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In Defence of Ken Loach – Palestinian activist

Posted by keith1942 on April 10, 2020

In 2018 I posted defending Ken Loach from the slander of being a ‘holocaust denier’ on the ITP Blog.

The campaign against him bore all the signs of supporters of Zionism and the Israelis state. Now unfortunately we have another instance of this.

“Jewish Voice for Labour finds it deeply regrettable that the Board of Deputies of British Jews is seeking to disrupt the work of a leading anti-racism football charity by demanding the removal of an internationally respected cultural figure as a judge for its children’s design competition.

Show Racism the Red Card (Strict) is under attack by the Board for choosing campaigning film-maker Ken Loach to help judge the charity’s 2020 Schools Competition. Thousands of young people in hundreds of schools across the UK take part in the project, designed to stimulate discussion and understanding about issues around racism. Winners are invited to an awards ceremony with special guests, including current and former professional footballers.

SRtRC Chief Executive Ged Grebby announced on Tuesday Feb 4 that Loach and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen were to be this year’s judges. Grebby commended both men as valued supporters of the charity, saying they were “ideally qualified” to help choose the most inspiring and original creative designs produced by young people on anti-racist themes.

However the Board of Deputies has challenged this appointment saying that Loach “is a poor choice to judge a competition on anti-racism.” The grounds for this extraordinary allegation against an anti-racist with Loach’s record have not been made public. We note however that the flurry of on line abuse targeting Loach and Show Racism the Red Card since the Board’s intervention, has consisted mainly of unfounded (and potentially libellous) allegations of anti-semitism or Holocaust denial. A scurrilous report in the Jewish Chronicle suggested that Michael Rosen too is an unsuitable competition judge, because he has rejected charges of anti-semitism against Jeremy Corbyn.”

In fact a statement by the Board of deputies did specifically mention ‘holocaust denial’; a hoary old charge that was featured in the pages of ‘The Guardian’ newspaper. The dubious nature of this attack was revealed when the same newspaper refused to print Loach’s response. Unfortunately that newspaper, along with nearly all the other mainstream press, television and radio, treat fraudulent claims against supporters of the Palestinian Struggle completely uncritically. If you want some critical reporting than I commend The Jewish Voice for Labour Web pages, Al Jazeera, R.T. and Media North.

Ken Loach, apart from his politics, has also frequently treated football in his films. There is the now famous football sequence in Kes (1969) More recently his film Looking for Eric (2009) presented football as sport and as culture rather than a capitalist commodity. Presumable this is what made him such a suitable figure for the Show Racism the Red Card competition.

Unfortunately, whilst SRtRC initially defended Loach they subsequently caved in to this pressure: It needs noting that Ken Loach has agreed with their response and resigned from the role of judge in the competition. This seems in part because of the level of abuse to which he and his family have been subjected. However, cynic that I am, I strongly suspect that if SRtRC had maintained a strong defence in this case Loach would have also resisted. Ken Loach has been a prominent supporter of the Palestinian cause and of the Boycott and Divestment Campaign. It seems likely that the latter role is what has occasioned this fraudulent attack.

Ken Loach is in good company. So many supporter of the Palestinian Struggle have been on the receiving end of such invective and the abuse of language in the claims of anti-semitism. Two of my own posts, one regarding the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir (2008) and the earlier defence of Ken Loach earned me the sobriquet of an anti-semitism. Predictably this was repeated when I posted again in his defence.

One of the weapons used by these revilers is the IHRA definition of anti-semitism. Many people have already critically deconstructed this on line. Whatever the motivation of some people involved in the definition it is objectively a manoeuvre to subvert the Palestinian struggle and follows on the growing success of the Boycott and Divestment Campaign.

People will presumably have seen the critical examination of the Zionist lobby and its tactics in the USA. It would appear that a parallel movement is increasingly active in Britain. What is disturbing is the uncritical way that the British mainstream media treats this vilification along with uncritical acceptance by some public bodies. And, unfortunately, many organisations try to appease these campaigners rather than actively resisting them. The response of the Labour Party, which has been in the centre of this campaign, has been pathetic. The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign’s head office has been eloquently silent on the issue; fortunately individual branches have been politically vocal. It seems that SRtRC has now followed the appeasement example.

I have now stop using the term anti-semitic. Semitic is actually the linguistic definition of a group of languages coined in the C18th; its coiners also came up with a classification of racial groups, a dubious exercise. Edward Said includes the term in his seminal discussion of ‘Orientalism’. Whilst Hebrew is a semitic language so is Arabic; the various semitic languages are spoken by over 300 million people. It seems adding ‘anti’ occurred in the late C19th, specifically referring to prejudice against Jews. The dubious nature of this is that the term was also quickly used by European racist groups. Logically to attack Palestinian is anti-semitic. But no-one ever seems consider that. The misuse of the term is also ironic; Jews were included in the attacks on Semitic linguists along with the Arabs who they now treat in like manner

Wikipedia has a page on anti-semitism which notes:

“From the outset the term “anti-Semitism” bore special racial connotations and meant specifically prejudice against Jews. The term is confusing, for in modern usage ‘Semitic’ designates a language group, not a race. In this sense, the term is a misnomer, since there are many speakers of Semitic languages (e.g. Arabs, Ethiopians, and Assyrians) who are not the objects of anti-semitic prejudices, while there are many Jews who do not speak Hebrew, a Semitic language. Though ‘antisemitism’ could be construed as prejudice against people who speak other Semitic languages, this is not how the term is commonly used.”

