One of the eleven examples of antisemitism in the IHRA is this: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”
With the IHRA adoption by Labour, some on the Labour left, has asserted their “right” to call Israel a “racist endeavour”.
Shortly after the Labour NEC vote a posters carrying the slogan “Israel is a racist endeavour” popped up around London.
At first appearance it seems not an unreasonable slogan: Israel’s government is doing a lot of racist things, passing racist laws and occupying another country.
But if any other country were to conduct an occupation or war of aggression (like the UK, or Saudi Arabia) or a dirty, colonial war (like Turkey), or to pass racist laws (like Hungary), the left would say something like “the government should stop doing that.” “End the occupation!” “Amend the constitution!” “Repeal the racist law!” “Independence for the oppressed people!”
But the “racist endeavour” slogan on the posters makes no such demand of Israel. The “demand”, if there is one, is: “Israel should cease to exist”. More than that, because Israel's very existence is racist, if you don't agree that Israel should cease to exist, then you are a racist, too.
But the overwhelming majority of the world's Jews have, or feel, some connection to Israel: if they don't have family there, they'll often know someone who does. That is a result of racism — that is, of the Holocaust and the worldwide slamming of doors in Jewish refugees' faces; and the post-World War Two ethnic cleansing of Jews from much of the Middle East, and the post-World War Two Stalinist purges of “Zionists”. With whatever misgivings (polls show that most British Jews feel some connection to Israel but disapprove of its actions), with whatever criticism or whatever complicated feelings or political opinions, the majority want Israel to continue to exist. Not all, by any means! But most.
So if the left chooses to make its battle-cry, not “justice for the Palestinians”, not “independence for Palestine now!”, but “Israel's existence is racist; Israel must cease to exist; if you disagree then you are a racist!” — what does that imply about the relationship of the left to the majority of the world's Jews?
You can't maintain this point of view without running up against this contradiction. And too many leftists are deciding to resolve the contradiction by regarding Jews with suspicion until they prove themselves to be “anti-Zionists”.
Another absurdity of the posture of the hardcore anti-Zionist left is this: from the point of view of the struggle for Palestinian freedom, the right of middle-aged Labour Party members to say vaguely offensive things about Jews on Facebook is a non-issue. But such is the epic self-regard of the “anti-Zionists” that they have elevated this non-issue to being the most central, most urgent political question of the day. The obsessive heat generated by their fight gives us an idea of where their priorities lie: with their right to spout invective about “the Zionists” more than with Palestinian rights.
Corbyn's stated position on this issue is good, so we should build on that, try to make some ground against hardcore anti-Zionism, and in the meantime direct our fire on the Israeli government. Or for that matter the US government, which is also very busy right now undermining Palestinian rights.
For the two nations we advocate two states. For an independent Palestine and equal rights for ethnic minorities within Israel. For workers' unity, for solidarity and direct links with those fighting for rights and democracy in Israel-Palestine.