Shane Burley is a cancellation campaigner who masquerades as an antifascism researcher. The main purpose of his "research" seems to be to divide and otherwise undermine left and anarchist groups, networks, and individuals, particularly those who are critical of Israel, and then label us antisemites, while denying the whole time that he is engaging in a cancellation campaign or that he is attacking us for being critical of Israel. In fact, he claims (every now and then) that he is himself also critical of Israel.
A response to cancellation campaigner Shane Burley's latest attack piece posted on the website of the Anarchist Federation, largely focused on yours truly.
Shane and his fellow fraudulent "researchers" -- active cancellation campaigners Spencer Sunshine and Alexander Reid Ross -- have become the de facto intellectual leadership of a bizarre cult. While striving to position themselves as representing the general opinion of contemporary anarchists and antifascists, they are actually leading a tendency which is a very marginal one, obsessed with exposing antisemitism on the left.
I have done far more research and writing about these people and this tendency than I ever wanted to do. The reason is because they are actively engaged in a cancellation campaign against me (and many other good people), and have been since January, 2021.
With the help of a researcher of my own, I have thoroughly exposed their "antifascist" troll farming network. You can read all about it at davidrovics.com/trolls. The purpose of this post is not to give you any more background on the cancellation campaigners than I have just done here, but to respond to some of the allegations made by Shane Burley in his latest diatribe, which was partially about me, published on April 24th, 2022, titled "The Gilad Atzmon and David Rovics Antisemitism Controversy, Explained."
In the piece, Shane mostly writes about his views on Gilad Atzmon's perspective on Jewish history and identity, which Gilad wrote about in his book, The Wandering Who. I have publicly stated on various occasions that I found the book very interesting and, when the rest of the book is understood in the context of the first chapter -- that is, if you're following Gilad's logic and not trying to be disingenuous -- he makes a lot of sense. I say this as someone who has read a lot of history, and grew up among millions of Jews, including my beloved father and my dear grandparents, in the suburbs of New York City. (My parents named me David, as in "the star of.") But Gilad and his book have certainly managed to provoke tremendous controversy. I got swept up in it by not cancelling a gig I had with him a decade ago, by speaking out against the cancellation campaign against him, and later by interviewing him on my livestream show, as well as being interviewed by him in Counterpunch. This association I have with Gilad is what Shane calls "support," and justifies me being associated with Gilad in his latest lengthy diatribe.
So, I won't be responding to most of what Shane has written about, since it actually doesn't apply to me. If Gilad wants to respond to the stuff about his perspective on Jewish history and identity, he is welcome to do so, but I'll leave that to him. It's not my job to explain or justify Gilad's complex thinking on anything. I just read the book, I'm not claiming to be an expert on Jewish identity or a Talmudic scholar or anything like that. Nor do I need to be.
OK, starting with Shane's first sentence.
David Rovics has been having a problem. “You don’t have to be Mossad to do Mossad’s job,” wrote Rovics in one of the many numerous Twitter screeds, directed at Jewish antifascist writers.
First of all, as Shane never points out in this screed, I am as Jewish as he apparently is, which is only surprising to me because in the past he has directly stated that it doesn't matter if I'm Jewish, I'm still an antisemite. And I definitely said you don't have to be Mossad to do Mossad's job, which is verifiably an obvious fact. You also don't need to be a cop to do a cop's job.
This public meltdown came after many, many people raised questions about his conversations with, and public support for, some people widely known as racists and antisemites.
What he means by this next misleading sentence is I upset a bunch of people by refusing to denounce Gilad Atzmon, by publicly acknowledging that I thought his book was very interesting, and most especially by interviewing Matthew Heimbach, who has also been a much more well-known and much more controversial figure than Atzmon, in the US context. Interviewing Matthew or Gilad does not, however, constitute public support for racists or antisemites. Interviewing people you disagree with is really important, for a lot of reasons, regardless of whether or not it's true that Matthew or Gilad are racists or antisemites (in my humble opinion, neither of them are, though Matthew certainly used to be both of those things).
This next bit is kind of fun.
Rovics has been a staple of many radical communities for a couple of decades. Known for his acoustic protest songs, he often plays at demonstrations, writes tracks related to contemporary political issues, and tours internationally and has self-published dozens of albums.
The part I like the most here is the "self-published" part. It's true, most of my albums were self-published. Also true that I've put out albums on a variety of independent record labels. This would not be especially worth noting, except that some of the same publishers and distributors of books and music that Shane continues to work with have been my publishers, too, such as AK Press.
In 2021 Rovics had a YouTube video and podcast interviewing the neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach. The interview is a softball, where Rovics agrees with many of Heimbach’s critiques of the left and challenges virtually nothing Heimbach says, essentially giving him an open forum to state his views. Heimbach has argued that he has reformed, that he is no longer a white nationalist, but both by listening to his views and listening to experts, journalists, and antifascists who know him and his work well, this is an easy lie to dispel.
