The Labour party has a problem with antisemitism almost by definition. This is because many Labour party members are highly critical of the current democratically elected government of Israel, and Israel often identifies itself as a Jewish state. So difficult questions naturally arise, like are attacks on the existence of the state of Israel also antisemitic? But these problems can, and should, be addressed and dealt with. (For what it is worth, I personally would answer yes to my previous question.)
Does that mean that anyone who has made antisemitic remarks in the past must be excluded from the Labour party, even if they apologise and fully retract those remarks today? Here I would agree with John Rentoul that the answer has to be no. In particular, because this kind of antisemitism can be frequently found in Muslim communities, it is important to encourage those from these communities who now acknowledge their past mistakes the chance to atone for them by pointing out similar mistakes to others, rather than branding them for life.
Now for the hypocrisy. A week ago, our Prime Minister accused the Labour candidate for mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, with knowingly sharing a platform 9 times with Suliman Gani, a former imam in Tooting (Khan’s constituency) who the Prime Minister said was a supporter of IS. Now if Mr. Gani was a known supporter of IS, this would have been a serious charge against Khan. The only problem is that he is not.
It is not just that Mr. Gani denies being a supporter of IS, and those that know him or have met him think the accusation is obviously false. It is not just that he is a member of many interfaith groups. It is not just that the Prime Minister has produced no evidence that he is an IS supporter. It is also that he has had many meetings with Conservative MPs including the Conservative candidate for London mayor. He has visited No.10 Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament.
Try to imagine how you would feel if the Prime Minister had announced in Parliament that you were an IS supporter. If you are thinking to yourself that would never happen, because you are not a Muslim imam, then I think you should now realise why what the Prime Minister did is so serious and damaging. It is also why any claim by the Prime Minister that his remarks had nothing to do with either Khan’s or Gani’s religion would be at best naive, and more likely a straight lie.
The Conservative candidate for mayor of London, Zac Goldsmith, has run a dog whistle campaign, where he has tried to associate Sadiq Khan with Muslim extremism. He is reported to has described Gani as “one of the most repellent figures in this country”. Does it worry him that Gani has been associated with a number of prominent Conservatives, including himself?! Probably not, because Goldsmith is not a Muslim, so any guilt by association charge would be ridiculous. His opponent and Labour candidate Sadiq Khan is a Muslim. That is the key difference.
Khan is a Muslim, but is clearly not an extremist in any shape or form. The Conservative attacks are based not on Khan’s political views or actions but his religion. How else can Goldsmith justify painting Khan as an extremist for sharing platforms with Gani, when Goldsmith and his colleagues have asked Gani to help recruit other Muslims to the Conservative party.
If nothing is done about this, similar tactics could (and presumably would in any future election ) be applied to any Muslim standing in an election. It also means that if you are a Muslim who happens to know a Muslim candidate, then you may be called an IS supporter by the Prime Minister in the Houses of Parliament (where libel laws do not apply). Basically the Prime Minister and his party are playing to Islamophobia, and treating individuals with the same disregard as tabloid newspapers in order to do so.
It may be fair to criticise the Labour leadership for not being tough enough on antisemitism within Labour, although it is also perfectly fair to allow people time to get the facts and quite unreasonable to have trial by media. But no one could accuse the current Labour leadership of completely ignoring the problem. In contrast, the Prime Minister has made no apology to Mr. Gani over his accusation in parliament, and the Conservative candidate for London mayor continues to use his opponents religion as a weapon against him.
