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

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5 thoughts on “Open Letter to Joan Ryan MP – Chair of Labour Friends of Israel”

  1. Worthy read which should be mainstream,would give people a clearer explanation and understanding of situation.

  2. It is a dreadful indictment of the current Labour Party that views as pertinent as these will get you expelled.

  3. March 18th 2019 – Sad to say I have only just found this letter…. nonetheless, I am very pleased to have found it…. and wlil be sharing it… plain speaking and honesty… thank you

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