When I interviewed Matthew, the day after the Capitol siege, wanting to understand why people would behave this way, my purpose was to understand the right, or in this case, a former leader of the right. The reason I didn't disagree with him was because he wasn't saying anything particularly disagreeable, in terms of his current political views. The reason it was a "softball" interview was because I did not set out to do a combative one in the first place. If I were to do the interview again, I would have done more research beforehand, and asked harder questions, for sure. But I have no big regrets about the interview -- on the contrary, only minor ones. I did take the interview down, as Shane notes, due to receiving criticism, mainly in the form of his organized cancellation campaigning, which always makes a few people appear to be far more numerous than they actually are.
Shane next complains that I was on Kevin Barrett's YouTube show, and that Kevin denied the holocaust while he was interviewing me, and I said nothing. This isn't actually true. If Kevin had denied the holocaust I would definitely have said something. Whatever Shane or anyone else thinks of Kevin Barrett, I do interviews with most anyone who wants to interview me. I have done interviews for RT, Sputnik, the Teheran Times, both major newspapers in Palestine, Al-Mayadeen, and all kinds of other networks Shane surely despises. The point of doing an interview is not to agree with the host or their network, but to be exposed to their audience. Shane obviously disagrees with this idea.
Skipping past a very large chunk of the diatribe, where he quotes Atzmon out of context and attacks the quotes, straw-man style (the only style Shane knows), we get back to where he once again points his ire at yours truly.
When David Rovics was asked about ... his relationships with people like Heimbach and Barrett, he flew into a rage at the idea that he should apologize for it and withdraw his support for Atzmon. He spent the next couple of months lashing out on social media, accusing various writers, particularly those of Jewish descent, of organizing some type of wild conspiracy and acting like the Israeli intelligence organization Mossad. These writers have spoken up about this issue, which owes to the fact that typically it is people of Jewish descent that have to speak up about antisemitism that appears on the left.
It's interesting how Shane keeps coming back to this idea that I'm attacking writers of Jewish descent. The victims of Shane, Spencer, and Alexander's cancellation campaigning are overwhelmingly intellectuals and cultural figures of Jewish descent, such as me, Norman Finkelstein, and Medea Benjamin. I didn't even know that Shane, Spencer, or Alexander might be of Jewish descent -- and I don't care. It doesn't matter. The truth matters, that's all.
Shane always reacts the same way whenever Mossad or intelligence agencies are brought up. He calls it "wild conspiracy" -- and it most definitely is some pretty wild stuff going on out there! As any idiot who reads Newsweek knows. This is not secret information. Intelligence agencies engage in constant disruptive activities online, of exactly the same kind as those activities conducted by Shane, Spencer, Alexander, and their followers. I have never claimed to be sure that any of them work for Mossad, but everything they do says they should apply for a job. They spend so much time trying to cancel everybody, I don't know how any of them have time for anything else.
Rovics has himself had a soft spot for conspiracy theories, such as 9/11 Truth, which itself often takes on an antisemitic edge.
I have a lot of legitimate suspicions that the Israeli government, along with the Saudi government, along with Pakistan's ISI and a terrorist group funded by the CIA called Al-Qaeda all played a significant role in the 9/11 attacks in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania. This apparently makes me an antisemite, is what Shane is saying here.
Rovics says that he disagrees with the antifascist idea that the far-right, racists, and antisemites should be “no platformed” and denied access to their ability to speak and organize.
Finally Shane writes something that is accurate. I do not believe in no-platforming, this is correct. I don't believe in excommunication or cancellation campaigns either. I believe in communication -- especially between people who have different ideas. I believe we must find solutions to our problems in society, and this has to involve lots of very uncomfortable conversations with people who are very disagreeable in lots of different ways. This is how change can happen. The alternatives are far worse.
Rovics has said that his critics’ “version of ‘antifascism’ involves viciously attacking anyone who is a critic of Israeli apartheid, and using lies and innuendo to do so.” This is what is called the Livingstone Formulation: if someone criticizes you for antisemitism, just say it’s because you’re a critic of Israel even if the issue had nothing to do with Israel.
My critics' anarcho-puritan wingnut version of antifascism, that propagated by Shane and his colleagues, most definitely involves doing exactly I describe. Shane can call this whatever "formulation" he wants to, but what I am describing is exactly what he and his colleagues are doing, and I have documented this thoroughly.
Seeing as Rovics honed in on me and I have been public about my time with Students for Justice in Palestine and my support for BDS, there is no reason to believe that I am an enthusiastic supporter of Israel.
There are some great people who have written for Ha'aretz, and although Shane has, too, he is not one of the great writers. What he wrote about in Ha'aretz and in various left websites repeatedly has to do with trying to root out antisemites from within the Palestine solidarity movement. The idea that Shane going to a few meetings of a student group 20 years ago means he can verify his credentials as a critic of Israel is a pretty weak claim. More relevant might be the loads of articles he has written since then, which have largely focused on rooting out antisemitism on the left. He uses his alleged credentials as a critic of Israel to try to "help" pro-Palestinian groups root out the antisemites within their ranks. I can say from my experience being "helped" by Shane, that his form of help is the kind that destroys groups, as I have witnessed repeatedly. It's fraudulent "help."
(That is, unless, you think my Jewish family background and religious affiliation counts as a reason.)
As Shane has repeatedly pointed out before, the fact that I am of Jewish lineage doesn't matter. Why it suddenly seems to matter that Shane is apparently Jewish, I have no idea. Or why Shane would think that I think being Jewish is related to supporting Israel, I also don't know. I have certainly never said any such thing. As Shane is also presumably aware, much of the Palestine solidarity movement in the US is made up of people of Jewish lineage.
Shane then goes on to make more wildly inaccurate statements about Gilad Atzmon's perspective, but again, if you want to understand Gilad's perspective, his book is very short -- not a whole lot longer than Shane's screed about it. Best to get it from the source, it'll make much more sense that way. Also listen to my interview with Matthew for yourself, it's on YouTube, with an explanation for why I put it back up in the description section below the video.
Rovics suggests criticisms of those engaging in antisemitism are illegitimate, mentioning Alison Weir.
I never said anything like this, I'm not even sure what he's talking about. I love Alison Weir, though, and I don't see any reason to believe she's an antisemite. She is, however, a very active and effective campaigner for the Palestinian people, and has been one of the many victims of Shane, Spencer, and Alexander's cancellation efforts.
While antifascists have discussed how corrosive antisemitism is, and how it can seep into the left, it often goes unaddressed. Antisemitic ideas creep into left political spaces attached to conspiracy thinking, which often suggests that a secretive cabal is at the center of world affairs.
From my experience as a life-long participant in the left in the US and other countries, the left is the very least antisemitic social space in any society. I have no idea where Shane gets his paranoid ideas about the left being rife with antisemites. It's not. There are so many bigger problems in the world today than antisemitism, and left antisemitism doesn't even rise to the level of being something I would call a problem today. But Shane is obsessed with "creeping fascism" and out to stop it, by sowing division in and sometimes succeeding in destroying the groups that are having this alleged problem. I keep seeing this happen again and again.
And as for a secretive cabal at the center of world affairs, this is just Shane's active imagination. I'm not sure who he's talking about here, whether it's supposed to apply to me or Gilad or Matthew. It certainly has nothing to do with me. There are a bunch of different secret cabals running the world. It's a big world -- too big for just one. And none of the cabals are made up entirely of Jews, to my knowledge. Most of the cabals probably don't contain any Jews.
Today, when it comes to Israel, any rejection of Zionism is often seen as preferable, even when it comes from a place of bigotry.
Really? What this statement is doing in this apparent explanation of my antisemitism I once again have no idea. I also think this is complete bullshit.
Our resistance to Israeli apartheid must come from support of Palestinian freedom and a global desire to end empires and borders, and that does not mean having a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” mentality about racists in the movement against Israeli violence. Rovics’ own lack of political sophistication seems to have led to his inability to parse antisemitic discourses, and to assume that any accusation is necessarily disingenuous. This negates the very real threats that Jews around the world are facing in the midst of rising antisemitism. It is not unnecessarily divisive to confront antisemitism, it is divisive to respond to any criticism of oppressive behavior with a conspiratorial stream of venom.
But I don't have this "my enemy's enemy is my friend" perspective, so I don't know how this applies to me, but Shane thinks it does, evidently. To believe in communication with others is not the same as accepting their views, but Shane disagrees with this, clearly -- he and his anarcho-puritan mates call this "platforming." As for Shane's accusations being disingenuous, I say they are disingenuous first of all because they are so full of reasoning that makes no sense, because they are clearly meant to be misleading, but also because Shane spends most of his time attacking fellow leftwingers in his cancellation campaign efforts, as I once again have thoroughly documented. He is a cancellation campaigner, therefore his critique tends to be disingenuous, since the whole point is not actually to reach any kind of understanding, but to cancel people he's campaigning against.
I agree, however, that it is good to disagree -- that is, debate, not cancel -- people who promote antisemitism or venomous conspiracies, like Shane. I mean, like Shane, I believe this, but also, I believe in debating people like Shane, who are promoting venomous conspiracy theories, namely, that the left is full of antisemites and that I am one of them.
