With Labour currently holding their National Conference just across the river in Liverpool, it’s the perfect time to remind ourselves of the title subjects, some of the history, the people and the organisations involved and where things currently stand.
The following is a measured, comprehensive and brilliantly-presented examination of these controversial issues.
Anti-Semitism, Israel and the Labour Party
“There is no smoke without fire”
“Corbyn is too relaxed about Antisemitism and supports Palestinian Terrorists”
“2000 anti-Semitic posts on Social Media by supporters of Corbyn”
“It’s a witch hunt”
“It is a campaign being orchestrated by opponents of Corbyn inside and outside the Labour Party”
“If you tell a lie often enough then people will start to believe it”
Much of the current criticism claiming Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in general and the Left in particular emanates from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism which published a “Barometer of Anti-Semitism” in 2017.
Paradoxically, considering the recent uproar, in this publication it states on page 6:
Our data also revealed patterns in antisemitism across political divides, with supporters of left-wing political parties and supporters of the ‘remain’ camp in the EU referendum less likely to be anti-Semitic than those on the right or supporters of the ‘leave’ camp.
On the same page the report states that 40% of Conservative supporters show some sign of antisemitism in their responses when canvassed whilst the figure for Labour supporters is 32%
On page 9 however, reporting on a survey of British Jews, it reveals that 83% believe that the Labour Party harbours anti-Semites in its ranks compared to only 17% who believe the same of the Tories. (40% also believed the Greens and UKIP to harbour anti-Semites and the figure for the Liberals was 36%).
The apparent contradiction in the survey of Labour Supporters and the survey of British Jews is explained:
By comparing these responses with the data from the polls of the British population that we commissioned YouGov to undertake, we can pinpoint the problem.
The YouGov data shows, for example, that Labour Party supporters are less likely to be anti-Semitic than other voters, so the cause of British Jews’ discontentment with the Labour Party must be the way that it has very publicly failed to robustly deal with the anti-Semites in its ranks. This means that the Labour Party has fallen out of step with its core supporters, who are generally less likely to hold anti-Semitic beliefs.
The other possibility of course is that the perception of those Jews who were polled does not match the reality. Unfortunately we do not seem to have sufficient information to determine whether the conclusion reached by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is correct and it would assist in any discussion if we knew the exact number of Labour Party members who are accused of anti-Semitism and what exactly it is alleged constitutes their anti-Semitic behaviour. In the meantime I have prepared this document to both clear my own head regarding this controversial subject and also to aid the debate among any interested Party members.
In any consideration of history there is always the question of where to start.
For many religious fundamentalists any discussion regarding Israel starts and finishes with the purported promise made by God that Israel is the Jews Promised Land. The modern history of Israel however starts at the end of the 19th Century.
For many hundreds of years Jews had suffered discrimination and persecution throughout Europe and by the end of the 19th Century this had led to the call by some Jews, known as Zionists, for the establishment of a Jewish State where Jews would be free from such persecution.
This call for a Jewish State was not supported by the mainstream of Jews at the time and was opposed mainly on one of two grounds. Some Jews believed that they were entitled to live as equals in the countries where they were currently living and that rather than move they should campaign for equal rights. Orthodox Jews felt that the Promised Land could only be entered when the waited for messiah led them into it and it was wrong to move to Palestine before then.
After the First World War and the defeat of Turkey, the old Ottoman Empire in the Middle East was carved up by the British and French Governments. This carving up of countries and their populations as the spoils of war set the seed for most if not all of the problems in the Middle East that we experience today.
As part of this process the British had declared, by way of the Balfour Declaration, that they would support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
This declaration was made in a letter to Lord Rothschild who had been lobbying the British Government on behalf of the Zionist Movement.
His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing will be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
No one thought to ask the opinion of the Arabs (Muslim and Christian) who were already living in Palestine as to what they would think of this proposal!
Given the persecution that Jews were suffering in most European States it is not surprising that many Jews longed for a Homeland but nor is it surprising that from the outset most Arab Palestinians did not want mass immigration of Jews from foreign countries. Arabs also felt betrayed by the Balfour Declaration because the British had previously promised them their own country as a reward for helping Britain during WW1.
The British took control of Palestine and ruled it from 1917 until 1948. In 1923 this position was formalised by a League of Nations Mandate.
