The controversy now rocking the Labour Party in Britain – which is now being blanketly labelled as an “anti-Semitic” party by the media – is actually a symptom of a much bigger problem.
That problem basically equates to a strategic shutting-down of all debate over Gaza and Palestine by permanently equating anti-Zionism with ‘anti-Semitism’ and thus turning what should be a complex political/geo-political debate and major humanitarian issue into one instead about race and religion.
The subject is turned into a toxic mine-field, making everyone in a public institution afraid to try to navigate it. And that is how the subject has been kept for decades; ensuring that the post-1967 status quo prevails and no serious breakthroughs in resolving the Israel/Palestine issue are accomplished.
Naz Shah‘s controversial Twitter retweet – which made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Israel should be relocated to the United States – can understandably be regarded as insensitive and unwise. And given that it seems to suggest deportation of the entire Israeli population, it pretty much qualifies as deeply offensive (see image below). But the way the situation quickly escalated, resulting in long-time Labour politician and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone being suspended and Jeremy Corbyn‘s party being widely attacked as being “anti-Semitic”, demonstrates the extent to which discussion of Israel is being permanently shut down, even at a time when there is still an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
Livingstone, who has been described as “the only truly successful left-wing British politician of modern times”, may have also made some controversial or offensive comments – but he was essentially only making a political or historic observation based on his views. That observation may be wrong or debatable, but politicians make debatable or dubious observations all the time.
The Labour Party has in fact long been regarded as the party with the most natural relationship with and support from the Jewish community. Ed Miliband was even heralded by some newspapers back in the last election run-up as the man set to be the “first Jewish Prime Minister of Britain since Disraeli”.
But what was extraordinary is that Miliband – in spite of his Jewish heritage – was actually condemned by much of the Jewish community for very similar reasons to why Jeremy Corbyn is being condemned now. The Labour Party under Miliband had to face massive desertion by Jewish donors and supporters because of his supposedly “toxic” views on Gaza and Palestine. Specifically, Miliband was ‘warned’ by Jewish supporters that this desertion would occur because he had dared to criticise the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip.
No one can accuse Ed Miliband of being ‘anti-Semitic’; in fact, perversely, while he was being condemned by members of the Jewish community, he was also being attacked by real anti-Semites for his Jewish heritage. His mother, Marion Kozak, a human rights campaigner and early CND member, is a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust thanks to being protected by Catholic Poles, and his father, Ralph Miliband, was a Belgian-born Polish-Jew who fled to England during World War II. Essentially, Miliband was boycotted by parts of the Jewish community simply because he had voiced an honest opinion about the excessive use of military force on a civilian population.
Naturally, as the former Labour Party leader is Jewish, there was no ‘anti-Semitism’ in Miliband’s stance. Again, this was simply a case of boycotting a political leader because he wasn’t towing the line.
Does the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn have this “anti-Semitism problem” that the newspapers are all referring to? Doesn’t it depend on what ‘anti-Semitism’ means? Corbyn, along with Livingstone and some others, have openly expressed moral opposition to Zionism and to the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank. That’s not anti-Semitism, that’s disapproval of a specific military/geo-political situation – no different to, say, the British government’s flat-out condemnation of what it perceives to be unethical Russian activity in Eastern Ukraine. And the gross hypocrisy of politicians and media organisations presently attacking Corbyn’s party for a largely illusory anti-Semitism is all the more ridiculous when you consider Western government/media support for Neo-Nazis (and anti-Semites) in Ukraine, for example.
The problem is that no one in politics or in the mainstream media is allowed to discuss Israel without having to navigate the anti-Semitism mine-field. Witness this genuinely uncomfortable footage of George Galloway on Question Time last year – he is utterly drowned out by a largely Jewish audience that hurls abuse or shouts ‘anti-Semitic’ at him every time he tries to make a point (remarkably, there are a number of British Jews who accuse the BBC of being anti-Israel, which seems bizarre). While I probably disagree with Galloway on a lot of things, the main point he was trying to make was an extremely important one – specifically, that it is very dangerous for people to conflate Zionism and Jews or the State of Israel and Jewish people in general.
And he is absolutely correct. Because conflating those two things (so that Israel is made to ‘represent’ all Jews everywhere and all Jews are made to seem like absolute pro-Zionists) not only serves to shut down all debate and make politicians afraid to criticise the Israeli state (and therefore unable to speak honestly), but it also starts to make less-informed people in general think that the Zionist State and all Jews everywhere are basically the same thing – which isn’t the case.
There are plenty of Jewish people all over the place who don’t support Zionism or the State of Israel’s policies; but this deliberate propaganda policy of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism – which is conducted by the Israeli government itself, along with various foreign governments and media under the sway of pro-Zionist influences – is ultimately doing a disservice to all Jewish people and is in fact aiding the rise in general anti-Semitism.
Conflating Zionism with all Jewish people is essentially what Hitler did, by the way.
To Hitler and the Nazi propagandists, there was no difference between the Zionist movement and ordinary Jewish people – and that’s essentially not dissimilar to what is suggested when people take any anti-Zionist or anti-Israel statement to be automatically anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. It is frankly insulting to Jewish people, and is no different to thinking that all Muslims subscribe to the ideology of Saudi Arabia.
If that was the case, there wouldn’t be any Jewish people critical of Zionism or the State of Israel. But there are plenty. Such as Hajo Meyer, a Holocaust survivor who was scathingly critical of the Israeli government right up until his final days. Meyer once aptly observed, “An anti-semite used to be someone who doesn’t like Jews; now it’s someone who Zionists don’t like”.