 The man who is currently the favourite to be our next Prime Minister is quite happy to link the views of the President of the United States on Brexit to his Kenyan ancestry. The defence minister Michael Fallon has even gone so far to suggest Khan is a security risk.
is there are typo here: It is not just that Mr. Khan denies being a supporter of ISReplyDelete
rest of para reads as if you mean Mr. Gani there
Thanks - corrected.Delete
I think you meant Gani not Khan in the 4th paraReplyDelete
Thanks - corrected.Delete
Writing or saying “Zionist” or “Zio” is no worse than writing/saying “Communist” or “Commie”, “Fascist” etc. It is POLITICAL. “Zionist” these days is no longer what it was 100 years ago, ie. all about a legitimate self-determination for the Jewish people (less legitimate to steal another people’s land but we’ll leave that aside).ReplyDelete
Nowadays being a “Zionist”, as non-Jewish Gove and Cameron, and Pickles etc etc etc all claim to be, has come to mean: supporting Israel’s continued flouting of international law, continued expansion and colonisation of the West Bank, continued blockading of Gaza, continued outrages such as the Gaza “wars” (aerial bombardment of a trapped mostly civil population) of 2009 and 2014. That is today’s “Zionism” and it is political, supremacist, and totally open to criticism and resistance.
This manufactured crisis has the effect of enabling the depraved behaviour of Israel as a rampaging Apartheid state.
The idea that the UK, perhaps with the USA the safest place for minorities to live (and most Jews will admit this and do so daily by staying here), has become 1930’s Germany…just stop right there.
Muslim people had NOTHING to do with what happened during WW2, they don’t have the same references and neither do they HAVE to.
On what basis are "attacks on the existence of the state of Israel also antisemitic"? No other religion gets its own country at the expense of the indigenous people?ReplyDelete
You are asserting that there are no other relatively monotheistic countries that dispossed another people who had another religion?
"are attacks on the existence of the state of Israel also antisemitic? ... (For what it is worth, I personally would answer yes to my previous question.)"ReplyDelete
I fail to see how an attack on the existence of any particular state in a particular place can in and of itself be deemed racist. (It may well be motivated by racism, but that's a different question).
A state is an artificial, political construct. Building a state somewhere is a political choice - all the more so when that state is being built by ideologically-driven newly-arrived immigrants, at the expense of a native population - and it's perfectly legitimate (in the sense at least of not automatically racist) to oppose that choice on political grounds and to continue to oppose it after it's been taken.
Let's take an example of the creation of another state to illustrate the point. Is it anti-Kurdish (in the sense of racist against Kurds) to oppose the creation of a Kurdish state (as almost all western governments currently do)? It's anti-Kurdish nationalist, but it clearly isn't remotely racist against Kurds in and of itself.
Now let's say that a Kurdish state has been created, and it's 50 years in the future. Has it somehow become racist to still oppose the existence of that state? Let's add that the creation of the state saw the expulsion of the great majority of non-Kurdish citizens (Turks, Arabs, Syriacs etc etc) from the territory to the state was built on - who together comprised the majority population of the territory the state has been built on. Furthermore, the Kurdish army has for decades been exercising military rule over some adjacent territory populated by millions of Arabs while denying them citizenship, and is setting up Kurdish colonies in that territory, and clearly has no intention of ever withdrawing or according citizenship or basic political rights and freedoms to the Arabs there. What's more, ever since the founding of the Kurdish state there has been a never-ending series of wars between it and its neighbours and constant violence within both it and the Arab territory it's occupying. Is it illegitimate and indeed anti-Kurdish racist to say that the creation of the state was rooted in grave injustice and is an on-going disaster, and to oppose its existence on those grounds? It clearly isn't.
Calling for the expulsion of millions of people from their homes after they have been settled their for generations, as some people who oppose the existence of the state of Israel do, is clearly abhorrent. Any solution to the conflict clearly must allow Jewish Israelis to stay in their homes (just as Palestinians should have been allowed to stay in and later return to their homes). But arguing for example that the creation of Israel was gravely injust - in the sense that it disenfranchised and resulted in the expulsion of the great majority of Palestine's native inhabitants from their homes - and has been an ongoing disaster for similar reasons to those outlined above, and that the state of Israel should be replaced by a bi-national state that would allow for the return of those Palestinian refugees who wished to do so, is plainly not remotely racist in and of itself, whether or not you agree with such a proposition.
