The UK’s Labour Party and Its “Anti-Semitism” Crisis

Photo source Raph_PH | CC BY 2.0

The Labour is in the midst of an “antisemitism crisis” orchestrated by the media, pro-Zionist Jewish groups, and the party’s Blairite faction bent on ousting Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

The UK’s media is overwhelmingly rightwing and pro-Israel.  Even the BBC, terrified of being donated to Rupert Murdoch in a Tory privatization, is pro-Tory and pro-Israel in its news reporting, all its professions of “objectivity” notwithstanding.

Corbyn has been their constant target since he became the party’s leader, and the “antisemitism” smear is the latest installment in this rightwing effort to discredit him.

Even the supposedly liberal Guardian newspaper, whose editorial line on Israel is led by the staunch Zionist Jonathan Freedland, is resolutely anti-Corbyn.

No leader of a major political party has been as resolute as Corbyn in defending Palestinian rights.  The Observer newspaper put this succinctly:  “As a long-term and ardent critic of Israel’s policies and staunch supporter of Palestinian causes, he has always been distrusted by the Jewish community”.

Pro-Zionist Jewish groups fear that under his leadership Britain will become much more like Ireland (which recently banned the import of products made in the illegal Israeli settlements) in its disposition towards Israel.

A clue to the motivation of these pro-Zionist UK Jewish groups was provided by the recent public protest in London against Labour’s “antisemitism”–  many protesters carried the Israeli flag and “Israel we stand behind you” signs, thereby making it clear that their concern for Zionist Israel was highly instrumental, and perhaps primarily so, in their presence at this rally against Labour’s “antisemitism”.

Several Blairite Labour MPs were present at this demonstration.

The Blairite faction in Labour has already made one attempt to overthrow Corbyn when it made him submit to an unprecedented reelection shortly after he became party leader.

Corbyn went on to win this challenge with a percentage exceeding Blair’s when the latter was elected Labour leader.

Labour’s Blairite bloc know that Corbyn has to lose the next general election if they are to survive as a force within the party.  If Labour (under Corbyn) wins this election, they will have little choice but to take the option already being talked about by some of these Blairites, that is, splitting from Labour and forming a new “centrist” party.

Their eminence grise, Tony Blair himself, has already talked about creating this “centrist” party.

So, paradoxically, Labour’s Blairites would rather have the Conservatives win the next general election as their ticket to survival within their own party!

Predictably, one of these Blairites, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson, jumped on the “crisis” bandwagon by saying that Labour faces “eternal shame” over antisemitism.

Of course, there are pockets of antisemitism in Labour, as is the case in nearly every non-Jewish British walk of life, including the Tories (though dressing up in Nazi uniform and chanting “Sieg Heil!” at parties, as opposed to upholding Palestinian rights, is their forte).

A few days ago, it was revealed that the senior Tory politicians Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Jacob Rees-Mogg had recently met in secret with Steve Bannon, who runs Breitbart News, a haven for antisemitic views.  The British media, and the Blairite Labour MPs hounding Corbyn, have said nary a word about these meetings.  Nor have the vociferous UK Jewish organizations.

The notion that there is significant antisemitism in Labour, let alone one amounting to a “crisis”, is a red herring.

The most recent purported manifestation of this crisis pivots on the decision of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s “non-legally binding working definition” of antisemitism, but not the “illustrations” which accompany it.  The definition states:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The “illustrations” which accompany this definition include some which are uncontroversial for any fair-minded and relatively rational person, and others which are highly problematic for such a person.

The uncontroversial “illustrations” of antisemitism:

+ advocating the killing or harming of Jews for ideological or religious reasons;

+ making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such;

+ holding Jews as a people responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group;

+ Holocaust denial;

+ using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis;

+ holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel;

+ accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

The controversial “illustrations” of antisemitism (and non-coincidently they all have a bearing on the Palestinian cause):

+ accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations;

+ claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour;

+ applying double standards by requiring of Israel conduct not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation;

+ drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

A close examination of this latter set of “illustrations” shows that Labour is absolutely right to resist the immense pressure from Zionists and their supporters to accept these latter “illustrations” as part of the definition of antisemitism.

There are examples of Jewish US citizens being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their country.

The casino mogul Sheldon Adelson donated $25 million to Trump’s 2016 campaign ($82 million in total to Republicans in 2016), and $5 million towards his inauguration.   Earlier this year Adelson donated $70 million to Birthright, the organization that brings young Jews to Israel for nothing (he’s donated $100m in total to Birthright).  He also donated $30 million to Republicans after Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran.  Adelson spent $150m in the 2012 election in a futile attempt to unseat the “anti-Israel” Barack Obama.

Adelson’s aim in all of this is to swing Trump behind his friend Netanyahu’s “Greater Israel” political agenda.  To this end Adelson pushed hard for the US’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, appointing the arch-Zionist John Bolton as a Trump adviser, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (in contravention of international law), and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.  Adelson has succeeded in all of these objectives.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and “envoy” for a “peace” deal in the Middle East, has made it clear that any such deal will have to be compatible with Likud’s “Greater Israel” political agenda.

According to The New York Times, Kushner’s family real estate company “received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of Israel’s largest financial institutions”.

The same NYTarticle also reported that “the Kushners had teamed up with at least one member of Israel’s wealthy Steinmetz family to buy nearly $200 million of Manhattan apartment buildings, as well as to build a luxury rental tower in New Jersey”.

More from the same article:  “Mr. Kushner’s company has also taken out at least four loans from Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim, which is the subject of a Justice Department investigation over allegations that it helped wealthy Americans evade taxes”.

