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No platform for racists

Mathew | 02.01.2008 09:49 | Anti-racism | Indymedia | London

Over the holiday period I have been doing a lot of reading on the net about the current crossroads Indymedia has found itself at with regard to anti semitism and the situation with Gilad Atzmon. I have felt uneasy with this debate from the begining with the use of consesus decision making being used as a reason to not hide Gatzmon's writings.and I was pleased to see the following article on a blog which neatly encapsulates my thinking.It is entitled - What motivates the critics of Atzmon?

The link to it is

I know the admins will hide any article which even hints at being critical of them but perhaps on this occasion they would leave this up so others can understand the debate and its important ramifications for the future of Indymedia.

Steve Cohen, another activist on the left, wrote the imc-uk-features list to complain about the failure to no-platform Atzmon.

As a hitherto supporter of Indymedia I am writing in total support of Tony Greenstein’s attribution of anti-Semitism

Some political positions are so clear that they require no reflection to ascertain their meaning. Nazism is one such position. What you have published is another.

To talk of “Judaic world view” (ie attributing to all Jews the same view - the conspiracy theory) and refering to the “unpopularity” of Jews in Nazified Europe (a form of holocaust minimisation which virtually coincides with denial) as well as “their holocaust”( the holocaust was perpetrated ON Jews - and others. The perpetrators were the Nazis)…all this is clear,unarguable anti-Semitism. Just as “kill the Yids” is clear,unarguable,anti-Semitism.

But yet you claim a) it is open to interpretation b) even if it were anti-Semitic you need a “consensus” as to what to do if anything - a somewhat unique position on fighting racism c) in the meantime you feel quite prepared to print this junk (which incidentally in identifying anti-Semitism with Palestinian liberation puts you in antagonism to all progressive Palestinian thought).

Of course you can continue to use your energy going down this obnoxious path. Or else you can print an apology.

Gilad Atzmon seems to find something nefarious in the fact that some of the loudest critics of his anti-Semitism are Jews. He argues that this smells of crypto-Zionism, and is in itself reason to be suspicious of his critics. This is, to say the least, a bizarre conclusion to draw. It seems entirely natural that Jews would be the loudest critics of anti-Semitism, just as I would expect any other ethnicity to complain the most loudly when that ethnicity is attacked. But Atzmon has a pattern of attacking Jews for doing what any other ethnicity would do as well, and this is just one example.

Cohen brings up another point also worth addressing when he mentions consensus. The structure of most Indymedia collectives is that decision making is by unanimous consent. This is a strength in many cases, but when it comes to fighting coded bigotry like Atzmon’s, it becomes a weakness. Here’s why.

It’s a common practice for bigots who aim for mainstream respectability to try to shroud their rhetoric in terms they consider more acceptable for the mainstream; Nick Griffin offered many examples as he tried to groom the BNP for wider electoral success. David Irving similarly offers many examples.

The bigot’s bid for the mainstream follows a common, two-step process. One, to aim for ambiguity by dressing the bigotry in coded rather than overt language. Two, to decry those who aren’t fooled by calling them “radicals,” “extremists,” “far left,” or — in Atzmon’s case — “Zionists,” even when the critics have been anti-Zionist activists for decades. Accept my mask of rationality, the bigot says, for those who try to peer beneath it are your enemy.

The zone of rhetorical ambiguity, however, creates a special danger for an organization like Indymedia UK, because consensus-based organizations have an institutional weak spot when dealing with ambiguity. If even one collective member interprets that ambiguity in one way, and even one collective member interprets that ambiguity in another irreconcilable way, then the collective is frozen in deadlock.

That is what has happened with Indymedia UK over the no-platforming of Gilad Atzmon. The deadlock does not usually carry such important ethical overtones, but in this case the deadlock effectively guarantees that Indymedia UK is forced to continue to host postings from someone a significant contingent of collective members consider plainly anti-Semitic.

One can certainly argue that this sort of deadlocking may have its benefits when it comes to political positions, since it errs on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. But — and this is the key reason that this issue has not gone away, and will not go away soon — it also forces Indymedia UK to err on the side of inclusion when it comes to bigotry, as long as that bigotry has been cast in terms at least one collective member cannot decode and instead accepts at face value, as is the case with Gilad Atzmon.

Indymedia UK is not run by a collective of anti-Semites. Why, then, does it allow anti-Semitic posts?