I for one am totally shocked that the Eurovision Song Contest did not bring about a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine – almost as shocked as I was that the UK came bottom of the competition. What it did crystallise for me, however, is the peculiarly toxic mix of misogyny and anti-Semitism that lurks in radical politics.
Before the contest even started, there was Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie calling Madonna a prostitute and basically saying Israel shouldn’t exist, while in the same interview admiring at least two famous Jews (Bob Dylan and Karl Marx) in efforts to show he wasn’t anti-Semitic. It was a moment that was at the most moronic end of a fairly moronic spectrum.
This is Gillespie, a man who is happy to play in Russia, who did not slag off Radiohead or Nick Cave for playing Israel, and who once attempted to shut down a local pub for playing loud music. He is not someone I would go to for an informed political opinion. At the 2005 Glastonbury festival, Gillespie when asked to sign a banner proclaiming “Make Poverty History”, changed it to “Make Israel History.”
Of course, the appalling actions of the Israeli government are not in question here, but the basic idea of whether Jewish people should have a homeland.
The more sophisticated parts of the BDS movement to boycott Israeli products and events understand this. Their desire was that Eurovision not be shown on the BBC. But there it was, in all its utter gayness, a form of cultural politics that may do little to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians but is present nonetheless.
What bothers me, though, is the blindness to anti-Semitism and misogyny on newish parts of the left.
Gillespie was at an event that I went to the other night: Brian Eno in conversation with Croatian philosopher Srecko Horvat. Horvat, who has been hyped as being up and coming, was very engaging. He, along with economist Yanis Varoufakis, co-founded the political movement Democracy in Europe 2025 (DiEM25). Its goals are transnational solidarity in Europe and a Green New Deal. All good. Both co-founders are standing in the European elections in Germany, as members of Demokratie in Europa, their movement’s German offshoot.
At the end of his chat, Horvat launched into a passionate defence of Julian Assange. According to DiEM25, “We are all Julian Assange”.
Well… some of us are not, for a number of reasons. Like being-a-feminist type reasons. Reasons that have been apparent for many years. When Assange is your hero and is in the British “Guantanamo”, as Horvat claimed, you need to ask yourself a couple of things.
For instance, what about the rape charges against Assange? It is possible to see any US extradition request as an attack on free speech and whistleblowers, but DiEM25 make no mention of the Swedish charges. What is happening now, with Sweden reopening its case against Assange, is due process. One might want the radical left, in light of the MeToo movement, to address this. After all, DiEM25 claims itself to be “a feminist movement promoting gender balance in all its bodies”.
As for the anti-Semitism, Assange speaks about Jews with undisguised hostility, uses anti-Semitic tropes, has worked with Holocaust denier Israel Shamir, and, in reference to the written symbol first used by the far right and appropriated by Jews to identify themselves, is thought to have tweeted, from the Wikileaks account, about the “Tribalist symbol for social climbers. Most of our critics have three (((brackets around their names))) & have black-rimmed glasses”.
This is not to mention his fellow travellers such as Nigel Farage and Trump’s former campaign adviser Roger Stone, his involvement in the leaked Clinton emails, or his Russian contacts. At what point does this new left challenge this? It can’t, because on closer inspection it is mostly the very old left. Same as it ever was.
I don’t really expect more from an idiot rock star, I do expect more from those who represent the future of Europe.
The Venn diagram of misogyny, anti-Semitism and support for Assange is very strange to observe, but it’s clearly visible. That it somehow gets wrapped up in support for the Palestinian people and the Eurovision Song Contest is a sign of the times. The moral compass spins as the pro-European left questions itself. Just not deeply enough.