In 1920 the British Authorities reported that the population of Palestine (which at that time consisted of the current State of Israel and the occupied territories on the West Bank) stood at 700,000 with the vast majority being Arab Muslims with 77,000 Arab Christians and 76,000 Jews. During the period of the British Mandate the overall population increased to 1.9 million and the Jewish population increased to 630,000.
The increase in the Jewish population reflects the persecution being fled from in Europe but the situation was still that the establishment of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine was not supported by the majority of European and American Jews.
An increase in the Jewish population from 11% to 33% was bound to lead to tension and there was violence towards the Jewish newcomers who in turn formed defensive militias. During the 1930s there was a failed 3 year Arab revolt against British rule, demanding Arab independence and an end to open ended Jewish immigration. This violent revolt was put down by the combined efforts of the British Army and Jewish militias. The death toll was 262 British, between 100-300 Jews and between 2,000-5,000 Arabs (depending on whose figures you accept). In addition 4 Jews and 108 Arabs were executed by the British.
After WW2 the British attempted to restrict the number of Jews entering Palestine from Europe but survivors of the Holocaust and some of the Zionist Groups in Palestine were in no mood to accept any restrictions. The result was guerrilla warfare/terrorism against the British during which over 300 British Soldiers, Police Officers and civilian administrators were killed and between 50-100 Jewish Insurgents/terrorists.
The term Terrorist is appropriate here in the view of many as the actions included the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in which 91 people including 28 British soldiers died and the hanging of two kidnapped British sergeants. To others the Zionists responsible for these actions were justified and the perpetrators considered heroes fighting for a Jewish Homeland.
Not all Zionists supported those who killed British soldiers and civilians and David Ben Gurion the leader of the largest Zionist Group (and future Prime Minister) condemned the attack on the King David Hotel but Binjamin Netanyahu the current Prime Minister attended a 60th anniversary commemoration of the attack in July 2006 at which a plaque was unveiled.
Jewish heroic insurgents/terrorists robbed banks, blew up a Shell Oil Refinery, planted booby traps and IEDs to kill British Police and Soldiers and used lorry bombs. Over 300 British soldiers were killed.
One Group, the Irgun, attacked British Army facilities in Germany and another, Lehi, were stopped by French Police from flying a plane from France to drop a bomb on the House of Commons. The British embassy in Rome was bombed, several bombs detonated in London (the biggest, which would have caused major fatalities failed to detonate) and 21 letter bombs were sent to British politicians including Prime Minister Clement Atlee.
Unsurprisingly following the horrors of the Holocaust the previous opposition to Zionism amongst Jews worldwide all but disappeared even among those Jews who had no intention of ever moving to Palestine. Non-Jews in Europe and America also had great sympathy for the concept of a safe homeland for Jews.
The British Mandate in Palestine ended in 1948 and Palestinian Jews immediately announced the establishment of an Independent Jewish State and this triggered a Civil War and the first of the Arab Israeli wars as the Palestinians living in Palestine did not want a Jewish State established.
The United Nations proposed the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab States but a look at the map shows that, as proposed, this would not have led to a viable Jewish State. The decision by the Jews to establish Israel did create a viable Jewish State but led to the Civil War and a massive expulsion or flight in the face of mass killings by Jews of Arabs of 750,000 Arabs from land they had lived on for generations but which was now occupied by the victorious Jewish forces. The Jewish forces then destroyed hundreds of villages to prevent the refugees ever returning.
Since then there have been a number of Arab Israeli wars each one of which has resulted in victory for Israel, the expansion of the State of Israel and an increase in the number of Palestinian Refugees. Since the war of 1967 there has also been a gradual shift to the right in Israeli Governments.
Since the declaration of Independence a number of countries (including most Arab ones) have refused to recognise Israel as a legitimate State and Palestinians who were expelled from Israel or who fled as refugees have demanded the right to return to their homes.
Israel has justified its actions of Occupation outside of its own boundaries, the development of Settlements in the Occupied Territories and refusal to accept Palestinian refugees back to their homeland by the fact that it feels threatened by the surrounding Arab States and the various Arab militias, some of which pledge the destruction of the State of Israel.
Many Israelis feel that they can only secure their borders by occupying the West Bank and building Jewish Settlements there. Some Zionists see the expulsion of Arabs, the occupation of the West Bank and the Settlements as a step towards the establishment of a Jewish State in all the land promised to them by God. The United Nations has condemned the Occupation, the building of Settlements and the building of the Israeli security wall. It has called for the right of Palestinians to be allowed to return to their historic homeland. The expelled Palestinian refugees still want to go home and those living in Gaza and the West Bank want an independent and viable Palestinian State.
The establishment of the State of Israel by an influx of European Jews, the displacement of Palestinian Arabs and the Arab Israeli conflicts will fuel controversy, heated debate and violence for many years to come. It should come as no surprise that this should spill over into the politics of other countries including Britain; a country which more than any other has been heavily involved in Middle East politics throughout the period.
The current question is whether the debates about Israel and Palestine within the Labour Party give rise to antisemitism.
The accusations against Jeremy Corbyn and the Left is that they are either anti-Semitic or tolerate anti-Semitic members because of sympathy with the plight of the Palestinians. It is further alleged by some that opposition to the policies of Israel is used to mask underlying anti-Semitism.
The accusation against those making the allegations of antisemitism is that they are looking for any excuse to make these allegations as a way of undermining the Left and is a tactic to close down any criticism of Israel.
Few members of the Labour Party, and none I have met, would consider themselves anti-Semitic any more than they would consider themselves racist.
Members on the left and right of Labour would universally condemn attacks on Jews or synagogues or desecration of Jewish graves. They would not indicate any support for Hitler, the holocaust or condone holocaust denial.
There are several however who are being accused of using anti-Semitic language and this has led to argument regarding the accepted definition of anti-Semitism especially when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There may well be some members who are anti-Semitic just as there will be some who are Racist. The Labour Party will, to some extent, reflect the general population.
There will be some currently attacking the Left who feel genuine offence at the language used by some supporters of Palestinian rights and there will be some who will cynically see it as an opportunity to attack the Left. We should all be aware that enemies of Labour (and in particular of the Labour Left) will seize on any careless use of language whether it is intended to be anti-Semitic or not.
There is an internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism which has been adopted by the UK Government and used by the Police when determining if a hate crime has been committed. It is this definition, and particularly the interpretation of it, which is fuelling much of the latest controversy.
I have highlighted the sentences in this definition which I believe have led to much of the current controversy over use of language. There are certainly some dangerous minefields to negotiate if anyone wishes to criticise the actions of the State of Israel whilst not falling foul of this definition of antisemitism as interpreted by some.
IHRA definition of anti-semitism
Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity (1). Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.
Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
- Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
- Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
- Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
- Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, (2) than to the interests of their own nations.
Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor. (3)
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation. (4)
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis. (5)
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.(6)
However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).
Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.
Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.
Referring to each of the highlighted sentences in turn:
- In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.
Of course Israeli Jews do not all share the same politics or the same views of relations with the Palestinians and the Peace Process. It is not difficult for Labour members to make sure when they discuss these issues that they recognise that all Israeli Jews are not responsible for the actions of their Government any more than all UK citizens are responsible for the actions of our Government.
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide
There is debate amongst Jewish scholars as to what level of support there should be from non-Israeli Jews for the State of Israel, which most Jews seek to defend at least in terms of its right to exist.
I cannot see how the question of where a person’s paramount loyalty rests can be determined unless it is put to some real test such as in a conflict between Britain and Israel and I cannot see any relevance in someone of the Left challenging the loyalty to Britain of a British Jew who also feels it necessary to defend Israel. We all know of British citizens who show some level of loyalty to Ireland, the West Indies or the Indian sub- continent. We on the Left have often been accused of having more loyalty towards International Socialism than British Nationalism!
Jews world-wide were singled out by the Nazis for humiliation, dehumanisation and annihilation. This was all Jews anywhere in the World. It would be very strange indeed if this did not result in some sense of unity amongst surviving Jews world-wide. Having been the victims of very real persecution for so long it is hardly surprising that most Jews all over the world have respect for a Jewish State that, as they see it, refuses to be pushed around. .
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
This is a much more tricky part of the definition to navigate.
Clearly any reading of history shows that it was not the original intention of all Zionists to establish a Jewish Homeland as a racist endeavour but most reasonable people who are acquainted with the history of the Middle East could easily come to the conclusion that the treatment of Arabs by the British and some Zionist groups prior to the establishment of Israel and by the Israeli State since its inception , both in Israel itself and the occupied West Bank, is Racist. Many British and Zionist politicians had as little regard for Arabs as human beings on their own lands as the American Colonists had for Native Americans or the British Colonists for Aboriginal Australians and Africans.