There are also groups like ‘American Jews Solidarity Against Zionism‘. And ‘True Torah Jews Against Zionism‘, who are concerned that the widespread misconception that all Jews support the Zionist state and its actions actually endangers Jews worldwide. Or the Neturei Karta; an international organisation of Jews against Zionism, who believe Zionism is fundamentally heretical to the core beliefs of Judaism. These are just a few groups among others, both religious or Orthodox Jews and secular, cosmopolitan Jews alike.
In fact, some of the most outspoken anti-Zionists are highly religious Orthodox Jews who view Zionism as being in deep conflict with the Torah, while plenty of secular, left-leaning Jews are among the most ardent protesters against the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
And that’s just in Israel. Concerning people of Jewish descent outside of Israel, it becomes even more presumptuous and wrong-headed to assume that there’s an across-the-board conviction in the Zionist ideology. For example, Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism in fact argues that the idea of Zionism or the importance of the State of Israel is in fact no longer something most American Jews care about or identify with.
Philip Kleinfeld, a British activist of Jewish descent, also explains why he and various others protest the actions of the Israeli state in the West Bank and Gaza, and also in this Vice piece quotes Naomi Winborne Idrissi, a co-founder of ‘Jews for Boycotting Israel Goods’, who complains “The Israeli state identifies Israel with all Jews. It aims to speak for all of us. But we say Israel and Zionism does not represent us.”
Jane Eisner likewise notes that ‘the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is becoming ever thinner and more porous, and it may disappear altogether, erased by pressures from the left and right, from within and outside the Jewish community, pushed by demographic trends that already connect the fate of diasporic Jews with Israel whether they like it or not’.
Those words – ‘whether they like it or not’ – is a key point here. While many, as a matter of course, charge anti-Zionists with anti-Semitism, this forced identification of all Jews with the State of Israel can be seen as just as offensive to the many Jews who don’t support Zionism. And it is also, as Galloway argued, dangerous for Jewish people in different countries to be viewed – unfairly and inaccurately – as members of one, all-encompassing body of “World Jewry” (as Hitler called it), when this isn’t the case (just as it is also unfortunate and unfair that Muslims so often are portrayed or viewed as one global body of people instead of the diverse cultures that they are).
And if anyone who opposes Zionism is ‘anti-Semitic’, then there must be a lot of ‘anti-Semitic’ Jews.
But the fervent Jewish nationalism centered on Israel – which was the driving force behind the colonisation of Palestine in the first instance – has continued to grow to frightening proportions in recent times, and is cynically played upon by the presently right-wing Israeli Likud government that encourages all Jews everywhere to identify with Israel and openly encourages further European migration to ‘the Jewish State’ (even while Israeli settlers are continuing to build settlements on illegally occupied Palestinian land); and while many do identify themselves firmly with the Zionist ideology and the idea of the Promised Land, many more humanistic Jews find themselves startled by the growth of Israeli fanaticism and extreme Jewish nationalism in Israel.
Livingstone’s statement (for which he is being so condemned) that Hitler was himself a Zionist – though it was delivered in a deliberately provocative and insensitive way – is essentially true if you take the definition of Zionism to be a support for the agenda of creating the Jewish homeland in Palestine. Hitler, during the time-frame Livingstone specifically referred to (several years prior to the outbreak of war), was essentially pro the Zionist agenda to have European Jews mass migrate to Palestine. Making that observation isn’t anti-Semitic, it’s historical observation. Livingstone didn’t say Hitler liked Jews or Zionists – only that he at one point favored the Zionist ‘solution’ in as much as he favored the migration of European Jews out of Europe and into the Holy Land.
And that door swings both ways.
Addressing the World Zionist Congress, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in fact recently said – bizarrely – that Hitler had never wanted to exterminate Jews, but had simply wanted them to migrate to Palestine.
You can make whatever you will of Netanyahu’s odd statement, but it is no more or less provocative or questionable than Livingstone’s. No one would call Benjamin Netanyahu an anti-Semite; but if Livingstone, Galloway or Corbyn had said the same thing, they would be attacked for their ‘anti-Semitism’.
There is a very serious problem with the resurgence of genuine anti-Semitism in different parts of the world, including much of Europe.
The Internet is playing a massive part in that – and it’s not just the modern Neo-Nazi groups (of which there are now many) that are espousing a viciously anti-Semitic world view, nor just embittered Palestinian Arabs, but lots of other people too. Lots of this stuff is every bit as nasty as Nazi propaganda in the thirties and it goes way beyond any legitimate political issues and off into the realm of unbridled racial hatred of the most horrendous kind. And Jewish communities have every right to be extremely sensitive or defensive, given very real anti-Semitism and given the obvious historical contexts too. This upsurge in racism and propagandizing against Jews is very serious and has to be taken seriously.
There are also a lot of people who hide their base-level anti-Semitism behind the justification of criticizing Israeli policies – you can spot those fairly easily by noting how an initial condemnation of the Israeli occupation, the IDF’s crimes or Mossad’s plots quickly descends into vile nonsense about ‘the Jews’ as a race. That is anti-Semitism, often trying to disguise itself as something else. And this also, perversely, makes it all the more easier for Zionist propagandists to accuse all critics of being anti-Semites.
But many of those fanatical about the Zionist State of Israel are either deliberately or mistakenly conflating real anti-Semitism with what should more legitimately be viewed as wholly necessary criticism of the State of Israel or the Israeli government – which should be judged by the same standard as any other state or government. And the Israeli state is presently resorting to harsher and harsher actions – and War Crimes – to maintain what is an entirely illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the illegal building of settlements.
And while it continues to follow that course with impunity, it should fully expect criticism – and political leaders like Jeremy Corbyn should have every business speaking about it.