Anti-Zionism and antisemitism in British politics, by Avi Shlaim

Israeli propagandists deliberately, yes deliberately, conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in order to discredit, bully, and muzzle critics of Israel 

In this piece first published online by Al-Jazeera, Avi Shlaim, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University, provides context for the TV channel’s four-part series on “The Lobby”.

Anti-Zionism is deliberately conflated with anti-Semitism to suppress legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies

There is no denying that from time to time anti-Semitism raises its ugly head in the UK, as it does in many other countries.

What is striking, however, about contemporary Britain is the use of anti-Semitism as a political tool to silence legitimate criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government and the collusion of members of the political establishment in this process.

A word on definitions is in order.

The Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin defined an anti-Semite as someone who hates Jews more than is strictly necessary.

This definition has its humorous side but it does not take us very far. A simpler definition of an anti-Semite is someone who hates Jews as Jews.

An anti-Zionist, on the other hand, is someone who opposes Israel as an exclusively Jewish state or challenges the Zionist colonial project on the West Bank.

Israeli propagandists deliberately, yes deliberately, conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in order to discredit, bully, and muzzle critics of Israel; in order to suppress free speech; and in order to divert attention from the real issues: Israeli colonialism, Israel’s apartheid, its systematic violation of the human rights of Palestinians, and its denial of their right to independence and statehood. The propagandists persistently present an anti-racist movement (anti-Zionism) as a racist one (anti-Semitism).

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End Israeli state interference in British political parties

There can now be no doubt: Pro-Israel advocates in the UK have been working with representatives of the Israeli state to undermine their political opponents.

Free Speech on Israel statement on the hidden relationship between the Israeli government and British politicians

Shai Masot (2nd left) & Jeremy Newmark with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev speaking at an event at Labour party conference in 2016 (Al Jazeera)

News of covert meetings between an Israeli diplomat and Tory and Labour politicians is evidence of a concerted campaign to undermine pro-Palestinian currents in both parties. These latest revelations vindicate the case that Free Speech on Israel has been making for many months. There can now be no doubt: Pro-Israel advocates in the UK have been working with representatives of the Israeli state to undermine their political opponents. The Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, has been a particular target.

Evidence exposed by Al-Jazeera shows that the Israeli government has ‘infiltrated’ both the Conservative and Labour parties via its embassy in the UK, using secret cash and covert support.

Film footage shows intelligence expert Shai Masot joking with senior Labour MP Joan Ryan about having obtained ‘more than £1 million’ to pay for sympathetic Labour MPs to visit Israel. He was also filmed discussing with Maria Strizzolo, senior aide to Conservative Education Minister Robert Halfon, how to “take down” Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan, a supporter of a Palestinian state.

Halfon and Ryan are leading members of their parties’ respective ‘Friends of Israel’ lobby groups.

Strizzolo has since resigned, Masot is reportedly to be relieved of his Embassy job, Israeli ambassador Mark Regev has apologised and the UK Foreign Office has stated: “The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

This is a blatant attempt to close down the affair. But a scandal of this magnitude needs to be exposed to full public scrutiny. The whole story of the dubious relationship between the Israeli government and British politicians must come out into the open. And Ambassador Regev, who has presided over this infiltration policy, needs to be told that he is no longer welcome.

Al Jazeera’s revelations throw new light on Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s extraordinary public contradiction last week of US Secretary of State John Kerry speech criticising expansion of Israel’s settlements; extraordinary because Kerry’s position coincides precisely with that of the British government. This reads like UK policy being distorted in the Israeli interest.

We also note that Shai Masot accompanied ambassador Regev and Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, at meetings during the 2016 Labour Party conference. Newmark’s JLM has been instrumental in promoting allegations of rampant antisemitism on the Labour Left, through which supporters of Palestine have been systematically targeted.

We urge grassroots members of the Labour Party, trade unions, Momentum and other progressive, antiracist organisations to insist that their leaders dissociate themselves from pro-Israel lobbyists and defend those victimised without due cause.

Free Speech on Israel supports the call by Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry for a government inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”.

However certain other actions are needed. FSOI calls upon:

  • the UK government to withdraw the accreditation of the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev who has presided over this grave intrusion in the country’s democratic processes
  • MPs Robert Halfon, Joan Ryan and any others whose names emerge from this Al-Jazeera investigation to give a full public explanation of their relations with Israeli state representatives
  • Friends of Israel organisations in British political parties, and the Jewish Labour Movement, to account for their relationship with the Israeli Embassy and other state institutions, including all financial transactions
  • the Labour Party leadership to sever links with groups where evidence emerges that they have placed support for the interests of the state of Israel above democracy in the party

Note (updated 10.2.17): Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s series “The Lobby” can be viewed in four episodes at 10.30 pm on Wednesday January 11, Thursday January 12, Friday January 13 and Saturday January 14. The series will also be available online . These broadcast times are several days earlier than originally scheduled.