FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Witch Hunt at Westminster

When I received the message from Jewish Voice for Labour announcing that the screening of the documentary “Witch Hunt” in parliament and the scheduled panel to follow (which I had been invited to join) had been cancelled, I was nonplussed.

Three weeks earlier, I had watched Witch Hunt at a London cinema. The documentary tells the story of Jackie Walker, the activist suspended from the Labour Party over comments that were allegedly anti-Semitic, while underscoring how “anti-Semitism” has become a weapon in the hands of those defending Israel’s abusive practices. Indeed, the film shows how accusations of anti-Semitism are increasingly being used to delegitimise critics of the Israeli government and its policies toward the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The documentary also exposes the intimate relations between the pro-Israel lobby and members of the British parliament and is quite critical of some of the ways in which the Labour party has been handling accusations of anti-Semitism. At one point, the film even suggests that the party is entering a McCarthyist era.

The complaint

As if to prove these assertions right, Labour MP Chris Williamson, who had helped arrange the screening, was suspended from the party in late February. A Labour spokeswoman said it was “completely inappropriate” for Williamson to have booked a room in parliament for a screening of Witch Hunt.

The major complaint against Williamson, however, involved a remark he had made a few days earlier about Labour having “been too apologetic ” when confronting those who have accused it of harbouring Jew-haters.

Let me be clear. Insofar as the Labour party represents a cross-section of British society, it likely does have some anti-Semites within its ranks, and I wholeheartedly agree with those who argue that the party should have zero tolerance for these bigots.

However, the real point of contention between Jewish Voice for Labour, Chris Williamson and Jackie Walker on the one side, and their detractors on the other, is not about whether the party should tolerate anti-Semitism, but about what anti-Semitism is. 

My assumption is that all those involved in this dispute agree that anti-Semitism is evil. Millions of Jews were once exterminated by an anti-Semitic regime as world leaders watched in silence. Anti-Semitism can lead and has led to genocide and other horrific and egregious crimes and therefore it must be rejected, combated and eradicated, regardless of its specific manifestations, the location of its occurrence or the identity of its promulgators. This, in my eyes, is self-evident and should be the starting point of any discussion on anti-Semitism.

I also assume that Williamson, Walker and their detractors would agree that anti-Semitism is on the rise: from the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in France and the horrific attack on a synagogue in the US through Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s anti-Semitic campaign against Jewish phillantropist George Soros in Hungary and the “Jews not welcome” signs put up by the fascist Golden Dawn movement in Greece to the current Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz’s belief that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are authentic.

The dispute between the different sides, then, has to do with how anti-Semitism is defined. Again, I presume, everyone involved would agree with the way historians and social scientists have traditionally defined anti-Semitism: hatred of Jews per se; belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy; belief that Jews control capitalism; belief that Jews are naturally inferior; and so on.

The disagreement

The problem begins when one side conflates anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Although this conflation is not entirely new, it took on new life when the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance published its definition of anti-Semitism , providing a number of examples informed by the false assumptions that Zionism is completely identical to and with Jewishness and that a seamless equation can be drawn between the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

But many Jews are not Zionists, while, simultaneously, Zionism has numerous traits that are in no way embedded in or characteristic of Jewishness but, rather, have their roots in nationalist and settler ideologies of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Accordingly, a critique of Zionism or Israel is not necessarily a product of animus toward Jews, while, conversely, hatred toward Jews does not necessarily entail an anti-Zionist stance.

Indeed, when examining statements made by leading members of the alt-right in the US and extreme right-wing politicians across Europe, it becomes obvious that one can be both a Zionist and an anti-Semite. I am thinking of people like Richard Spencer from the US who characterises himself as a “white Zionist “, yet thinks that “Jews are vastly over-represented in what you could call ‘the establishment’.” In a similar vein, Orban, who has professed his admiration of Zionism, has, on other occasions, revealed his anti-Semitic tendencies.

The important point is that these right-wing politicians can be Zionist and anti-Semitic at the same time and with intellectual consistency. And if Zionism and anti-Semitism can coincide, then, according to the law of contradiction, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not reducible one to the other.

Let there be no mistake, in certain instances anti-Zionists are indeed anti-Semitic, but this in and of itself does not say much since a variety of views and ideologies can coincide with anti-Semitism. One can, for example, be a capitalist or a socialist or a libertarian and still be an anti-Semite, but the fact that anti-Semitism can align with these ideologies does not tell us very much about their essence.

Perhaps the greatest irony regarding those who demanded that Williamson cancel the screening of Witch Hunt at Westminster is that their position is in direction opposition to the Jewish tradition and, indeed, to the great Jewish prophets – people like Amos, Jeramiah and Elisha – who were extremely critical of the people of Israel.

The frightening reality is that if these prophets were living in Britain today and were to reiterate words enshrined in the Bible, they, too, would be branded anti-Semites.

First published at Al Jazeera.

 

More articles by:

Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail