Compounding the mistake
No-one should be congratulated for the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt in the Labour Party, says David Shearer
Last week saw a bit of a controversy in ‘official communist’ circles over the publication of an article in the Morning Star entitled ‘Rising anti-Semitism cannot be tackled without addressing Israel’s crimes’ (June 18).
The article was written by John Elder - described subsequently by the Star editors as “an external contributor” - but a couple of days later it was removed from the paper’s website following protests about its contents, which were indeed highly problematic. While Elder was adamant in his condemnation of the Israeli state for its slaughter and continuing oppression of Palestinians in Gaza, he conflated criticism of and hostility towards Israel with anti-Semitism, in exactly the same way as the Zionists do.
He talked about “developing international anti-Semitism (or anti-Israel sentiment)” and “rising anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment in Britain” - as though opposition to Israel was exactly the same thing as hostility towards Jews.
According to Elder:
Unfortunately, mainstream Jewish communities everywhere - and their supporters - appear unwilling to accept the connection between developing international anti-Semitism (or anti-Israel sentiment) and Israel’s decades-long, yet still ongoing, acts of barbarism against Palestinians, and its illegal occupation and annexation of their land.
Apparently the anti-Semitism directed against such Jews
… could be because of their perpetual backing of a nation that cocks a snook at worldwide excoriation of its repeated military atrocities in Gaza, and seemingly endless UN resolutions opposed to its general conduct towards the Palestinians.
So surely the Jewish organisations and individuals who lately were protesting about growing anti-Semitism in Britain must see that, as advocates of Israel’s historical and still unremitting brutality against Palestinians, they will inevitably be regarded by some other British nationals as being indirectly complicit in that country’s actions.
It is reasonable enough to say that those who justify or excuse the acts of an oppressor will be seen as “complicit” in those acts - and perhaps not just “indirectly” either. But stating your opposition to such people’s views has nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism, whether or not the apologists are Jewish. It is a Zionist lie to suggest otherwise.
It is true that some anti-Semites justify their hatred of and prejudice against Jews by claiming that they are somehow collectively responsible for Israel’s crimes. But for a supposed leftwinger to make such a claim is a disgrace. There are many thousands of Jews who are militantly anti-Zionist - indeed amongst young Jews in particular increasing numbers no longer identify with Israel.
In fact one thing that is noteworthy about the “developing international anti-Semitism” - in Austria, Poland, Hungary, etc - is that it is totally unconnected with “Israel’s crimes”. Take Hungary, where Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party won a landslide victory in the April elections - his third such victory in alliance with the Christian Democratic KDNP.
Fidesz’s election campaign focused to a large extent on the Hungarian-born US financier, George Soros, who is Jewish. Although it was not stated overtly, the posters carrying pictures of Soros, and bearing slogans against people like him who were allegedly responsible for trying flood Hungary with Muslim migrants, strongly implied that it was all the fault of the Jews.
At one rally Orbán said of his political opponents: “They are not national, but international; they do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs.” Once again, he did not say so explicitly, but the language used - reminiscent of anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists -was pointing the finger at Jews and alleged Jewish sympathisers within the opposition parties.
This is the same Viktor Orbán who has described former Hungarian regent and notorious Nazi collaborator Miklós Horthy as an “exceptional statesman”. Yet Fidesz is pro-Israel - last year Orbán invited Binyamin Netanyahu to visit Budapest and the Israeli prime minister was delighted to accept.
But such pro-Israel sentiments among anti-Semites are not unique to Hungary and other European states. They have actually been a feature of the far right in Britain too. So there is virtually no connection between “rising anti-Semitism” and “Israel’s crimes”.
And what about that phrase - “rising anti-Semitism”? Elder says he is opposed to Zionists in the Labour Party, together with groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Alliance, but plays into their hands not only by conflating opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism, but by appearing to admit that anti-Semitism is increasing in Britain, particularly within Labour.
To be fair to Elder, he talks about the “apparent anti-Semitism within Labour Party ranks and emerging in the population at large”, and what the BoD and JLA “considered to be anti-Semitic conduct by some of Labour’s members”. He also says that, even during last month’s slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, “Their attention remained focused on Labour and, also, on what they believed to be rising anti-Semitism in Britain itself” (my emphasis).
However, while it is true that the headline was no doubt chosen by the editors, caveats like those emphasised above are omitted in other parts of the article, such as when he talks about the “pressure on the Labour Party and its leadership to stamp out anti-Semitism within its ranks and take action against the perpetrators”. And, most notably, when he writes: “… no amount of protestations about the symptoms of rising anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment in Britain and elsewhere will end the problem until its root cause - Israel’s criminal behaviour - is dealt with” (preferably by the United Nations, he thinks).
As I have already noted, it is ludicrous to describe “Israel’s criminal behaviour” as the “root cause” of anti-Semitism, “rising” or not. However, Elder’s article provided the minority of sympathisers for the Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt within the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain with a golden opportunity. Foremost among them is Mary Davis, who demanded that Ken Livingstone’s weekly column in the Star be immediately terminated following his remarks in 2016 about the collaboration between the early Nazi government and German Zionists, for which he was suspended. Thankfully, the editors - and, presumably, the CPB leadership - rejected her demands.
But now Davis took up the opportunity in the shape of an article penned jointly with Phil Katz, entitled ‘Jews and all citizens should be encouraged to challenge actual and existing anti-Semitism’ (June 20).
They say of the Elder article: “Its rationale - that Jews everywhere are responsible for the actions of the Israeli government - is by reverse exactly the argument put forward by the Israeli government and rightwing Zionists.” This is basically correct. But things go rapidly downhill from there.
What is alarming about current-day anti-Semitism is that it continues to use the same themes that have been used to stigmatise and justify genocide of the Jews for centuries. And, where the Labour Party is forced to confront hundreds of cases and act on them, it can hardly be “apparent” …
The Labour Party should be applauded for taking anti-Semitism seriously and dealing with it robustly. To say anti-Semitism isn’t an issue, is a conspiracy to bring down Jeremy Corbyn or that no British Jew can challenge anti-Semitism without being called an apologist for genocide is a dangerous path.
So who in the Labour Party has been disciplined for using “the same themes that have been used to stigmatise and justify genocide of the Jews for centuries”? Nobody at all. No-one has been accused of stating that Jews are money-grabbing self-seekers or part of an international conspiracy to control the world. Like Livingstone they have mainly been accused of making anti-Zionist statements that are allegedly “offensive”. It is true that many Zionists will take offence when reminded of their co-thinkers’ collaboration with the Nazis, but it is not anti-Semitic to point to such historical facts.
And what about the claim that Labour has been “forced to confront hundreds of cases and act on them”? As far as I know, only one person has actually been disciplined specifically for alleged anti-Semitism. It is true that many others originally faced spurious ‘anti-Semitic’ charges, just like Livingstone, but in just about every case the charge was eventually changed, as it was with him, to “bringing the party into disrepute”, using unpleasant language, and so on.
If there were numerous instances of actual anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, then of course it would be “an issue” that should be taken “seriously”. But I’m afraid such allegations have been used precisely as part of the anti-Corbyn campaign, which does aim to eventually “bring down” the leader.
Anyway, the day after the Davis-Katz article was published, the Star carried ‘An apology’ on the front page (June 21). This stated that the Elder piece had “crossed a line” and should not have been published - now “This article has been removed from the website”. The editors had “failed to vet with the care necessary on a subject of such importance”, and now “we have reinforced editorial procedures and oversight to ensure this error is not repeated”. To be honest, it is not unusual for the Star to publish worthless pieces, but it is unusual for such pieces to be taken down from the website.
Surely, having made the mistake of publishing it, it would have been better to leave it in place, so that readers could judge for themselves whether it had indeed “crossed a line” and learn the appropriate lessons. Removing it was actually compounding the mistake. But what about the Davis-Katz piece? Was that all right? The Star claims over and over again that it is on Corbyn’s side, yet it publishes an article (not a letter) which upholds one of the main weapons used against him.