Socialist Worker on "The Lobby": half a step forward

Submitted by martin on 7 December, 2020 - 5:48 Author: Martin Thomas
"The Lobby"

Socialist Worker half-breaks from its previous attitudes to tell readers that seeing "the Israel lobby" as super-powerful in world politics is an antisemitic idea

"Continuing to believe [criticism of Corbyn inside Labour is] all simply orchestrated by an 'Israel lobby' can lead you down some very dark paths… It can lead to antisemitic arguments".

That's not from Solidarity, but, surprisingly, from an article by Nick Clark in Socialist Worker (2 December 2020).

Clark's article is progress. Mind you, he doesn't explain how the "Israel lobby" idea of Jews worldwide being mysteriously highly united (in a way no other diaspora is) and mysteriously ultra-powerful (though they're 0.2% of the world's population) is a modern makeover of old "Jewish conspiracy" ideas.

He also insists that criticism of Corbyn's record on antisemitism is not based on real issues, but comes only because "the right hated Corbyn's support for the Palestinians" and from an "effort to silence criticism of Israel in the Labour Party".

Actually, the only recent shifts in Labour Party policy on Israel-Palestine have come with Lisa Nandy's call for a boycott of settlement goods if Israel should annex areas of the West Bank and Ed Miliband's three-line whip to recognise a Palestinian state in October 2014 - before Corbyn or after, not during.

And none of the antisemitic abuse complained about has been an attack on solidarity with the Palestinians, or on "criticism" of Israel in the ordinary sense in which we "criticise" Iran or China or the USA (i.e. criticise actions and records of their governments), rather than in the sense of wanting Israel wiped off the map.

So why the volume and weight of criticism of Corbyn on antisemitism, if not because of real issues, and also not because of the strange superpower of an "Israel lobby"? Clark has to give a different explanation.

It is, he says, because Labour is reformist, therefore supports the British state. The British state backed the Jewish settlers in Palestine because "they offered to play a role defending the British Empire". Later Israel became "the foremost enforcer of the US's rule in the Middle East", the British state wants to be "the US's junior partner", therefore it belongs to the inner essence of Labour always to back Israel.

Labour in government has always deferred to clearly-defined world-scale interests of British capital. It will take a great transformation of the British labour movement to break that pattern.

But it doesn't always follow, for example, that Labour in opposition is always compliant. Or that Labour can't differentiate from the Tories when the interests of British capital are disputed or unclear.

The 1918 Labour manifesto headlined support for freedom for India and Ireland, and the Labour Party broadly if blurredly backed Ireland in its War of Independence.

The first British Military Governor in Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs, famously hoped that the Jewish settlers might create a "little loyal Jewish Ulster" and help Britain maintain its hegemony in surrounding Arab lands. The argument was not calculated to appeal to pro-Irish-nationalist Labour. Anyway it didn't work out. Storrs himself would become a keen anti-Zionist in the 1940s.

In the World War 2 coalition government, Labour did not differentiate from the Tories' strict curbs on Jews fleeing to Palestine, imposed to placate Arab opinion and safeguard Britain's semi-colonial hegemony in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, etc.

The 1945 Labour government continued those curbs, holding Jewish refugees in detention camps in Cyprus, and resisting US pressure on the issue. By 1947 Britain decided it could not win its developing war in Palestine against the Jewish community there, which was fighting to win free immigration for the Holocaust survivors. It withdrew.

In Israel's war of independence, 1948, the strongest Arab forces were commanded by British officers, and the British Labour government tilted towards the Arab side.

A number of RAF planes, in fact on reconnaissance missions, were shot down by the Israelis in January 1949. Britain sent troops to Aqaba, and Israel prepared military plans against an expected joint British-Iraqi-Jordanian attack on the Negev. Britain changed the arms embargo which it, like the US, had imposed both on the already-established Arab states and on the scratch armed forces of the incipient Israeli state, now to embargo only Israel. In the end, Britain decided that Israel had in fact already pretty much won the war, and the incipient new clash faded. Israel had got the arms supplies it needed via Czechoslovakia, thanks to Stalin's calculation that victory for Israel would disrupt British hegemony in the region.

By 1956 British power in the region had in fact much faded. A Tory government in Britain joined with France and Israel to attack Egypt to reverse Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Israel's hope was to gain territory in Sinai. The US forced Britain, France, and Israel to withdraw, and later forced Israel to withdraw from Sinai. The Labour Party (then under very right-wing leadership) campaigned vigorously against the Tories' attack on Egypt.

Since 1967, the US has had close ties with Israel, seeing it as its only reliable ally in the region (the Saudi monarchy is an ally: but what happens when it falls?). But at no point has Israel been able to "enforce… the US's rule in the Middle East". When the US went to war against Iraq in 1991 and again in 2003, it wanted every ally to contribute forces - except Israel, whose involvement in the coalition would be sure to rally Arab support round Saddam Hussein.

In short, historical facts as well as considerations of general theory makes nonsense of Clark's idea that the Jewish community in Palestine, and later Israel, had some special essence which, through all twists and turns of their own and of global politics, assured them of the support of all imperialist powers (or, since the SWP recognises that Stalin's USSR was an imperialist power, of all imperialist powers except, after the 1948-49 tactic, the USSR). If you think about it, that idea of Clark's is scarcely less antisemitic than the idea of the "Israel Lobby" being the world's great but mysterious Axis of Evil.

The reason for complaints about the Corbyn leadership's record on antisemitism is neither an "Israel lobby" pulling strings, nor some eternal essences of reformism and of Jewry in Palestine, but real issues.

Back in 2003 Socialist Worker journalist Paul Foot used exactly the "Israel lobby" theory. Foot responded in the Guardian (14 May 2003) to an outcry about maverick Labour MP Tam Dalyell saying the problem with Tony Blair was too much influence from Jewish advisers by arguing that Dalyell erred only by saying "Jewish" when he should have said "Zionist".

"Obviously [Dalyell] is wrong to complain about Jewish pressure on Blair and Bush when he means Zionist pressure".

Part of the trouble in the Labour Party is that so many of the elderly post-2015 "returners" were trained in the 1980s by responses similar to Foot's, including stuff from the "Healyite" WRP and others. Since then they have lost the positive enthusiasm for a single "democratic secular Palestine" which they had when young, leaving only a sour "hate Israel" residue.

Clark's article is progress. But SW still has a long way to go.


Submitted by TJ Stretch (not verified) on Sun, 10/01/2021 - 13:58

In the original Socialist Worker article

... I can see the sentence 'Continuing to believe it’s all simply orchestrated by an “Israel lobby” can lead you down some very dark paths'.
But not the next phrase 'It
can lead to antisemitic arguments'.

Did the Socialist Worker edit its article or it was your conclusion that 'dark paths' means 'lead to antisemitic arguments'?

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