The UK Labour Party’s “Antisemitism Crisis” and the Likud Supporters in Its Leadership

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Labour party’s “antisemitism crisis” keeps dragging on.

What can the Labour leadership do about it?

The Labour’s leadership has tried appeasing its critics, but this has not worked. Appeasement has only emboldened these critics.

Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors, both inside and outside the party, are adept at moving the goalposts, and will never be satisfied until he is gone as leader, and Labour once again becomes a “natural” home for opportunists like Tony Blair and his followers, and their friends in the Zionist lobby.

Best just to have a proper process of scrutiny in place, with a complementary disciplinary framework, and place the onus on these to deal with the charges of “antisemitism”, most of which have no merit.

As far as I can tell, and speaking as a party member, this is what Labour is doing.

As is the case with Islamophobia, there is antisemitism everywhere, and the Labour party is no exception.

There have been some episodes of antisemitism from Labour’s local councillors and party members, but accusations of antisemitism involve around 0.1% of Labour’s 550,000-plus membership (the largest in Europe).

A clue as to what these numbers might indicate is afforded by the recent interview Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who just defected from Labour, had with London Broadcasting Corporation.

Berger has been subjected to vile and unforgiveable antisemitic abuse, and said in the interview that of the 6 convicted for this abuse towards her, only 2 came from the left, none were members of the Labour party.

For anyone on the left, though, this is still 2 too many.

In August 2017, the Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Antisemitism Barometer report, using YouGov survey-data, showed that, out of those voting for the UK’s 3 largest political parties (Tories, Labour, and Lib Dems), Conservative voters were the most likely to be antisemitic.

Nothing will satisfy Labour’s detractors on this issue until its leadership passes tests set by these Zionist critics—e.g. never meeting with leaders of the Palestinian resistance, never supporting BDS, never demonstrating when Israel drops phosphorous bombs on Gaza, and so on.

A clue as to the bar set for Labour by these detractors is afforded by the accusation made by the above-mentioned Luciana Berger, who maintained that Labour is “institutionally antisemitic”.

Which of course merely poses in turn the question of what the real situation is regarding evidence of “institutional antisemitism” in the Conservative party (of which Berger and other Labour members of the same mind have been totally silent)?

The Tories however have the good fortune of getting a free pass from the overwhelmingly rightwing Ukanian media on their endemic racism.

Cozying up to Steve Bannon (hisBreitbart Newsis a port-of-call for holders of antisemitic views) — the senior Tory politicians Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Jacob Rees-Mogg have met with Bannon. Not a word from Berger and co.

Rampant antisemitism in university Conservative associations? Again not a word.

Links that top Tories have with the antisemitic Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán? Yet again not a word.

And let’s not get started on the Tory party’s Islamophobia.

Of course as the party of liberty, equality, and solidarity, Labour has uncompromisingly to be anti-racist on all fronts.

But seeking to battle on the front whether antisemitism in Labour is in fact incorrigibly “institutional”, or too much, or just a little, or almost nonexistent, and so on, is futile.

As mentioned, the tactical higher ground in making determinations on these issues (given the anti-Labour disposition of the UK media and the power of its Zionist lobby) always lies with those making such accusations.

As a result, any simplistic or tone-deaf comment about “Zionists” is going to be placed on the same level as antisemitic conspiracy theory (the alleged machinations of Rothschild bankers, Zionists colluding with Saudis to perpetrate the 9/11 attacks), Holocaust denial, and so forth.

Even to say that Israel is manipulating the Holocaust to serve the Zionist project (a charge made by several Holocaust survivors!), leads to accusations of antisemitism.

Unfortunately for Labour, there has been a range of such crude or unnuanced comments, ranging from the ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone’s uncontextualized and unqualified claim that Hitler was “a Zionist” because early-on Hitler viewed the repatriation of German Jews to form a Jewish colony in Palestine as a possible solution to Germany’s “Jewish problem” (this was a position actually held by Hitler), to the current travails of the Labour MP Chris Williamson.

Williamson, a former Blairite who became a stalwart ally of Corbyn’s, is now suspended from the Labour party for saying it has been “too apologetic” when dealing with the so-called “antisemitism crisis”.

I’m sure Williamson regrets his choice of words (he has since apologized for what he said).

All Williamson needed to say is that Labour needs to be more “proactive”, “direct”, “vigorous”, and so on, in taking on those who have been found to manufacture allegations of Labour “antisemitism”.

Williamson’s problems were compounded by the fact that he hired a room in the House of Commons to show a documentary about the suspended Jewish Labour activist Jackie Walker (a feisty anti-Zionist), although the screening itself was organized by Jewish Voice for Labour (a pro-Corbyn network for Jewish members of the Labour Party). The screening has now been cancelled. To quote The Middle East Monitor:

The film’s director, Jon Pullman, hinted at the irony of demanding the cancellation of a documentary about a witch hunt: “We hope that people concerned with the struggle against racism and antisemitism take the time to see the film, and then make their own mind up. To have it publicly denounced as ‘offensive’ by people who have not seen it raises question about what is happening to democracy in this country.”

Well, Mr Pullman was being very understated, since he and the rest of us know that the only witch hunts that matter to Corbyn’s Zionist decriers are those they presume to be directed at Zionists like themselves.

If Chris Williamson could have found a more nuanced terminology when addressing the Zionists in his party, Ken Livingstone also could have said that when it comes to establishing a Jewish colony/state in Palestine there are a number of positions, ranging from that held by Likud and Netanyahu today to the one held early-on by Hitler, without bringing in any imputation of “Zionism” when accounting for Hitler’s possible motives.

