Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.



Independent Cinemas - Berberian sound studio, 31 August

Following up his lauded debut, Katalin Varga, Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio is being called the stand-out film at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a reserved but prominent sound engineer employed by director Santini (Antonio Mancino) to create the soundtrack to his hammy horror film. In the claustrophobic studio, Gilderoy sets to the gruesome work of mutilating vegetables in facsimile of on-screen violence, yet as his psychological strain makes itself known boundaries start to blur.


Southbank Centre – Unlimited, 30 August – 9 September

The Olympics and art have had a close relationship ever since 1912, when art competitions figured as part of the games. Timed to coincide with this year’s Paralympics, Unlimited is a Southbank exhibition that has invited deaf and disabled artists to push themselves to reach previously unattained goals. Consisting of 29 commissions, Unlimited's range includes dance, live arts, visual arts, music and theatre.


Mortality – Christopher Hitchens, 1 September

When author and former New Statesman staffer Christopher Hitchens died last December, a wave of tributes came from public figures as diverse as Tony Blair, Richard Dawkins and Martin Amis. His 13th and final book, Mortality, is published this Saturday. An exploration of how his cancer was "deporting" him “from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady”, Mortality is a haunting account of one man lucidly examining his on coming death.


BBC1 - Dr who 1 September, 7.20

In this weeks New Statesman, Alwyn W Turner examines the Daleks’ history as SF representations of the Nazi in time for the new Dr Who series, which will land on British TV screens this Saturday. At the ripe old age of 49, the cry of "Exterminate!" is getting a little tired, though we’ve been told that celebrated writer Steven Moffat has found an original angle to teach old Daleks new tricks - for the first time in the show's history they need Dr Who’s help.


Granary Square - King’s Cross Ice cream Festival, 1-2 September

Did you know that Carlo Gatti, the man who brought who brought ice cream to England, lived in King’s Cross? From his house he sold his famous "penny licks", which will be brought back by the Kings Cross Ice Cream Festival this weekend. As well as celebrating the history of the treat, the free festival will showcase the best of London ice cream and offer visitors the opportunity to be inducted into the craft all the way from milking the cow to the first lick.

Ice cream eating, which there will be plenty of opportunity to do at Kings Cross Ice Cream Festival (Image: Getty)
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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