I’ve never known an interviewee answer the phone as enthusiastically as “actor, carer, drummer”, Marlon Solomon. From the moment our conversation begins, I can sense his livewire energy. He is brimming with the vitality of a Jewish actor and activist who has recently awoken to the menace of left-wing antisemitism.
I begin by asking Marlon about the one-man show he is taking round the country, ‘Conspiracy Theory: A Lizard’s Tale.’ This is a show about the oldest conspiracy theory there is – antisemitism – and how it has lately come out of hiding in many places, including the Labour Party.
I start by asking Marlon about his inspiration for the show. He tells me that, although he is a non-practicing Jew and has always lived outside of the Jewish community, a couple of years ago he began to notice a worrying number of conspiracy theories about Jews propagating across social media.
“My peer group is non-Jewish and left-wing”, says Marlon. “This started pretty much overnight, after Ken Livingstone opened his mouth. I started seeing stuff on Facebook in defence of Ken Livingstone. People wading into to Israel-Palestine, which I didn’t know much about. Wading in without knowing much about the tropes associated with Jewish history.”
Marlon goes on: “I could see people actively googling and repeating stuff about Jews collaborating with the Nazis. If you google stuff like that, you know where you end up. I started seeing images and views associated with the far-right suddenly appearing on my social media feed from newly politicised members of the Labour Party. And then I knew something was really wrong.”
Even more darkly, Marlon tells me that, in the wake of seeing this phenomenon developing, he decided to ask some of his old lefty friends from university about their take on antisemitism. Disturbingly, he found these friends, who he was used to being “right on” on most things, repeating and agreeing with the antisemitic tropes which were so casually being thrown around on social media.
“The new left, led by Corbyn, is challenging the establishment”, offers Marlon. “Anything challenging the establishment will naturally appeal to the conspiracy theorist, because conspiracy theories are necessarily anti-establishment. It’s their raison d’être”, Marlon explains.
I ask Marlon where he thinks antisemitism ranks in the context of the many other conspiracy theories on the internet. Is it the worst? Is it the most widespread? This is where Marlon tells me: “Antisemitism is the original conspiracy theory.” He expands: “There are people who are anti-capitalist conspiracy theorists. This can often turn into something more sinister. I’ve certainly seen a lot of stuff about the Rothschilds on social media recently…”
Does this have a context beyond our shores, I wonder? “The same thing is happening with Trump”, says Marlon. He explains that Trump’s assault on the establishment creates a vacuum for those he calls “conspiracists.” “If you bring conspiracists into the mainstream”, contends Marlon, “You will bring with you your fair share of antisemitism. The two go hand in hand. You don’t have to look too far into conspiracy theories before you find the Jews.”
More about Ken Livingstone. Marlon mentions David Hirsh’s description of ‘The Livingstone Formulation’. Marlon suggests Livingstone himself is a conspiracist, repeatedly pedalling the myth that the only reason people are raising the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party is to achieve political ends hostile to those of the Labour left.
But how should we fight back? “We need counter-narratives”, Marlon says passionately. “We need Jewish people and their friends to talk about this in other ways. I think we need more cultural responses. There’s so much antisemitism on the internet. There’s more antisemitism on Twitter than any other form of racism, even though there are only fifteen million Jews in a world of seven billion people. The scale of the problem is therefore huge.”
I think the point about a counter-narrative is ingenious. Many antisemites in the Labour Party also happen to be Marxists. Many more study closely the Marxist works of Antonio Gramsci, who talked about creating counter-hegemonic projects to overturn the establishment. This strategy certainly seems to be taking hold where antisemities are prospering, so why not play them at their own game?
So, what are the obstacles to achieving this? Marlon tells me: “The main obstacle is the alternative left-wing media. I’ve been reading certain publications which only carry negative stories about Jews. It’s negative stories about Jews. Its claims of false allegations of antisemitism designed to sabotage Jeremy Corbyn. It’s whipping up a huge amount of hatred towards Jewish people. These people need to be held to account.”
Marlon says that attempts to dismantle the IHRA definition of antisemitism by some on the left are “scandalous.” He adds: “The alternative left-wing media is describing 95% of Jews as the Israel lobby. Have a look at The Canary. Look at the article written by the writer of Another Angry Voice, dismantling the IHRA definition of antisemitism. He never thought it necessary to mention the fact that the vast majority of Jews support this definition of racism against us. This dehumanises Jewish people.”
Returning to the pushback we might mount against this, Marlon stresses again his point about a counter-narrative. He says there are a few examples of this, including the aforementioned work of David Hirsh. Marlon says there are painfully few other examples at the moment. Yet the encouragement of such responses is the main purpose of Marlon’s brilliant show, which will be on the road again soon. The fightback against Labour antisemitism is on.