Kushner’s family foundation also donates to an illegal settlement in the West Bank.

Meanwhile,US military aid to Israel amounts to $3.8 billion annually, or $23,000 per year for every Jewish family living in Israel for the next 10 years.

At the same time, 40 million Americans live in poverty, seniors and veterans are sleeping rough, and teachers have to buy school supplies, and in some cases food, for their students.

Given these two examples of prominent Jewish individuals with loyalties divided between the US and Israel, with Israel acquiring much and the US gaining so little from their actions, it is arguable whether it is “antisemitic” to broadcast the information detailed above.

Claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour is likewise hardly antisemitic.  The recently passed Israeli Nationality Law confirms why.

According to the law, Israel’s full name is “Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people”. The law stipulates that Eretz Israel (historical Palestine) is the homeland of the Jewish people, while the state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.

As such, only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel. Hebrew is the only official language, with Arabic no longer considered an official language.

The nationality law enjoins that future Jewish settlement in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is a supreme national objective (in contravention of international law).

The law also grants Jewish communities the right to a segregated territory in the state(in practice legalizing exclusive villages and towns for Jews).

The nationality law effectively deprives Arabs of any official semblance of their national identity, and confirms Israel’s status as an apartheid, i.e. racist, state.  Saying this is certainly anti-Zionist, but only a dogmatist would insist that it is ipso facto “antisemitic”.

The IHRA “illustration” maintaining that it is antisemitic to apply double standards by requiring of Israel conduct not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation is likewise extremely awkward in formulation and also in practice.

The 2017 Democracy Index used 4 categories to assess countries–  full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime, and authoritarian regime.

The following countries were ranked by the Index as full democracies: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

Israel was listed as a flawed democracy, as was the US.

Israel’s leaders have always touted their country as “the only democracy in the Middle East”, as if their country stood on a par with the 19 countries ranked as full democracies by the 2017 Democracy Index. 

Is it “antisemitic” to hold Israel to a standard deemed to be achieved by Mauritius and Uruguay?

Or to say that Israel is really an “ethnocracy”, as opposed to being a democracy?

The Israeli political geographer Oren Yiftachel argued in his 2006 book Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine that an ethnocracy is a regime promoting “the expansion of the dominant group in contested territory … while maintaining a democratic façade”.

When it comes todrawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, it all depends on the basis used in making the comparison between Israel and the Nazis.

Having gas chambers for mass exterminations, then certainly not.

However, nearly everyone who believes that comparing Israel with the Nazis is “antisemitic” invariably takes the concentration-camp gas chambers as the implicit norm, whether out of bad faith or ignorance, for making such comparisons.

The Nazi “final solution”, vast as it was, had many strands, with horror piled upon horror.  This multiple-layering must be considered when making the Israel-Nazi comparison.

Encircling and starving-out an entire community in a ghetto (Warsaw?), then yes, the comparison is valid– this is precisely what is taking place in Gaza.

The Nazis confiscated Jewish property wholesale; the Israelis are doing the same to Palestinian houses and land in order to “clear” them for the expansion of the illegal settlements, and for alleged military purposes.  B’Tselem, Israel’s human rights watchdog, confirms this on their website.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

Jews were prevented from leaving German-occupied Poland by the SS. Similarly, Palestinians are prevented from leaving Gaza (even for medical treatment) by the combined efforts of Israel and the Egyptian dictatorship.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

German Civil Police K-9 Units were used by the SS to assist in the roundup and deportation of Jews in WW2.  Similarly, the Israeli army uses attack dogs on unarmed Palestinians when raiding their homes, and when arresting peaceful demonstrators.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

It is difficult to see why comparing Israel to the Nazis on these latter bases, while scrupulously eschewing the gas chambers as a basis for comparison (the Palestinians have not been sent to gas chambers en masse), necessarily makes one an “antisemite”.

The Israeli historian Ilan Pappé describes Israel’s policy regarding Gaza as “incremental genocide”, in contrast to the Nazi’s absolute genocide. The final outcome however is not in doubt.

The distinguished Oxford jurist Stephen Sedley (himself a Jew) has saidthat “there is no legal bar on criticising Israel. Yet several of the “examples” that have been tacked on to the IHRA definition (by whom is not known) seek to stifle criticism of Israel irrespective of intent. The House of Commons select committee on home affairs in October 2016 advised adding: “It is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent”.”

Corbyn, under siege from the media and Jewish groups (who say, with risible hyperbole, that he poses an “existential threat” to British Jews), has apologized for not doing enough to root out antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Corbyn’s apology was unnecessary.  Not just because it was not merited by the real circumstances underlying this manufactured “crisis”, but also because every step he takes now is dismissed as “meaningless” and “too little, too late” by his opportunistic opponents.

Instead Corbyn should have given an immediate forensic analysis of the IHRA’s flawed “examples” of “antisemitism”, indicating that Labour was wise not to incorporate these, root and branch, in the definition of antisemitism it adopted.

Corbyn should also have come out earlier with his pledge to deal firmly with those justifiably guilty of antisemitism in the Labour party.

Corbyn has many admirable qualities, but perhaps doing forensics is not one of them. However, he has many surrogates capable of undertaking this task, and they should be entrusted with it immediately.

The late and much missed Robin Cook, the former Labour minister who demolished Blair’s rationales for the Iraq war in the House of Commons debate on Blair’s push for the war, would have been perfect for the job.

Will Labour now find its anti-Zionist Robin Cook?

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.