Is it unacceptable to discuss the treatment of Arabs in the context of Racism? Are Arabs assured of equal treatment in Israel? Are Ethiopian Jews in Israel treated the same as lighter skinned Jews? Can the treatment of West Bank Palestinians be compared to Apartheid?
The question of the “right to self-determination” can also lead to problems of interpretation. Can Israeli and Palestinian Arabs have “self-determination” or is it reserved only for Israeli Jews?
From the beginning of the mass immigration of Jews to Palestine there have been Zionists who believed that Arabs should be expelled from their own country to make way for the Jewish State whilst other Zionists sought peaceful co-existence (just as there have been Palestinians who believed in expulsion of the Jewish immigrants and others who believed in peaceful co-existence).
Is it anti-Semitic to criticise the recent Israeli “Nation State Bill” which many Israeli commentators argue is racist and legitimises segregation between Jews and non Jews? Would it be anti-Semitic to offer support to the tens of thousands of Christian Druze who protested in Tel Aviv claiming that the new law makes them second class citizens?
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
Double standards should always be opposed as hypocrisy but opposition to hypocrisy should also extend to defending the right to criticise the State of Israel. Sensitivity regarding allegations of anti-Semitism cannot justify staying silent on the issue of the Palestinians.
Is it anti-Semitic to condemn Israel for developing nuclear weapons or is it double standards to turn a blind eye to this whilst waging war or imposing economic sanctions on other States in the Middle East who seek to develop them?
Should we not demand that all democratic nations should comply with United Nations resolutions? Is it double standards to do nothing to enforce United Nations resolutions on the State of Israel whilst imposing sanctions on other countries that ignore UN resolutions?
Is it double standards to refer to the fighters of the Jewish Irgun who killed British Soldiers and bombed civilians in the cause of Jewish self-determination as heroes whilst condemning those who kill Israeli soldiers and civilians in the cause of Palestinian self-determination as terrorists?
Is it anti-Semitic to even discuss such issues?
Israel is an anachronism in the context of the 20th century when Colonialism was coming to an end across the World. Most of the immigrants who founded the State in Arab Lands were Jews from Europe with a European outlook.
It is Geographically in Asia but is considered a Western Nation and participates in many European sporting events (including the Europa League) and the Eurovision contest. UK citizens travelling to Israel are covered by Travel Insurance for Europe. Is it wrong to judge the actions of Israel by comparing it to the standard of behaviour we would expect from European Nations? If it is right that sanctions are applied to Russia for occupying part of Ukraine would it be justified applying sanctions to Israel?
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Any such comparison is ridiculous as well as offensive. People use this comparison too freely in a range of situations ranging from the actions of Traffic Wardens to recent Genocides when in fact there has been nothing I have seen anywhere in the world in recorded history that can be compared to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis.
Whatever one feels about the treatment of Palestinians by Israel it cannot be compared to the Nazi Holocaust.
Even the most right wing Israeli is entitled to feel offended by comparison with Hitler and the Nazis as was Oliver Finegold the Jewish reporter on the Evening Standard who Ken Livingstone likened to a Nazi Concentration camp guard.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
I have already referred to the differing views held by Israeli Jews and the same can even more obviously be said for Jews worldwide. Whilst most Jews worldwide support the existence of the State of Israel there are many different views about its domestic and foreign policies. There are Jews who support the Oslo Agreement and there are those who oppose it.
Jews as a collective are no more responsible for the poor treatment of Palestinians than the British population is for the invasion of Iraq or all Muslims for the actions of ISIS. It could however be argued that the Israeli Government judges all Palestinian Arabs as acting collectively or they could not justify to themselves the concept of Collective Punishment. (A tactic first used in Palestine by the British)
To many supporters of Palestinian rights, support for Israel appears to result in many Jewish Zionists completely ignoring the plight of the Palestinians and to justifying any action taken by the Israeli State regardless of any breaches of International Law. For many Jews, support for the plight of Palestinians is seen as support for groups that seek the destruction of Israel as a Jewish State.
