Anti-Semitism is the new black

The union movement is giving succour to the oldest form of racism.

Oh, how fashionable it is all becoming. A month ago, enfant terrible designer John Galliano was fined over an anti-Semitic tirade at a Paris restaurant. But his drug-addled ramblings were just the latest signs of a wider trend.

There are numerous recent incidents -- ranging from an unpleasant flavour of anti-Israeli activism to straightforward racism -- that should sound alarm bells for the liberals among us. For example, take the odd promotion of renowned Jewish conspiracy theorist Gilad Atzmon's book on the Times' website. Or the "ugly" barracking of Israeli musicians during a London concert for the heinous crime of, er, being Israeli. Or a racist incident involving a Jewish student at St Andrews University.

But there's a new twist on the ideological catwalk. We can visualise far-right thugs indulging in this kind of thing but somehow we don't expect it from our comrades on the supposedly liberal-left.

And I am afraid that the final two incidents referred to above, and others beside, are connected with a small knot of campaigners purporting to further the cause of the Palestinian people. They go by the name of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). Not only was the St Andrew's student a member of the Scottish PSC but it was then the PSC who condemned the conviction, according to Stephen Pollard writing in the Daily Telegraph.

If you need a primer on the PSC let's start here. This is the organisation that invited Raed Salah - accused by a Jerusalem court of anti-Semitism - to speak at the Houses of Parliament. Its defence? Jaw-droppingly -- as the London Evening Standard reported -- it was because "he denied completely he was an anti-Semite" (despite views expressed in this video and others attributed to him here). Salah is now likely to be deported following a tribunal ruling reached earlier this week.

Moreover the PSC has members who have been quoted making troubling and making conspiracy-fuelled attacks about the role of Jews and the state of Israel (see this list on the dubious activities of ten separate local branches). And it was one of the PSC's close union allies, UCU, which decided to reject any formal definition of anti-Semitism, so as not to limit its pronouncements against Israel, and which now has its Jewish members leaving in droves.

Meanwhile, it was Viva Palestina, a group linked to PSC, whose organiser Carole Swords, was caught on camera shouting "go back to Russia" at a man outside the Israeli cosmetics store Ahava in Covent Garden and who was later arrested -- in a separate incident -- for using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour.

And which mainstream group is unthinkingly giving succour to this new vogue? Step forward, Britain's trade unions, once the reliable ballast of the Labour right, who are increasingly being influenced, in their wilder conference pronouncements at least, by the far left.

So much so that the Trades Union Congress recently tried to break links with their counterpart in Israel, Hisradut, a largely progressive grouping which has sought to cultivate links with their Palestinian brethren. Observer columnist and a defender of unions, Nick Cohen, cancelled his speaking date at a TUC rally in protest at what he calls a "foul smell in Britain's unions".

While they also operate on Labour's fringes, the far left knows that the TUC's resolution-based democracy presents a far better opportunity to effect action because if a resolution is passed it becomes policy; even if that resolution is the work of a small number of nutty, but well organised, activists.

The TUC needs to wake up and challenge the toxic effect of its association with the PSC. (There is an honourable exception to this near-universal backing for the PSC -- the union Community backs the non-partisan Tulip, which reaches out to both sides).

Last weekend, there was a scheduled PSC-organised trade union conference,. I'd like to think that this was because the unions involved finally saw sense but find myself believing the reason given by the PSC -- namely, the TUC was too busy preparing for the 30 November day of action. The accompanying statement states that, in supporting the PSC, "the TUC has voted to . . . oppose racism". Have these people no sense of irony?

Yet the worst culprit of all, in the propagation of this twisted fashion, is us. You and me. We of the Labour Party and the labour movement, because we are content to sit back and let it happen.

It blights our society, it hurts the Palestinian cause and, in the end, the latent toxicity of the PSC and their fellow-travellers will damage us on the left, too. Tolerance of the viewpoints of a broad church is fine. But this fashionable tolerance of racism, in imagined support of a cause, is unacceptable and must not go unchallenged.

 

Rob Marchant is a political commentator and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left. You can follow him on Twitter @Rob_Marchant

 

UPDATE: The PSC has asked us to point out that they take a firm line on racism and that the front page of the organisations website says: "Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. Such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

"Our campaign is a positive one, working to ensure the freedoms enjoyed by people throughout the world are not denied to the people of Palestine. We seek to build a movement where all those who are in support of our core demands can take part. Join us, and let us create a world free of occupation, free of racism and where the human rights of all are protected."

Further the PSC has asked us to point out that 1. The protest against Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was based on the IPO's close association with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and 2. The Scottish PSC is an entirely distinct organisation to PSC. It has its own membership, officers, structure and policies. More

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John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.