FSOI MEDIA NOTICE – Zionism and antisemitism all the rage at Labour Party conference fringe

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PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: LIVERPOOL NOVOTEL, 7.30 PM, SUNDAY SEPT 25

Zionism and antisemitism all the rage at Labour Party conference fringe

  • Three fringe meetings in 3 hrs on allegations against Corbyn supporters
  • Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker confronts her abusers
  • Jewish activists will expose “exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism”

Defenders and opponents of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will clash over interpretations of Zionism and antisemitism in three separate meetings in the space of as many hours on the first day of the party conference in Liverpool on Sunday September 25.

The spectacle comes about because of an initiative by Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), a network of mainly Jewish activists opposed to the deployment of antisemitism allegations to silence Corbyn supporters who campaign for justice for Palestine.

A meeting originally planned by FSOI at the conference fringe hub of the grassroots Momentum movement has now been taken over by Momentum itself. It will bring Jeremy Newmark of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) face to face with Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker to debate “Does Labour have an Antisemitism Problem?”

FSOI has organised a separate meeting titled “Jewish Socialists Against the Anti-Corbyn Witchhunt”, also featuring Jackie Walker, at the nearby Novotel later the same evening.

It will pose a direct challenge to the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices, while the JLM – one of the main architects of the silencing – has chosen to hold its own rally at the same time.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi who will chair the FSOI meeting said it would be “the only chance during the four days of conference to uncover the truth behind the devastation wreaked upon Labour by exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism.”


NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Who is Jackie Walker? (From Jews for Justice for Palestinians website)

Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker is a lifelong anti-racist campaigner of both African and Jewish heritage who has been suspended from the Labour Party for alleged antisemitism and then reinstated.

  1. What is FSOI?

Free Speech on Israel rejects the assertion, by die-hard supporters of Israel such as the JLM, that expressions of opposition to the political ideology of Zionism are equivalent to anti-Jewish racism. FSOI says opposition to Zionism is rooted in defence of Palestinian rights, which have been abused by Israel since its creation.

  1. At the Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) meeting at the Novotel, 40 Hanover Street, at 7.30 pm, Jackie Walker will share the platform with British Palestinian lawyer Salma Karmi-Ayyoub and Glyn Secker, who captained the Jewish Boat to Gaza organised by Jews for Justice for Palestinians in 2010. The vessel was seized by Israeli forces as it attempted to breach the siege of Gaza.
  1. The Momentum meeting at 5pm at 1 Great George Street will feature Jackie Walker, Jeremy Newmark (Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement); Rhea Wolfson (recently elected to the Labour NEC) and FSOI speaker Professor Jonathan Rosenhead.
  1. The JLM has devoted all its energies since Jeremy Corbyn took over as leader to denouncing him for failing to root out party members sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It has been a prime mover behind the idea that Jewish identity is inextricably linked to Israel and Zionism. Its meeting, which coincides with the FSOI event, is advertised as a Rally Against Racism and Antisemitism, although the organisation has no record of anti-racist campaigning.

Open Letter to John McDonnell: Avoid the ‘race baiting’ Jewish Labour Movement

To: John McDonnell MP,
Shadow Chancellor

Dear John,

As a Jewish member of the Labour Party who has been suspended for ‘antisemitism’, I am writing to you to express my disappointment that you should have agreed to speak on September 25th at the Conference fringe meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement [JLM]. I would seriously ask you to reconsider your decision.

As you will know from the current witch hunt of Jeremy’s supporters, ‘antisemitism’ is a weapon that has been wielded against anyone who speaks up in support of the Palestinians or against Zionism, the settler colonial movement which created the Israeli state.

The JLM is the British affiliate of the Israeli Labour Party/Zionist Union [ILP]. Far from supporting a just solution in Palestine, the ILP supports segregation and a Palestinian Bantustan. Its leader Isaac Herzog recently explained that:

‘I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel.’ 

If someone said they didn’t want a Jewish Prime Minister in Britain I am sure you would be the first to denounce this as racist and antisemitic. [Who needs the Right when we have Isaac Herzog?] In an ILP election video Herzog was described as ‘someone who “understands the Arab mentality” and “has seen Arabs in all kinds of situations,” including “in the crosshairs.”  Why did we forget about Herzog’s anti-Arab campaign? If someone in the Labour Party spoke about the ‘Jewish mentality’ they would rightly be called antisemitic, yet this is standard talk for Israeli Labour politicians.

The Israeli Labour Party is the original party of Zionist colonisation. It was the party which was responsible for perpetrating the Nakba (‘Catastrophe’) in 1948 when three-quarters of a million Palestinians were expelled in order to create a Jewish state. This was ‘necessary’ because, even in the 56% of Palestine that was allotted by the UN to the proposed Jewish state, half of the population were Arabs.

The JLM is also affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation [WZO] which openly funds and supports illegal settlement in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. At the present time it is implementing the destruction of Bedouin villages such as al-Araqib in Israel’s Negev and afforestation of the area as part of the official programme of ‘Judaisation’ (as per the Prawer Plan).

The WZO’s Jerusalem Programme, speaks of ‘the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the [Jewish] nation’. This assertion, that the real homeland of Jews, including British Jews, is Israel rather than the countries where they live, is itself anti-Semitic. It has long been an antisemitic rallying cry that Jews do not belong in the countries where they live.

From its inception the Labour Zionist movement was a racist movement.  As David HaCohen, Managing Director of Solel Boneh, the Histadrut owned building company exclaimed:

I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism, to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my Trade Union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they should not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there… to pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash Arab eggs they had bought… to do all that was not easy.[David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, p.185, Faber, 2003 citing Ha’aretz 15.11.69].

Because the JLM is an openly Zionist organisation, its membership is not open to Jewish members of the Labour Party who are opposed to Zionism.

The JLM purports to support a two state solution in Israel/Palestine but there is no known example of where it has opposed any aspect of military rule in the West Bank such as the detention and torture of Palestinian children as young as 12 or the separate legal systems for Jews and Palestinians. The JLM has never opposed the theft and seizure of Palestinian land for Jewish-only settlements, the building of Jewish only roads or the network of checkpoints in the West Bank, with separate entrances for Jewish settlers and Palestinians. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and leaders of the ANC rightly described Israel as worse than Apartheid in South Africa. [Desmond Tutu: Israel guilty of apartheid in treatment of Palestinians]

It is dispiriting that you will be speaking on the platform of an organisation that has engineered and orchestrated the ‘antisemitic’ witch hunt in the Labour Party. The JLM has consistently confused antisemitism and anti-Zionism. It is led by Jeremy Newmark, who was branded a perjurer by the Employment Tribunal Fraser v University College Union when he tried to portray UCU as ‘antisemitic’.

The JLM represents a minority of Jews, the most right-wing Jews, in the Labour Party. It was no surprise that in its ballot, the JLM voted for Owen Smith by 92-4%.

What is particularly offensive though is the race-baiting campaign that has been carried out by the JLM against Jackie Walker, the Vice-Chair of Momentum. They have repeatedly lied and misrepresented what she said, in a private conversation, about Jewish involvement in the financing of the slave trade. They have refused to accept the fact that she was reinstated very soon after her suspension. Jackie is being subject to a political lynching.

Zionists and JLM supporters have openly stated that being Black, Jackie cannot be Jewish. This is a widespread view in Zionist and Israeli circles. Just this week Jeremy Newmark stated [Anger as Jeremy Corbyn supporters invited to speak at Jewish Labour event] that

“The Shadow Chancellor was invited a while ago before his apparent defence of Jackie Walker and in light of his call for zero tolerance on antisemitism and support for our rule change proposals. He must explain his defence of Walker which is inconsistent with his call for zero tolerance. This raises serious questions. Our members expect him to explain himself.’

Jackie Walker is someone of Black and Jewish parentage. Far from being an antisemite she is a long-standing anti-racist and anti-fascist activist.  John, are you really willing to speak on the platform of this anti-Palestinian, race-baiting organisation? I appeal to you to reconsider your decision to speak at this event. Whatever this rally is about it is not about fighting anti-Semitism.

Yours sincerely,
Tony Greenstein –
Brighton & Hove DLP

Jackie Walker speaking with John McDonnell on far-left
Jackie Walker speaking with John McDonnell on far-left

Continue reading “Open Letter to John McDonnell: Avoid the ‘race baiting’ Jewish Labour Movement”

Is Zionist a rude word?

Jonathan Rosenhead of FSOI responds to Mary Davis’s Open Democracy article Contestation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism

Reprinted from Open Democracy

Words trail meanings beyond their formal definitions. Raymond Williams in his Key Words leads us through the dizzying journeys that words we thought we knew well have taken over their history. For example, who nowadays brings to mind what ‘Protestants’ were protesting about? Or take ‘fascism’. This theory and practice of authoritarian politics is now so entangled with its delivery of the holocaust that outside academia it is used as a swear word plain and simple.

Words are deployed as moves in a strategic battle. This comes out in the titanic struggle between Alice and Humpty Dumpty. Humpty Dumpty says “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean”, but is challenged on this by Alice. ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

To Mary Davis (“Contestation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism”, openDemocracy, 27 July 2016) words are quite straight forward, Humpty-Dumpty-style. Contested words are deployed in unitary meanings of her choice. The result is of course a coherent story – of Zionism, the stages of development of Jewish settlement, the possible ways forward from the current impasse. However by failing to engage with the other competing versions of this story we get an account remarkable in its lack of nuance. News flash: Mary Davis wrestles with a straw person, and wins!

Antisemitism has in recent months become an active concept in British politics for the first time in most living memories. Many, indeed most, of the allegations of antisemitism that have been made are about statements (not actions), and they are statements about Israel and about Zionism. I will turn to those allegations later, but first need to do some house cleaning around the subject of Zionism.

Zionism in theory

The main thrust of Davis’ argument is that Zionism is not a monolithic movement; historically it has had its internal divisions, its left and right flanks. Back in the day it was Mapai to the right of Mapam (though she gets these the wrong way round). Further to the right still was Herut, the offspring of the arch revisionist Jabotinsky, and the progenitor of Netanyahu’s Likud. She seems to enlist the fact that Yitzhak Rabin, though a Zionist Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated by Yigal Amir, also a Zionist, in support of this thesis of multi-strand Zionism.

Zionism, she seems to say, was and still is fractured: therefore, by implication, criticism of Zionism as a whole should be off limits. But surely the existence of different tendencies within any significant movement almost doesn’t need saying. This is just politics, the struggle between different interests and interpretations, and it is found pretty well everywhere. It certainly doesn’t constitute a veto against making rather general observations about the movement as a whole. Otherwise it would be illegitimate, for example, to interpret, or even make evaluative comments on, those many non-monolithic movements that continue to shape our world: capitalism, liberalism, racism come to mind. Also nationalism – in which Davis herself roots the late nineteenth century origins of Zionism.

The distinctive difference of Zionism from other manifestations of nationalism is this – that it could realise its ambition of national self-determination in a defined territory only by taking someone else’s. One can appreciate the driving need felt by many (by no means all) Jews for a safe haven from antisemitism, but at the same time see the whole future tragedy in embryo in that crucial contradiction.

What sort of ‘ism’ is Zionism?

