (pdf available).

ABSTRACT

This paper provides a basis for re-examining the contemporary connections of antisemitism and racism through an examination of the conceptual and theoretical parameters of the concept of racism. It argues that racism is a broad and dynamic category, the forms of which must be seen as varied and constantly changing. Thus although ‘new antisemitism’ arguments are wrong to propose a strong connection between opposition to Israel and antisemitism, they are correct to argue that antisemitism has changed and that its current forms are connected to the changes that Israel has brought about for the position of Jews. However, examining antisemitism as a variety of racism requires us to investigate racism in general in the conflicts in, and surrounding, Israel-Palestine. The paper argues for a structural concept of racism in these conflicts. While criticising the ‘apartheid’ framing of Israeli racism, it argues that anti-Palestinian racism is structurally embedded in Israeli society at many levels, and that recent wars have exacerbated this racism on a much larger scale than the antisemitism which they have also stimulated.

If he is elected Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn will need to seek broader alliances and promote constitutional reform to overcome his and the party’s ‘electability’ dilemmas. This post first appeared on openDemocracy.

It will now be a major upset if Jeremy Corbyn is not elected leader of the Labour Party on 12 September, and the ‘electability’ of a Corbyn government remains the main reason why rivals and commentators alike question this choice.

Electability has not always been an overriding consideration for Corbyn’s critics – Tony Blair squandered Labour’s support in his Iraq adventure, Gordon Brown refused to resign when it was clear that his leadership would cost Labour the 2010 election, and David Miliband declined to challenge Brown when it seemed a challenge might restore Labour’s fortunes.

However they are right that Labour needs to win elections, and it is clear that any Labour leader will face a formidable task to be electable in 2020. Labour is on 232 seats, needing a landslide of 94 seats to win outright in the next General Election in 2020. The Tories will introduce boundary changes, making the target still more onerous.

Landslides happen, but in the present circumstances it is almost as improbable that Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall will lead Labour to outright victory as it is that Corbynmania will last another five years and sweep an unprecedently left-wing party into power.

All the candidates are talking as though their ideas and leadership could construct a new majority on their own, but the evidence is strongly against this. Jeremy Corbyn – or any other leader – will need to move out of his and the party’s comfort zones to win.

The full scope of the problem

The Tories are not tired, divided and mired in sleaze as they were in the mid-1990s, when Tony Blair rode into power, but aggressively confident after their surprise election victory.

They have seen off both their main UK-wide rivals. Not only has Labour suffered a historic defeat in Scotland, unlikely to be reversed even if Corbyn neutralises the SNP’s anti-austerity rhetoric. The Lib Dems, who previously took a big swathe of seats across southern England, have suffered equally catastrophic losses, the scale of which gave the Tories outright victory.

This means a non-Tory government will not only require Labour need to gain seats in England that it failed to win in 2005, 2010 or 2015, but will probably require a broader base. This is a moment for thinking laterally about the predicament of the large majority who did not vote Conservative – and some who did but now don’t want their new policies – in finding a way forward.

Wider non-Tory representation?

Beyond the scope for Labour gains, there are two key questions. First, how can non-Tory votes be made effective in the parts of England and Wales that the Lib Dems have lost and Labour is unlikely to reach? Second, can ways can be found of combining the non-Tory parties to enable an alternative government?

These two issues need to be addressed in tandem. Both challenges are as formidable as the task of returning Labour itself to a stronger position. The Liberal Democrats will doubtless recover a little: a Corbyn victory may offer them some extra space in the ‘centre’ ground. But it is not clear that Tim Farron’s mix of leftish liberalism and evangelical Christianity will do the job (and he has already compromised his liberal credentials on gay rights). They are unlikely to bounce back to their former strength.

Otherwise, what hope do rural, small-town and suburban areas, especially in southern England, have of non-Tory representation? Could local independent coalitions be a model for some constituencies to escape the Tory straightjacket?

In an overlooked result, independent Claire Wright in East Devon scored a remarkable 24 per cent of the vote in May, forcing UKIP, Labour and the Lib Dems out of the race with the local Tory. The past successes of Richard Taylor and Martin Bell (and Caroline Lucas’s solitary Green breakthrough) offer precedents. However this route seems likely to work only with strong local issues, high-profile candidates and local election campaigns which prepare the way.

Resolving the divided opposition

This year’s Conservative victory resulted – far more than the Labour contenders are recognising – from how the Tories exploited the divisions among the anti-Tory parties. Miliband failed to respond effectively to his prospective parliamentary dependence on the SNP, allowing Cameron to paint Labour as a recipe for anarchy. Any Labour leader will have to deal with this and other coalition problems, which none of the candidates are even mentioning in their campaigns.

There are two routes to address these issues, which are not mutually exclusive. One is to achieve understandings between the opposition parties, which could be prepared by common opposition to the (often unmandated) policies of the Tory government. This could lead to an informal alliance at the 2020 election – or the voters could do it themselves, as they have in the past, through tactical voting. However the Tories, despite benefiting from coalition themselves, seem to have successfully demonised the dangers of a hung parliament.

