Irrationality rules, got it?

29 Apr

Thinking people can go into a tailspin of despair when confronted with the stark truth they’ve overestimated the power of reason. Yesterday self righteousness, pack instinct, unthinking emotionalism, malice and rank opportunism swept reason aside in the Labour Party.

Before she was an MP Naz Shah made a dangerous joke*. ‘Move Israel to America’,  she said. It was accompanied by a smiley, generally understood as an indicator the words are not to be taken literally, and a rough map showing how easily Israel would fit into the world’s most powerful nation, a nation that consistently uses its power to block UN sanctions on Israel for repeated violations of international law.

Falsehood No. 1:  ‘Move Israel to America’,  is converted – via (a) Zionist lobby (Jewish Chronicle, Labour Friends of Israel) in common cause with anti-Corbyn forces in Labour, (b) mob-emotionalism, (c) a thuggishly sanctimonious John Mann – to ‘deport all Israeli Jews’.

Ken Livingstone defends Shah. In doing so he says Hitler initially supported Zionism. I don’t know whether or not that’s true but do recognise an assertion of fact when I see one. In other words, unlike the existence of God or fairies, the statement Hitler initially supported Zionism  can in principle be disproved – it satisfies the ‘falsifiability test’. Has it been disproved? Did anyone come out to show, calmly and armed with the facts, that Hitler never supported the Zionist project of a sovereign state for the “Jewish Nation”? For that matter, and to place burden of proof where it should be placed, did anyone come out and calmly ask Livingstone to back up his claim? If they did, it passed me by.

Falsehood No. 2:  What we got instead was ‘Livingstone says Hitler was a Zionist.’

And if you can make that leap, you can easily make another:  “Livingstone says Zionists are Nazis” ...

Upshot No. 1:  Civil war in Labour Party; Shah and Livingstone suspended. Forces thirsting for vengeance on Corbyn – Tristram Hunt, Mike Dugher and Liz Kendall among them – can barely hide their glee. Loss of his most high profile supporter, when he has so many enemies within the party he leads, is a significant defeat for Corbyn. 

Upshot No. 2: Tory and centrist media have a field day. This from Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian yesterday:

There’s nothing inherently antisemitic about seeking economic sanctions against Israel, supporting an oppressed minority’s right to self determination, condemning a government, or anything else you’d do if this was Burma.

But calling for its people to be swept into the sea, or forcibly transplanted somewhere else, or in any other way denying Israel’s right to exist, is crossing a line because that simply doesn’t happen to other countries no matter how oppressive their regime. No other nation state on the planet is constantly asked to prove itself morally worthy merely of being allowed to exist.

Due to the unique manner of Israel’s creation, the last sentence is problematic and I’ll return to it in another post. Otherwise who could disagree? Trouble is, she doesn’t say who in the Labour Party – this is the context, right? – wants the Israeli people ‘swept into the sea’. And whether through cynicism or, more likely, laziness and the smug ignorance of the literati, she uncritically relays Falsehood No. 1 – ‘forcibly transplanted somewhere else’.

Upshot No. 3:  In all of the furore, not one word on the plight of the Palestinian people. They’ve done it again – and, no, I don’t mean “the Jews”. I mean the Zionists.

* Update May 7 20016. My original wording was “stupid joke” but with benefit of hindsight “dangerous joke” comes nearer the mark. Judge for yourself. The offending tweet is reproduced at the end of this post.

8 Replies to “Irrationality rules, got it?

  1. Nice one Phil. I was wondering yesterday what your take on this would be. If we weren’t so sensible these days we might almost think coincidence and opportunism were actually planning and co ordination. Conspiracy? No such thing!

    • I’m seeing this everywhere Mark: the same confluence of cynicism and stupidity, the waters so turbulent you can’t say where the one ends and the other begins.

  2. So heartened to read this, Phil! I do think KL should have not responded on the BBC stairs to John Mann’s provocations and become provocative himself. But – I do agree with the tenor of what you’ve said. I’ve thought all along that the Israel into America point was quite moderate political comment at the time of the most horrendous Israeli onslaught on the Palestinians – which, as you rightly point out , is getting no coverage at all in all this. It’s also quite clear this is also about the continued bullying of JC and the undermining of his leadership.

    I can’t recall any calls for the suspension or resignation of B Johnson when he’s been quite openly racist (‘grinning piccaninnies’ etc…..)

    • I thought I was hardened, Ros, but went to bed that night truly depressed about the power of irrationality. I’m taking a “media holiday” in East Sussex right now – mostly staying offline too – but up to midday yesterday there’d been no serious counterweight to the anti Shah, anti Livingstone and, though in more coded terms, anti Corbyn tone of ‘expert’ commentary that in terms more or less nuanced continued the falsehoods, and conflation of anti-zionism with antisemitism. Such counterweight as I have seen has been by the more intelligent Below the Line commentators. Media and right wing sections of the Labour Party have successfully framed the narrative, with barely a shred of evidence, in terms of “the left’s problem with antisemitism.”

  3. Didn’t Trump suggest, just the other day, that the capital of the US be moved from Washington to Jerusalem? The audience was on its feet for a Crazy Benny style ovation before anyone had time to work out whether it was a joke or not. It wasn’t.

    • Exactly so Sam. What we’ve seen, again, is the triumph of illogicality in bed with opportunism. Depressing, truly depressing.

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