Growing up in a committedly Zionist household, I celebrated the 1948 ‘War of Independence’, and all the subsequent triumphs of Israeli arms. I was repeatedly surprised when Israel didn’t then make a favourable peace with its neighbours, but instead grew progressively more bullish and bully-boy as it grew stronger.  At the time I put it down to short-sightedness by politicians of limited vision. But after 50, 100 years a more systemic explanation is surely required. The short-hand version of this is that Zionism in practice is an idiosyncratic late version of colonialism (another ‘ism’) – transposed from the nineteenth century and still attempting to survive in the very different environment of the twenty-first.

The uncommon though not unique feature of this colonial project is that there is and has been almost no desire to exploit the labour power of the indigenous population. On the contrary. When land was bought for settlement the Palestinians on it were evicted. The Hagganah, which became the IDF, was formed to keep Arabs off the land that had been cleared in this way. Aggressive propaganda, intimidation and violence was used to pressure Jewish-owned enterprises to use Jewish rather than Arab workers. This forceful eviction of Arab workers was one of the precipitating causes of the Arab Revolt in 1936. The key figure in this campaign for ‘Jewish Labour’ was David Ben Gurion, later first Prime Minister of Israel.

This identification of Zionism as a form of colonialism is not just post hoc rationalisation, but was quite evident to Zionism’s founders. In 1917 Ber Borochov, the relatively progressive Zionist cited by Davis, wrote about the time “when the waste lands are prepared for colonization”. Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, wrote in The Iron Wall that “’My readers have a general idea of the history of colonisation in other countries.  I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonisation being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent.”

Zionism was ‘sold’ as a project of “a land without people for a people without a land”. This was not a statement of fact but of intention. (The late nineteenth century founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, confided to his diary that if Palestine was to be successfully settled the local population would have to be removed.) Zionism sought to get the land, but with as few of the indigenous people as possible. Never letting an opportunity go to waste, in the confusion of the 1948 war out of which Israel was born 80% of the Palestinian population was ejected, by force or the deliberately fostered fear of force. Prime Minister Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and its subsequent sealing off in a still ongoing 10-year siege is a way of ‘containing’ 1.5 million Palestinians on the smallest imaginable patch of ground. Israel’s most intractable problem results from the obverse of this coin. Israel’s 1967 conquest of Jerusalem and the West Bank gave them control of 3 million Palestinians they really don’t want. The Wall is being built to filch as much extra land as possible, and forget the Palestinians on the other side.

This thrust is not seriously contested within the mainstream Israeli political system. Isaac Herzog of the Labour Party (now merged into the Zionist Union) is leader of the Israeli opposition. His policies include maintenance of the occupation, and the completion of a barrier cutting off Jerusalem from the Palestinian villages around it. See Gideon Levy’s recent article in Ha’aretz, (August 31, 2016):

“There is no radical left in Israel. Such a left is anarchist and sometimes even terrorist, as in Europe and Latin America. In Israel, where even Isaac Herzog is seen as “left” and Yair Lapid as “center” – when they’re both moderate right – what counts as radical left is the only left that exists here, and that is moderate left. All the rest are 50 shades of right wing, with an alarming, herd-like consensus and too little real difference of opinion.

Everyone agrees on all the wars, everyone enlists together against all international criticism and meanwhile the occupation arouses no active resistance. And wonder of wonders, in this sticky, unified mess the negligible minority that thinks otherwise, the extinct species, manages to arouse rage and hatred to such an extent that you’d think it was a majority. Such rage can only attest to one thing: the majority’s uncertainty about the rightness of its way.

The litmus test isn’t whether you identify with the left or right, but whether you identify with Zionism, that deceptive, undefined, anachronistic, expired value that distinguishes between legitimate Israelis and the rest. Are you on our side or the enemy’s? Say “Zionist” and you’re not radical. Good, you’re saved. Say “not Zionist” and you’re out. A pity, you’re extinct. When Zionism is a religion, heresy is treason. Anyone who dares to undermine Zionism’s validity, as the majority sees it, is radical left, illegitimate, and lately even criminal….”

Zionism in practice

The consequences of this over-late colonial project have been and remain dire for the Palestinians.

The illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and the repudiation by Israel of the Geneva conventions-attested rights of affected populations has split the Palestinians into 3 components – those living in pre-1967 Israel, those in the occupied territories, and the diaspora of displaced Palestinians in Middle East refugee camps scattered around the world. Their ability to communicate is deliberately restricted by Israeli policies. The ‘matrix of control’[1] over all aspects of Palestinian life has been extended over the years by the most modern technology, drastically restricting not only their daily activities but also the functioning of their culture and community. Palestinian national identity and institutions are under continuous siege by Israel, in what has been described by Kimmerling as ‘politicide’[2]. The Palestinian nation has not died, but many thousands of Palestinians have. I will deny myself the opportunity of providing here a list of inhumanities perpetrated on them – I guess that readers know where to find that information.

The illegal occupation of Palestinian territories is also a running sore for Israel itself. Once it was admired by progressives for its social, even socialist, innovations. But around the world, except in elite circles, its frequent resorts to repression are close to pushing it into pariah status.  The BBC routinely polls respondents in 24 countries on which countries are seen as having positive or negative influence in the world. Since 2007 Israel has been down at the bottom with only Iran, Pakistan and North Korea below them – and sometimes not all of those.

Jews also are by no means exempt from this disenchantment with Israel. A survey carried out for the British liberal Zionist group Yachad in 2015 found that 31% of those surveyed self-identified as ‘No, not a Zionist’. Among the under 30’s the proportion who would support sanctions against Israel if they thought it would encourage the Israeli government to engage in the peace process rose to 41 percent. A report (in Hebrew) published in February found that Jewish American students also have an increasingly negative image of Israel:

  • only 42% believe Israel wants peace.
  • only 38% believe “Israel is civilized and Western”.
  • only 31% believe Israel is a democracy.
  • no less than 21% believe The US should side with the Palestinians.

