Weapon of choice
False accusations are being carefully aimed at Jeremy Corbyn and the left, argues Tony Greenstein
In the course of writing this article I received a letter from the Labour Party. I was informed that, on the basis of comments I was alleged to have made, I was being suspended forthwith from membership. No indication was given as to the nature of the comments I was alleged to have made. I can only assume that they related to anti-Semitism or Zionism. Perhaps my case too will be used as an illustration of the growth of ‘anti-Semitism’ in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party!
I shall, of course, be fighting this new witch-hunt and I hope that Corbyn and McDonnell will begin to take charge of the Blairite civil service they have inherited in the party.
You might be forgiven for thinking, such has been the plethora of articles about ‘anti-Semitism’ recently, that the Labour Party had been taken over by the provisional wing of the National Front. But, of course, the recent obsession with ‘anti-Semitism’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the Oswald Moseley/British Union of Fascists variety.
It is what is termed the ‘new anti-Semitism’. This does not include any of the old features, such as hatred of Jews as Jews, stereotyping, hideously distorted cartoons, violence and theories about world Jewish conspiracies. Good gracious no. That would mean that groups such as the Zionists’ friends in the English Defence League, alongside whom Jonathan Hoffman, vice-chair of the Zionist Federation, happily demonstrated against the boycott of the Ahava shop in Covent Garden, would have to be ostracised. The EDL has a habit of attacking Palestine solidarity events - flying the Israeli flag in one hand, whilst giving the Hitler salute with the other.
‘New anti-Semitism’ means that Israel is the “Jew amongst the nations”.1 It is picked on, not because it is the world’s most racist state, but allegedly because it is a Jewish state. Opposition to the Israeli state and Zionism therefore qualifies as anti-Semitism. However, a traditional anti-Semite, such as Poland’s Michał Kamiński MEP, who demanded that the Jews of Poland apologise for the fact that 900 of their fellows had been burned alive by fellow Poles in 1941, can qualify - according to the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard - for the title of “friend to Jews”.2
The recent hysteria over ‘anti-Semitism’ began last summer when the British establishment and the Labour right, via its ‘liberal’ mouthpiece, The Guardian, woke up to the fact that rank outsider Jeremy Corbyn was about to win the leadership of the Labour Party. Their initial reaction was to try and get the whole election called off because of ‘infiltrators’, but that was too obvious. Even Harriet Harman worked out that this would have led to an insurrection by Labour members.
At the same time the Daily Mail and the Jewish Chronicle tried to suggest that Corbyn had kept company with a Jewish holocaust-denier, Paul Eisen, British director of Deir Yassin remembered. There is, of course, a rich irony in the Daily Mail’s concern with anti-Semitism. Not only did the Mail vigorously campaign in the 1930s against the admission of Jewish refugees from Germany, but its owner, Viscount Rothermere, wrote that the Jews had “started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call ‘Nazi atrocities’, which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence”.3
The allegations against Corbyn were preposterous. He had attended a Palestinian fundraising concert in 2013. However, Eisen played no part in organising that concert. It was St John’s Wood Church which organised the event through another organisation called Deir Yassin Day.
The campaign against Corbyn and his supporters went quiet for a few months. There was a brief interlude when the father of the House of Commons, Gerald Kaufmann, a Jewish MP and previously strong supporter of Zionism, referred to “Jewish money”. It’s not a phrase that I would have used, but it is commonly used by Jewish people. One of Kaufmann’s main accusers was the far-right Jewish Chronicle journalist, Geoffrey Alderman, who called for the excommunication of Kaufmann despite using the same phrase himself, twice within the same paragraph!4
However, it was different when it came to David Whelan, the owner of Wigan Athletic football club, who told of how “there is nothing like a Jew who sees money slipping through his fingers” and when challenged by The Guardian responded, “I think they are very shrewd people ... I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else.”5 Complaints about this for Alderman amounted to “a sad and miserable tale of political correctness taken to new depths of absurdity”. In his view “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic in what Whelan is alleged by The Guardian to have said about Jews”.6
As the Tories find themselves in political difficulty over George Osborne’s budget and the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, Labour is beginning to seem a credible government in waiting. But thankfully for the establishment, the Zionist movement had already taken on the role of an outrider for the political establishment. Together with The Guardian, it has decided to revert to that tried and trusted weapon, ‘anti-Semitism’.
Jonathan Freedland, a senior Guardian journalist, set the tone with an article which used the idiocy of one Labour Party member, Vicky Kirby, and the stupidity of Gerry Downing7 to tar the left in the party as anti-Semitic.8
Kirby apparently believes that Jews have big noses and that Hitler is a Zionist god, which suggests she needs help rather than expulsion. Downing’s stupidity is less excusable.9 The French Revolution resolved the Jewish question, the place of Jews in European society, over 200 years ago. In the words of Stanislas Marie Adélaïde, the count of Clermont-Tonnerre, “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals.”10 Only the Zionists and the anti-Semites rejected the emancipation of the Jews.
What Freedland lacks in substance he makes up for with innuendo. Not once does he attempt to define the anti-Semitism he talks about. Is it new or old anti-Semitism or a mixture thereof?
Zionists like to use the discredited European Union Monitoring Committee definition of anti-Semitism, which included “vilification of Israel” and comparisons between Nazi Germany and Israel. The only problem is that even the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency has junked it - which led Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center to claim: “Those who fight anti-Semitism have lost an important weapon.” A weapon not against anti-Semites, but against anti-Zionists.11
Clearly Kirby and Downing are two idiosyncratic individuals. Even Freedland did not think it wise to base his suggestion of widespread anti-Semitism in the Labour Party on these two. It is on the case of Oxford University Labour Club that his case rests.12
In his own words, its chair, Alex Chalmers, decided to resign “in the light of OULC’s decision ... to endorse Israel Apartheid Week”.13 But Chalmers’ assertion that “the student left in Oxford … have some kind of problem with Jews” was clearly based on their anti-Zionism, not their anti-Semitism.
Chalmers is a political lightweight. His Zionist politics are crystal-clear. He speaks about Hamas’s violence, yet he ignores the far greater violence of the Israeli state and the settlers. He claimed on his blog that he was offended by use of the term ‘Zio’ - shorthand for ‘Zionist’ - because apparently the Ku Klux Klan use it. Possibly they do, but so do many people and it has no anti-Semitic connotations. Chalmers also complained that a former Labour club officer commented that “most accusations of anti-Semitism are just the Zionists crying wolf”. In asserting that anti-Semitism was the reason for his resignation, Chalmers has proved the very point that he disputes.
Chalmers lost the vote over the Labour club’s support for Israel Apartheid Week and decided to throw his toys out of the pram. Yet it is indisputable that Israel presides over a system of overt racial segregation in the West Bank, where four million Palestinians have lived under military law for nearly 50 years, without any civil or political rights, whilst Jewish settlers enjoy all the benefits of Israel’s civil law. Even the highways are reserved for Jews only. How can anyone seriously suggest that this is not apartheid?
Behind the ‘green line’ (Israel’s borders till 1967) a subtler form of apartheid exists. There are no ‘Arabs only’ signs, but housing, employment, education are segregated. Only five private high schools in Israel are mixed. Half of Israel’s Arab villages are ‘unrecognised’ - meaning that they have no electricity, sewerage or services and they are liable to be demolished at a moment’s notice. In the Negev, Jerusalem and Galilee there is an ongoing government programme of Judaisation, just as in Nazi Germany prior to 1941 there was a process of deJewification. Zionist policy is a mirror reflection of European anti-Semitism.
In the recent Pew Opinion Survey a majority (48%) of Israeli Jews want Israeli Palestinians expelled from the country. 79% believe Jews are entitled to preferential treatment.14 In which western state would a majority of the citizens support the expulsion of 20% of the population?
The only example of anti-Semitism at Oxford that Freedland gives is where apparently one member of the Labour club “organised a group to shout ‘filthy Zionist’ at a Jewish student whenever they saw her”. This allegation is sourced to Aaron Simons.15 We have no indication of who made the allegation, the name of the student who organised this shouting or indeed the alleged victim. Bearing in mind that Jewish students who support the Palestinians are regularly abused with the terms, ‘traitor’ and ‘self-hater’, and told they should have died with their families in the gas chambers, it is pretty small beer, even assuming there is any truth in it. 16
Freedland’s other argument is that in a recent survey 93% of British Jews said Israel formed some part of their identity. Even were this true, then the obvious retort would be ... so what? Is it racist to criticise and attack a state that people identify with? The journalists of Charlie Hebdo attacked what some Muslims identified with. Were they racists or defenders of free speech? Supposing Muslims or Africans were to argue that female genital mutilation was part of their identity, would we be racist to oppose FMG and challenge that identity?
I have a brother living in Israel but that does not affect my anti-Zionism. Many British people had relatives in Rhodesia and South Africa under apartheid. Were they victims of racism when we opposed the system they identified with? Freedland is unable to explore the implications of his statement because he knows that it does not stand up to scrutiny.
Racism is about denying the existence of a human being because of fixed or unalterable characteristics. It is about dehumanisation. It involves stereotypes, discrimination, hate and violence. It is not about challenging group identity. If it is part of free speech not to accept reactionary Islamic practices or ideology, then the same applies to Jews. Freedland reluctantly accepts that opposition to Israel “is not always anti-Semitic”, implying that it normally is. Having conceded the point, however, he goes on to make the opposite case: viz that anti-Semitism is equivalent to anti-Zionism.
Freedland tells us that when Jews pray they face east towards Jerusalem and that they have done so for 2,000 years. Certainly the holy land had a religious symbolism for Jews, but it had no political significance. When the Zionist movement first arose, the fiercest opposition to it came from the Orthodox Jews. Jews never sought to go to Palestine until the era of late-colonialism. The migration to Palestine was provoked not by religion, but by anti-Semitism in eastern Europe. It was evangelical Christians such as Lords Palmerstone and Shaftesbury who urged Jews to settle in Palestine (and build a state which would protect the Suez Canal). Even then most Jews desired to go anywhere but Palestine (between the mid-19th century and 1914, of the 2.5 million Jews who fled tsarist Russia only 2% went to Palestine).
Freedland’s other point is simply dishonest. He says that Corbyn “praised Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Salah”. He may well have, but so what? Contrary to Freedland’s assertions, a British court was in no position to determine whether or not Raed Salah had “deployed the blood libel”. It heard no witnesses to this event. The passing comment of the court that in its opinion Salah had referred to the Jewish blood libel was obiter dictum: ie, wholly irrelevant to the court’s actual finding that Raed Salah’s detention by Theresa May was illegal. May’s deportation order was overturned and Salah was freed as a consequence. The Upper Immigration Tribunal also found that the allegation that Salah had written an anti-Semitic poem was based on faked evidence supplied by the Jerusalem Post and the Zionist Community Security Trust. Freedland does not mention this, however.
He also fails to mention that the Jerusalem magistrates court found Salah had not referred to the Jewish blood libel in a speech. Salah said his reference was to the Spanish Inquisition and its murder of children. The decision was reversed on appeal by a colonial court in a nakedly political attack on Salah, who has been one of the main leaders of Israeli Palestinians and a thorn in the government’s side. During the Israeli raid on the ship, the Marvi Marmara, when Israel murdered nine Turkish citizens, there was an attempt by Israel’s forces to assassinate Raed Salah, but they shot a Turkish man by mistake. I clearly remember the announcement of Salah’s death by Israel.17
In short there is no substance to Freedland’s arguments. The issue of ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party is wholly contrived. It is the creation of journalists and Zionist activists. It has no basis in reality. The real agenda is defence of the Israeli state.
The Guardian has gone overboard in the campaign to brand Labour under Corbyn as anti-Semitic. It recently printed an article by that champion of the Iraq war, Nick Cohen, on how it is the duty of every freedom-lover to convert to being Jewish as a protest against anti-Semitism.18 Unfortunately, in its eagerness to attack the left, The Guardian failed to pick up on a similar article by Cohen in the Jewish Chronicle a mere seven years previously!19 (Another person with an urge to regurgitate a previous offering is Owen Jones.20 His latest piece bears a distinct resemblance to an article he wrote last summer.21)
Leon Pinsker, one of the earliest Zionists, the founder of the Lovers of Zion, wrote in 1882: “Judaephobia is then a mental disease and, as a mental disease it is hereditary; and, having been inherited for 2,000 years, it is incurable.”22 This summarised Zionism’s attitude to anti-Semitism. If anti-Semitism was incurable it was ‘futile’ to fight it. This belief that anti-Semitism was an incurable disease was fundamental to Zionism’s acceptance of anti-Semitism. It was a natural consequence of living in ‘other people’s lands’. Far better to establish a settler-colonial state of Israel.
In fact anti-Semitism had material roots in the societies in which it occurred. Far from suffering a continuous anti-Semitism for 2,000 years, Jews were both oppressors and oppressed. They were the allies of the ruling classes under feudalism and the exploiters of the peasantry. In the words of Abram Leon, the Jews were a people class.23 It was the transition to a decaying capitalism in eastern Europe which unleashed racial, as opposed to religious, anti-Semitism. The Jews found themselves “wedged between the anvil of decaying feudalism and the hammer of rotting capitalism”.24
Jones has the advantage over Nick Cohen of possessing a modicum of intelligence. Unfortunately it is wasted. The only example he finds of anti-Semitism is Vicky Kirby. Jones, a gadfly of the left, complains that whenever he raises the question of anti-Semitism people cry, “Ah, but what about Israel?” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that the reason why Israel and anti-Semitism have become intertwined is because it is a deliberate strategy of the Zionist movement to label supporters of the Palestinians and opponents of Zionism as anti-Semitic.
If Jones has any doubts on the matter then he could, for example, refer to Abe Foxman, director of the US Anti-Defamation League: “To me, it’s very simple: anti-Zionism 99% of the time is a euphemism for anti-Semitism.”25 In such a situation and where communal bodies such as the Board of Deputies proclaim that British Jews support the latest attack by Israel on Gaza, it is inevitable that people will react to allegations of anti-Semitism, even if genuine, by raising the question of Israel.
Owen Jones is a fair-weather friend of the Palestinian struggle and the fight against Zionism. He tries, like a good opportunist social democrat, to befriend both the oppressor and the oppressed.26
Also jumping on the bandwagon is Blair’s ‘Lord Cashpoint’ - otherwise known as Lord Levy. He has taken to both The Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle to warn that he could quit Labour over anti-Semitism! If the noble lord carries out his promise, it will be one of the few gains from this contrived affair of ‘anti-Semitism’.27
Chipping into this one-sided debate is Aaron Simons, a former chair of Oxford University’s Jewish Society (for which read Zionist society). Borrowing from the 1999 Macpherson report, Simons claims that Oxford’s student left is “institutionally anti-Semitic”. There cannot be a more absurd formulation. Anti-Semitism is not a form of state racism in British society. Jews in this society are white, not black. Anti-Semitism is, at most, a marginal form of prejudice. It is not synagogues, but mosques, which are repeatedly the subject of arson attacks. Just as defenders of Israel and its genocidal attacks on Palestinians have resorted to the tag, ‘Jewish lives matter’, in imitation of ‘Black lives matter’, so Zionist students in Britain, having played no part in anti-racist struggles, seek to capitalise on the struggle of black people.28
There was also the affair of York University’s Palestine Society, which was accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ for putting on the play Seven Jewish children (an added ingredient was that Jeremy’s son, Tom Corbyn, is a member of York’s Palestine Society). Freedland did not publicise this example of ‘anti-Semitism’ - perhaps because The Guardian has promoted Seven Jewish children on its own website. This is a quite beautiful and thought-provoking play by Caryl Churchill, comparing a child hiding in a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe to a Palestinian child killed in Gaza.29
Of course, the fact that some Jewish students supported the play was not news - maybe theirs is a form of ‘anti-Semitism’ that Jonathan Freedland and co have not examined. This is an example of making Jewish people who are anti-Zionists invisible - as Jewish anti-Zionists do not support the Israeli state, they do not count, of course, being ‘race traitors’ and ‘self-haters’. The Jewish Chronicle, however, ran with a story calling the play “anti-Semitic”30 - which provoked an open letter from six Israeli and Jewish students from York University’s Palestine society denying this.31
The theme of Seven Jewish children is one taken up by the socialist and Jewish folk singer, Leon Rosselson, in his recent song, ‘The ballad of Rivka and Mohammed’, which ends up with Rivka, the Jewish girl in the ghetto, and Mohammed, the Palestinian boy in Gaza: “then each took the hand of the other and then they were seen no more”.32
Not surprisingly members of the Blairite right, such as Michael Dugher MP, who was recently sacked from the shadow cabinet, Rachel Reeves MP and, of course, rent-a-mouth John Mann MP have all jumped on the bandwagon. Mann is quoted as saying that “urgent action” must be taken, as “the problem has got worse since new members joined following Mr Corbyn’s election” and the Labour leader will face “an almighty row” if he does nothing. Of course, there is something very simple that Corbyn could do - and that is to tell Mann and co to put up or shut up. In other words, come up with some evidence that there is a problem of anti-Semitism in the party.
We should bear in mind that this is not the first time that Mann has made allegations he cannot back up. John Mann was a witness in the Fraser v University College Union employment tribunal case, where it was alleged that the boycott of Israeli universities was anti-Semitic. The tribunal dismissed the claim and described Mann’s evidence thus:
We did not derive assistance from the two members of parliament who appeared before us. Both gave glib evidence, appearing supremely confident of the rightness of their positions ... Mr Mann ... told us that the leaders of the respondents were at fault for the way in which they conducted debates, but did not enlighten us as to what they were doing wrong or what they should be doing differently ... And, when it came to anti- Semitism in the context of debate about the Middle East, he announced, “It’s clear to me where the line is ...”, but unfortunately eschewed the opportunity to locate it for us. Both parliamentarians clearly enjoyed making speeches. Neither seemed at ease with the idea of being required to answer a question not to his liking.
When put to the test, Zionist claims of ‘anti-Semitism’ are invariably found wanting, because Zionism has no interest in combating genuine examples of anti-Semitism. That is not, and never has been, its concern.
1 . Jewish Chronicle July 16 2015: www.thejc.com/news/world-news/139820/israel-now-jew-among-nations-says-abe-foxman.
2 . ‘Poland’s Kaminski is not an anti-Semite: he’s a friend to Jews’: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/oct/09/michal-kaminski-antisemitism.
3 . The Daily News September 4 1933 under the title, ‘Nazi youth in control’.
4 . Jewish Chronicle August 14 2015: www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/columnists/142238/obama%E2%80%99s-false-iran-alternative.
5 . www.theguardian.com/football/2014/nov/20/wigan-dave-whelan-accused-antisemitism-jewish-people.
6 . See http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/geoffrey-alderman-and-gerald-kaufman.html.
7 . See T Greenstein, ‘Confusing the question’ Weekly Worker March 17 2016.
8 . ‘Labour and the left have an anti-Semitism problem’: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/labour-antisemitism-jews-jeremy-corbyn.
9 . See T Greenstein, ‘Confusing the question’ Weekly Worker March 17 2016.
10 . Speech in the French Constituent Assembly, December 21 1789: https://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/284.
11 . ‘EU drops its “working definition” of anti-Semitism’ The Times of Israel December 5 2013: www.timesofisrael.com/eu-drops-its-working-definition-of-anti-semitism.
12 . ‘Labour and the left have an anti-Semitism problem’: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/labour-antisemitism-jews-jeremy-corbyn.
13 . www.facebook.com/alex.chalmers.16?fref=ts.
14 . Pew Research Centre, ‘Israel’s religiously divided society’: www.pewforum.org/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society.
15 . A Simons, ‘It’s time we acknowledged that Oxford’s student left is institutionally anti-Semitic’: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/18/oxford-student-left-antisemitic-university-antisemitism-jewish-progressive-politics.
16 . See ‘A Zionist and a holocaust denier hold hands together’: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/zionist-holocaust-denier-hold-hands.html.
17 . https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/uk-prison-palestinian-leader-sheikh-raed-salah-says-he-will-fight-deportation.
18 . N Cohen, ‘Why I’m becoming a Jew and why you should, too’ The Guardian March 19 2016: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/19/why-i-am-becoming-a-jew-and-you-should-too.
19 . ‘Hatred is turning me into a Jew’ Jewish Chronicle February 12 2009: http://www.thejc.com/comment/comment/hatred-turning-me-a-jew.
20 . ‘Anti-Semitism is a poison - the left must take leadership against it’: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/15/antisemitism-israel-policies-labour-activist-vicki-kirby.
21 . ‘Anti-Semitism has no place on the left. It is time to confront it’: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/26/antisemitism-left-racism-israel.
22 . L Pinsker Autoemanzipation, ein Mahnrufan seine Stammesgenossen, von einem russischen Juden Berlin 1882, p5.
23 . A Leon The Jewish question: a Marxist interpretation London 1974.
24 . Ibid p226.
25 . ‘Foxman one on one: anti-Semitism, BDS and Mel Gibson’: www.jewishjournal.com/rob_eshman/article/foxman_after_50.
26 . For a more in depth analysis see ‘Owen Jones’s obsession with “anti-Semitism”’: http://www.azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/owen-jones-obsession-with-anti-semitism.html.
27 . ‘Lord Levy warns he could quit Labour over anti-Semitism’ The Guardian March 20 2016; and ‘I will leave Labour unless it stands up to anti-Semitism, says Lord Levy’ Jewish Chronicle February 21 2016.
28 . www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/18/oxford-student-left-antisemitic-university-antisemitism-jewish-progressive-politics.
29 . www.theguardian.com/stage/2009/feb/26/caryl-churchill-seven-jewish-children-play-gaza.
30 . www.thejc.com/news/campus-news/153875/pro-palestinian-students-perform-antisemitic-play-part-israel-apartheid-week.
31 . ‘Seven Jewish children staged at University of York despite smear that students were promoting “anti-Semitic” culture’: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/seven-jewish-children-staged-at-univ-of-york-despite-smear-that-students-were-promoting-anti-semitic-culture.
32 . See http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/then-each-took-hand-of-other-and-then.html.