The second and surer route is to find common ground in attacking the democratic deficit in the UK, so that the opposition is united around a programme of constitutional reform, which will attract civil society support, even as it differs on substantive economic and social policies.

Tackling the democratic deficit

The Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP all have a strong interests in ending the unfair electoral system that gave the Tories an absolute majority on 37 per cent of the vote. Labour should surely have learnt the lesson of Blair’s failure, even after the writing was on the wall in 2005, to implement the electoral reform to which the party was committed before 1997.

It is depressing that none of the candidates for the Labour leadership are seriously addressing this issue. Even Corbyn is very cautious: rightly defending the constituency-MP link, he seems unwilling to explore the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies (as in Ireland), which is the best way to combine this link with proportionality without creating second-class party-list MPs (as in Germany).

Corbyn has, however, proposed calling a constitutional convention, which if done in the right way could be a way to open up the issues more widely. Democratic reform of the House of Lords, where executive patronage is as anachronistic as hereditary titles, should also be common ground.

The SNP and the Miliband trap

The national question will be trickier. It will be difficult for Labour (and the Liberal Democrats) to ally with the SNP so long as the latter sees independence as a short-term goal. If the SNP goes all-out for a new referendum after next year’s Holyrood election, that will make their participation in a UK-wide alternative to the Conservatives impossible. A referendum campaign would divide and divert any non-Tory momentum – even if it resulted in a new ‘No’, as is likely because the economic fundamentals have moved against independence.

What we may call the Miliband trap will only be overcome with a viable constitutional alternative. Federalism could be more tolerable to Labour (and the non-Tory English generally) if coupled with proportional representation in both UK and national parliaments. The non-Tory parties and civil society need to get ahead of both the Government and the SNP and find a new common ground which will help prevent a repeat of the impasse of 2014-15.

The European challenge

The first big challenge, in any case, will be Europe, where the opposition must avoid a different trap – condemning the failings of European Union democracy and exposing Cameron’s cosmetic renegotiation, without embracing the dangerous tendency to reject the European project altogether.

Corbyn has already half-stumbled over this issue. Although the questions of Eurozone austerity and just migration policies resonate powerfully, Corbyn – or whoever is the Labour leader – will have their work cut out to find an internationalist way through the referendum dilemmas that boosts rather than fragments the party.

Corbyn’s international commitments

Wider international issues will mostly be less pressing for the opposition leader, but are still crucial ground on which to judge the candidates. None of the alternatives to Corbyn has much to offer, and their sycophancy towards Israel (evident in a recent Labour Friends of Israel hustings) says much of what needs to be known about their conventional attitudes.

Corbyn, in contrast, has an unusual record of international engagement, underscored as Gary Kent suggests by anti-Americanism. Yet he is not as committed to authoritarian governments as Gordon Brown suggests. I checked out links offered by Nick Cohen to back this case, and they actually showed that Corbyn was supportive only of Hugo Chavez – not of Iran, Gaddafi or Putin.

Nevertheless Corbyn’s closeness to Sinn Fein, symbolised by his recent tea party with Gerry Adams and refusal to specifically condemn IRA killings, is troubling and will be a focus of attacks. Likewise, his campaigning for peace in the Middle East has brought him into contact with some dubious figures. Even if he doesn’t share their opinions, in some cases there are legitimate questions about whether he should have shared platforms.

Certainly his anti-nuclear, anti-NATO and anti-Israel stances will not only provoke big conflicts within Labour as it tries to resolve its policies, but also make him a target of media denigration which will make Miliband’s treatment seem mild.

An opportunity for renewal?

Burnham and Cooper, the other possible winners, have conspicuously failed to inspire, and it is not obvious that either could take Labour back to office. Although Corbyn has aroused great enthusiasm among the six hundred thousand Labour selectors, it will be a tall order to convince the wider electorate of an alternative, not least because the fiscal responsibility issue which helped sink Miliband remains an obstacle, as Jon Cruddas’ research shows.

Corbyn will need to broaden his appeal if the failure predicted by his enemies is not to come to pass. The necessary radical shift is most obvious on constitutional reform. Yet Corbyn’s economic agenda also seems rather conventional (rail ownership, tax avodiance, etc.). It is not clear that his much-flagged support for ‘people’s quantitative easing’ will fly now that the economy is growing.

Deeper sources of inequality, like the exemption of property gains from tax – Corbyn’s own Islington voters recently earned twice as much from untaxed housing gains as from taxed work – remain off limits. Since the Tories have effectively abandoned universal home-ownership, the left could claim the idea of a ‘property-owning democracy’ for itself – but only if it was prepared to radically reform the housing market and the challenge the vested interests in the status quo.

The prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party has raised many hopes. The unlikely opportunity for renewal which it offers will only be realised, however, if Corbyn moves himself as well as his party far from their comfort zones.