I had something else planned for this diary, something more comprehensive about antisemitism, the left, and how the left sometimes struggles to see left-wing antisemitism as antisemitism, a rank exercise in our-shit-don’t-stink-itude.
But a certain former favorite artist of mine volunteered as poster boy, defecatory and olfactionary, and so here we go.
But to understand what I’m saying about Roger Waters, there’s some groundwork to do first.
preliminaries I: three core Questions
Let's start with a simple question with a simple answer.
Q: Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?
A: Depends on the criticism. Some is, some isn't. Anyone who answers "categorical no" is as wrong-headed as anyone who answers "categorical yes." You have to decide case by case.
And another simple question with a simple answer.
Q: Is antisemitism right-wing?
A: Antisemitism isn’t monolithic, and it doesn’t come in just one flavor. You don’t have to love Hitler to be an antisemite. And being on the left doesn’t make you immune.
And a third:
Q: What’s the common thread of the first two questions?
A: Antisemitism is an attitude, and by their nature attitudes can seep anywhere. Antisemitism can seep into criticism of Israel, and it can seep into the left. And when it does both at once, complications ensue.
preliminaries II: The Livingstone Formulation
Why is “categorical no” a problem for the left? Enter the “Livingstone formulation,” which is the default go-to for how left-wing antisemites defend themselves. "The Livingstone Formulation" is a rhetorical position that sociologist David Hirsh — of whom more below — named after the discredited former fuckwit mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.
The Livingstone formulation is any variation on this theme: “You’re only bringing up antisemitism to deflect criticism of Israel, it’s transparently a Zionist lie, so I’m not only going to ostentatiously wave your allegedly heartfelt concerns aside, I’m going to deride you for expressing them.” From Hirsh’s 2017 study “Contemporary Left Antisemitism,” which spends its entire first chapter on Livingstone and the formulation:
The Livingstone formulation — the counter-allegation of Zionist conspiracy which treats discussion of antisemitism as though it were a vulgar, dishonest, and tribal fraud — is a thread which runs throughout this form of contemporary antisemitism [...]. (p11)
Don’t do that.
This is the problem with the “categorical no”: it forces you to presume that anyone legitimately bothered by left-wing antisemitism, as I am, is simply making it all up or wildly exaggerating. And that tees you up for the Livingstone formulation.
Have we seen the Livingstone formulation in action on DailyKos? Yes. Have we seen it this week? Yes. Can I point out examples? Nope — “call-out diaries” are no-go here.
But if you think I’m talking about theoreticals, notional abstractions, and that this has no more grounded reality than the square root of negative one, oh baby, give your head a shake.
Hirsh describes the payload of the Livingstone formulation. Here’s how it’s used so dishonestly:
- To refuse to discuss the content of the accusation by shifting focus onto the hidden motive for the allegation.
- To make a counter-accusation that the accuser is not mistaken, has not made an error of judgement, but is getting it wrong on purpose.
- To collapse everything — some of which may be demonization of Israel, support for boycott, or antisemitism — into a legitimate category like “criticism.”
- To allege that those who raise the issue of antisemitism are doing so as part of a common secret plan to silence such “criticism.” (p23)
Each of these points lands hard and deserves its own diary.
I am bound by karmic law to say this
I’ve cut a too-personal paragraph, so please accept the what without the why. Waters once meant a great deal to me in a way very few artists in my life have, and I remain too grateful for that not to acknowledge it.
Oh, Roger, why couldn’t you have stayed that guy, instead of becoming this guy?
The Schmendrickification of Roger Waters
Roger Waters once famously took the my-shit-don’t-stink metaphor for a ride in “The Wall.” In a miniature comic opera called “The Trial,” the main character is forced under duress to accept his own capacity for assholery, with the role of the judge played by a giant walking ass in a barrister’s wig.
Waters could use another visit from the giant walking ass.
If you believe that antisemitism is monolithic, that it only exists on the right, that you’re immune, that you’re far too good a person to need to honor the traditional guard rails, that by definition nothing you can say about Israel or Zionism is antisemitic, and that those who are concerned by what you’re saying are mendaciously faking it, then … you just may be Roger Waters.
I could find a slew of examples, but I’m going to focus on just one, on familiar turf: Corbyn and Labour. If you’ve read some of my previous diaries, you know that left-wing antisemitism has a poster boy in the UK: Livingstone’s pal Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the Labour Party. After a horrific antisemitism scandal and crushing electoral defeat, Corbyn in 2020 simultaneously earned himself an Olympic gold metal and the the first Nobel Prize ever in unsynchronized pooch-screwing by batting away the EHRC legal verdict that Labour as an organization under his leadership was liable under the Equalities Act of 2000 for having illegally discriminated against Jews. Corbyn took his own inability to understand the questions at the top of this diary and squirted it with thick layers of Dunning-Kruger sauce until he had parlayed it into a national political catastrophe — for himself, his party, and the Jewish community of the UK.
Unless you’re Roger Waters flying high on the Livingstone formulation. Then Corbyn is a hero unjustly attacked, driven from his rightful home as party leader by a
Jewish pernicious Jewish international Jewish Zionist conspiracy of conspiring Jews bad people who don’t like justice.
There’s a video I won’t link to, of an apparently well wine-fortified Waters railing about it on a recent podcast. After dumping on the IHRA definition/examples of antisemitism (how dare the Jewish community define antisemitism when they just should have asked Waters?) he went on, molto bibendoso:
Talk about foreign powers interfering in elections, the Israeli government took the general election f-from-from Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, later that year, in November, later that year, and gave the country to the Tories … gone! And also kicked Corbyn out and installed Keir Starmer as the leader of the Labour Party, who um is complete controlled by the Israeli lobby, everything that he says show's you that's true.
Oh, look. Who controls the Labour Party? The great international Zionist conspiracy does. They don’t advise. They don’t suggest. They don’t join the discussion. They don’t put ideas out there and present a side. It’s absolute: the Israeli government’s hands are on the control knobs, and theirs are the only hands on the control knobs. Don’t look for the hands of Sir Keir Starmer, leader of Labour, or his shadow cabinet, or his circle of advisors — no, Starmer is doing the bidding of The Hidden Hand because it’s the only option The Zionists permit him.
That’s simply straight-out antisemitism. This isn’t “criticism of Israel,” this is hide-under-your-fucking-bed-because-the-Jews-are-coming-for-you.
Waters, Germany, The Pseudo-Nazi Uniform Thing
It does seem a bit like getting Al Capone for tax evasion.
If you want it, here it is, come and get it
I’ll give Hirsh the last word:
Today’s antisemitism is difficult to recognize because it does not come dressed in a Nazi uniform and it does not openly proclaim its hatred or fear of Jews. In fact it says it has learnt the lessons of Jew-hatred better than most Jews have, and it says that, unlike them, it stands in the antiracist tradition. It is an antisemitism which positions Jews themselves as “oppressors,” and it positions those who develop hostile narratives about Jews as “oppressed.” (page 5)
Hey, Roger. That’s you that is.