Preserve the right to criticise Israel

Submitted by SJW on 6 June, 2018 - 12:38 Author: Sean Matgamna
Jews in USA protest at Gaza killings

Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has recently said that “anti-Zionism” is the new antisemitism. “In the 19th and 20th centuries [Jews] were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, Israel”.

That is true, I think. But it needs explication if we are distinguish well between that anti- Zionism and reasonable criticism of Israel. And it’s been true for a very long time, for decades in fact. It is now the specifically “left” strand of antisemitism.

In one of the “traditional” antisemitisms “the Jews” figure as the arch-embodiment of money and money-power, of financial capital. In “left” antisemitism Israel is the archembodiment of imperialism and “white settler-state racism”.

Jews and others who think Israel has a right to exist are “pro-imperialist” and “racist”. The only thing that can be done about Israeli government misdeeds is to destroy the state.

In its “nice” version, that means, strip the Israeli Jews of self-determination and selfgovernment, and forcibly incorporate them into an Arab or Islamic ruled state in all of pre-1948 Palestine. Except that the “nice” version is the political equivalent of science fictions inconceivable in reality.

To eliminate Israel, the unreasonable Israeli Jews who won’t agree to that first have to be conquered. Many have to be killed or “persuaded” to move out. It is extremely improbable that those who had conquered them would offer equal citizenship to the disarmed survivors after depriving them of national rights.

The fiction’s function is to hide the realistic version — conquest, subjugation, disarmament, forcible removal of national rights — and reconcile good-willed and politicallyconfusable people to it.

The truth is that there are many antisemitisms. They are not arranged in a neat historical sequence, the newer strains displacing the old. Different antisemitisms exist side by side. The older ones don’t necessarily go away. An awful lot of older antisemitic attitudes and impulses probably feed into the anti-Zionist hysteria of the ostensible left. And not only of the left.

It is not true that all critics, or even all harsh critics, of Israel are antisemitic. It is true that all antisemites, bar the out-and-out crazies, now call themselves anti-Zionists. But saying what Dr Sacks says — anti- Zionism is present-day antisemitism — doesn’t get you very far.

The media “discussion” of left antisemitism is saturated with dishonesty and demagogy, and warped by it. The cry against left antisemitism is being used as a stick to beat the Corbyn Labour Party. [1] What is “anti-Zionism”? What degree of criticism of Israel is reasonable, before “criticism” becomes “anti-Zionist” antisemitism?

There is, I think, a clear and obvious point at which criticism goes over into antisemitism — when the conclusion is that Israel should be destroyed. When criticism, often justified criticism, is used to back up the “conclusion” (with which many of them start) that Israel is an illegitimate state that should be abolished — in practice, since Israel won’t agree to be abolished, conquered — that is anti-Zionist antisemitism. Advocates or supporters of the destruction of Israel, of Arab or Islamic war on Israel to destroy it, should not be tolerated in the labour movement.

Slogans such as “From the river to the sea” should not be tolerated. The preposterous equation of Israel with Nazi Germany, and of whomever is Israeli prime minister with Hitler, should not be tolerated. Special terms for Israel, such as “the Zionist entity”, which express the view that it should be conquered, should not be tolerated.

Harassment of Jewish people on campuses — where it has happened a lot over decades — or anywhere, about Israel’s real or alleged faults, should not be tolerated. [2] There are two difficulties with “legislating” against the things I’ve listed.

Envenomed criticism of Israel can go to the point of implying destruction without spelling it out.

The best example of that is in the criticisms of Israel made by Hal Draper, the Third Camp socialists and Marxist scholar. He regretted the formation of Israel, in 1948 and after, but politically he supported Israel’s right to exist and defend itself as long as its people wanted that.

At the time of the 1948 Israeli war of independence he counterposed to what was happening a piece of wild fantasy politics — the idea that Israel should lead the Arab peoples in a great war of liberation against the imperialist powers.

It was a sort of benign Jewish-chauvinist millenarianism.

Draper thereafter over decades published a number of articles in which he denounced aspects of Israeli policy and treatment of Arabs. Those articles now feed straight into the septic stream of destroy- Israel absolute anti-Zionist politics, and Draper’s overall policy on Israel’s right to exist and defend itself is more or less forgotten. That brings us to the second difficulty.

Should Draper have been silent and not criticised Israel? Of course he shouldn’t! There was and there is a very great deal to criticise or even condemn in Israel and in Israel’s policies. It is a basic duty to tell the truth about such things, always.

Historically, it has been the Arab states, at important turning points, that have refused to accept Israel’s right to exist, refused to recognise it, refused to make peace with it. In 1967, when, in a pre-emptive war against states openly preparing war with Israel, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, it adopted a policy of “land for peace”.

It would vacate the occupied territories in return for peace treaties with the Arab states recognising Israel’s right to exist.

Israel’s account of what it was doing in the occupied territories was that it aimed to hold them until it could exchange the West Bank and Gaza for peace. It would have made such an exchange had peace with the surrounding Arab states been acceptable to the rulers of those states.