Other tricky issues not specifically referred to in the definition of anti-Semitism
Is it legitimate to debate making it illegal to circumcise an infant other than for medical reasons? Is it legitimate to debate making it illegal to slaughter animals in line with religious doctrine? Is it legitimate to challenge the teachings of the bible?
Engaging in any one of these debates could end up with accusations of anti-Semitism being made but all should surely be acceptable in a Liberal Democracy.
One of the strangest facets of the current debate about anti-Semitism is the concept of the anti-Semitic Jew often referred to as “Self-Loathing Jews” or “Self-Hating Jew” by Jews who are on the right of the political spectrum.
It is a term used in a pejorative sense to refer to left wing Jews who criticise Israel in its treatment of Palestinians, challenge other policies of Israel or question aspects of the Jewish religion. It has led to Jews being suspended from the Labour Party for alleged anti-Semitism although to date I do not know of any expulsions.
I find it hard to accept that we should all be careful about our language when we discuss the policies of Right Wing Israelis but condone the use of such language as “Self Loathing Jew” to describe Left Wing Jews who do not conform to current mainstream Jewish and/or Zionist thinking.
Gerald Kaufman was a high profile Jewish Labour MP who was considered to be on the Right in the Labour Party. He was also, in a speech in the House of Commons in 2002 as reported in the Times of Israel in 2017, scathing about Israeli policy towards Palestinians:
“The current Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians,” Kaufman said in a speech in parliament.
Referring to his personal background, as the son of Jewish refugees from Poland, he said: “My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza.”
Kaufman compared Hamas’s fighters in Gaza to Jewish resistance fighters during the Second World War, saying: “The spokeswoman for the Israeli army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that time, 800 Palestinians. The total is now 1,000. She replied instantly that ‘500 of them were militants.’ That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.”
His opposition to Israel persisted into old age. In 2012, he penned a Huffington Post labelling Israel a “rogue state” and arguing that the fact that Israel is a democracy “means that the Israeli electorate is complicit in its government’s war crimes.”
I do not know if Kaufman is considered a self loathing Jew by those currently claiming Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are anti-semitic but presume if a member of the Labour Party said such things today they would expelled pretty quickly after a storm of media protest.
The attitude of the press towards Ed Milliband the first Jewish Leader of the Labour Party could easily be argued as being anti-Semitic and some consider the widespread coverage of him, a secular Jew, being pictured eating a bacon sandwich as being anti-Semitic.
As a Jew who supports Palestinian rights Ed Milliband was certainly never supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the press, of course, painted him as a dangerous left winger.
Various derogatory terms have been used about any individual Jew or group of Jews who have come to the defence of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.
Use of the Term Zionist
Most of the debate regarding anti-Semitism surrounds the right of Labour members to criticise Israel and Israeli politicians with regards to the treatment of Palestinians and the occupation of the West Bank. It is often the language used that is criticised although there are suspicions that those who make the complaints do not want any criticism at all of the State of Israel.
Some of the furore surrounds the use of the term “Zios” (referring to Zionists) by some on the Left.
The term “Zio” is not mentioned in the Government definition but is specifically referred to in the Legal Opinion obtained by the Campaign Against Antisemitism regarding the meaning of the Government Definition of anti-Semitism. .
“By way of a summary, our opinion is as follows:
(1) The Definition is a clear, meaningful and workable definition.
(2) The Definition is an important development in terms of identifying and preventing antisemitism, in particular in its modern and non-traditional forms, which often reach beyond simple expressions of hatred for Jews and instead refer to Jewish people and Jewish associations in highly derogatory, veiled terms (e.g. “Zio” or “Rothschilds”).
Personally I had never heard of the term “Zio” as an abbreviation of Zionist until recently when I both read the Chakrobarti Report, which condemns use of the term, and saw a post on Social media which referred to “Zios”.
Apparently “Zio” is considered by some in the same way as “Paki” and if so should obviously not be used. I would not have previously considered it offensive if I had heard it but would not have used it in this context.
I have often heard the use of the term Zionism to refer to Israeli policy and Zionist to describe those Israelis opposed to the “Two State Solution” but this seems to me to be usually used in an understandable error of oversimplification and does not signify anti-Semitism.
The history of Zionism is covered by many books and can be the subject of much debate but most scholars appear to consider the origin of modern Zionism to be a pamphlet called the “Jewish State” written by Theodor Herzl in 1895. In this pamphlet, written in response to the long running discrimination against and persecution of Jews in Europe, Herzl argued the need for Jews to create their own State somewhere in the world with both Argentina and Palestine being amongst the places that might be suitable.