It is in this environment that the Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, including academic boycott, has been going from strength to strength world-wide. This whole BDS movement, according to Davis, is teetering on the edge of antisemitism, and its academic strand “can definitely be construed as anti-semitic”. That’s a claim worth deconstructing, before then moving on to the jackpot question – how are we to understand the amazing increase in rhetoric about antisemitism, quite divorced from any actually discernible increase in antisemitism itself?

Singling out Israel

It was in 2005 that a consortium of 170 Palestinian organisations issued the call to world civil society for a campaign of general boycott divestment and sanctions against Israel. In fact the academic and cultural boycotts had been launched a year earlier, by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Since Davis regards the academic boycott as her slam dunk case, I will take it on.

She says that academic boycott by not focusing purely on the Israeli state, and instead “boycotting only Jewish academics”, demonstrates its antisemitism. It is remarkable how many people who feel qualified to hold forth on this topic seem not to have carried out their due diligence. Israeli universities have Jewish, Christian and Moslem academics, and no doubt other religions besides. For that matter, they also have academics not only from Israel but from around the world. Jewish academics are not singled out for boycott. Nor are Israeli academics – because none of them are boycotted! The boycott does not target academics, or seek to interfere in any way with their work. Mary Davis only has to go to the PACBI website to find this out.

The academic boycott targets university institutions. As a supporter of this boycott I will not attend conferences held at Israeli universities, or get involved with their appointments or promotion processes. I will not teach on any programme based at the university, and I will not engage in joint research if the support funding is based there. But I have no trouble working with or receiving at my university any Israeli academic; and there is no impediment to their participating in international conferences or publishing in international journals on a level playing field with everyone else.

How should one understand Mary Davis’ statement that the boycott targets Jewish academics? That she hadn’t done her homework before writing her article? Or that she did know that there was no individual component to the boycott, but thought she would use the argument anyway? A tough call.

There is another argument that she might have made, as many people do: that singling out Israel for this treatment when other states have committed far worse crimes is surely evidence of antisemitism. [To grapple with the logic of this claim is a bit more complex. There are two factors in the answer, both to do with the reason why boycott is deployed at all.]

The explanation is that boycott is not a moral imperative, a way of demonstrating ones’ abhorrence of a certain regime (though it may offer that release also). It is, rather, a practical tactic to change the cost-benefit calculation for the actors in the conflict. Boycott enables the individually weak, by combining non-violently, to gain some purchase on an otherwise intractable situation. There is no point in mobilising support for a boycott if powerful state actors (e.g. our own governments) are already on the right side of history. And equally a boycott would be a waste of all the participants’ efforts if there was in effect, no significant trade or interchange with the target country.

Think North Korea. An execrable regime, but neither a commercial nor an academic boycott would find much purchase on the situation. It would be hard to mobilise a boycott campaign to do, effectively, nothing.

Israel, like South Africa before it, is a state built on discrimination. As Desmond Tutu says “this, in my book, is apartheid”. There are other parallels. Israel now, as South Africa previously, is both supported to the hilt by the USA and UK governments and most of Europe, and an integral part of the same economic, intellectual and cultural community as us. Boycott becomes a viable and appropriate policy.

Davis says that Israel is repeatedly “singled out for special treatment”. It is indeed singled out among those countries that systematically violate human rights. Its receives special treatment to the tune of $3bn annually from the US (the highest gained by any country), plus a cast iron diplomatic shield at the United Nations. Other transgressor countries have suffered serious economic sanctions, but Israel is rewarded.

Antisemitism everywhere

While I have been writing there has been an elephant in the room. More and more fidgety it is now positively insisting on getting into my critique. The issue is: just why is Mary Davis writing this piece now? Why is the Chief Rabbi jumping up and down about antisemitism right now? Why did John Mann waylay Ken Livingstone about it? Why was it that Sadiq Khan ‘warned’ (Daily Express)/ ‘accuses’ (Daily Telegraph, Independent)/ ‘savaged’ (Evening Standard, Daily Mail) Jeremy Corbyn over his handling of antisemitism in the Labour Party? That’s the Daily Mail, always so delicate on questions of antisemitism, from the 1930’s through to calling out Ed Miliband’s father Ralph as ‘unpatriotic’.

On August 28 the Campaign Against Antisemitism, founded during the attack on Gaza in 2014 to defend Israel from criticism, produced some telling statistics:

Last year the Crown Prosecution Service prosecuted a record 15,442 cases of hate crime, but we are only aware of a dozen prosecutions for hate crime against Jews.

Of course the CAA deduced from this that “British Jews are being denied British justice”.

The statistical rigour is rudimentary. But if it is possible to believe that prosecutions for anti-Semitic behaviour really do amount to something like 1 in 1000 of the total, a more plausible explanation is surely that this issue is dwarfed by other forms of intolerant utterance and behaviour – against gays, immigrants, Poles, Muslims…. There is virtually no evidence that there has been a sharp increase in antisemitism; there is plenty of statistical (for example from the Community Security Trust) and experiential evidence that the level has been low for years, interrupted by bulges when Israel attacks Gaza.

I am a member of Free Speech on Israel, an organisation set up in April by Jewish Labour Party supporters alarmed about antisemitism in the Labour Party. Alarmed, that is, by a moral panic that completely denies our own experience. Those in the room at the foundation meeting had something like 1000 years of lived experience of the Labour Party, and no one could recall a single instance of antisemitism. This is broadly consistent with wider experience. When the ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs was asked on Radio 4 about his own experience, his response was, from memory, “Well….actually I haven’t experienced any antisemitism myself. Which is quite odd, because most people know that the Chief Rabbi is Jewish”.

Nevertheless evidence is being dredged up, of carelessly worded tweets and Facebook postings, and leading to instant suspensions from Party membership. (This policy was excoriated in the report of the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party.) Nearly all of the ‘evidence’ predates Corbyn’s leadership is nevertheless being blamed on him. Other evidence was simply fabricated – as in the allegations of engrained racism in the Oxford University Labour Club. Nevertheless the mainstream media continue to serve as an uncritical megaphone for the innuendo, and worse.

In this stunningly successful offensive there is every appearance of coordination between diehard supporters of Israel, and the irreconcilables in the Labour Party who cannot accept Corbyn’s leadership. Appearances can of course be deceptive. (One of history’s sadnesses is that we almost never get substantive evidence about actual conspiracies until it is too late to matter.) But since there is in any case a clear shared interest in the defenestration of Corbyn perhaps no explicit pre-communication was needed. Israel is threatened by the installation of the first major party leader in Europe with a committed record of supporting Palestinian rights. Many Labour MPs feel deeply threatened by a leader (and associated membership) who are almost as far left as Harold Wilson was.  So there is a natural affinity of purpose.

Israel, Zionism and anti-Zionism inhabit the political realm, not a religious or ethnic one. What has been called the ‘weaponisation’ of antisemitism is deeply unprincipled. Antisemitism is an ugly phenomenon, and its spores still lie scattered through all western societies and some others. By deploying the spectre of antisemitism in disreputable campaigns its currency is degraded.

Brian Klug’s influential working definition of antisemitism is that “antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”. Assuming, often aggressively, that all Jews support Israel and Zionism is, paradoxically, making the same simplifying assumption that anti-Semites do – namely that all Jews are in important respects the same. We are not.


[1] Jeff Halper ‘The 94 percent solution: a matrix of control’, Middle East Report 30:3, Fall 2000

[2] Politicide: The Real Legacy of Ariel Sharon, Verso 2006.

Open Letter to Joan Ryan MP – Chair of Labour Friends of Israel

Dear Ms Ryan,

As the only Jewish member of the Labour Party to have been suspended for ‘anti-Semitism’, I note with interest the open letter which you recently wrote to Richard Burgon MP regarding his comments that Labour MPs should quit Labour Friends of Israel and that Zionism is the enemy of peace.

You suggested that the comments were so far outside the boundaries of what passes for acceptable political debate in the salons and interview rooms of Westminster, that they must have been misreported.  I think we can assume that this is merely a literary device on your part.  If you had any doubts that the above comments were genuine, you would have written a private not public letter.

I shall not indulge in fake politeness on a subject which involves the racial subjugation and immiseration of millions of human beings.  When one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza are forced to live through a decade long siege, when people die because basic medicines cannot be imported and when they are forced to drink polluted water, 95% of Gaza’s water is polluted as a result of Israel’s water theft and bombing of water purification plants, then one should not engage in semantics.  Keeping Palestinians thirsty is no doubt part of Israel’s war on ‘terrorism’.

You profess outrage that anyone could suggest not wanting to associate with LFI.  You must be aware that in 1982 large numbers of MPs, Tony Benn and Eric Heffer among them, resigned from LFI because of its support for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, when some 20,000 civilians were killed and 100,000 injured.

During the invasion of Lebanon, Israeli soldiers besieged Beirut in alliance with their fascist friends the Phalange (named in honour of Franco’s Falange).  Israel’s army lit up the night sky with flares and sent Phalangist death squads, armed with knives, to perpetrate an ISIS style slaughter of the inhabitants of the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps.  Some 2,000 women, children and old people were slaughtered, women had their breasts cut off and young boys were castrated.

Despite this atrocity, Israel’s then Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon went on to become Israel’s Prime Minister between 2001 and 2006.  Your friends in the Israeli Labour Party formed a coalition with Sharon, the ILP ‘s current leader, Yitzhak Herzog, serving as Minister of Housing and Construction.

You profess to be surprised that Richard described Zionism as an ‘enemy of peace’.  You even advise him to take note of Shami Chakrabarti’s advice to use the term ‘“Zionist” advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically.’  I am happy to follow her advice.  I can assure you I would never use Zionism ‘euphemistically’ given it is one of the most pernicious racial movements in colonial history.

The Zionist movement was formally established in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, at the first World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.  As you probably do not know, it was originally scheduled to be held in Munich, Germany but the local Jewish community objected because Zionism was seen as a form of Jewish anti-Semitism.  Zionism reflected the anti-Semitic belief that Jews did not belong in the countries of their birth.

Zionism’s aim was the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine in alliance with a colonial power.  In 1917 it formed just such an alliance with British imperialism, in what became known as the Balfour Declaration.  Like many colonial movements it campaigned on the slogan of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land.’  The native Palestinians were invisible in the eyes of the Zionists.

You claim that Zionism is ‘the broad ideological movement for Jewish national self-determination in Israel.’  Perhaps you would enlighten me as to when Zionism was first described as a ‘national liberation movement’?  It appears you are attempting to bask in the reflected glory of liberation movements such as the African National Congress.  Incidentally, the notion that Jews form a separate nation is, in itself, deeply anti-Semitic and basis of the world Jewish conspiracy theory.

Zionism was a movement of settler colonialism.  That was why Israel was the best friend of Apartheid South Africa, breaking the arms embargo and supplying it with weaponry including nuclear weapons.  Perhaps you were not told about the visit of John Vorster, South African Prime Minister to Israel in April 1976?  Vorster, who was interned during the war for his support of the Nazis and membership of the Broederband, nonetheless paid homage to the Holocaust dead at Yad Vashem!

Israel is the state that helped train the death squads of Central America, supplied the Argentinian Junta with weaponry (despite murdering up to 3,000 Argentinian Jews) and armed and trained the Guatemalan army which in the 1980’s murdered up to 200,000 Indians.  Your suggestion that Zionism shares anything in common with the ANC is obscene.

The aforementioned Theodor Herzl wrote to Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia, asking for his support for Zionism.  Herzl wrote ‘How, then, do I happen to turn to you since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you?  How indeed?  Because it is something colonial.’  This can be found in Herzl’s Diaries, Vol. 4, page 1194.  The founders of Zionism always saw it as a colonising movement.

You are right.  Zionism was indeed a consequence of European anti-Semitism, in the 19th (not 20th) century.  It was unique amongst Jewish movements since it accepted the basic premise of the anti-Semites that Jews were aliens in the lands in which they lived and were born.

You said that it is a great pity that ‘the Labour Party’s relationship with the British Jewish community has been so damaged by the events of the past year.’  I agree.  The deliberate making of false claims of ‘anti-Semitism’ by MPs such as Ruth Smeeth and papers such as the Daily Mail, which in the 30’s opposed the entry of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, has indeed been damaging.  I can only hope that you use your influence to bring these false accusations of anti-Semitism to an end.

You profess to support a two-state solution.  Why then do you support the military dictatorship in the West Bank and the unremitting attacks on Gaza?  Your call for a 2 State solution serves only as a cover for Apartheid.  It enables Jewish settlement to take place whilst providing a pretext for the denial of any political or civil rights to the indigenous Palestinians.

Perhaps you could name even one Israeli government Minister who believes in a 2 state solution?  Deputy Foreign Minister Tsipi Hotoveli is typical when she said that ‘This land is ours. All of it is ours. We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognize Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere.”

Even the ILP does not support a 2 state solution.  It supports segregation and a Bantustan.   Herzog explained that ‘I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel.’  If you don’t understand why this is racist imagine someone saying they didn’t want a Jewish Prime Minister in Britain. [Who needs the Right when we have Isaac Herzog?]

In an ILP election video Herzog was described as ‘someone who “understands the Arab mentality” and “has seen Arabs in all kinds of situations,” including “in the crosshairs.”  Why did we forget about Herzog’s anti-Arab campaign? +972 Magazine 23.3.15.  Again imagine someone describing the ‘Jewish mentality’.  Racist?  Historically the Israeli Labour Party was more racist than Likud.  It was the party of the Nakba, the expulsion of ¾ million Palestinian refugees.

You state that you support a negotiated settlement in Israel/Palestine.  Israel has spent billions of dollars on building its settlements and stealing its land and water.  It’s not going to negotiate them away.  As Martin Luther King famously wrote in Letter From a Birmingham JailLamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.

You say you support peace.  Perhaps you could tell me if you have ever opposed Israeli repression in the Occupied Territories?  You supported the 2014 war in Gaza which killed 550 children.  You have kept silent about the continued destruction of Palestinian homes and European Union funded structures, over 600 of which have been destroyed this year alone, in the West Bank.  Have you nothing to say about Jewish roads and separate entrances for Jews and Palestinians at checkpoints?  What I do know is that Louise Ellman, an LFI officer, supported the imprisonment and torture of Palestinian children as young as 12 in a recent debate in the House of Commons.

Your complaints about Hamas’s Charter, which is a dead letter, would be more impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that Israel played a crucial part in the creation of Hamas as a counterweight to secular Palestinian nationalism.  [see Israel’s Jerusalem Online News Agency for Wikileaks revelations or the Wall Street Journal How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas]

I would be more impressed by your concern about anti-Semitism if you displayed an equal concern about the most recent survey by Pew Research Centre which found that a plurality of Israeli Jews (48%) support the physical expulsion of Israeli Palestinians and 79% believe that Jews should be given preferential treatment. [Israel’s Religiously Divided Society]

You will be pleased to hear that I agree with you that ‘fostering links with, and supporting, progressive forces in Israel is an important task for an internationalist party’.  However the ILP is not such an organisation.  There are such organisations, like the soldiers group Breaking the Silence, which has revealed the truth about Israeli military atrocities but the ILP is hostile to it.

I hope you will now understand why increasing numbers of Jews oppose Zionism and why we join Archbishop Desmond Tutu in supporting a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.  Boycotting Apartheid is never anti-Semitic nor racist.

Yours sincerely,
Tony Greenstein

Let’s not talk about racism

A major report was issued about endemic racism in a major British institution; few people are aware of that although the report was widely reported.

Shami Chakrabarti was commissioned by the Labour Party to investigate “antisemitism and other forms of racism” in the party. Chakrabarti and her vice-chairs took their remit seriously; Zionist organisations and the British media did not.

The report raises critical issues about the treatment of members of BAME communities inside and by the party. These were obliterated by a media stampede to make the report a sideshow in the get Jeremy funfair and by a disbelief from the Zionist hierarchy that Jewish concerns were not placed centre stage.

The presentation of the findings was hidden under two confections.

Firstly, a malicious allegation that Corbyn had equated Israel and ISIS. It was clear to anyone hearing him talk or reading his words later that he had done no such thing.  He equated those who make false and racist allegations about Jews to those who make false and racist allegations about Muslims. He said: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.” It is vexatious to wilfully misinterpret that to Israel equals ISIS and only makes sense as part of a campaign to demonise and undermine Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.

Secondly an accusation that Ruth Smeeth had been subject to anti-Semitic harassment. It may only be a coincidence that she made her allegation against one of the few Black men in the room. Journalists asked a series of questions about anything but the content of the report; mainly irrelevantly about Corbyn’s future or about the disciplining of Livingstone which was ultra vires for fear of contaminating the complaints procedure underway.

One question was from a Daily Telegraph journalist about a Momentum leaflet on deselection of Labour MPs. The leaflet had been handed out by Marc Wadsworth, a Black activist and journalist.  He had refused to hand a leaflet to Ruth Smeeth who had been pointed out to him as one of the first MPs to call for Corbyn’s resignation – he had never come across her of heard of her before. Wadsworth had seen the Telegraph journalist, Kate McCann, hand her copy of the leaflet to Smeeth and the two sat together. Wadsworth accused Smeeth of collaboration with the media. Smeeth, whose Jewish heritage was totally unknown to Wadsworth chose to interpret the accusation as an antisemitic slur and departed the room. Later she claimed, despite video evidence to the contrary, to have fled the room in tears. This farrago became a major news story and was turned into an attack on Corbyn for failing to intervene in an event that had never happened. Ever since, it seems no media comment on the report fails to undermine it by referring to at least one these two imaginary events. Once an association has been promulgated it attracts a life of its own – fiction becomes historical fact.

The Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Community Security Trust, the Jewish Chronicle all gave major prominence to these two inventions even while giving guarded welcome to the report. The accusations were picked up by Jewish and Zionist bloggers and tweeters and broadcast globally; the content of the report and its welcome were not.

We do not assert that the Jewish and Zionist media and organisations deliberately set out to occlude the report’s findings on the racist treatment of BAME communities and its recommendations on curtailing and hopefully ending such behaviour. Such assertion is unnecessary to see an unconscious, but pervasive, disregard for the suffering of any other community than the Jewish one. An anti-racist response would be to celebrate that an investigation prompted by allegations of antisemitism, and a report wholeheartedly condemnatory of the occasional antisemitic behaviour it uncovered, was also led to reveal other and more widespread racist behaviour. Acknowledging the treatment experienced by other communities does not diminish the unacceptability of the racist treatment of Jews. There is however an unpleasant current in the Jewish community that sees the treatment of Jews as special and distinct from that suffered by others.

Chakrabarti was at pains to emphasise the distinctive nature of the Holocaust that should prevent it being used as an analogy for other historical or current events even other genocides. Each act of gross inhumanity has its own nature and needs its own consideration. It is necessary to understand the particular nature of each abuse, whether the Shoah, the Rwandan genocide, the Armenian genocide or the Atlantic slave trade – it diminishes each of them by lumping them together.

We expect people of all communities to oppose antisemitism; we equally expect members of all communities, and a fortiori their organised leadership, to oppose all forms of racism and discrimination and to use their experience to empathise with others not to compete in an abasing misery stakes.

Since the referendum street racist abuse, and violence, have escalated putting all minority communities at risk. Public racism has been become normalised in a way that we had hoped we had excised over the last four decades. So far, it seems, the abuse and assaults on Jews have not been the major problem. It is rampant Islamophobia and intolerance of anyone not speaking English that have been most prevalent.

We look to the Labour Party to defend members of all communities, it can only do that if it takes up Chakrabarti’s challenge to look at itself and embark on the long and painful process to reform itself. The report correctly commends the Party for promoting legislation over the last half-century to outlaw racism and other forms of discrimination, the Conservatives have no such record. As we all know the public actions are easier than the personal ones that challenge our own feelings and beliefs. It is much harder when petty and noisy squabbling drowns out the quiet voices of pain for short-term and factional gain.

Mike Cushman

Zionist bigwig lets the cat out of the bag – it’s all about criticism of Israel

Dave Rich, Deputy Director of Communications for the Community Security Trust, has written in Haaretz about Jeremy Corbyn, Shami Chakrabarti and alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party.

After regretting that Chakrabarti was asked to look at all forms of racism rather than privileging concern about one from of racism, antisemitism, Rich pretends that so-called Labour Party antisemitism has only surfaced following Corbyn’s election to the leadership ignoring that many if not most of the allegations relate to events before his election.

So far it’s only repeating the standard script but Rich then makes an extraordinary admission confirming what FSOI has been saying for months. Rich wrote, “Neither report [Chakrabarti and Royall] truly tackled the underlying question of whether the anti-Semitism in the party is a product of the obsessive mania over Israel that has gripped Corbyn’s part of the left for years.”

Rich admits the Zionist campaign is not driven by attacks on Jews but is about trenchant criticism of Israel. As we have said and Rich now admits the Zionist lobby has abandoned attempting to rebut well-founded criticism of Israeli discrimination, occupation and its apartheid regime about which it has consistently failed to convince most people; instead the lobby is attempting to defame its critics as antisemites.

FSOI and its many allies in the campaign  to defend Palestinian rights will not be intimidated by these attacks and will continue to hold Israel to account for its actions against Human Rights and International law.

Mike Cushman

 

Read Miriam David’s Review of Dave Rich’s new book: A scurrilous and ill-informed attack on the left

Zionism’s Record During the Holocaust

Please read the article, ‘Paul Bogdanor and the Zionist three card trick,’ in full on Tony Greenstein’s blog.

When Bogdanor’s article An Antisemitic Hoax: Lenni Brenner on Zionist ‘Collaboration’ With the Nazis appeared I wrote a response Why Ken Livingstone Got It Right Over Nazi Support for Zionism which showed why Bogdanor’s article was based on a series of lies and distortions.  Bogdanor was stung into writing a rejoinder, Tony Greenstein’s House of Cards, which has been published on the pro-war and Islamaphobic Harry’s Place, the Der Sturmer of the Internet, which specialises in demonising people on the Left like Livingstone and Galloway.

Judische Rundschau the Zionist paper carried the slogan 'Wear the Yellow Start with Pride'
Judische Rundschau the Zionist paper carried the slogan ‘Wear the Yellow Start with Pride’

Bogdanor’s writing is reminiscent of the vitriol employed against Hannah Arendt, herself a Jewish refugee from Nazism and Ben Hecht.  Hecht was a Revisionist Zionist who was so appalled by Zionist collaboration with the Nazis in Hungary and the indifference of American Zionists to the Rescue of Jews, that he wrote a devastating book ‘Perfidyabout Israel’s Kasztner’s trial.

Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem – the Banality of Evil was based on a series of 5 articles in the New Yorker.  The book touched on subjects such as the relationship between the Zionist movement and the Nazis in Hungary, the record of Kasztner, the leader of Hungarian Zionism and the Jewish leadership under Nazi occupation, which the Eichmann trial had studiously avoided. 