It took defeat for the Arab states in a sudden attack on Israel in October 1973 — which at one point looked as if it would engulf Israel — before Egypt and Jordan, alone of Arab states, would recognise and make peace with Israel. The half-century of occupation was not only the result of Israeli decisions and policies. The continued Israeli occupation and the settlements parallel the Arab states refusing to allow Palestinian refugees to integrate.

Now maybe Israeli has the strength to make a general peace and to help establish a Palestinian Arab state. It doesn’t do that. It is opposed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The continued expansion of Jewish settlement in Arab-majority territory is the opposite of that.

Moreover, Israel’s treatment of the Arabs, the habitual disproportion in its use of force against Arab civilians, or against armed opponents with vast disregard for killing civilians, deserves general condemnation, and condemnation in each specific case. The recent slaughter in Gaza is the latest example of that.

Hamas is certainly capable of doing its followers the favour of deliberately getting them killed — that is, despatched to paradise with its fleshy delights and rewards for “martyrs”. Israel should not be so obliging to them.

It is true that the criticism of Israel by some of the left is preconceived and hysterical, even hypocritical. People who treat the Arabs of Palestine as a ciphers for an “anti-imperialist” or Islamic drive to destroy Israel are not “pro-Palestinian”.

But you don’t have to ill-wish Israel or want its destruction to criticise such things as the Gaza killings with the bitterness and sharpness they merit.

Any socialist or halfway decent liberal who does not criticise Israel is seriously deficient in empathy, in a sense of right and wrong, in justice and in humanity.

Who is to decide which criticisms are justified and which preconceived? Which is a result of prior animosity to Israel or to Jews, and which of honest anger? Which is an accurate and necessary criticism, and which is antisemitic absolute anti-Zionism? The right to criticise Israel must be preserved and defended even where the line between some criticism and antisemitism is blurred.

Some things can be both just criticism and an expression of antisemitism. Jewish leaders, in criticising the Labour Party, have recently focused on the Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker cases.

Livingstone has a long record (see article in Solidarity 471) of involvement in anti-Zionist antisemitism. He even indirectly, politically, by way of the Labour Herald paper set up for him by the WRP, benefited from the payments made to the WRP in the 1980s by Libya and other states for (among other things) making antisemitic propaganda. Of course he should have been demonstratively, formally, ceremoniously expelled by the Labour Party.

Walker said some seemingly reasonable things. She had difficulty, she said, because no-one had defined antisemitism properly. There are other events in history besides what happened to Jews between 1941 and 1945 that could be defined as “holocausts”. Why aren’t they commemorated on Holocaust Remembrance Day? (Hecklers pointed out that to her that many of them are).

Antisemitism, of which there are many kinds, is comprehensive hostility to all or most Jews, for whatever reason. An underlying current on the left is that in so far as Jews are Zionists and pro-Israeli, antisemitism can be “politically right-on” and deserved.

The Walker-friendly assessment of what she said is that she is sincerely stupid. Maybe she is, but it seems to have been pretend, smart-ass stupidity. Yet what Walker said might be said “innocently”. Assessing it is a matter of time, person, context.

The present atmosphere and system of judgement in the Labour Party and in the press is not conducive to rational assessment. It is an undiscriminating heresyhunt.

Jeremy Corbyn, by his long record — he has been an MP since 1983 — is a sincere and honest and non-self-serving man of the left, one who never expected or sought government office, still less to be Labour Party leader and prime minister in waiting.

His political weakness has been to be almost entirely without political discernment — seemingly to believe in the existence of a left constituency where precise policies and politics don’t matter much.

He had his own politics, of course. Until 2015 he wrote a column in the Morning Star. I was agreeably surprised a couple of years ago to learn that he was for a two-states solution in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

I remember hearing him speak on platforms where the dominant political note was absolute anti-Zionism. The second time was on the vast protest march against Israeli bombing of Gaza in January 2009. The first was a meeting before a small demonstration as near to the Israeli embassy as you can get.

The atmosphere was summed up in posters equating the swastika and the star of David.

I’d gone there to join in the march, but because of the dominance of those placards decided to walk on the footpath instead.

The point is that Corbyn will probably be finding decisive action against left antisemitism difficult. In general that is not good, but insofar as his hesitation contributes to the preservation of the right to criticise Israel, that is a good thing.

* A typo in an earlier online version of this article, and in the printed paper, seriously distorted the intended meaning by, instead of:

Hamas is certainly capable of doing its followers the favour of deliberately getting them killed — that is, despatched to paradise with its fleshy delights and rewards for “martyrs”. Israel should not be so obliging to them...


Hamas is certainly capable of doing Israel the favour of deliberately getting people killed — that is, despatched to paradise with its fleshy delights and rewards for “martyrs”. Israel should not be so obliging to them.


Submitted by Jason Schulman on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 03:28

Submitted by Jim Denham (not verified) on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 10:38

In reply to by Jason Schulman

Submitted by Jams O'Donnell on Sun, 10/06/2018 - 18:25

Submitted by Barry Finger on Wed, 13/06/2018 - 15:17

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