The page uses the term ‘misnomer’ arguing that therefore the common usage is not ‘a misconception’ or ‘incorrect’. This seems to me another dubious argument. This is an example of ideology in the sense used by Karl Marx; accepting the surface appearances without noting the underlying social relations. Ideology grows in the superstructure as a result of the dominant social relations. Our language is full of terms and concepts which reflect the colonial and imperialist hegemony of advanced capitalist states. Britain’s oldest colony, still operating in the six northern counties of Eire, have almost a whole dictionary of  ‘misnomers’.

The increase in the accusations of anti-semitism have been assisted by the growth of what is called ‘identity politics’. Just to give a specific example. During the recent British Election campaign supporters of Zionism were active in accusing the Labour party of anti-semitism. Alongside this, though not of the same volume, there were reported claims by Hindu group accusing the Labour party of racism because of support for the the people of Kashmir in their resistance to the revoking of their autonomy and attacks on their life and culture by the Indian government.  We now have a plethora of ‘isms’ which are legitimate targets of attack. And many of the people who make such claims feel entitled to decide individually whether or not this is a case. We should probably return to considering all acts of direct prejudice against particular ethnic groups as racism, one to be identified by agreed social mores.

Attacks on Ken Loach in the media are nothing new. They commenced back in 1966 when he, together with his colleague and mentor Tony Garnett, produced and delivered the now classic Cathy Come Home (1966). It continued over a number of programmes and films scripted by the late Jim Allen and directed by Loach. A particular germane example was the play Perdition by Allen and Loach which was forced from the stage of the Royal Court in 1987. And it has continued with the script writing work of Paul Laverty for Loach’s films. An example of this can be found on the post on The Wind that Shakes the Barley [‘shakes the critics’].

The early television work of Loach, Allen and Garnett dramatised the class snuggle in Britain; a Britain that still occupies lands belonging to other peoples. In the 1980s all three found that they could no longer work on British television because of the official and unofficial censorship. The axe fell on Loach fine and poetic film supporting the miner’s strike, Which Side Are You On (1985). Something that also fell on the Derry Film and Video Workshop whose Mother Ireland was banned from Channel 4 . And the same fate befell the black workshop Ceddo’s The People’s Account (1985). The more recent films for cinema by Ken Loach, which have not only addressed the struggle in Britain, but the struggles elsewhere in Ireland and in the United States [Bread and Roses, 2000] and in Central America [Carla’s Song, 1996 ], have been honoured by Europeans but often slated in Britain.

It is worth noting a limitation on Ken Loach’s work for cinema and for television. Predominately his work has addressed the exploitation of the British working class, and, on occasion, also addressed the oppression that accompanies this; for example of women, as in Cathy Come Home and more recently Ladybird Ladybird (1994).

Certain films have addressed the struggle beyond these shores. Three films [Hidden Agenda (1990), The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Jimmy’s Hall (2014)) have addressed the occupation by the British state of either the whole or  [more recently] part of Eire. It is a sad reflection that Loach is among a small minority of class-conscious Britain’s who recognise and fight this colonial occupation. Karl Marx’s dictum is relevant here as is that of Vladimir Lenin, both making the point that:

“Can a nation be free if it oppresses other nations? It cannot.” {‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’].

Loach also addressed US imperialism, specifically against the people of Nicaragua in Carla’s Song.

Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

But I do not think he has made a film addressing the Palestinian Struggle despite his support. I  think in part this is because of a certain hesitation in filming struggles outside his own experience. But is also seems to be a reflection of his politics, which are tinged with Trotsky-ism. A good example is Land and Freedom. The film fails to address an issue that even George Orwell in ‘Homage to Catalonia’ [an inspiration for the film] addressed. This was the failure of the Spanish revolutionaries to address the colonial exploitation and oppression of the Spanish State.

And there is a parallel lacunae in the otherwise excellent documentary The Spirit of ’45. Whatever the reforms bought in by the Labour Government headed b y Clement Atlee in 1945, they failed to break from the colonial and imperialist values of the State. Continuing the occupation of Eire, producing an unparalleled disaster in the Indian sub-continent through their manipulation and turning their back on the Palestinian people after the earlier machinations of the British State enabled a settler regime to steal their lands.

It is a real irony in this case that the campaign around what is falsely called anti-semitism relies mainly on rhetoric, misquotations and unsubstantiated allegations. But Ken Loach films, with Allen, Garnett and Laverty, have all been carefully researched and rely on a proper and detailed understanding of the actual social relations and conditions in Britain today and over the recent decades. So we have a dominant media where the real world is constantly misrepresented by officials purveyors of news; whilst what are fictional representations of our world are much closer to reality and the underlying social forces.

One of the aphorism of Mao Zedong was

“To Be Attacked by the Enemy Is Not a Bad Thing but a Good Thing.” (1939).

His rationale was the enemy was forced to take action by the strength of opposition. As other writers have pointed out, the recent campaigns orchestrated by Israel [see Al Al-Jazeera ‘The Lobby’] follow on from the successes of the Boycott and Divestment Movement, in which Ken Loach has played a vigorous role. However, the weakness of some responses to the Zionist campaign have only fuelled it. So it is important that all people with progressive views defend artists and activists like Ken Loach. From early dramas like The Big Flame, 1969. through excellent films like Riff-Raff’  (1991) and Jimmy’s Hall, Loach and his collaborators have celebrated people who resist and struggle.

The limitations of the work of him and his partners would seem to reflect the distinction between the struggle within the advanced capitalist states and that between such states and peoples occupied or dominated by these states. I argue elsewhere that this is a distinction that needs to be made in the use of Third Cinema. But this is not to deny the way that one struggle can and should support the other. Certainly the Zionist movement has used its power and support in a country like Britain to undermine the Palestinian struggle. This is why it is so important to defend supporters of that struggle.

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