The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


Barbican Centre, London, EC2: The Cinematic Orchestra, 30 June

The Barbican hosts Jason Swinscoe's Ninja Tunes project. Combining jazz improvisation, sampled soundtrack music, film images and dance music tropes, this orchestra achieves a variety and beauty not to be underestimated. Originally written for a string quartet, from visuals such as René Clair’s surrealist Entr’acte (The Cinematic Orchestra) and Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space (Dorian Concept and Tom Chant), the final product has a depth of emotion which can take the breath away. This is their final date in the UK before they move on to Italy.


Hampstead Heath, London: Walking Book Club, 1 July

This week the book-lovers from the Walking Book Club will turn to Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. Written as a fictional companion to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, this novel follows newly-widowed Lady Slane as she rents a house in Hampstead to begin a new life. Introducing the reader to a variety of Lady Slane’s new friends and a few figures from her past, this novel extols the virtues of following one’s desires, no matter how late in life. This free event, open to all readers and their walking companions, offers participants a chance to discuss the book in an informal setting.


Queen of Hoxton, London, EC2: Easy Rider, 1st July

The Rooftop Film Club gives cinema lovers an opportunity to see classic films in the open air. On Sunday they give their screen over to Easy Rider, the 1969 classic directed by and starring Dennis Hopper. Easy Rider is the tale of two bikers who head from LA to Florida to retire after a major cocaine sale. A cult favourite, this film discusses themes of freedom, boundaries and establishment and offers a detailed portrait of its time.


AE Harris and mac Birmingham, Birmingham: Be Festival 2nd July- 8th July

This year’s Be Festival is the third to be held in Birmingham as part of a Europe-wide project to unite cultures and individuals through theatre. This year, mac Birmingham will host the winning show from the BE festival 2011, As the Flames rose, we danced to the sirens, the sirens by the Sleepwalk Collective. AE Harris will show four thirty-minute shows each night from  this year’s entrants, each accompanied by dinner, music, drinks and an after show party. All shows come from across the continent and are designed to be viewed and understood by everyone, regardless of language.


Piper Gallery, London W1: Inaugural exhibition: Then and Now: Edward Allington and Vaughan Grylls

This week marks the launch of a new contemporary art gallery. Piper Gallery will represent artists who are continuing to produce innovative work at least 40 years into their careers. Those exhibiting include Edward Allington, Tess Jaray and Francis West.

The Cinematic Orchestra will be playing at the Barbican Centre on 30th June. Photo: Getty Images
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Anti-semitism and the left: something is rotten in the state of Labour

Labour held three separate inquiries into anti-Semitism within its ranks during the first part of 2016. A new book by Dave Rich investigates how we got to this point.

The relationship between the left and the Jews has always been a complex one – ostensibly harmonious but with an underlying unease. For decades, the left’s ideological stance against racism and intolerance made it – in Britain, at least – a natural home for Jews. Its largest party, Labour, could rely on a majority share of Britain’s Jewish vote. Yet the 19th-century German socialist August Bebel, who described anti-Semitism as “the socialism of fools”, understood that, like a tumour, it has always existed in the left-wing body politic.

It is this duality that Dave Rich seeks to explore in his impressive and important book. How, he asks, did we get to the situation in which Labour, the party whose founding principles include opposing bigotry, felt the need to hold three separate inquiries into anti-Semitism within its ranks during the first part of 2016?

For so long, the dichotomy was simple, consisting of a clash of two notions of the Jew: an oppressed figure deserving of the left’s solidarity and the perennial embodiment of socialism’s great enemy, capitalism. In the words of (the Jewish) Karl Marx:


What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money . . . Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities . . . The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew.


Whether or not Marx meant the words ironically (as many academics contend), he articulated the most prominent leftist critique of Jews of his time. However, as Britain’s former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks has argued, anti-Semitism, like any virus, must mutate to survive. Now the most significant word in the quotation above – which Marx uses figuratively – is not “money”, as he would have seen it, but “Israel”.

As Rich notes, the link between British Jews and Israel is almost inviolable. While support for Israeli policies is mixed (there is much opposition to the settlements), he records that 82 per cent of British Jews say that the country plays a central role in their identity, while 90 per cent see it as the ancestral home of the Jewish people. Set against this is his (correct) observation that: “Sympathy for the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel have become the default position for many on the left – a defining marker of what it means to be progressive.” He argues that once you discover what someone on the left thinks about Israel and Zionism, you can usually guess his or her views on terrorism, Islamist extremism, military intervention and British-American relations.

When Stalin’s show trials and bloodlust finally discredited communism, many on the left, bereft of an ideology, fell into a dull, almost perfunctory anti-Americanism, dressed up as “anti-imperialism”. Intellectually flaccid but emotionally charged, this strand of thought became – to those on the hard left who had for so long been confined to the margins – all-encompassing. The dictum “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, in effect, was adopted as its slogan. Any Middle Eastern or South American dictatorship that “stands up” to the US ipso facto is an ally, as is any Islamist hate preacher who does so. Israel, viewed as a US-backed colonial outpost, became the physical manifestation of all that was wrong with the world.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader last year, this particular leftist world-view entered the heart of the party. In 2008, Corbyn wrote of the Balfour Declaration – the UK government’s promise to British Jews of a homeland in Palestine – that it had “led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the expulsion of Palestinians . . . Britain’s history of colonial interference . . . leaves it with much to answer for.” The description of Israel as a colonialist enterprise, rather than a movement for sovereignty through national independence, and the culpability of an “imperial” Britain, encapsulate the twin impulses that drive Corbyn’s beliefs about foreign affairs.

The problem, Rich argues, is that it is just a short step from these beliefs to the ideas that Israel should not exist and that its Western supporters, who include most Jews, are racists. Combined with a resurgence of social media-charged conspiracies about Zionist wealth and power, the left has formed an anti-racist politics that is blind to anti-Semitism. Jews are privileged; they are wealthy; they cannot be victims.

Thus, “Zionist” has become not a term to describe a political position but an insult; thus, Jews, unless they denounce Israel (their “original sin”), are excluded from the left that now dominates the Labour Party. When such ideas become normalised, anything is possible. Jackie Walker, the recently suspended vice-chairwoman of the Corbyn-supporting group Momentum, can claim with sincerity that “many Jews” were the “chief financiers” of the slave trade, a modern myth and piece of bigotry popularised by the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan – a notorious anti-Semite – in a 1991 book.

By the middle of this year, as many as 20 Labour Party members had been suspended or expelled for alleged anti-Semitism. At times, Rich appears bewildered. Though he never articulates it, the question “What has happened to my party?” echoes through these pages. Is it a case of just a few bad ­apples, or is the whole barrelful rotten? The answer, Rich concludes convincingly, in this powerful work that should be read by everyone on the left, is sadly the latter. 

The Left’s Jewish Problem by Dave Rich is published by Biteback, 292pp, £12.99

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood