This submission has been written by Labour Party members associated with the UK-Palestine Mental Health Network. It has been endorsed by eighty mental health professionals.
1. Why the UKPMHN is making this submission to the Inquiry
The UK-Palestine Mental Health Network is a loose association of mental health workers concerned with the realities of life in Israel/Palestine. We come from a position informed by universalist values, supporting human rights, social justice and anti-racism. The Occupation has profound consequences for the psychological well-being of the Palestinians (those living in Gaza, the West Bank, and the Palestinian citizens of Israel), but also, in our view, for Jewish Israelis as well. On one side we see the impact of state terror, bombardments, night raids, house demolitions, the incarceration of children, a shoot-to-kill policy, the protection by the IDF of violent gangs of settlers, the humiliations and frustrations that follow from the checkpoints and the de-development of the Palestinian economy, the increasing number of discriminatory laws, the siege of Gaza… On the other, we see an increasingly militarised society, a deepening and more openly accepted popular racism and its open incitement by government officials, the brutalisation of the young as conscripts in the IDF, acceptance of mob rule and routine violence against civilians, intolerance of dissent, as well as the more frequently acknowledged sense of insecurity to which the ongoing struggle gives rise.
This Inquiry is a particular concern for us: anything which impedes our ability to describe what is happening, or to analyse and speculate on the nature of the situation in Israel/Palestine, serves to further hide the truth and inhibit debate – in a world in which the Israeli narrative already has an overbearing influence over political discourse. Our work, and that of many other organisations firmly committed to anti-racist principles, will be hampered if the attempted extension of the public’s understanding of anti-Semitism to include non- and anti-Zionist perspectives is given credence by the Labour Party. The losers will be a people whose lands have already been plundered, their rights traduced, who are living in conditions of intolerable insecurity: the kind of people who, in another world, would be of particular concern to the Labour Party.
2. Is this a campaign against racism, or to defend it?
Over recent decades, writers from the mental health professions have contributed something to our understanding of the dynamics of racism, one of the most damaging and destructive of human proclivities. It has helped to open up to reflective consideration a subject that provokes deep anxiety and guilt. This literature takes as given the ubiquity of our potential for ‘othering’ sections of our communities, and provides insights into its subtle and complex functions for the individual, and for large groups.
Our first comment on the rash of accusations of anti-Semitism is that it has been aimed to manipulate our anxieties and guilt, rather than contribute to our enlightenment or, indeed, to protect society from the scourge of this pernicious form of racism. Statements by politicians and people in the media have lacked sophistication and intellectual coherence. In short, a critically serious concern for all of us has been hi-jacked to further the political interests of its sponsors. In this paper we argue that this campaign masks an attempt to quash the worldwide movement working in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who will be further endangered should this strategy succeed. It also poses a threat to democratic processes in this country, and hence to our own welfare.
It is our contention that the Labour Party is responding to an agenda set by those whose values and objectives are contrary to, and incompatible with, those of the Party itself. (See the note on Zionism below). We hope that this enquiry will proceed with a clear and unflinching commitment to uphold those universalist and democratic values that underpin the Labour Party’s quest for social justice and its opposition to fascism and all forms of racism.
3. Who stands to gain from curbing discussion of Zionism?
The current campaign against a ‘new anti-Semitism’ aims to blur the clear conceptual distinctions between Jewish people, the Jewish Israeli community, the Israeli State, Judaism and the political ideology of Zionism. It is a flagrant attempt to impede a long overdue examination of the consequences of the Zionist project for both the Jewish Israeli and Palestinian peoples. It is intended to erect a wall of silence in the face of such ongoing atrocities as the siege of Gaza, the murderous military attacks on the people of Gaza, and the cruelties attending the colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
We take the following to be essential components of contemporary Zionism: a) that people who identify as Jewish the world over constitute a ‘nation’; b) that this ‘nation’ has the right to a country with a guaranteed Jewish majority and Jewish ‘character’; c) that this ‘nation’ has the right to locate this country in Palestine. (Some will limit this right to the 1967 borders of Israel – 78% of historical Palestine – but this view has not informed official government policy in the intervening half-century. Since Oslo they have pursued all the more energetically the colonising policies which have now resulted in the location of 700,000 settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.)
A corollary, sometimes made explicit, is d) that these ‘rights’ justify whatever policies are deemed necessary to ensure their realisation, and in particular nullify the rights of the Palestinian people.
These are the ideas that we and others in the solidarity movement have in mind when we think about, and criticize, Zionism. If opposition to these beliefs is used as a measure of anti-Semitism, then there will, of course, be a massive problem of ‘left anti-Semitism’. In a European context a movement with ideas such as these would be regarded as belonging to the far right of the political spectrum. Their impact in Palestine is to create precisely the horrors that makes us fear the re-emergence of fascist movements in Europe.
Zionism is an ideology that no Palestinian could embrace or accept: to do so would be tantamount to advocating genocide-of-the-self. The current campaign to have Zionism given a sacrosanct status would require that every Palestinian be deemed an anti-Semite! It would be shaming for the Labour Party to endorse a movement and ideology so deeply implicated in ethnic cleansing, the plunder of Palestinian resources, systematic discrimination, and which, it can plausibly be argued, stands as a major obstacle in the way of normalising relations between the two peoples who live side by side in Israel/Palestine.
The suggestion that it is ‘legitimate’ to criticise specific policies of the Israeli Government, but not Zionism, is equivalent to saying that we can criticize the terms of a specific proposal to privatize a public service, but not the thinking behind the shrinking of the public sector overall; we could criticize a specific funding decision, but not the theories that inform the austerity programme.
4. ‘A welcoming environment for all communities’
Those advancing the notion of a ‘new anti-Semitism’ argue that because the Zionist narrative now holds a hegemonic position amongst non-Israeli Jewish communities, and that some are distressed when their convictions are challenged, that anti-Zionist statements or positions need to be seen as anti-Semitic.
This plea overlooks the fact that not long ago Zionism was a minority position amongst Jewish people, and it disregards the existence of a prominent and increasingly significant section of Jewish opinion which reject this label. It essentializes and freezes our notions of Jewish identity in an ahistorical manner. While we do not question that public debate about Zionism can be a cause of distress, we believe that the objective of the current campaign is to discredit Jewish dissidents and disguise splits within the Jewish community, silencing voices that disprove Zionist claims to represent the world’s Jewish population.
We appreciate the sensibilities of those who have identified with this political ideology, and have no wish to offend. But our awareness of the potential for hurt cannot stand in the way of our advocating on behalf of an utterly powerless and oppressed people. Nor must it interfere with a clear analysis of the assumptions and assertions that have been used to justify their suffering. Freed from their pre-emptive demonization, there is every hope that those who are genuinely affronted will come to see that those who hold to democratic, non-Zionist perspectives are not expressing hatred of Jews as Jews, but rather different strategies for ensuring the future prosperity and security of all peoples who live in Israel/Palestine.
In our experience, peace activists from Israel, Palestinian and Jewish, share the view that no change will come without significant external pressure, in other words without the West’s abandonment of its ‘carte blanche’ approach to Israel. ‘Liberal’ Zionists who focus their energies on defending Israel against a supposed ‘Left anti-Semitism’ are betraying the hopes of democratically-minded comrades who need our support. This is particularly true of those courageous people, again both Jewish and Palestinian, working within Israeli human rights organisations, who are now under severe threat from their increasingly ultra-right government.
We would bring your attention to alternatives to this ideology which are being widely discussed in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere. These do not advocate anyone’s ‘destruction’, but begin from the view that Jewish Israeli society be regarded as a national community in its own right. From this perspective, Zionism has succeeded in establishing a Hebrew or Jewish Israeli nation which, alongside the Palestinian nation, has inalienable rights that need to be secured and protected. As there are two interspersed national groups living in the territory, no one group can claim the right to rule alone with a guaranteed majority. Now that decades of expansionism undertaken by Israeli Governments have rooted out the possibility of a ‘two-state solution’, the democratic options seem to be either a system based on one person one vote, or a bi-national state that guarantees the distinct but equal rights of each national group. Such ideas cannot reasonably be construed as an attack on the Jewish community. Rather than advocate a particular solution to such a complex situation, however, we would urge that our approach and policy be founded on a clear set of democratic and anti-discriminatory principles.
5. Combating racism in the Labour Party
We would like to draw your attention to the racism that accompanies so much of the recent pro-Israeli commentaries on anti-Semitism, and which goes unacknowledged or unnoticed in our media and political discourse. This can be seen in the failure to attend to the extreme situation in which the Palestinians now live, and in the absence of any realistic or meaningful consideration of their individual and collective human and civil rights. We note a proper concern that the debate is conducted in ways that enhance mutual understanding and do not inflame or slander. At the same time we wonder why no disquiet expressed when a Labour MP declares, against all the evidence, that it is a ‘grotesque smear’ to describe Israel as an Apartheid society. How do we imagine this impacts on the sensibilities of those with family and friends living under Israeli control? Why does this not matter?
The silence regarding the historical consequences of the Zionist movement for the indigenous people of Palestine, which we might call ‘Naqba denial’, is, in our view, an expression of anti-Arab racism.
6. Protecting our democracy
Linked to the attempt to re-define anti-Semitism, we are witnessing attempts to demonise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS). Michael Gove has called BDS a crime ‘worse than Apartheid’. The nature of this attack reveals how ready pro-Zionist groups are to sacrifice our democratic rights in their determination to further their sectarian objectives. This is an assault on a non-violent, non-sectarian, grass roots human rights movement that is supported by many non-Zionist Jews and that simply asks people not to participate in the systematic denial of civil, political and human rights to the Palestinians. Western Governments are so subservient that they are treating BDS as if it were an aspect of the terrorist menace, not a hopeful alternative to violence as a means of obtaining change. The BDS movement has a proper and legitimate role to play, mobilizing popular opposition to Israel. The arguments for and against BDS need to be freely aired, to enable civil society in the West, and the Labour Party, to consider its response.
The allegation that our movement is anti-Semitic because it ‘singles out’ Israel, ignoring human rights abuses in other countries, is actually an appeal to maintain another kind of Israeli exceptionalism. It is Israel that has enjoyed decades of special protection by Western powers as it systematically breaks international law and infringes the human rights of a subject population. The popular movement has grown because our politicians have ensured that Israel is never held to account for these crimes.
While non-Zionists are characterised as driven by hate and the wish to destroy, in fact the solidarity movement is motivated by a positive commitment to human rights, democratic practice and universalist principles. Efforts to promote these values are routinely met by accusations of anti-Semitism by those who would protect the Apartheid system that currently operates in Israel/Palestine. We are seeing an intensification of these efforts at the present time: our hope is that the ensuing controversy will result in a higher quality of public discussion in which we shall no longer be subject to accusations which themselves demean the struggle against anti-Semitism.
7. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
The idealisation of the State of Israel is reminiscent of the fellow travelling of certain ‘left’ intellectuals in the 1930s, who could see only good in Stalinist Russia and who justified all its abuses and excesses. The witch hunt of anti-racist campaigners, and the attempt to shame them as ‘anti-Semites’, is reminiscent of the McCarthyite campaigns against progressive opinion in the United States in the 1950s. We call on the Chakrabarti Inquiry to resist the attempts by the Zionist movement and apologists of Israel to burden us with fear and censorship, and to work instead to enrich the democratic content of our political life.
The purpose of this inquiry demonstrates again that the struggle for democracy and human rights, for peace and justice, is indivisible. What enhances the quality of our own political culture will also strengthen the hand of those working for an end to oppression and injustice in Israel/Palestine.