On Thursday I attended a strange event: a debate on antisemitism and anti-Zionism between Alliance for Workers Liberty, a sub-Trotskyist splinter group, and Progress, the Labour Party Blair legacy group.
But it wasn’t a debate it was a love-in between two factions you would be surprised to find in the same room without blood and severed limbs on the floors and walls when they departed.
What was their common object of affection? Why Israel, of course, but not the Israel we see every day abusing Palestinians and harassing dissident anti-Zionists. It was an Israel of their imagination moving gracefully to a two-state solution, abandoning settlements and occupation on the way.
They were joined in their embrace by representatives of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and reciprocated their affection by continually praising the JLM as the true and only representatives of Jews in the Labour Party.
Everyone, including the JLM speakers condemned the occupation but never mentioned the Nakba. They appear to believe the occupation is an accidental aberration and not implicit in the Zionist programme from the start. Not only was the Nakba absent from their discourse so, largely, were the Palestinians even those living in 48 Israel: they were an unspoken context; only Jewish Israelis, and diaspora Jews, were objects of their concern.
In order to advance their argument they relied heavily upon a construct of ‘left antisemitism’ conceived as a visceral irrational hatred of Israel and variously described as a legacy of Stalinism and a core belief of the ultra-Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party. Obviously, like the Jew of antisemitic myth, left antisemitism is everywhere and capable of infinite disguise and malice. We were continually informed that left antisemitism was not racism but political opposition to Israel. If indeed it is a political stance one is entitled to oppose it so why is it, then, a marker for proscription and expulsion? Left antisemitism of course was not born in Stalinist Russia, they had enough old fashioned antisemitism there, they didn’t need a new variety: it was born in Israel. It was created to put a derogatory and delegitimising label on growing worldwide opposition to Israel’s crimes among progressive movements.
None of this is to deny that some people the left can be antisemitic, regrettably some fall short of the higher standards we expect of those on the left than those on the right; anyone who does fall short must be confronted, challenged and if necessary disciplined. This does not produce a political category of ‘left antisemites’ or a justification for witch hunting.
Both the speakers applauded the JLM and endorsed their claim to be the only authentic voice of Jews in the Labour Party and accordingly to be the only people who could, not educate, but train the Party on antisemitism. The JLM speaker informed us that the JLM was, in fact, highly critical of actually existing Israel and its current right-wing leadership and it was our fault for not knowing that. I have accordingly checked their website where there is no trace such demurral. What can be found is a proud statement that “We support Havoda (The Labor Party) in Israel.” The same Labor Party that, led by Ben-Gurion, orchestrated the Nakba. The party historically that has been the party of the Israel Defence (sic) Force and its assaults on Palestinians. The Party that, in its current guise of the Zionist Union, is angling to join the same right-wing coalition that the JLM claimed to abhor. No distance from Apartheid apparent there.
Neither of the speakers could conceive there were many Jews in the Labour Party who could not support the JLM’s Zionist allegiance and who were consequently not Jewish enough to inform the Party about antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
The only real debate between the speakers was whether these left antisemites should be expelled from the Party for life or merely for some unspecified period, maybe until there is a two state solution, as there is always a hope of redemption.
Both the AWL and Progress were unwilling or unable to see antisemitism in the wider context of racism but only in the context of Israel. Consequently they could not explore whether the extent of antisemitism in Labour was similar to, greater than, or less than Islamophobia. They did not respond when asked whether they agreed that the Party had much greater problems with structural Islamophobia that with antisemitism.
All through the meeting all the allegations of antisemitism that have been made against both Jewish and non-Jewish members of the party were tacitly agreed to be proven. They implied that any inquiry that did not uphold even the most spurious of charges would, by such a finding, prove itself to be part of the left antisemitic conspiracy. An object of their ire was inquiry vice-chair David Feldman. That Professor Feldman had on serious academic grounds questioned the applicability of MacPherson’s rubric for establishing the racist nature of an assault or insult, to them, invalidated him as an inquiry member. It concerned them not at all that MacPherson had written in the particular context of the Met’s relations with London’s Black communities and validity of his rule had been the object of judicial and academic debate from the day it was published. They could not recognise his expertise as Director of the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism and a lifetime’s work on research into antisemitism, racism and immigration.
The meeting underlined the degree of capture of important parts of the Labour Party by the Israel lobby. The allegiance of Progress and the Blairites to defence of Israel is to be expected. The AWL’s commitment to supporting a strategy designed to destabilise and end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Party, despite their claim that Corbyn is the only hope of regaining the Party for socialism, will extend their marginality into the far future.