Or to say that there is a certain congruence between these positions regarding the founding of a Jewish colony/state in Palestine, and again without saying this had something to do with “Zionism” in Hitler’s case (itself a dubious proposition)?

Such linguistic circumspection (admittedly, some might call it self-policing) is a massive chore, but for now Labour’s pro-Palestinian activists need to formulate their criticisms of Zionism with more care, while not moderating their criticism of Israel.  Clarity pursued in this way is not appeasement.

There is of course a fundamental linguistic inequity or injustice here (in the end it’s political of course), since Labour supporters of Israel are not burdened in the same way—they can say “Corbyn is a fucking antisemite” (as the Zionist Labour MP Margaret Hodge said last year), or something similar, and not face any consequences.

However, as I remind myself constantly, all those living in Palestine/Israel face an immensely more deadly burden—if only the exactions conferred on them by the illegal Israeli occupation were confined to linguistic self-policing!

What else can Labour anti-Zionists (such as myself) do?

We have to acknowledge the enmity lines drawn by Labour’s Zionists—if need be, they will destroy the political careers of their opponents, the foremost of whom is Jeremy Corbyn.

In response, and acknowledging the force of these enmity lines drawn by Labour’s Zionists, we could perhaps do the following:

Never fail to point out their existential contradictions.

For example, the defector Luciana Berger has as her colleague in The Independent Group (TIG) her fellow Labour defector Angela Smith, who said in a recent media interview that blacks, Asians, and other ethnic minorities “had a funny tinge”. Berger must be asked constantly why she is in the political company of this racist, despite having herself been subjected to (undeniable) racist persecution.

A similar contradiction was the presence of Luciana Berger and the rightwing Labour MP Jess Phillips at a recent party hosted by the rightwing Spectatormagazine. Berger and Phillips were joined at this shindig by their several Tory luminaries—the MPs BoJo Johnson, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock, as well as Theresa May.

Also in attendance were the Tory-supporting BBC presenters Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson, as well as the much-loathed host of Good Morning Britain, Piers Morgan.

Also there was Taki (Panagiotis Theodoracopulos), who has been a writer for the Spectatorfor several decades. Taki is a proven antisemite and racist, as indicated by a sample of his writings:

“So why shouldn’t we be anti-Jewish, especially now, with 1.2 million dead following the Iraq disaster that was hatched up by people like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, and cheer-led by the men I just mentioned”.

“I said that I thought I saw a gorilla once at Wimbledon. It was Venus Williams.”

“All my WASP friends in America say, ‘What happened to our money, Taki?’ And I tell them, ‘You drank it all away, and the Jews and n—ers were able to get it.”

Berger and Phillips should never be allowed to get away with their attendance at this party.

Another existential contradiction lies in the Labour Zionists absolute silence when it comes to Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, such as Netanyahu’s recent decision to form an electoral pact with the fascist Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit, which has the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians officially on its agenda. While Labour Zionists remain silent on this issue, they are vociferous in banning those who want to show a film about a Labour Jewish anti-Zionist. So let’s press them, insistently, on their actual or implicit pro-Likudist positions.

Labour Zionists need constantly to be challenged on their funding sources from the Zionist lobby (I have researched some of these money pipelines from the Zionist lobby in a recent CounterPuncharticle).

Such scrutiny will almost certainly be portrayed as yet another display of antisemitism, but the available response is obvious: politicians who take money from the fracking lobby are answerable in principle for their voting record on fracking, ditto those taking money from the Brexit lobby, and so on. So why should those receiving money from the Zionist lobby be exempt from similar scrutiny?

The attack on Corbyn is twofold, in a somewhat intertwined way: (1) undermining his support (and that of his allies) for the Palestinian cause; and (2) sabotaging his determined attempt to move Labour from its previously dominant Blairite neoliberalism.

A scan of the political records of the TIG defectors show all of them to have their feet planted more or less in both (1) and (2), and these problematic overlaps have to be pointed-out over and over again.

Anti-Zionism is never to be conflated with antisemitism, which is precisely the underlying strategy of the Labour Zionists.

In the slightly longer-term, I agree with John Reesthat Labour needs to rid itself of the notion that it is a “broad church”, where neoliberals can coexist with socialists, or de facto supporters of Likud with committed antiracists.

When has someone asked Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, the biggest receiver of largesse from the Zionist lobby and loud in his declarations of support of Israel, whether he approves of Likud’s alliance with the fascist Otzma Yehudit and its advocacy of a Palestinian genocide?

Or whether Watson agrees with Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, who told his followers that Israel should be ethnically cleansed of Palestinians?

Where Israel is concerned, how does Labour justify housing explicit or tacit Likud sympathizers within its ranks?

Labour should stop trying to square this “broad church” circle, and commit itself to being a genuinely socialist party dedicated to resisting the depredations of the capitalist order (an order with an inbuilt racism).

This commitment is all it needs to justify not granting privileged treatment to the party’s Blairite wing.

For many of us it is surprising that Chris Williamson has been suspended from the party, while Tony Blair (who should be in the dock at The Hague) continues, serenely, to be a party member.

This will mean the party has no room for those espousing positions patently at odds with the principles of liberty, equality, and solidarity.

No room therefore for those who view a political career as the avenue to becoming “filthy rich”, as well those supporting baneful ethno-nationalisms, such as its Likud supporters bent on undermining Corbyn and the Labour left.


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