A measure of Britain’s regressive political culture in 2016 is that while a media storm is whipped up over the few incidences of antisemitism by a tiny number of Labour Party members, there is nothing, not a peep, over the existence and activities of Labour Friends of Israel, a faction of pro-Israel Labour MPs and members.
This media storm, make no mistake, is less to do with confronting a rising tide of antisemitism, as important as that would be if it comprised the threat some are attempting to argue it does, and more to do with the attempt to delegitimize solidarity with the Palestinians and their ongoing struggle for human rights, self determination, and liberation from the most sustained oppression that a people has been condemned to endure in modern history.
It is the fact that Israel’s brutal subjugation of an entire people for the crime of daring to exist is allowed to go on year after year, with the support and connivance of the political mainstream in the UK and throughout the West, which leaves us in no doubt that those who have extended themselves in exposing and rooting out antisemitism are complicit in that subjugation.
Labour Friends of Israel counts among its members many of the party’s most senior politicians, officials, and donors. We are talking about the great and the good of a Labour Party establishment, people for whom Israel represents a beacon of democracy in a region beset by extremism and barbarism. The problem with this narrative, of course, is that Israel is a state whose democracy – democracy, that is, for the chosen few – itself rests on foundations of extremism and barbarism. The only difference is that this particular brand of extremism and barbarism is packaged as modernity and security.
What this ‘antisemites under the bed’ crowd are really responding to is not the recrudescence of the fascism-cum-1930s they would like us to believe is upon us. No, what they are responding to is the growing support for BDS and its success in highlighting the grotesque injustice that describes the day to day reality for the Palestinians and in breaking through the political cordon sanitaire around Israel that had long prevented any serious challenge to its right to exist as an apartheid state. We know this to be the case because Western governments, still wedded to unconditional support for Israel regardless of its repeated violations of international law and refusal to budge an inch from the exceptionalism it has long exploited to be able to so with impunity, are intent on making boycotting Israel a criminal offence.
If allowed to obtain, such a legal stricture on one of the most precious of human attributes – namely the ability to act in solidarity with the victims of injustice – would constitute a monstrous violation of individual and moral conscience. It also lays bare the nauseating hypocrisy of those who speak the language of democracy and human rights while acting to protect and preserve the right of a particular state to trample both beneath an apparatus of oppression which stands as a rebuke to those who would have us believe that Western and civilization are words that belong in the same sentence.
Antisemitism is so serious, has led to some of the most heinous acts of human cruelty ever committed, that exploiting it in pursuit of censoring those who are committed to confronting the cruelty of apartheid and occupation in the name of its past victims, is the real offense.
No sooner had Jeremy Corbyn emerged as the frontrunner in the Labour leadership election last year than he was subjected to an unprecedented media assault for daring to have spoken at public meetings alongside representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah while still a lowly backbench MP. Though he himself was spared being labelled an antisemite, the inference was clear enough just the same.
The point is that the campaign that is currently underway to label Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party a party riddled with antisemites and antisemitism cannot be separated from the issue of Palestine, a cause that Corbyn has been active in over many years. Antisemitism in support of the Palestinians is of course unacceptable on any level, and when it arises within the Palestine solidarity movement must be confronted. However, it is also in the interest of Israel and its supporters to besmirch said solidarity movement with antisemitism in order to attack its credibility and to deter others from joining it and acting on their conscience in what, by any objective measure, is a clear case of injustice and oppression.
It is inevitable that the growing extremism of the Israeli political establishment, whose dehumanization of the Palestinians has become not only politically but also culturally entrenched and acceptable within mainstream Israeli society in recent years, cultivates antisemitic attitudes among a small minority. While this doesn’t make it right, neither can it be dismissed or ignored.
In the last analysis, there is nothing more contemptible than bigots taking the moral high ground against bigotry.
Step forward Labour Friends of Israel.
This article originally appeared at American Herald Tribune