Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism

Jonathan Cook details how Macron’s conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is not an aberration but part of a systematic campaign. He shows how the successive enlargements of what is alleged to constitute antisemitism are a response to the growing success of the movement to enforce BDS and support Palestinian Rights

This article was first published in Mondoweiss andis republished by permission of the author

How far the international community’s approach towards Israel has reversed trajectory over the past half century can be gauged simply by studying the fate of one word: Zionism.

In 1975 much of the world broke ranks with the United States and Europe at the United Nations general assembly to declare that Zionism, Israel’s founding ideology, “is a form of racism and racial discrimination”.

Macron with Netanyahu in December 2017
Macron telling Netanyahu that ‘Israel is a friendly country’

Western publics were generally shocked. Zionism, they had been told, was a necessary liberation movement for the Jewish people after centuries of oppression and pogroms. Its creation, Israel, was simply the righting of terrible wrongs that had culminated in the horrors of the Holocaust.

But Zionism looked very different to those countries around the globe that had been exposed to centuries of European colonialism and the more recent advent of US imperialism.

The long history of crimes against Jews that led to Israel’s establishment took place mostly in Europe. And yet it was Europe and the US that had sponsored and aided the arrival of Jews in another people’s homeland, far from their own shores.

To the global south, the great purges of native Palestinians carried out by European Jews in 1948 and 1967 looked all too reminiscent of white Europeans cleansing indigenous peoples in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

A colonial anachronism

By 1975, the time of the UN vote, it was clear that Israel had no intention either of handing back to the Palestinians the occupied territories it had seized eight years earlier. Rather, Israel was entrenching the occupation by illegally transferring its own civilian population into the Palestinian territories.

Across much of the globe, these Jewish settlers looked like an anachronism, a reminder of the white “pioneers” heading westwards across the supposedly empty lands of the US; the white farmers who seized vast tracts of South Africa and Rhodesia as their personal homesteads; and the white newcomers who herded the remnants of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples into reservations or turned them into a sideshow at its tourist sites.

The UN’s “Zionism is racism” resolution lasted 16 years – until the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the US as the world’s sole superpower. After a lot of diplomatic arm-twisting by Washington, including promises that Israel would engage in a peace process with the Palestinians, Resolution 3379 was finally scrapped in 1991.

Decades later, the pendulum has swung decisively the other way.

US and European elites have moved on from their once-defensive posture that Zionism is not racism. Now, they are on the attack. Their presumption is that anti-Zionism – the position of much the international community 44 years ago – is synonymous with racism.

Or more specifically, it is increasingly being accepted that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two sides of the same coin.

Apartheid-style system

That trend was consolidated last week when Emmanuel Macron, the centrist French president, went further than simply reiterating his repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. This time he threatened to outlaw anti-Zionism.

Macron’s confusion of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is patently nonsensical.

Antisemitism refers to the hatred of Jews. It is bigotry, plain and simple.

Anti-Zionism, on the other hand, is opposition to the political ideology of Zionism, a movement that has insisted in all its political guises on prioritising the rights of Jews to a homeland over those, the Palestinians, who were already living there.

Anti-Zionism is not racism against Jews; it is opposition to racism by Zionist Jews.

Of course, an anti-Zionist may also be antisemitic, but it is more likely that an anti-Zionist holds his or her position for entirely rational and ethical reasons.

That was made only clearer last summer when the Israeli parliament passed a basic law defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people (PDF). The law asserts that all Jews, even those with no connection to Israel, enjoy a right to self-determination there that all Palestinians are deprived of, including the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and formally citizens.

In other words, the law creates two statuses in Israel – and implicitly in the occupied territories too – based on an imposed ethno-religious classification system that entitles all Jews to superior rights over all Palestinians.

In constitutional terms, Israel is explicitly operating an apartheid-style legal and political system, one even more encompassing than South Africa’s. After all, the apartheid rulers of South Africa never claimed that theirs was the homeland of all white people.

Criminalizing BDS

Macron’s threat to outlaw anti-Zionism is the logical extension of existing moves across Europe and the US to penalise those who support BDS, the growing international solidarity movement with Palestinians that calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Many members of the BDS movement, though not all, are anti-Zionists. A proportion are anti-Zionist Jews.

The movement not only leapfrogs western policy elites’ decades of complicity in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians but highlights the extent of that complicity. That is one reason it is so reviled by those elites.

France has gone furthest so far in this direction, criminalizing BDS as a form of economic discrimination. It thereby conflates a state, Israel, with an ethnic group, Jews – precisely as antisemites do.

Such legislation makes as much sense as France outlawing a boycott of apartheid South Africa back in the 1980s on the grounds that it discriminated against whites.

Israel lobbyists in action

France, however, is simply at the head of the curve. In the US some 26 states have enacted laws to punish or sanction individuals and organisations that support a boycott. Similar legislation is pending in a further 13 states.

None seem concerned that they are violating Americans’ much-cherished First Amendment rights, and making an exception to the right to free speech in one case only – that of Israel.

This month the US Senate joined the fray by passing a bill to encourage states to inflict economic punishments on those who support a boycott of Israel.

These victories against the non-violent BDS movement are the result of vigorous and malevolent efforts behind the scenes by Israel lobbyists to confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

As Israel’s standing among western publics has plummeted with the advent of social media, endless videos of violence by the Israeli army and settlers caught on phone cameras, and Israel’s starvation of Gaza, Israel’s lobbyists have moved to make it ever harder to speak out.

Redefinition of antisemitism

Their coup was the recent widespread acceptance in the west of a redefinition of antisemitism that intentionally confuses it with anti-Zionism.

Israel’s fingerprints are all over the work of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It is therefore hardly surprising that the lengthy and vague definition of antisemitism devised by the IHRA has been supplemented by 11 examples, seven of which refer to Israel.

One example, stating that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, suggests that the 72 UN member states that voted for 1975’s “Zionism is racism” resolution, as well as the 32 that abstained, were themselves espousing, or turning a blind eye to, antisemitism.

Western governments, local authorities, political parties and public bodies are now racing to adopt the IHRA definition.

The result has been a growing fear among western publics about what can be said any longer about Israel without eliciting accusations of antisemitism.

That is the goal. If people become afraid that others will think them antisemitic for criticising Israel, then they will keep quiet, giving Israel greater leeway to commit crimes against Palestinians.

‘Self-hating Jew’ trope

Were Macron and the IHRA right – that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are all but indistinguishable – then we would have to accept some very uncomfortable conclusions.

One would be that Palestinians should be uniformly damned as antisemites for demanding their own right to self-determination. Or put another way, it would be impossible for Palestinians to demand the same rights as Jews in their homeland without that being declared as racist. Welcome to Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Another conclusion would be that a significant proportion of Jews around the world, those who oppose Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state, are also antisemites, infected with an irrational hatred of their fellow Jews. This is the “self-hating Jew” trope Israel has long relied on to discredit criticism from Jews.

On this view, those Jews who want Palestinians to enjoy the same rights as Jews claim for themselves in the Middle East are racist – and not only that, but racist against themselves.

And if Macron’s efforts to criminalise anti-Zionism prove fruitful, it would mean that Palestinians and Jews could be punished – maybe even jailed – for demanding equality between Palestinians and Jews in Israel.

Preposterous as this reasoning sounds when laid out so bluntly, similar approaches to dealing with antisemitism are being readily accepted by actors across Europe and the US.

The extent of this insanity was evident in the decision of Germany’s Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, or Bank for Social Economy, to shut the account of a Jewish anti-Zionist group, Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, over its support for a boycott of Israel. It was the first time a German bank had closed down a Jewish organization’s account since the Nazis were in power.

The bank took the action after complaints that Jewish Voice was antisemitic by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a group that masks its fervent support for Israel behind campaigning for Jewish rights.

Eliding the left and far-right

Macron’s antipathy to anti-Zionism – shared by many others seeking to confuse it with antisemitism – has an explicit cause as well as a more veiled one. Both are related to the political crisis he faces. After two years in power, he is the most unpopular president in the republic’s history.

According to Macron, the rise of anti-Zionism, or more broadly growing opposition to Israel, is swelling the ranks of those who want to harm Jews in France, whether through attacks, the scrawling of swastikas on Jewish graves or the polluting of public discourse, especially on social media.

Two groups that he and French Jewish lobby groups have identified as at the core of the problem are French Muslims, often recent immigrants who are seen as importing with them supposed racist Middle Eastern attitudes to Jews, and secular leftists who have taken the lead in supporting BDS.

Although a small number of French Muslims have adopted extremist positions, most feel hostility towards Israel because of its role in displacing and oppressing Palestinians. That sentiment dominates among BDS activists too.

But the implication of Macron and the lobby is that these two anti-Zionist groups are actually closely aligned with the antisemitic far-right and neo-Nazi groups, whatever their obvious respective differences in ideology and attitude towards violence.

The blurring by Macron of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is meant to sow doubt about what should be obvious distinctions between these three very different ideological constituencies.

Macron’s sleight of hand

Macron’s sleight of hand has a related and more specifically self-serving agenda, however, as has become clear in the wider misuse – or weaponisation – of antisemitism slurs in Europe and the US.

Macron is faced with a popular revolt known as the Yellow Vests, or Gilets Jaunes, that has taken over high streets for many months. The protests are rocking his government.

Like other recent grassroots insurrections, such as the Occupy movement, the Yellow Vests is leaderless and its demands difficult to decipher. It represents more a mood, a spreading dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch political system that, since the financial meltdown a decade ago, has looked chronically broken and unreformable.

The Yellow Vests embody a grievance desperately searching to hitch its wagon to a new political star, a different and fairer vision of how our societies could be organised.

The movement’s very inarticulateness has been its power and its threat. Those frustrated with austerity policies, those angry at an arrogant, unresponsive political and financial elite, those craving a return to a clearer sense of Frenchness can all seek shelter under its banner.

But equally it has also allowed Macron and the French elite to project on to the Yellow Vests any kind of malevolent motive that best serves their efforts to demonize the movement. A charge spokespeople for the movement deny.

And given the rising tide of nativist, far-right movements across Europe, casting the Yellow Vests as antisemitic has proved difficult to resist for the embattled French president.

Just as Macron has presented leftwing and anti-racism activists supporting BDS as in cahoots with neo-Nazis, he has lumped together the Yellow Vests with far-right white nationalists. Much of the French media have happily recycled this mischief.

Centrists’ love of authority

For those who assume that centrist leaders like Macron are acting not out of naked political self-interest but from a concern to eradicate prejudice and protect a vulnerable community, it is worth pausing to consider recent research on global political attitudes.

Last year the New York Times published a commentary by David Adler showing that, contrary to popular wisdom, centrists were on average significantly less invested in democracy than the far left and far right. They were least supportive of civil rights and “free and fair elections”.

These trends were particularly pronounced in the US, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand, but noticeable in many other western liberal democracies.

Additionally, in most western countries, including France, support for a strongman and for authoritarianism was much stronger among centrists than on the far-left. British and US centrists also outpolled the far-right in their love of authority figures.

Adler concluded: “Support for ‘free and fair’ elections drops at the center for every single country in the sample. The size of the centrist gap is striking. In the case of the United States, fewer than half of people in the political center view elections as essential. … Centrists …seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.”

Lobbyists’ stranglehold

It is therefore perhaps not surprising that centrist leaders like Macron are among the most ready to disengage from fair and open debate, smear opponents and readily blur the ideological distinctions between those to their left and their right.

And similarly, supporters of centrism are most likely to lap up unfounded accusations of antisemitism in the service of maintaining a status quo they perceive as benefiting them.

That process has been starkly on show in Britain and the US of late.

For decades the centrists in Washington have dominated politics on both sides of a supposed political divide. And one issue that has enjoyed especially strong bipartisan support in the US is backing for Israel.

The reason for a narrow Washington consensus on a whole range of issues, including Israel, has been the stranglehold on the US political process of corporate money and paid lobbyists.

Lobbies prefer to operate in the dark, wielding influence out of public view. In the case of Israel, however, the lobby has become ever more visible to outsiders and its defences of Israel ever harder to sustain as abuses of Palestinians are readily displayed on social media.

That, in turn, has spurred the growth of the BDS movement and a new, if still small, wave of insurgency politicians.

Ilhan Omar attacked

Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar showed how the established system seeks to tame wayward freshmen after she tweeted an obvious point that the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC – like other lobbyists – uses its money to enforce political orthodoxy in Washington in its chosen field. Or as she expressed it, “It’s all about the Benjamins” – slang for $100 bills, which feature an image of Benjamin Franklin.

She was quickly submerged in an avalanche of claims that her comment was evidence of antisemitism. They came from across the so-called political spectrum, from the grandees of her own Democratic party to President Trump. Weighed down with the criticism, she apologized.

Omar justified her decision, saying it was up to Jews to decide what is antisemitic. In an age of rampant identity politics, this sounds superficially plausible. But it actually makes no sense at all.

Even if a clear majority of Jews do in fact think criticism of Israel or its lobbyists is antisemitic – a highly questionable assumption –  they don’t enjoy some special or exclusive right to make that determination.

Israel victimises Palestinians, as has been endlessly documented. No one has the right to claim the moral high ground as a victim of racism when they are using that same high ground to obstruct scrutiny of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. To think otherwise would be to prioritise the defense of Jews from a possible racism over the vast evidence of concrete racism by Israel against Palestinians.

But more to the point, Omar’s apology assumes that those Jews with the loudest voices – that is, those with the biggest platforms and the most money – represent all Jews. It makes organised American Jewry, whose vigorous support for Israel has proved unshakeable even as Israeli prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu has driven the country to the far right, the arbiter of what all Jews think.

In fact, it does more. It makes the Israel lobby itself the one to determine whether there is an Israel lobby. It gives the lobby permission to shield itself entirely from view, allowing its influence to become even more entrenched and opaque.

Omar is far from alone. Other prominent critics of Israel, often black, have found themselves singled out for accusations of antisemitism over the criticism of Israel, including recently Marc Lamont Hill and Angela Davis.

Through a drip-drip of accusations that Omar is expressing “antisemitic tropes” when she speaks out, the aim is to make sure she starts to self-censor, becomes as “moderate” as her fellow politicians, and joins the bipartisan consensus on leaving Israel to get on with abusing Palestinians.

If she doesn’t, it is assumed, she will be finished politically, kicked out either by her own party bureaucracy or by voters.

Corbyn on the back foot

That process is much further advanced in Britain with a concerted and long-running campaign to stigmatise Jeremy Corbyn with claims of antisemitism since he became leader of the Labour party more than three years ago.

Corbyn is both a throwback to a socialist tradition in Britain that was killed by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s and a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. In fact, he is a major anomaly: a European politician in sight of power who prioritises the right of Palestinians to justice over Israel’s policy of oppressing Palestinians.

The Israel lobby has a great deal to fear from him in changing the political climate in Europe towards Israel.

In the UK, the ruling Conservative party has moved relentlessly to the right in recent decades, leaving the Labour party in parliament to occupy the centrist ground carved out for it during Tony Blair’s leadership in the 1990s.

Although enjoying huge support among Labour members that propelled him into the leadership, Corbyn is at war with most of his MPs. The centrists there have happily weaponised antisemitism to damage Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands of members behind him, just as Macron has against his own political opponents.

Corbyn’s own MPs have publicly accused him of indulging an “institutional antisemitism” in Labour, or even of being antisemitic himself.

They have done so even though all evidence suggests that there is very little antisemitism among Labour members – and less than in the ruling Conservative party.] Labour members, however, have felt liberated by Corbyn to be much more outspoken in criticizing Israel.

Appeasement fails

This month a group of eight Labour MPs split from the party to set up a new faction, the Independent Group, citing Labour’s supposed “antisemitism problem” as one of the main reasons. Highlighting their centrist agenda, three “moderate” Conservative MPs joined them, opposed to prime minister Theresa May’s hardline on exiting the European Union, known as Brexit. More MPs from both sides may follow.

In response, Corbyn’s deputy, Tom Watson, another centrist, backed the defectors and scorned his own party members, reiterating claims of an antisemitism crisis in the party and saying it was time to root it out.

Corbyn has repeatedly tried to appease the centrists, as well as pro-Israel lobby groups in the UK – both those inside his party like Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement, and those outside like the Board of Deputies, BICOM and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism.

Over apparent opposition from members, the Labour party has even accepted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, including the examples meant to shield Israel from criticism – all to no effect.

In fact, the more Corbyn has conceded to critics, the more his critics have trumpeted a supposed antisemitism problem in Labour.

Corbyn is slowly learning, as others are in the US and Europe, that this is not a good-faith disagreement and that there is no middle ground.

The smear industry doesn’t want safeguards on antisemitism, they want a return to a political culture in which their power was left unchallenged and unscrutinised.

For the Israel lobby, that means the revival of a political climate that existed before the discrediting of the Oslo process, in which criticism of Israel was publicly shunned and the Palestinians were treated chiefly as terrorists.

For the centrists, it requires the entrenchment of a managerial, neoliberal politics in which major corporations and the financial industries have the freedom to dictate economic and social policies and their failures are unquestioningly bailed out by the public through austerity programmes.

It is an unholy pact, and one in which Jews are being used to oil the wheels of a failed, impotent and increasingly authoritarian politics of the center.

Zionists’ weapon of mass destruction against UK’s left

21 November 2016

Profile image Jeremy Corbyn

Baseless accusations of antisemitism are damaging to more than the British left and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Peter Nicholls/Reuters

From Blairite to far-right, the British political elite is relishing having discovered the ultimate weapon of mass destruction to try and block the growth of a movement of the left around Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

All it needs to do is fire off round after round of unsubstantiated assertions of antisemitism, deploying circular and often contradictory arguments.

The left, so the mantra goes, has always been riddled with antisemitism. To deny this is, by definition, antisemitic.

Corbyn is in denial, according to his critics. The ardent pro-Israel advocate Howard Jacobson has accused him of belonging to the “more un-self-questioning wing of British politics.” Those words are probably more applicable to Tony Blair, the former prime minister and Corbyn’s arch enemy.

Jacobson, a novelist and academic, graciously allows in a recent opinion piece that Israel may be subjected to “fair and honest” criticism but asserts, in the face of reams of historical evidence to the contrary, that the Zionism which created and upholds the state is a “dreamy” and idealistic national liberation movement of the Jewish people that has nothing to do with conquest or colonial expansion.

The clincher is Jacobson’s assertion – denied by a considerable body of Jewish opinion – that anti-Zionism is equivalent to repudiating Israel’s right to exist and is therefore “almost invariably” antisemitic.

Case closed. There really is nothing left to say.

“Open season on minorities”

Where does this leave the UK as a proudly democratic society that values freedom of speech? We value it so highly that just last month, the Independent Press Standards Organisation – the media regulator established by UK newspapers – ruled that Kelvin MacKenzie, a former editor of The Sun, was free to denounce Channel 4 for letting a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman, Fatima Manji, report on the Nice terror attacks.

Manji said this meant that it was now “open season on minorities and Muslims, in particular.”

It leaves us in an unpleasant place, following the vote to exit the European Union, where upsetting Muslims and other non-whites is fine. Upsetting friends of Israel is not allowed, however – especially, but not exclusively, if they are Jewish.

It’s also fine to upset Jews like me who are not Zionists. Wes Streeting, a member of parliament (not a Jew), called me a “massive racist” in a tweet about an interview I did with the radio station LBC during October.

But then I’m a pro-Palestinian activist who supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. Streeting evidently believes I can be discounted as a self-hating Jew.

Just to be clear, I have no time for conspiracy theorists who see Israel as the root of all evil. I do not tolerate anti-Jewish racism, whether or not it is coupled with claims of supporting justice for Palestine, as it sometimes is.

Nor do my fellow campaigners in Free Speech on Israel. We demand justice and security for both Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, and we agree with the Arab-Jewish Forum’s Tony Klug who wrote in The Jewish Chronicle earlier this year: “While antisemitism is monstrous – and, like all forms of racism, should be vigorously dealt with – false accusations of antisemitism are monstrous too.”

Disturbingly, the recent report on antisemitism in the UK from the Home Affairs Committee in the House of Commons gives a free pass to those making false accusations.

Released on 16 October, the report performs a service by highlighting the role of social media – in particular Twitter – in facilitating deplorable abuse and threats to individuals. It also makes the important point, ignored by most media, that the far right is behind 75 percent of all politically motivated antisemitic incidents.

Its main thrust, however, is that antisemitism is rampant and tolerated in the Labour Party, the National Union of Students and elsewhere on the left and that a “new definition” of antisemitism is required so that we can halt this alleged scourge. It is a gift to the pro-Israel, anti-Corbyn brigade who welcomed it ecstatically.

Moral panic

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), an intensely Zionist group, tweeted, “We could not have written this report better ourselves.”

caa-tweet-screen-grab

Until the current wave of moral panic, people generally knew what bigotry was and what was specific about the anti-Jewish bigotry usually called antisemitism.

As the Free Speech On Israel website says, language or behavior is anti-Semitic if it expresses hatred of Jews, or inflicts or incites violence against them, because they are Jews; if it stereotypes Jews on the basis of alleged negative personal characteristics such as being mean, sly and avaricious; if it links Jews to conspiracy theories about world domination of media, financial or governmental institutions; if it suggests Jews were responsible for, or fabricated, the Holocaust.

Most people would also agree that it is antisemitic to implicate all Jews in the actions of the Israeli state or to accuse all Jews of embracing a single ideology – Zionism, for example.

Yet no one is more determined to suggest that all Jews owe loyalty to the State of Israel, and that Zionism is part and parcel of being Jewish, than Zionists like Jacobson and the CAA. It isn’t so long ago that Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s chief rabbi, declared that Zionism was a “noble and integral part of Judaism.”

A long list of Jews including well-known figures such as the filmmaker Mike Leigh, actor Miriam Margolyes and writer Michael Rosen put their names to a letter repudiating the chief rabbi’s version of their identity. Gideon Falter, the CAA’s chair, dismissed them as “a fringe assortment of British Jews” who had committed an “anti-Semitic slur” against his group.

Is it any wonder that some people outraged by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians may take the chief rabbi at his word and hold all Jews responsible for what is done in their name?

If only the report from the Home Affairs Committee had tackled this contradiction and affirmed that there are different forms of Jewish identity, different traditions to which Jews adhere, including radical traditions that have no connection with Zionism.

Instead the committee promotes a “new definition” of antisemitism that does everything Falter, Streeting and company desire. If imposed on all areas of public life, as the committee proposes, opposition to their partisan approach is at risk of being criminalized.

To start with, the committee exalts its definition of antisemitism as being “based broadly on the working definition of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).” That falsely gives the impression that the definition favored has already been approved by the European Union.

The so-called working definition appeared on the EUMC website as a discussion document that was found wanting and dropped. It was originally drafted more than a decade ago by Zionist lobby groups, which have pushed it relentlessly since then.

The home affairs committee report lists some of the obvious characteristics of antisemitism but muddies the waters by introducing Israel into the equation.

We already have extensive evidence of how this will be used to censor debate – an academic conference canceled, a theater director pilloried, school children denied involvement in a literary festival.

It is not only Jewish Zionists who are guilty of this kind of censorship. In the three cases mentioned, non-Jewish Conservative cabinet ministers were actively involved.

The Home Affairs Committee’s “new definition” offers myriad opportunities for conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism. As I write, Israel’s CAA friends are filing a complaint against the School of Oriental and African Studies in London for allowing writer Tom Suarez to lecture about the violent origins of the Israeli state.

These are some of the more problematic examples given in the “new definition”:

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

If this is antisemitic, then Jewish organizations that uphold loyalty to Israel – as most do – will be immune from criticism for doing so. Dissenting Jews, or anyone else who wonders aloud why the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which claims to represent all Jews in the country, persists in supporting Israel right or wrong, will be silenced.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

This clause is particularly pernicious. Rights attach to human beings, not states. Asserting the right to self-determination does not give any group a right to suppress others in its name. Palestinians also have rights, including the right to protest at the injustices inflicted upon them in the name of Jewish self-determination. It is not antisemitic for them to do so, nor for anyone else to support them.

Nor is it antisemitic to identify the racism present in the origins of the Israeli state. Jacobson may call its creation an act of “dreamy” idealism – but it was almost by definition a racist endeavor since the intention was to conquer and occupy the maximum amount of land while ensuring that the fewest possible non-Jewish inhabitants remained on it.

Modern Israel offers multiple examples of racism, some of it extreme.

Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

In practice, what Israel’s defenders complain of is Israel being expected to abide by internationally accepted norms while other states behave as badly or worse. Israel’s critics point out that Israel is exceptionally favored on the international scene by being allowed to get away with breaches of international law and human rights conventions without facing any sanction. It is not antisemitic to call Israel to account for those breaches.

Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

The blood libel is a horrifying medieval superstition that led to the slaughter of innocent Jews accused of using the blood of Christian children in religious rites. Today’s pro-Israel censors frequently allege “blood libel” when anyone comments on the shedding of Palestinian blood.

Veteran cartoonist Gerald Scarfe found himself in the center of a diplomatic storm when he dared to portray Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, cementing bleeding bodies between the slabs of a wall. To call this a blood libel distorts Jewish history and, as one Israeli commentator argued at the time, is “not antisemitic by any standard.”

It is certainly antisemitic to allege, as used to happen to my mother when she was a young girl, that Jews bear the guilt of Christ’s death, or to suggest that Jews have a propensity to slaughter children. But it is not antisemitic to hold the State of Israel or its leaders responsible for the real deaths of real children caused by their forces.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

The study of history and politics requires us to make comparisons between different societies in different times. Nazi Germany has become the benchmark for a particularly horrifying form of racist totalitarianism. Sometimes people appalled at Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians, including Jewish Israelis, reach for the worst comparison they can muster and draw Nazi parallels.

It can be hurtful and may make productive debate difficult. But it is not antisemitic.

Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

It is indeed bigoted to hold Jews – or any ethnic or religious group – collectively responsible for anything. But people can hardly be blamed for believing that Jews and Israel are indivisible when most mainstream Jewish organizations are solidly aligned with Israel and Zionism.

It would be far more beneficial for people who are confused about this to learn about non-Zionist Jewish traditions than to drum them out of the Labour Party for crossing a line laid down by pro-Israel partisans.

The Home Affairs Committee report calls for its seriously flawed pseudo-definition to be “formally adopted by the UK government, law enforcement agencies and all political parties, to assist them in determining whether or not an incident or discourse can be regarded as antisemitic.”

There is considerable danger in this.

Not only is the committee’s definition a threat to the possibility of holding intelligent, informed discussion about one of the great moral and political issues of our time, it is also a potential spur to anti-Jewish sentiment because it gives the impression that debate is to be censored at the behest of a Jewish collective acting on behalf of the State of Israel.

Unquestioning media bear much of the blame for obscuring the fact that many Jews are not Zionists and a great many Zionists are not Jews.

While many of us Jewish dissenters have been at the forefront of defending Jeremy Corbyn in his attempts to build a grassroots socialist movement, his enemies have united to undermine him, regardless of their faith backgrounds.

It is not too late to avert the threat to freedom of speech posed by the cynical political games afoot. We should start by rejecting the Home Affairs Committee’s phony definition of antisemitism.

 

Open Letter to Wes Streeting MP over “massive racist” charge

Open Letter to Wes Streeting MP

Last Monday (Oct 17) you used the words “massive racist” in a Tweet about my LBC interview in which I opposed the Home Affairs Select Committee’s demonisation of the Labour Party.

“Massive racist” – this is hardly appropriate language to direct at a Jewish member of your own party, especially as you have been a main player in a public campaign complaining of incivility among members. It is however entirely consistent with the language used over recent months to discredit members who support both freedom and justice for Palestine and Jeremy Corbyn’s project to transform the way we do politics.

Let’s be clear – if people claiming to support justice for Palestine genuinely abuse Jews as Jews, then they are no friends of mine and I will not defend them. There are a miniscule number of such instances in the Labour Party. Meanwhile, racism against Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities is rampant throughout British society.

Many of the charges you so eagerly repeat have been comprehensively debunked. But the media goes on uncritically regurgitating unproven allegations of antisemitism, painting an incredible picture of a Labour Party dominated by Jew-hating racist bullies. Protesting to the contrary has been taken as proof of antisemitism. This is Catch-22, McCarthyism and Alice in Wonderland all rolled into one!

You claim to be a friend of Palestine. You are definitely not a friend of Jeremy Corbyn. This explains your hostility to me when I attacked the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Report on Antisemitism in the UK. You are so eager to undermine your own party leader that you embrace the HASC’s partisan assault on him and wield the allegation of racism to deny legitimacy to someone who disagrees with you.

In supporting the HASC report, you are backing a drive to re-write the way we understand antisemitism and other forms of racism. The pro-Israel lobby – supported by its allies in the drive to demonise Corbyn – are insisting on their own self-serving definition. They say Israel must not be challenged because many Jews attach their identity to it. But many Jews do not, while many vociferous friends of Israel are not Jews.

Under the shoddy “new definition” of antisemitism proposed by the HASC, hatred of Jews is to be treated differently to other racial, ethnic or religious hatreds, tying it uniquely to attitudes to a nation state.  Israel is now to be treated like a person who can be perceived as a victim of race hate. The implications of this are too numerous and alarming to be dealt with here.

Suffice it to say that if the “new definition” is taken up in every UK institution, as the HASC demands, Palestinians will not be able to argue against their oppression and I, as an anti-Zionist Jew, will be silenced, along with every other UK citizen concerned about justice in the Middle East. Far from protecting Jews against antisemitism, portraying us as insisting upon censorship in defence of the state of Israel can only stoke hostility against us.

On behalf of the many Jews who share my perspective, I challenge you to debate the issues with us in public.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

Chingford LP                                                                                      info@freespeechonisrael.org.uk

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Jewish Labour activists in defence of Jackie Walker

jackie-walker-28sept

In Defence of Jackie Walker

We are Jewish Labour activists who were with Jackie Walker at the training session on antisemitism led by Mike Katz, vice chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) during the Labour Party conference in Liverpool on Monday September 26. Like her, some of us were heckled when we raised questions unpalatable to others in the audience who share the JLM’s bias towards Israel, its coupling of Jewish identity with Zionism and its insistence on the uniqueness of Jewish suffering.

Jackie had every right to question the JLM’s definition of antisemitism and the tendency of mainstream Jewish organisations to focus entirely on the slaughter of Jews when they commemorate the Nazi Holocaust. We share her determination to build greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. Jackie responded appreciatively when one audience member described Holocaust memorial events involving Armenians and others.  She has since issued a statement on this issue, reproduced below.

We were shocked at the way the level of barracking rose as soon as Jackie began to speak. JLM supporters demonstrated contempt for her as a Jewish woman of African heritage who is a lifelong anti-racist advocate for the rights of minorities and a leading Labour Party activist in her Thanet constituency.

We unreservedly condemn allegations of antisemitism made against Jackie Walker. Calls for her to be disowned by the Momentum movement of which she is vice-chair, and for her to be suspended for a second time from the Labour Party, are reprehensible instances of the witch hunt to which she and other Corbyn supporters have been subjected over recent months.

The way Jackie has been treated demonstrates the unfitness of the JLM to deliver training on antisemitism. It is an organisation committed to one, contested strand of Jewish labour tradition to the exclusion of any other; it relies on a definition of antisemitism that conflates Jewish identity with Zionism; and it exploits its interactions with party members to set the limits of political discourse about the Middle East in accordance with its own partisan ideology.

By promoting the witch hunt, the JLM has helped to relegate the vile prejudice of antisemitism to a tool in the armoury of pro-Israel advocates, backed by Corbyn’s enemies in the political and media establishment.

Signed:

Graham Bash, Hackney North CLP
Rica Bird, Wirral South CLP
Leah Levane, Hastings and Rye CLP
Jonathan Rosenhead, Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP
Glyn Secker, Dulwich and West Norwood CLP
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Chingford and Woodford Green CLP


A statement from Jackie Walker

“A number of people made comments in a private training session run by the Jewish Labour Movement. As we all know, training sessions are intended to be safe spaces where ideas and questions can be explored. A film of this session was leaked to the press unethically. I did not raise a question on security in Jewish schools. The trainer raised this issue and I asked for clarification, in particular as all London primary schools, to my knowledge, have security and I did not understand the particular point the trainer was making. Having been a victim of racism I would never play down the very real fears the Jewish community have, especially in light of recent attacks in France.

In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of antisemitism. This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community. I support David Schneider’s definition and utterly condemn antisemitism.

I would never play down the significance of the Shoah. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologise.”


Read Jackie Walker’s interview in the New Statesman
Read Asa Winstanley on Labour’s antisemitism training

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

www.freespeechonisrael.org.uk          info@freespeechonisrael.org.uk

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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.

Labour women refute bullying allegations aimed at Corbyn and McDonnell

A growing group of women members and supporters of the Labour Party have publicly comdemned attempts by some women MPs to discredit the leadership with allegations of gender based bullying.

Read below their letter in the Independent Online.

See also their new website.

We, female Labour members, condemn attempts by some women MPs to blame the Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell for alleged bullying in the party. These accusations form part of an unceasing witch hunt against Corbyn and his supporters.

Women in politics have no right to discredit legitimate political opposition as gender based intimidation. MPs are supposed to be public servants, not masters, and we all have a right to peacefully hold them to account.

It is the anti-Corbyn hierarchy that has banned constituency meetings, cancelled the results elections such as in Brighton and Hove CLP, and denied members the right to vote in the leadership election unless they pay an additional £25.

Corbyn’s leadership, the most democratic, anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-war this party has ever had, has inspired the mass participation of women and men in shaping Labour politics. His anti-austerity programme targets “inequality, neglect, insecurity, prejudice and discrimination” – not only gender balance in Parliament but pay equity for women who are “over-represented in the lowest-paying sectors: cleaning, catering and caring – vital sectors of our economy, doing valuable work, but not work that is fairly rewarded or equally respected.”

It is sad that women MPs, some of whom were part of the first-ever shadow cabinet with a majority of women, have not welcomed this “new politics”. We are glad that one of them has unresigned and we hope that the others will reconsider.

Niki Adams, Kilburn 

Nana Asante, Ealing

Cristel Amiss, Kilburn

Caroline Barker, Kilburn

Lynda Bennet, London

Amanda Bentham, Stoke Newington

Nechamah Bonanos, Brixton

Kristina Brandemo, Kensal Rise

Jessica Burke, Brighton 

Emily Burnham, Barnet

Linda Burnip, Warwickshire

Sara Callaway, South Kilburn

Vee Cartwright, Brighton

Ellen Clifford, Lewisham

Petra Dando, Camden

Miriam E David, Islington North

Hanna Demel, Kensal Rise

Nina Douglas, North Broxtowe

Una Doyle, Holborn and St Pancras

Marlene Ellis, Streatham 

Roisin Francis, South Kilburn

Claire Glasman, Gospel Oak

Beth Granter, Brighton

Bethan Griffiths, Birmingham 

Sibyl Grundberg, Tottenham

Charlie Hall, Cambridge 

Jo Hammond, Vauxhall 

Linda Heiden, Streatham

Christine Hemmingway, Norfolk

Michelle Hemmingway, Rowley Regis, Birmingham

Amy Hills-Fletcher, Hackney South 

Jenny Hardacre, Cambridge

Becka Hudson, Islington North

Selma James, Kilburn

Coral Jones, Hackney

Eleanor Kilroy, Winchester 

Jem Lindo, Haringey

Ruth London, Kilburn

Nina Lopez, Kilburn 

Marie Lynam, Kilburn

Nicola Mann, Childs Hill

Sandra Mann, Childs Hill

Helen Marks, Liverpool

Delia Mattis, Enfield Southgate

Juliet McCaffery, Brighton

Denise McKenna, Welling

Heather Mendick, Hackney South

Firinne Ni Chreachain, Brent

Marion Pencavel, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Paula Peters, Bromley

Rachel Remedios, Oxford

Mena Remedios, Oxford

Ariane Sacco, Kensal Rise

Harriet Sampson, Ealing

Awula Serwah, Brent

Vanessa Stilwell, Dulwich

Cindy Taplin, Hackney South

Mary Taylor, Greenwich

Chrissie Tiller, Hackney

June Turvey, Brent South

Rosa Valdez, Brighton

Flora Wanyu, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire

Laura Watson, Kilburn

Ann Whitehurst, Stoke-on-Trent

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Chingford