Jonathan Freedland on Jewish anger and ‘Labour failure’.

Jonathan Freedland (‘Jewish anger is about Labour’s failure to listen with empathy’, The Guardian: 28 07 2018) writes with feeling about the importance of the idea of Israel and Zion and Jerusalem for many Jews, and how this is psychically embedded within their sense of self and community. This is a moving reminder of the existential dilemma Jews face in their political relations with other countries and other people. While this sense of identity is rooted in the historical experience of Jews as victims, the fault line in Freedland’s commentary is that he appears to characterise “the Jewish community” as inherently blameless, and incapable of political fault or responsibility.

In restating the “principle that Jews, like every other people on Earth, should have a home and refuge of their own”, he glosses over the facts of the origination of Israel via the dispossession of the Palestinians from their land. And “every other people on earth” does not appear to include the Palestinians, so by implication exemplifies a regrettable exceptionalism, even ruthlessness. In addition, speaking of the right of a people to a home and refuge “of their own” promotes monoculturalism and territorial and political discipline as both possible and desirable: borders to keep people out; and rules to regulate behaviour and relationships on the inside, to preserve Jewish ‘purity’ and safety. Stuff multiculturalism.

It is hard to see how the idea of Israel can be kept apart from the actuality of the Israeli state: its militarisation, its racism and its violence towards Arabs and in particular Palestinians. Is it the idea of Israel that prevents the acknowledgement of these cruelties and aggressions on the ground?

Freedland says that “Labour could have sat down with the Jewish community and ironed out wrinkles”. Which Jewish community would that be? And given the aggression of the sustained attack on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party since his election as leader, I’m not sure “wrinkles” quite covers the problem. Freedland complains that instead, the Labour party “drew up its code of conduct [i.e. an additional protocol to be used in liaison with Labour’s adoption of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition] itself, without consulting the organised Jewish community at all”. That would be those Jewish bodies purporting to represent all Jews, but not willing to be in the same room as each other at a meeting with Jeremy, as they demand control of Labour party process.

Freedland’s reference to “the army of self-described anti-racists” (thanks for that), who are not showing enough “empathy and solidarity”. . . . includes Billy Bragg, “taking up a position antagonistic to Jews”, who he hastens to describe as “a good man” and “no anti-semite”. My guess would be that Bragg’s “antagonism” is not towards Jews as Jews (and therefore anti Semitic), but towards the behaviour of certain Jews, for example, the Israeli government and the IDF towards Arabs and Palestine; and the leaders of the organised Jewish community in the UK towards the twice-elected leader of the Labour party. Is Freedland pretending not to understand that?

Freedland admits that “maybe that editorial printed in the Jewish newspapers was over the top”. “Maybe”? And is outdoing the Sun and the Daily Mail only “over the top”?! As well as an unprecedented and irresponsible attack on a Labour leader, this recent co-ordinated front page splash across three Jewish newspapers was also a desperate effort at control of the Jewish community: a message to all Jews, especially ‘dissident’ Jews, to feel the fear, share the venom, and get in line. Choose patriarchal orthodoxy.

val walsh / 29 07 2018


The Labour leader: From harmless joke to potential prime minister

At first the Blairites/Tories/Brexiteers/Jewish Deputies treated the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as a harmless joke, so mocking and scorn sufficed. As the attacks got more vicious and personal, to their disappointment he did not break or bend, but continued with his job as Labour party leader and advocate of equality, non violence, multiculturalism and social justice (upholding the values that had guided his practice as an MP during his 30+ years in Parliament). His leadership has played a significant part in expanding Labour party membership, making it the largest political party in Europe.

After three years, and against the backdrop of Tory government chaos and ‘Brexit’ mayhem, they see him gaining ground as a prospective Prime Minister, slipping beyond their control. So they are going for the kill. Three Jewish newspapers agree to act in concert in an unprecedented attack on Jeremy Corbyn, in an attempt to control the narrative, and in a way that guarantees widespread media reaction.

This organised warfare (going for the kill) is not dissimilar to the behaviour of the Israeli government towards Arabs inside Israel and towards Palestinians in what’s left of Palestine. But to mention this is to be accused of anti Semitism. (See ‘Anti Semitism on the Left’ [21 05 2018].

val walsh / 20 07 2018

Heels, zips and fitted frocks: navigating the feminist minefield.

 “I need to feel at ease in heels”, writes Coco Khan, “to know that a fitted frock looks the part” (‘I don’t know how to dress like a grownup: it’s time to find my adult costume’, (17 03 2018). Why would you volunteer to crush your toes, carry your body weight on the ball of your feet as you tiptoe all day, and distort your spine? And call it ‘adult’. A fitted frock also requires a dresser to zip you in and out. No good if you live on your own.

So Coco thinks she has to give up on clothes she likes (or are they too an adopted ‘costume’?), and move into the corporate uniform adopted by so many women in the media, business and politics. That sounds like defeat, not strategy. Conformity dressed up as power remains a form of girlish deference. Going under cover won’t help undo society’s malevolent grip on women’s minds, behaviour and opportunities. And surely takes the fun out of fashion.

Disguise is sometimes a strategic necessity (and Coco’s “adult costume” may be just that) but like denial, it weakens resolve if taken beyond the short-term emergency. Insisting on a ‘femininity’ designed to show you are striving to please, not disturb the heterosexual powers that be, risks identifying yourself as amenable ‘fodder’: personally, professionally, politically.

It’s tough being a woman in the public domain, but as Andrea Dworkin pointed out (cited Linda Grant interview [The Guardian Weekend, 13 05 2000], ‘Take no prisoners’): “This is a political struggle, it’s not a social movement for different clothes, it’s not a lifestyle movement”. And Coco, nobody’s perfect.

20 03 2018

Footnote thoughts and examples.
Zips are for trousers and skirts not frocks; for boots, bags, and coats.

I was sitting a couple of rows behind a woman at an International Women’s Day event this March. She was wearing a short, black, fitted frock, which had a startling, shiny zip running up her spine from its hem. (It’s unfortunate that it made me think of UK Prime Minister, Theresa May!) She must have a dresser, I thought; someone to zip her in and out of that frock. It got me thinking about the feminist status of such a zip!

Yesterday, an MP chairing a public meeting wore a fitted frock (more tight actually) that followed her every curve, barely covered her bum, and stopped short at the front near the top of her thighs. Needless to say, it required adjusting (pulling down by hand) when she stood up to speak. I assumed it had a zip at the back, but what was striking were the two short zips set in the hem of the frock at the front above each thigh. I have never seen that feature before. I was mesmerised: what on earth was the function of these little zips? The frock was worn with semi sheer black tights and chunky, high healed black ankle boots. When she was seated without her legs crossed, you could see between her thighs up to her crotch.

This may be an example of the “adult costume” Coco Khan has in mind. But it was not a good look. Why? Partly because it screamed: “I’m trying to look young and sexy, not just feminine”, and this distracted from any intelligent words she was speaking. So much visible leg risked overpowering any political or intellectual contribution she was trying to make. Her appearance was guiding us to look at her as a body, not an intellectual or political contributor to the conversation. This did not apply to how the other three women on the platform presented themselves. They were, incidentally, all older and more politically experienced than the young woman chairing.

So, any feeling of feminist awareness and solidarity was stymied by her heterosexist self presentation: her clothed body was indisputably addressed to the conventional male heterosexual gaze. She may be vocal in her class politics, but on this evidence, her sexual politics fails to invite feminist confidence and solidarity.

It’s not about a ‘feminist’ uniform. Look around: as feminist-aware women, in 2018 we have a wide choice of outfits. But, especially as a public figure, it is about awareness and intelligence in relation to the heterosexualisation of women’s bodies, the problematic culture we inhabit, and which we have to navigate as well as challenge. And a woman politician who does not understand that, is inadequate as a representative for women and the feminist issues she needs to promote. Post Weinstein et al, the personal (e.g. women’s bodies) is still political. And the political is still personal.

val walsh / 23 03 2018


Labour and the Green party in 2018.

While there are many Labour party members and supporters who are active environmentalists, it is hard for Labour to “love the Greens” as an electoral force, as Neal Lawson (‘Labour must learn to love the Greens’, The Guardian, 26 02 2018) demands, knowing that, historically, the Green party only ever takes votes from Labour, never from the political parties on the right.

A Guardian interview with Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in the lead up to the 2015 general election (Simon Hattenstone, ‘The only Green in the village’, 28 02 2015) sheds light on this dilemma. Lucas said that a second Tory term was the last thing she wanted, “but, in the long term, it could be the best thing possible for the Greens if Labour lost”. A Tory win (with its disastrous consequences for the NHS, for example) could serve the ambitions of herself and the Green party, in their bid for electoral reform. Meanwhile, the damage to victims of Tory Austerity politics, by implication, would be mere collateral damage. In 2018, the extent and horror of this ‘collateral damage’ is wrecking not just lives, but the very fabric of our society and its institutions. Her personal and political ambition was, in the circumstances, unedifying.

In 2015, Lucas was hoping that the Greens “might prop up a minority Labour government”. She said, “I think a progressive alliance of Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, alongside a minority Labour government, would better reflect what most people want in this country, rather than a majority Labour government”. Wish on.

Despite the 2017 general election result, which surely stalled the idea of a need for a progressive alliance instead of a majority Labour government, neither Neal Lawson nor Caroline Lucas now suggest that the Greens must learn to love Labour.

(See ‘Promoting fair and sustainable co-habitation: exploring grounds for progressive politics as the political landscape implodes’ [1-9 10 2016]; and ‘Strategic and ethical adjustment: the emerging opportunity to dismantle neoliberal Austerity politics. Together’ [25 10 2017] at

val walsh /27 02 2018