Zionists in the original strict meaning of the word are simply Jews who believe in the establishment of a Jewish State where Jews can be free from discrimination and establish the right to self-determination.
Having said that Herzl did make his personal position clear in a letter to Cecil Rhodes shortly after he, as British Colonial Secretary, had defeated the Shona peoples of South Africa whose country was later renamed Rhodesia;
“You are being invited to help make history. It doesn’t involve Africa, but a piece of Asia Minor; not Englishmen but Jews… How, then, do I happen to turn to you since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you? How indeed? Because it is something colonial… You, Mr. Rhodes, are a visionary politician or a practical visionary… I want you to put the stamp of your authority on the Zionist plan and to make the following declaration to a few people who swear by you: I, Rhodes have examined this plan and found it correct and practicable. It is a plan full of culture, excellent for the group of people for whom it is directly designed, and quite good for England, for Greater Britain….”
There was at its inception and continuing to this day considerable co-operation between Israel and white South Africans.
From the very beginning of Zionism there have been disagreements amongst those Jews who consider themselves Zionists as to what form the Jewish State should take and, since the establishment of the State of Israel, what the policy should be towards the Palestinians. In addition there have always been Jews who are not Zionists and don’t support the establishment of a Jewish State.
When someone declares themselves to be opposed to Zionism (when they actually mean they are opposed to the occupation of the West Bank by Israel and/or the return of Arab Refugees) then many (mainly right wing) Jews and those claiming Anti-Semitism in Labour equate this with opposition to the very existence of Israel even within the pre 1967 UN recognised border. The only logical way forward if one believes Israel should not exist as a Nation State they then argue is either mass deportation or destruction but I have never heard anyone in Labour advocate either.
I do not believe that all those using the term Zionist or Zio intend it to refer to all Jews but usually intend it to refer to those Jews who believe in the occupation of the West Bank and expansion of Settlements but nor do I find it difficult to criticise the policies of Israel without using either term. Avoiding their use avoids any genuine offence and removes the opportunity for any who are actually just looking for an excuse to accuse those who support the Palestinians as being Anti-Semitic.
It should also be remembered that the majority of UK citizens will have little knowledge of Middle East Politics so in discussing the plight of the Palestinians and the policies and actions of Israel it serves little purpose for those on the Left to use jargon as short hand if our intention is to raise the issues with the general public rather than just indulge in hyperbole amongst ourselves on Social Media.
High Profile Cases
There are several members of the Left who have been accused of anti-Semitism but the most prominent are Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker.
Both are high profile figures on the Left and with that high profile comes responsibility.
Livingstone’s comparison of a Jewish reporter to a Concentration camp guard was offensive and could easily be seen as anti-Semitic. He argued that he did not know the reporter was Jewish (although his surname is Finegold, a Jewish name).
His reference in Radio interviews to Hitler supporting Zionism is even more questionable. His continued defence of his comments as being historically accurate is bizarre as is his suggestion that Hitler only went mad later on when he started killing Jews.
Hitler never supported Zionism but did briefly support the emigration of German Jews to Palestine and reached a temporary agreement with a Zionist group to help facilitate this. This was not because he supported a Jewish Homeland or was concerned about Jewish persecution but simply saw it as one way to get rid of Jews from Germany (and appropriate any wealth they had). To suggest that he only went mad once he implemented the Final Solution could be seen as implying that in everything that went before, including his vilification and persecution of the Jews, he was sane.
Whether Livingstone was ignorant, careless with words or being deliberately provocative he was wrong and should have known better. He certainly had a case to answer although whether he was being foolish, offensive or anti-Semitic is open to debate.
The case of Jackie Walker is interesting in many ways.
She claims Jewish heritage and her partner is Jewish. In some articles she is described as Jewish in others that her father was Jewish (to be Jewish you are required to have a Jewish mother or to have converted to Judaism). As the Campaign against Anti-Semitism and Jewish Chronicle refer to her as anti-Semitic and not a self-hating Jew I presume that she is not recognised as being Jewish.
She is known as being anti-Racist and states that she opposes anti-Semitism. I have no reason to suggest she considers herself as either a Racist or Anti-Semitic.
She has however made comments that could be considered as falling under the definition of anti-Semitism.
Her first highly publicised controversial comments were in a Facebook post:
“I’m sure you know millions more Africans were killed in the African Holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews and many Jews, my ancestors too were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which of course is why there so many early synagogues in the Caribbean.
So who are the victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice. And having been a victim does not give you the right to be a perpetrator.”
As with so much in history there are different versions of the “truth” and many different numbers are quoted. Figures for the number of slaves who died in transit range from 1-3 million out of an estimated 9-12 million who were transported. This does not tell the full story of the suffering however as there are varying (but consistently multi million) quoted numbers of Africans who died in the wars that were fought in Africa to secure slaves or in captivity before they even reached the ships.
The question is; how can one compare two evil events and why would one choose to? That however is not the biggest question that arises from this short Facebook Post.
Any thinking person on the Left is well aware of the stereotype of the “money grabbing Jew” which has been used by anti-Semites for hundreds of years. Any thinking person on the Left would realise that to apportion particular blame to Jews for financing the Slave Trade plays to this stereotype and would be considered offensive by today’s Jews.
The comment is also historically inaccurate according to most historians of the slave trade and Jackie fails to mention that the main reason for the number of synagogues in the Americas is because many Portuguese and Spanish Jews who being faced with a demand to convert to Christianity fled to the Americas rather than face the Inquisition, torture and death.
There have been many hundreds of studies of the Slave Trade and considerations of the relative role of the British, Dutch, Portuguese, Arabs, Muslims, Christians (even the Quakers in the early days of slavery), Africans, Asians, the American Founding Fathers and Jews. The simple fact is that no one single group of people can be said to be responsible for the Slave Trade and there is no more need for today’s Jews to feel collective responsibility for the Slave Trade than today’s population of Liverpool or Bristol. It is not surprising that to single out the Jews gives rise to a suspicion of anti-Semitism.
Perhaps the strangest part of her Post is the comment;
“We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice.”
I doubt that one single African shackled in a slave ship or one single Jew entering the gas chamber felt that they were a victim to any extent through choice.
Jackie is certainly not afraid of courting controversy and hit the headlines again when she attended an anti-Semitism event at Labour Conference and asked:
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all people who had experienced Holocaust?”
I would always consider this an inappropriate question at an anti-Semitism event the and would not be the slightest concerned if there was a separate Jewish Holocaust Day but, unfortunately for her, Holocaust Memorial Day actually commemorates the victims of the Nazis and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Jackie had clearly made a mistake. When this was pointed out to her, instead of apologising for her mistake she allegedly blamed the organisers of Holocaust Memorial Day for not publicising this fact well enough.
As with Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker whether she was ignorant, careless with words or being deliberately provocative was wrong and should have known better. She also had a case to answer although, as with Ken, whether she was being foolish, offensive or anti-Semitic is open to debate.
Jackie is also quoted as stating that there is no definition of anti-Semitism she feels comfortable with. This comment more than anything perhaps illustrates the problems some on the Left have with defining anti-Semitism. It is not ours to define.
I consider both Jackie and Ken to have been out of order and to have brought the Left into disrepute. That does not necessarily mean they should be expelled from Labour but they should be held to account in some way and cannot simply hide behind an allegation that they are being victimised or, as Jackie would have it, (another inappropriate use of language in my opinion) “lynched”. They could start by recognising their mistakes.
I also think that comments like these made by high profile members of the Left undermines the cause of the Palestinians as discussion of their plight is lost in the debate about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
Other members with allegations of anti-Semitism
I am highly critical of both Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker as they, albeit unwittingly, assisted opponents of the Labour Left and did absolutely nothing to further the cause of Palestinians. They clouded the debate and allowed the Press to have a field day. Partly as result of their actions we have few details of the exact allegations against the suspended members with a lower profile.
As Labour Party members we should surely be made aware of what charges are being levelled and the number of members involved.
There is definitely truth in the suggestion that the media is biased against the Left in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular and will look for any opportunity to denigrate a Socialist Labour Party. There is no point us complaining about this or getting upset about the biased reporting. It is what it is and how it always will be. We have to do our best to both counter this bias and avoid giving the Right easy opportunities to make accusations.
There can be no doubt that anti-Semitism exists and has done for thousands of years. It is likely that there will be a few Labour Party members who are anti-Semitic just as there will be a few who are racists, misogynists, homophobes or criminals.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the vast majority of Labour Party members do not fit into any of these categories but when it comes to anti-Semitism there will be an unknown number who get confused regarding what constitutes anti-Semitic language in today’s Labour Party..
What differentiates the Labour Party from other parties is that there will be more passionate feelings towards the plight of the Palestinians and the injustice they face. This concern for the Palestinians can easily erupt into emotive language especially when we see on our TV screens stone throwing Palestinian youths being shot by Israeli Defence Forces.
There may be some truth in the allegations that some Labour Party members (out of 500,000) either harbour anti-Semitism in their psyche or express themselves in language that could be considered as anti-Semitic.
I can remember a time when decent people who would be horrified to be accused of being Racist would casually refer to the “Paki shop on the corner” or to going to a Chinese Restaurant as “going for a Chinkie”. We have moved on and such terms are seldom heard.
We should be prepared to consider the correct language to be used when debating Israel and the Palestinians. As Shami Chakrobarti put it in her Report;
…..it is possible to criticise foreign powers (including the State of Israel), without resorting (by accident or design) to inflammatory (rather than persuasive) language.
There may well be truth in the allegations that the current campaign against Corbyn and the Left is part of a long standing campaign by some Zionists to undermine anyone who supports the Palestinians and/or criticises Israel. It is clear that those same Labour MPs and members who pledged “anyone but Corbyn” during two leadership elections coincidently seem to have suddenly discovered anti-Semitism throughout the Labour Left (but don’t appear to have noticed it anywhere in the Tory Party). I do not know how many of these Labour MPs have been active in anti-racist demonstrations in the past or if they have ever issued a word criticising the actions of Israel or in support of the Palestinians.
Those of us on the Left should be wary however of developing a bunker mentality when we are under attack. When there are people out to get us we should always avoid giving our opponents an open goal. We should also consider whether we are being deliberately provoked. We should also consider if we are falling short in our use of language.
It does not seem to be beyond our wit to ensure that when criticising the actions of the Israeli Government and championing the cause of Palestinian rights we can, as recommended by the Chakrobarti Report, avoid terminology that could be perceived as anti-Semitic, according to the established definition, without any restraint on genuine debate.
We must ensure that we engage in a genuine examination of what has really been happening in the Labour Party whilst ensuring that we are not bounced into self-flagellation by the ever hostile Press or those who wish to deflect attention from what is happening in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Again in line with the Chakrobarti Report we should ensure that there is a Disciplinary Process in the Labour Party which considers sanctions other than expulsion and reserve that sanction for the repeat offender and the unrepentant. Also in line with the Report disciplinary procedures should be “clear and transparent”.
Jeremy Corbyn, Jennie Formby and Jon Lansman have all made recent comments suggesting that they accept there is more widespread antisemitism in the Labour Party than I have ever witnessed and we all deserve to be told not only the numbers who stand accused of anti-Semitism but details of what exactly they are accused of. Then we can all assess the extent of the problem for ourselves. Sweeping generalisations are simply not good enough.
I will end with an extract from the introduction to the Chakrobarti Report
An occasionally toxic atmosphere is in danger of shutting down free speech within the Party rather than facilitating it, and is understandably utilised by its opponents. It is completely counterproductive to the Labour cause, let alone to the interests of frightened and dispossessed people, whether at home or abroad. Whilst the Party seeks to represent wider society, it must also lead by example, setting higher standards for itself than may be achievable, or even aspired to, elsewhere. It is not sufficient, narrowly to scrape across some thin magic line of non-anti-Semitic or non-racist motivation, speech or behaviour, if some of your fellow members, voters or potential members or voters feel personally vulnerable, threatened or excluded as the result of your conduct or remarks. The Labour Party has always been a broad coalition for the good of society. We must set the gold standard for disagreeing well.
The actions of the Israeli State are such that they are easy to condemn while staying within these suggested guidelines even if it does seem rather too polite to engage in “disagreeing well” when discussing the Middle East, the building of Jewish Settlements on the West Bank, the bombing of Gaza, the launching of missiles towards Israel or when responding to those (including several Labour MPs) who continually seek to undermine the concept of a Socialist Labour Party in Britain, a party that stands up for the rights of Palestinians.
Link to Google Docs [Version 1]: