Not fit for purpose
Margaret Hodge’s attack on Jeremy Corbyn demonstrates why the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism must be ditched, writes Tony Greenstein
When it was announced last week that Labour had taken a 4% point lead over the Conservatives I remarked on Twitter that we would soon face a new batch of false anti-Semitism allegations. Little did I know that at that very moment Margaret Hodge was preparing to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of being “a fucking anti-Semite and a racist”.
Three years ago, Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, in a front page article in the Express, spared no adjectives when describing how it was “difficult to imagine a more blatant, shameful and utterly contemptible piece of two-faced hypocrisy than the behaviour of Margaret Hodge”.1
What Pollard was attacking was Hodge’s role, as chair of the public accounts committee, in attacking tax dodgers, whilst being one herself. Today, however, Hodge is Pollard’s hero. She can do no wrong.2 Indeed she is the victim of a witch-hunt!3 There has been unanimity in the media that Hodge was right to attack Corbyn - from The Sun to The Guardian, the British press has spoken with one voice.
It is almost like the days of Pravda and Izvestia. We are witnessing what Chomsky called the “manufacturing of consent”. The big lie technique writ large. Simon Kelner was a good example of this:
Who is, in fact, better qualified to judge? An understandably sensitised community on one side, or an apparently disinterested party on the other? Does the chief rabbi believe that if a Jewish person feels he or she has been on the receiving end of anti-Semitic behaviour, that is - by definition - anti-Semitic behaviour?4
The same heading about listening to the Jewish community was to be found in The Guardian’s letters pages.5
According to these representatives of liberal opinion, we should surrender our judgement to religious leaders. Perhaps the ayatollahs are right after all. One wonders what would have been the reaction to 60 letters from imams on Islamophobia? The idea that we should be listening to the most politically backward sections of the Jewish community is a symptom of the debate on ‘anti-Semitism’. That it is seriously suggested that we should listen to religious leaders on political questions such as racism is a measure of how debased the debate has become.
Contrary to the myth that the ‘Jewish community’ has a settled view on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, it is doubtful if before the present crisis one percent had even read it. The idea that the only thing standing between the Jews and pogroms is the IHRA is what makes this debate ludicrous.
The Zionist argument that any community or group should be able to ‘define’ their oppression is completely reactionary. Oppression is objective, not subjective. To allow any group to say they are oppressed, which is what identity politics does, is to confuse the powerful with the powerless, the rapist with the raped, the child abuser with the child, the racist with their victim.
Champions of identity politics talk about oppression, as opposed to exploitation. They look to a frozen past in order to prevent future change. They ignore power and class relations and thus disadvantage the most oppressed. Because they ignore class and class analysis there is no means of distinguishing between the oppressed and the oppressor. Thus we end up with groups indulging in a game of false victimhood.
Supporters of Israel, which is who we are really talking about, are the real proponents of the IHRA. They are not oppressed. Jews in this country do not suffer from state racism. They are not pulled over by the police because they are Jewish, nor are there large numbers of Jewish deaths in custody or deportations of Jews.
If some members of the Jewish community choose to define their identity as support for Zionism and the oppression of the Palestinians, then they should be criticised, not flattered. If some Jews in this country support a racist project they should be condemned, not allowed to pass it off as opposition to anti-Semitism.
Insofar as a majority of Jews identify with the state of Israel, then that is a reactionary identity. The Jewish community today is not the same as the one that lived in the East End of the 1930s - a Jewish community that was part of the labour movement. Today the Jewish community is a relatively prosperous and privileged white community and that is the main reason why many Jews identify with the Zionist state. It is also the reason why since the 1950s many Jews have voted for the Conservative Party.
Zionists have made their stand around the IHRA - a definition that the anti-Semitic Hungarian and Polish governments have no qualms in endorsing. There are many amongst British Jews who disagree with Zionism and the IHRA, yet they are ignored because Jewish community leaders are in bed with Netanyahu and Trump.
Right to define
Much is made of the MacPherson report, which recommended that the perception of victims of racial incidents should be accepted. However, that was in the context of forcing the police to record an incident as racially motivated: it did not mean that this negated the process of investigation.
The debate on the IHRA has taken place just as Israel officially declared itself an apartheid state. The knesset passed the Jewish Nation-State Law this week. In the words of Bradley Burston of Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, this is:
a law which effectively repealed and superseded the equality and democracy provisions of Israel’s Declaration of Independence as a guide for the future of the country. Gone is any mention of equality. In its place, directives that veer Israel towards genuine apartheid, including a downgrading of the status of the Arabic language and therefore of Arab citizens of Israel.6
This is the context of the attempts by the Zionists to impose the IHRA definition on the Labour Party. No longer is there even any pretence that the false anti-Semitism allegations which have been made for the last three years are not about Israel.
The argument that everyone has the “right to define” their own oppression is a nonsense. It begs the question, who is oppressed? Anti-Semitism is not difficult to define. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is “Hostility to or prejudice against Jews” - all of six words. The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is over 500. In the words of Sir Stephen Sedley, a Jewish former court of appeal judge, the IHRA “fails the first test of any definition: it is indefinite”.7
However, Jeremy Corbyn has yet again made a rod for his own back. His fatal mistake was in adopting the IHRA definition to begin with. Its sole purpose is to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. By going along with the anti-Semitism accusations and accepting it without any debate, Corbyn has been the author of his own misfortunes.
The false anti-Semitism allegations were never aimed at expelling me, Marc Wadsworth or Jackie Walker. That is why it was stupid for Corbyn to give these bogus allegations the time of day. That is why Zionist MPs like Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth are in the forefront of the attacks on Corbyn. Appeasing these racists has not helped his situation - quite the contrary. The more you appease racism, the more it grows and the Labour Zionists have felt emboldened.
Last week we had people like Wes Streeting MP calling for sanctions on Israel because of the proposed demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar. This week he does his usual bowing and scraping whenever the word ‘anti-Semitism’ is mentioned.
What Streeting and others refuse to understand, to put it charitably, is that allegations of anti-Semitism are used to undermine support for the Palestinians. If Streeting was genuinely outraged over Israel’s actions then he and others would not be supporting an attempt to conflate criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinians with anti-Semitism.
We also had other Labour rightwingers jumping on the bandwagon, such as Chuka Ummuna, whose concern over ‘anti-Semitism’ stands in stark contrast to his indifference over the Windrush scandal. In the latter case he supported the 2014 Immigration Act, which introduced the policy of making Britain a “hostile environment” for migrants. Ummuna argued that because Hodge had lost relatives in the holocaust she was therefore right to defame Corbyn.8 By that logic I should be able to accuse Chuka Ummuna of being a racist. There are very few Jews in Britain who did not lose relatives in the holocaust.
The Zionist focus on the IHRA definition is itself a diversion. Hugh Tomlinson QC described it as having “a potential chilling effect on public bodies”. While the definition itself is 38 words, it goes on to use 11 ‘examples’ of anti-Semitism, seven of which relate to Israel. It is a model of ambiguity. Professor David Feldman of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism described it as “bewilderingly imprecise”.9 In so far as it defines anti-Semitism as hatred, as opposed to hostility, it actually raises the bar. All 11 examples in reality should only apply when they are motivated by hatred of Jews. In short it is a junk definition.
Brian Klug, an Oxford don, argues quite convincingly that the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism code is far more rigorous than the IHRA definition.10 I think he is right. Which raises the question, why all the fuss then? The simple answer is that the IHRA is metonymic - a totem for something else.
Viktor Orbán, the anti-Semitic prime minister of Hungary, has just completed a visit to Israel. Orbán not only waged an overtly anti-Semitic election campaign against George Soros, but he described the pro-Nazi dictator of Hungary during the war, Admiral Horthy, who presided over the deportation of nearly half a million Jews to Auschwitz, as an “outstanding statesman”.
Eva Balogh describes in Hungarian Spectrum how “In the last eight years the Hungarian government has made a serious effort to rewrite the history of the holocaust and many other aspects of Hungarian-Jewish history.”11Yet there is not a whisper of complaint from those who are so keen to fight anti-Semitism. The visit of a holocaust revisionist to Israel is simply not mentioned. Also unmentioned is the close relationship of Israel to the Polish government, despite its passage of a law which makes it an offence to suggest that some Poles were complicit in the Nazi holocaust.
This is the holocaust industry that Norman Finkelstein first wrote about. We see Israel, on the one hand, hosting vile far-right leaders of anti-Semitic regimes, while, on the other hand, their chorus of supporters in Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement bleat about a non-existent ‘anti-Semitism’.
It is clear that at a time when the government is going from crisis to crisis panic is setting in amongst the establishment. What the Labour right and their allies in the Zionist movement are doing is waging the fight against Corbyn by other means. Hence Hodge’s outburst. At this time we have talk once more of a centrist party and breaking the mould of British politics. Hence why Vince Cable missed a crucial Brexit vote. He was busy in talks with those who would like to set up such a party.
The failure to adopt the IHRA undigested is being used as a thinly disguised excuse to try to remove Corbyn. What better means of so doing than ‘anti-Semitism’? Those like Jon Lansman of Momentum, who believe that the IHRA has anything to do with fighting anti-Semitism, are the useful stooges of an establishment which wants to be rid of Corbyn. We can expect the volume of propaganda from the mass media to be turned up even further.
4. Simon Kelner, the ‘i’, 24.7.18., Labour’s leaders must listen to the Jewish community.