Labour and antisemitism

Submitted by AWL on 6 November, 2019 - 8:40

See a printable election briefing based on this article.

The August 2019 Labour Party leaflet entitled “No Place for Antisemitism” condemns conspiracy theories which portray “capitalism and imperialism as the product of plots by a small shadowy elite”.

These are “just one step away from myths about Jewish bankers and a secret Jewish plot for world domination”.

Some of those conspiracy theories “substitute Israel or Zionists for Jews, presenting Israel as controlling the world’s media and finances” and “ascribe to Israel an influence on world events far beyond any objective analysis”.

Jewish people, the leaflet states, “have the same right to self-determination as any other people”. Many Jews “view calls for Israel to cease to exist as calls for expulsion or genocide”.

Opposition to the Israeli government “must never use antisemitic ideas”, such as “comparing Israel to the Nazis”.

The Labour Party “mini-site” also includes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and examples of antisemitism.

Some of us in the Labour Party have long argued to recognise that there is a real history of antisemitism on the left, as well as the right. We have made an impact.

It will bring no advantage to Jewish people in Britain to vote for the Tories or Lib Dems, or by abstaining to give Boris Johnson a path to a parliamentary majority.

A 2017 poll by YouGov showed that 40% of Tory supporters endorsed at least one of a set of (old-fashioned, straightforward) antisemitic statements put to them, as against 32% of Labour supporters.

But there is a lot more to do on antisemitism in the Labour Party!

The labour movement should be a positive force against prejudice, and not just “not as bad as the Tories”.

Among the top 100 Twitter accounts mentioning Jeremy Corbyn extensively, even after the Tory and other hostile accounts were subtracted from that 100, 36 have been found to be antisemitic.

No one in the Labour Party is confident enough, for example, to put motions to Labour Party conference to change Labour’s position for “two states” (an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel) and to argue explicitly that Israel should be destroyed.

Yet not just marginal cranks, but also influential people in the current Leader’s Office, have a history of complicity with left antisemitism. For example in their passive and uncritical (at least) attitude on demonstrations on Israel-Palestine where a wish for Israel to be destroyed was clearly signalled.

To say that many Jews “view calls for Israel to cease to exist as calls for expulsion or genocide” begs big questions. It is not just a matter of feelings to which we should be sensitive. Israel, surrounded by hostile states, will not dissolve itself voluntarily any time soon. So a call for Israel to “cease to exist” actually is a call, at the very least, for conquest and forcible holding-down of the majority population inside Israel’s borders.

That call is closely linked to the idea that all “Zionists” — people who support the right of Israel to exist — are “racists” and to be shunned.

The big majority of Jews, even those very critical of Israeli governments, have some empathy with Israel, for obvious historical and family-connection reasons. Demonising them all as “racists” is inescapably antisemitic. That holds even if the demoniser sincerely has nothing against Jews as defined “racially”, or thinks the whole idea of well-defined “races” is nonsense.

The Labour leadership hasn’t yet faced up to the problem of that “new” sort of antisemitism, and too often prefers instead just to congratulate itself on opposing old-fashioned Tory and far-right antisemitism.

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