So, Shane, if you think confronting antisemitism is a good idea and I'm an antisemite, how about a public debate? Oh no, that's not the kind of confronting Shane has in mind. Can't talk to antisemites like me, that would be creating "unsafe spaces" and "platforming."
We should hold people to account for allowing antisemitism to enter into leftist and antiracist social movements, and we do not owe access to movement platforms to every single person who demands it.
What the hell is "access to movement platforms"? I'll translate: what he means by this is when an artist has a gig, say, singing a union song at a union rally, people with whom Shane is in constant contact on Twitter should harass the organizers of the rally until they cancel the musical portion of the rally, out of fear for their physical safety. This way I have been denied "access to a movement platform." This is what Shane means by that. This is what just happened a couple months ago.
While Rovics has screamed “cancel culture” from the rooftops, and an “anti-antifa” perspective, you can just look at his associations and his support for open antisemites and decide whether or not you find that acceptable.
I have never expressed an "anti-antifa" perspective! This is Shane lying again. This is Shane attempting to position himself as antifa, with me as anti-antifa. The fact is, Shane represents a destructive, fringe perspective within what we may consider antifa circles, if we want to use that loaded term, that is seeking to find antisemitism in every leftwing space. And as to who I associate with? Well, in the past several tours I've done I've played for anarchists, socialists, communists, unions, environmentalists, supporters of political prisoners, antiwar groups, etc. These are the people and movements with which I continue to actively associate.
Rovics published an “exposé” of antifascists on February 21 where he reproduced much of this questionable rhetoric, such as singling out authors of Jewish descent, accusing them of conspiracies, complaining about “cabals,” and suggesting that they are coordinating some kind of attack using crypsis.
What rhetoric is he talking about here? I have no idea, and neither does he, I'm quite certain. But to the extent that he has a point, what I was pointing out in that expose on my website is that Shane, Alexander, Spencer and their followers are actively involved with cancellation campaigns, mostly aimed at Jewish cultural figures and intellectuals, as I mentioned. This is what's happening. He's trying to flip it around here, in some bizarre way. And I don't know what "crypsis" is.
On March 3rd, he released an “antifascism survey” where he included a plurality of questions related to Jews, such as suggesting, by context, that it would be wrong to root out antisemitism, that people suggesting antisemitism is an issue are just defenders of Israeli apartheid, as well as questions about “Jewish billionaires.”
I did make this survey -- please take it! It's there to help people understand the Shane Burley version of antifascism, that says we need to spend all our time attacking leftists for supposed antisemitic tendencies. It's there to help people understand what the cancel culture is, and how not to be a part of it. He must realize I made the survey for him and his followers, but he'd rather spread the idea that it's just more indication of my antisemitism. This is profoundly disingenuous, like the rest of what Shane says.
At best, this shows that David cares so little about the reproduction of antisemitic motifs (“conspiratorial Jews”) that he thinks nothing of letting that be the center of his argument.
Translation: by intentionally making a reference to an antisemitic trope in a survey designed to elicit opinions from people, I am doing something antisemitic. Hopefully by now you can see how you're an antisemite, too, dear reader.
These are just more examples of assuming Jewish concerns are disingenuous, that people disassociating with Rovics must be the result of some organized prodding from Jewish activists, and straw man accusations about their intentions.
Here's more gibberish where Shane is claiming his Jewishness is relevant, and furthermore that I am being attacked by "Jewish activists." If this is indeed the case, may the Jewish attackers please stand up, because I have no idea who he's talking about. Medea Benjamin, Norman Finkelstein, me and many others are the people of Jewish descent being attacked by Shane's little cult. If his anonymous cult members on Twitter are actually Jewish as some of them claim to be, no one has any way of knowing, and it's also irrelevant. You don't need to be Jewish or non-Jewish to take a position on apartheid, or on cancellation campaigns being waged against anyone!
These show even less willingness to address his behavior or take antisemitism seriously, and even the willingness to reproduce it. While Rovics accuses all of his critics of being “puritans,” they are confronting very real antisemitic rhetoric that can have deadly consequences. Jews deserve to feel welcome in social movements, and deserve to have comrades who demand their safety as well.
My willingness to reproduce antisemitic tropes having been established in the prior paragraph, he now refers to it as if he's established the facts. Which is what he's trying to do, actually, as he and his followers do constantly with their deceptive writing and cancellation campaigning practices.
Shane is not confronting any real antisemitic rhetoric with any real deadly consequences, he is attacking someone who is a defender of the human rights of human beings, who does not have an antisemitic bone in his body. However, the cancellation campaigning and constant spewing of irrational arguments and hateful bile that Shane and his friends are engaged with does have potentially deadly consequences.
Jews deserve to be safe in social movements -- just not David Rovics, apparently. What...?!
OK, I got to the end of it, and I'm done. Have a nice day.