Giving legitimacy to Zionism

David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists looks at Corbyn’s latest attempt to appease the right

On July 21, in the latest futile attempt to placate the right of the party, the Labour leadership issued what it says is the first in a series of “education materials for our members and supporters to help them confront bigotry, wherever it arises”. And, of course, “Our first materials are on anti-Semitism, recognising that anti-Jewish bigotry has reared its head in our movement.”

That last phrase actually strengthens the right’s hand. What does it mean to say that anti-Semitism has “reared its head” within Labour? Surely, nowadays, the number of Labour members who hold such backward views is vanishingly small. Of course, since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader membership has increased by some 200,000. Amongst them, not doubt, there will be a tiny proportion who hold all manner of strange ideas.

The national executive committee has just released figures revealing that in the first six months of the year Labour received complaints about 625 members relating to anti-Semitism - and, demonstrating the extent to which this whole business has been weaponised, no fewer than 658 other complaints about people who it turned out were not even in the party!

However, in almost half of the cases against actual members it was found that there was no case to answer: no evidence was uncovered of any breach of party rules. In 90 of the remaining cases, members were given either a warning about possible misconduct (eg, relating to comments that might be interpreted - or misinterpreted - as anti-Semitic) or - much the same thing - a “reminder of misconduct”. During that six-month period just eight people were expelled, three were given extended suspensions and another four were issued with warnings. The investigations are still ongoing in the remainder of cases, but we can expect the findings to be similarly proportioned - as they were back in February, when general secretary Jennie Formby issued figures for the previous period.

In other words, anti-Semitism has not “reared its head” in the Labour Party, according to the normal understanding of that phrase. However, the July 21 statement bends over backwards to give ground to the right by talking about the “unsettling truth” in relation to the claims. It begins by stating that “other political parties and some of the media exaggerate and distort the scale of the problem in our party”, but goes on to say that, despite such exaggerations and distortions, “we must face up to the unsettling truth that a small number of Labour members hold anti-Semitic views and a larger number don’t recognise anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories”.1

Note, by the way, that it is only members of “other political parties” and “some of the media” who are accused of exaggeration and distortion. In reality virtually the entire establishment, backed up by the Labour right, including the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, is engaged in an ongoing campaign aimed at removing Jeremy Corbyn as leader - and, of course, charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ have been used specifically for that purpose.

The truth is, given Corbyn’s past record of pro-working class and anti-imperialist statements, he just cannot be trusted with the premiership. Yes, he continues to give ground to the right, but he is still totally unreliable from the point of view of the ruling class. Imagine if he was prime minister and Donald Trump was about to launch a military attack on, say, Iran. Despite the extent of the ‘taming’ Corbyn has undergone, it remains very likely that he would instinctively oppose such a move - which is why the establishment, together with Labour’s pro-capitalist right wing, will continue mobilising against him, not least through making false accusations of anti-Semitism.


But there are many other examples of the leadership giving ground in the latest document. Take this, for example:

Today, some conspiracy theories substitute Israel or Zionists for Jews, presenting Israel as controlling the world’s media and finances. Others contain further anti-Semitic claims, such as Israeli responsibility for 9/11 or control of Isis.

While we are obviously opposed to the idiotic “conspiracy theories” referred to, note the seamless transition from “anti-Semitic” to ‘anti-Israel’. Most of the tiny handful of people coming out with such crazy nonsense are probably anti-Semites, but that does not mean that claims of “Israeli responsibility for 9/11” or of “control” of Islamic State, are necessarily anti-Semitic. Equally to the point, how many such people are in the Labour Party? And the danger is that any criticism of Israel is branded as anti-Semitic. For example, we know that is the past Israel supported Hamas in order to undermine Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organisation - is this historical truth or an “anti-Semitic” “conspiracy theory”?

Then there is this passage:

In response to 19th century European anti-Semitism, some Jews became advocates for Zionism: Jewish national self-determination in a Jewish state. Since the state of Israel was founded in 1948, following the horrors of the holocaust, Zionism means maintaining that state. Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people.

This is totally confused. Yes, Zionism was a response to 19th-century anti-Semitism across Europe - according to the Zionist narrative, Jews will always be oppressed, wherever they settle, so the only solution is for them to found their own state. However, while that response was perhaps understandable, it was nevertheless reactionary, in that it was divisive and separatist - as opposed to a united fightback against oppression, headed by the working class.

In this connection the phrase, “some Jews”, is rather vague. In reality only a tiny proportion succumbed to this separatist ‘solution’ to oppression - most working class Jews viewed themselves as part of the workers’ movement, alongside those of other religions and none.

However, the worst part of the above quote is the ‘definition’ of Zionism: apparently it means “Jewish national self-determination in a Jewish state”. It should be obvious to everyone that “national self-determination” applies only to … nations! True, Zionists today - not least the Israeli establishment - declare that there exists a common “Jewish nation” scattered around the globe, which must now be ‘reunited’.

But nations are defined, first and foremost, by their occupation of a common territory, in which they speak a common language and have developed a common culture. The overwhelming majority of, say, British Jews consider themselves to be part of the British nation - which, of course, they are. It is true that, in the decades following the establishment of Israel, there has now come into being an Israeli-Jewish (or Hebrew) nation, which, under any sort of future democratic settlement, should have the right to self-determination (but not the right to oppress Palestinians or take their land).

The Labour document at one point claims to be neither for nor against Zionism, when it states:

Arguing for one state with rights for all Israelis and Palestinians is not anti-Semitic ... Anti-Zionism is not in itself anti-Semitic and some Jews are not Zionists. Labour is a political home for Zionists and anti-Zionists. Neither Zionism nor anti-Zionism is in itself racism.

However, there is no mistaking which side it is on when it says that, since the establishment of the state of Israel, “Zionism means maintaining that state”. That is inadequate and therefore incorrect. Zionism is a form of colonialism which has meant expanding that state and ridding it of millions of Palestinians in order to ensure a permanent majority for the “Jewish nation”, most of whom are content to remain elsewhere.

Thankfully, the document at least makes an effort to balance its overall pro-Zionism when it states:

That does not mean limiting legitimate criticism of the Israeli state or its policies or diluting support for the Palestinian people’s struggle for justice, their own state, and the rights of refugees and their descendants. The impact that the creation of Israel had and still has on the Palestinian people means the struggle for justice for them and an end to their dispossession is a noble one; Labour supports Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution to the conflict.

Note, by the way, that, for the most part the document defines anti-Semitism as “hatred towards Jewish people”. This is inadequate. But not as inadequate as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition”, which was adopted by the party in 2016. This states in its entirety:

Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.2

While I have no objection to the second sentence, it can hardly be described as part of a ‘definition’, in that it does not facilitate the understanding of what anti-Semitism actually is. So that just leaves the first sentence, which tells us what anti-Semitism “may be expressed as”: ie, “hatred toward Jews”. What about prejudice or discrimination against Jews? Surely it is obvious that they are anti-Semitic too, and you do not have to hate Jews to act in a prejudicial or discriminatory manner against them.

In other words, this is a useless ‘definition’ and the Corbyn leadership and left majority on the NEC should be ashamed for having been talked into accepting it. But, of course, the reason why the right proposed it was not because of those two sentences, but because of the 11 so-called “examples” of ‘anti-Semitism’, seven of which relate to criticism of Israel!

  1. This and the following quotations can be found both in the official Labour statement carried on its new “mini-site” (https://labour.org.uk/no-place-for-antisemitism) and in an identically worded leaflet (http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/No-Place-for-Antisemitism.pdf).↩︎

  2. www.holocaustremembrance.com/working-definition-antisemitism.↩︎