Welcome to Free Radikal... a blog by Dr Ronit Lentin
An op ed article David Landy and I wrote for The Irish Times
The recent calls to expel former London mayor Ken Livingstone from the British Labour Party have created a worrying alliance between those who use accusations of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel and those who use them to attack supporters of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The calls for his expulsion came after Livingstone said in a BBC interview that Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”. The claim itself was clumsy but based on historical fact – Hitler originally sought to expel rather than exterminate European Jews. As part of this, he negotiated the Haavara Agreement with Zionist organisations which allowed some Jews to escape to Palestine with some of their property in return for Zionist opposition to the global boycott of German goods. This was hardly “support for Zionism”, but Livingstone’s critics went further with fellow Labour MPs accusing him of anti-Semitism.
In response, Livingstone cautioned against “confusing criticism of the Israeli government policy with anti-Semitism”, and defended Corbyn, who had been accused of not taking firm enough action against anti-Semitism in the party, which, he said, was part of a smear campaign against the party leader.
Europeans need to face their history of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Nazi Holocaust. Ireland has its own part in that history, the Irish government only admitted 60 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution between 1933 and 1946. Anti-Semitic sentiments continue – this was clear during the attack on the Hyper Casher supermarket in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo murders. Read the rest of this entry »
The Irish census of population is upon us again, asking us to divulge information about home ownership, room numbers, employment, transport to work, age, birth place, gender, children, and so on.
But what are census statistics about? According to the French theorist Michel Foucault, the collection and analysis of statistics, also known as ‘science of state’ and ‘political arithmetics’, reflect a growing governmental interest in the population, its health and illness, life and death, poverty and wealth. Statistics grant state knowledge about the population, and far from enabling the state to improve its services, statistical knowledge allows the state to differentiate between various population types – men and women, young and old, healthy and ill, rich and poor, native and immigrant, settled and Traveller, and thus exercise greater control depending on which type of population you belong to.
Perhaps the most contentious census questions is the ‘ethnic question’, the impetus for which came from Traveller organisations hopeful that enumerating Travellers and locating them in different regions would improve their access to accommodation, health, education and other services. However, in asking us to identify our ‘ethnic or cultural background’, the so-called ‘ethnic question’ is actually a race question. Read the rest of this entry »
At the end of Easter 2016 week I feel somewhat 1916-ed out. I spent the week watching Insurrection, the wonderful day by day series about the 1916 Rising produced and directed by my late husband Louis for RTE in 1966 and which was re-broadcast for the first time only this year, fifty years after it was made. I also attended exhibitions and other events, and strolled the festive streets of Dublin. Despite the attempts by our right wing (non) government to write out the revolutionary Rising leaders in favour of reformers such as O’Connell, Parnell, Redmond and Grattan, Dublin did itself proud, with streets festooned with flags and shop windows, from banks to souvenir shops, displaying copies of the 1916 Proclamation and pictures of the 1916 leaders.
Historians encouraged us to remember not only the Rising, but also colonial violence and the fact that Ireland was the first small nation to rise against the British Empire. The events made me reflect on the revolutionary zeal of the republican and socialist leaders of the insurrection and wonder what Ireland would have looked like had they not been executed by the British.
The celebrations made me reflect on post 1916 Ireland, left to De Valera, who kept the island divided and collaborated with the Catholic hierarchy to create a reactionary, priest-ridden, anti-women, pro property owners and anti-foreigners Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »
In early March 2016 an Israeli bombardment of Gaza murdered two little children. According to Middle East Eye Yasin Abu Hussa, aged ten, died in a raid targeting a base of the Hamas movement military wing in Beit Lahia in the North of the Gaza Srip, one of four strikes the Israeli military said it carried out in response to rocket fire into Israel. Hours later after her big brother was klled, Israa’ Abu Hussa died from her wounds.
I shared the horrific story on my Facebook page, to be met with furious comments by Zionists who blamed Hamas, not Israel, for the children’s death, claiming that Israel is ‘only defending itself against Hamas rockets’ and that ‘Hamas operates from civilian neighbourhoods and is therefore responsible for these deaths’. Before I could remind them there are hardly any areas in the crowded Gaza enclave without civilians, and that Palestinians have every right to defend themselves against Israeli occupation, siege and aggression, the comments became personal.
‘Ronit’, said one Sheila Elle whose profile picture is Israel’s flag, ‘an Israeli name? Dubliners on a whole love you. Hope you don’t have to go crawling back on all fours’.
Astounded by the assumption that Jews are in imminent danger and need to seek refuge in the state that calls itself ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’, I replied that I had ‘no plans to crawl back - Ireland is home, have lived here for years, have citizenship’, and asked her whether she is expecting another Holocaust in the near future.
When challenged, I explained I was asking whether she expects Jews to be banished from their countries of residence, because I don’t, and stressed that the fact that it is Israel that is committing genocide at present makes me very sad, having been brought up after the Nazi Holocaust by parents who genuinely believed that a better world was possible.
Elle was having none of it, writing she was glad my parents aren’t alive to see what a horrible person I have become, ending with a piece of advice: ‘change your name before it gets you killed by an antisemite who makes a mistake and thinks you’re a Jewess’.
I was thrilled to stand on O’Connell Street on Saturday 6 February as part of a large coalition of people, Irish and migrants, who congregated in front of the GPO to say no to racism and Islamophobia and to counter Pegida Ireland’s plans to hold its inaugural meeting. Pegida stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident’ (in German Patriotische Europaer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes). It was established in October 2014 in Germany, where thousands of neo Nazi fascists have since marched in opposition to Muslim migrants, though the ‘Islamisation’ of the West is of course a figment of the racists’ imagination as Muslims remain a small persecuted minority throughout the West.
Like all far right groupings, including Identity Ireland, Pegida presents itself as defending European values and providing a legitimate opposition to migration. However, it’s worth remembering that the German term Abendlandes derives from The Downfall of the Occident, a 1918 book penned by one Oswald Spengler, whose racist ideas about the division of history into discrete cultures fed Nazi racial superiority that led to the extermination of millions.
The European far-right regards Europe’s refugee crisis as an opportunity to publicise its anti-immigrant message. During the last months of 2015 there were 208 rallies in Germany, up from 95 a year earlier, and Pegida members set fire to refugee hostels, instilling fear in the million or so migrants who have reached Germany mostly from the war-torn Middle East. Racist rallies were also held in Calais, home to thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty, in Amsterdam, Prague and Birmingham. Wherever they go, Pegida members –holding flags and chanting nationalist chants – attack counter demonstrators who support migrants, attack centres where provisions for refugees are collected, throw stones and bottles. Pegida members often complain that by preventing them from marching, they are deprived of freedom of speech and right of protest against what they see as legitimate targets.
Since the 1930s when the precursors of Fine Gael, the Blueshirts, described by Look Left magazine as ‘the most serious fascist movement to emerge in Ireland’, had 48,000 members across the Free State, and apart from some insignificant attempts by tiny groups such as the Immigration Control Platform and Identity Ireland, Ireland has not had a significant extreme right wing political party. Judging from government restrictive migration policies and the ongoing incarceration of asylum seekers in direct provision hostels, as well as Ireland’s reluctance to play its part in admitting refugees from Syria, some say that Ireland does not really need an extreme right party. Yet the establishment of Pegida Ireland was a step too far. This was why the anti-Pegida coalition, led by groups such as Anti-Racism Network Ireland and the European Network against Racism amongst many others, decided to mount the counter rally last Saturday.
We were guided by several important principles, among them the need to hold the space of the 1916 Rising for inclusion and against racial hatred. Thus most of the rally speakers were members of ethnic minorities and migrant communities, all of whom spoke of their sense of belonging to an inclusive republic that they and their children call home. Although we invited all political parties to endorse this inclusivity, only representatives of minority parties spoke, while the government parties preferred absence. In the presence of many supporters, the largely peaceful rally claimed the streets of Dublin as our own, and yet again, managed t prevent the extreme right from setting up its stall on the 1916 scene.