… the campaign, conducted with all the well-known means of image-making and opinion-manipulation, got much more attention than the controversy…. (it was) as though the pieces written against the book (and more frequently against its author) came “out of a mimeographing machine” (Mary McCarthy)… the clamor centered on the “image” of a book which was never written, and touched upon subjects that often had not only not been mentioned by me but had never occurred to me before.”

Shooting the messenger has always been the Zionist modus operandi. Apparently Arendt had claimed that ‘the Jews had murdered themselves.’ Why had she told ‘such a monstrously implausible lie?  Out of “self-hatred” of course.’

Marek Edelman, the commander of the Jewish Fighting Organisation in Warsaw, ZOB, was not invited to testify at the Eichmann trial because he was not a Zionist.  He had been a member of the anti-Zionist Bund, which had led the resistance.  Likewise Rudolf Vrba, the Jewish escapee from Auschwitz, whose Auschwitz Protocols had helped save 200,000 Hungarian Jews, was also not invited to testify because he too was not a Zionist.  As Ruth Linn, a Professor at Haifa University, explained ‘More than 35 years later… a prominent Israeli Holocaust historian explained to me that    “Vrba was probably not invited since the State of Israel had no money to sponsor the flight.’ even though witnesses from further afield had their fares paid. Even Andrew Biss, the friend of Rudolf Kasztner, the former head of Va’ada, the Zionist Rescue & Relief Committee in Budapest, was not invited to testify, because he intended to defend Kasztner.  Those stage managing the Eichmann trial were determined to keep the Kasztner saga out of the courtroom. Continue reading “Zionism’s Record During the Holocaust”

After Chakrabarti: We Need to Talk About Zionism

Please read this article in full on Media Diversified.

by Hilary Aked
JULY 1, 2016

The left should “stop talking about Zionism”, Labour’s Jon Lansman argued recently in the wake of a row that engulfed the party over anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and led to the Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry. The inquiry, which was released yesterday, suggests a better way forward.

Chakrabarti, who disclosed that she had joined the Labour party on the same day she was asked to head up the investigation, found no evidence of institutional anti-Semitism within Labour. As regards Zionism, she advised “critics of the Israeli State and/or Government” to use the term ‘Zionist’ “carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse”. This is very good advice. Conversations about Zionism – carried out both by supporters and critics – are often crass, sometimes abusive, and occasionally accompanied by anti-Semitic or Islamophobic comments, particularly some of those carried out on Twitter IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

However, it’s important we don’t allow discussions around Zionism, an ideology and political movement which remains at the heart of the Israel/Palestine conflict, to be shut down. Indeed, this is precisely the point Chakrabarti made. Being respectful – and, as she put it, “leaving Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust out of it” – should help to “facilitate” rather than inhibit debate about what she called “one of the most intractable and far-reaching geopolitical problems of the post-war world”. In fact, she encouraged Labour members “to criticise injustice and abuse wherever they find it, including in the Middle East.”

Continue reading here.

Advisory position paper for TU & Labour members & delegates on antisemitism, training & disciplinary procedures

This is a downloadable leaflet.

Who We Are – Free Speech On Israel 

Free Speech on Israel is a network of labour, green and trade union activists in the UK, mainly Jewish, who came together in April 2016 to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for Justice for Palestinians as antisemitic. Many of us are members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jews for Jeremy, Jewish Socialists’ Group, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Young Jewish Left and Jewdas.

  • We do not believe there is a wave of antisemitism in the Labour Party
  • The attacks form part of two highly orchestrated campaigns: one is to undermine the Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. The other is to suppress the pro-Palestinian voices of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others of many faiths and none, campaigning for freedom, justice and equality, of which Jeremy Corbyn has been a leading spokesperson.
  • We reiterate our strong commitment to combating all forms of racism and to defending those who are subjected to it. This means opposing Islamophobia, prejudice against migrants and racism against ethnic and religious minorities, including antisemitism.
  • We reject the suggestion that questioning the current Zionist ideology of the Israeli state and its supporters, both Jews and non-Jews is antisemitic. Not all Jews are Zionists. Not all Zionists are Jews. Zionism is a political ideology, it is not an article of religious faith nor is it intrinsically a part of Jewishness.
  • In the very best traditions of the British Labour movement we campaign to end the injustices inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people.

The Jewish Labour Movement

  • The JLM is affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), a major funder of the illegal settlements.
  • The JLM is an affiliate of the World Labour Zionist Movement (WLZM), supporting its Jerusalem Programme – which claims its homeland to be Eretz Yisrael (Great Israel), i.e. all the land from the sea to the Jordan river, thus appropriating the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
  • The WLZM claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, which means expelling the Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
  • The purpose of the JLM is to justify the actions of the Israeli state, whomsoever is in power. 
  • The JLM’s parent party is the Israeli Labour Party, which has never condemned the occupation. Labour’s Premier, Herzog, recently stated, “I wish to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible…we’ll erect a big wall between us”. There are 1.4 million Palestinians who live in Israel itself.

Leading Israeli Cabinet members have made the following statements:

  • Speaking of Israeli Arab members of Parliament, Defence Minister Lieberman said, “The fate of the collaborators in the Knesset will be identical to […] those who collaborated with the Nazis […] executed after the Nuremberg trials at the end of the War. I hope that will be the fate of collaborators in this house.” And, “When there is a contradiction between democratic and Jewish values, the Jewish and Zionist values are more important.”
  • Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, posted on Facebook during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, “The entire Palestinian people is the enemy […] including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”
  • The JLM makes no criticism of these statements nor disassociates itself from them. In fact Herzog sought to join his Israeli Labour Party to Netanyahu’s coalition government.

For these reasons many Jews in the Labour party do not accept that the JLM can represent us. Continue reading “Advisory position paper for TU & Labour members & delegates on antisemitism, training & disciplinary procedures”