The media is full of claims about antisemitism in the Labour Party. Jewish members of rs21 set out our view.
Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone have been suspended from the Labour Party over accusations of antisemitism. Condemnation of Shah and Livingstone is part of a wider claim – that the Labour Party and the left in general has “got a problem with antisemitism” as David Cameron put it this week. That problem, it’s asserted, has become more serious since Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership.
We want to make three points about this:
It’s not antisemitic to oppose Israel
It’s important to be clear about the relationship between Jewishness and Zionism. Political Zionism – the belief that Jewish people should have a homeland in the Middle East – is a response to antisemitism. Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, first developed his ideas in response to the antisemitic Dreyfus affair in France. At first they won few followers, but after the monstrous crime of the Nazi holocaust Zionist ideas made sense to many more people.
The Zionist project of settlement in Palestine, however, was from the start a colonial one, as Neil Rogall’s series of articles describes. The establishment of the state of Israel involved the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The Israeli state could only maintain itself as the client of the USA, by acting as its proxy in the region. Israel has received over $100 billion of American military aid since 1962.
Israel’s role as a colonial-settler state and agent of American imperialism goes along with Israeli racism towards the Palestinians. Israel is building a wall through the West Bank, maintains a siege on Gaza, uses checkpoints as a daily form of harassment and aims to use settlements, illegal in international law, to destroy Palestine for good. Such acts, among many others, account for the mounting support worldwide for BDS (boycott, disinvestment and sanctions). Supporters of Israel have repeatedly responded by seeking to conflate opposition to Zionism with antisemitism. American socialists and campaigners such as Student Justice for Palestine have been smeared as antisemites. The French Prime Minister has supported claims that BDS is antisemitic. In fact, there is a long tradition of opposing the Zionist project precisely on an anti-racist basis – because Israel’s existence depends on the expulsion, separation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people – and this is a tradition to which many Jews have historically belonged and which continues today.
The accusations are not being made in good faith: they are about undermining Corbyn
The Tories, the Labour right and the media have all attacked Corbyn from the moment he was elected Labour leader. Labour MPs have feared for their careers in a party based on Corbyn’s politics. But the fact that Liz Kendall won only 4.5% of the leadership votes shows that Blairite ideas are unpopular. When the Panama Papers show how many of the wealthy rob the taxpayer, you don’t make friends by being “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” The Blairites wouldn’t get very far if they openly debated politics with Corbyn. Instead, their strategy has been to try to destabilise Corbyn’s leadership through rumours and smears.
In general, it’s not the left but the right that has a problem with racism. In the last few weeks we’ve seen repeated attempts as part of the Mayor of London election, by both Zac Goldsmith and David Cameron, to suggest that Sadiq Khan has links to “extremists”. Labour MPs quite rightly shouted “racist” at Cameron when he made those allegations last week.
It’s not possible, then, to attack Corbyn directly, so it’s necessary to use smears. We should be absolutely clear who is doing this. Lord Levy, who led the attack on this morning’s Today programme, was Tony Blair’s main fundraiser. John McTernan, the former Blair strategist, told BBC News that “the problem Jeremy Corbyn has is he’s not a friend of Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel.”
It is simply untrue that the Labour Party or the left is riddled with antisemitism. The vast majority of British antisemitism takes place on the right. Tory MP Aidan Burley attended a stag party in 2011 where guests made Nazi salutes and toasted the “thought process of the Third Reich”. In 2013, Tory MP Patrick Mercer described to an undercover reporter how he had told a young soldier that “You look like a bloody Jew.” The fact that Edward VIII supported Hitler and met with him is a matter of historical record.
What, then, of the comments cited in the last few days? A small number involve genuine antisemitism. Shah’s reference to “the Jews” was antisemitic. Livingstone’s comments about Hitler were not defensible, though no one can dispute Livingstone’s decades-long track record of fighting racism. As the Jewish Socialists’ Group point out, most of the comments unearthed in the last few months are either anti-Zionist, or clumsily express opposition to Israel. Isolated examples of unacceptable behaviour don’t make invalid the broader truths that opposing Israel remains legitimate, and that the claims of antisemitism are made in bad faith.
We need consistent opposition to all racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia
The antisemitic Jobbik party has 23 seats in the Hungarian parliament. The neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn won 18 seats in the last Greek elections. Antisemitism remains alive today, and occasionally rears its head in Britain, as it did in Stamford Hill last April. Anti-fascists opposed the Nazis then, and will continue to do so. That opposition is all the stronger if we consistently oppose all manifestations of racism. For example, one of the most alarming examples of racism in politics in the last few months has taken place in the election for Mayor of London. Zac Goldsmith and David Cameron have repeatedly tried to smear Sadiq Khan, the Muslim candidate, by suggesting that he has links to terrorism. The willingness of the Tories to stir up Islamophobia when it suits them – as with Prevent – and the lack of opposition from the Labour right only makes clear their hypocrisy now.
Hatred of Jews and Muslims is far too serious a matter for it to be cynically exploited for short-term political gain. Across Europe we see both varieties of racism growing in the context of capitalist crisis and austerity. We know from the 1930s how such a situation can end. We remain proud to stand in a revolutionary socialist tradition which seeks to bring together people of all ethnicities and faiths to oppose imperialism and fight for a just society. We oppose these dishonest attempts to undermine opposition to Israel and to smear a committed socialist like Jeremy Corbyn.