The creation of many states (the USA, for instance, or Australia) was gravely unjust in much the same way as the creation of Israel. The anti-Semitism of the left manifests itself partly in an obsession with Israel, selective criticism of it and a corresponding tolerance of non-Jewish despots. Think Galloway and Saddam, for instance. This attitude goes hand in hand with a view of the US as the great Satan, waging imperialistic wars at the behest of AIPAC.Delete
This is not to defend the behaviour of the state of Israel. But effective criticism depends on not crossing the line into anti-Semitism, and many on the left seem to find that very difficult. Criticism from people who call for the entire population to be transferred to the US will rightly be dismissed.
"I fail to see how an attack on the existence of any particular state in a particular place can in and of itself be deemed racist. (It may well be motivated by racism, but that's a different question)."Delete
Firstly, the right of nations to self-determination is enshrined in international law. But given your Kurdish analogy, let's assume you don't believe this is really a right at all for anyone. Isn't it nevetheless racist that the Jewish state is singled out for being eliminated with such ferocious criticism and protest?
When people protest against Israel's right to exist, do they also equally protest against Kurdish nationalism? Do they condemn, with equal force, Kurdish terrorist attacks? Do they campaign equally for Yugoslavia to be put back together and the individual states to lose their independence? Do they also call for former colonies like the US and Australia to be removed of their statehood? They are singling out the Jewish state simply for being Jewish - that's anti-semitic.
"Building a state somewhere is a political choice - all the more so when that state is being built by ideologically-driven newly-arrived immigrants, at the expense of a native population."
What even do you mean by the native population? The Land of Israel was predominantly Jewish until the 3rd century - they were expelled by empires numerous times and have returned. So why are Jews the "newly arrived immigrants" and Palestinians the "native population"? Why are Palestinians due the right of return, but not Jews? Sounds like you're singling out the Jews again, ergo anti-semitism.
"Let's add that the creation of the state saw the expulsion of the great majority of non-Kurdish citizens (Turks, Arabs, Syriacs etc etc) from the territory to the state was built on - who together comprised the majority population of the territory the state has been built on."
Except this is a false analagoy. In the case of Israel/Palestine independence, there was a partiition plan that would have given both peoples their own lands. As for the expulsion of Palestinians after 1948 - many were expelled and it was an abhorrent act, but equally Jews were expelled from the Arab conquered areas. For example, Jordan conquered East Jerusalem and immediately expelled all Jews living there and destroyed 58 synagogues.
Look, in everything you have said, you have singled out the Jews for being Jewish... I'm not sure what else to call it.
"The creation of many states (the USA, for instance, or Australia) was gravely unjust in much the same way as the creation of Israel."Delete
First of all, none of what you say remotely counters the point that I was making to Simon that criticism of the existence of a state cannot intrinsically be construed as racist. You've basically said that criticism of some on the left of Israel is MOTIVATED by racism, which may or may not be true (and which I mentioned was a possibility), but is not the same thing.
As regards the creation of many other states having been enormously unjust, that's certainly true. But for one thing, they were created a lot longer ago than Israel (whose creation is still in living memory), and time tends to see these things forgotten. The other, more important point is that there are not large numbers of indigenous refugees living outside of the US or Australia whose return would effectively require the end of the American or Australian states in their current form in the way that the return of Palestinian refugees would effectively end the existence of the Israeli state as we know it. The US and Australia effectively already are bi- (actually multi-national) states. More or less all of the living descendants of the original inhabitants live there and have full citizenship rights. That is very much not the case with Israel and the Palestinians.
"The anti-Semitism of the left manifests itself partly in an obsession with Israel, selective criticism of it and a corresponding tolerance of non-Jewish despots."
There is perhaps something of a disproportionate focus on Israel within elements of the left, but no movements are completely proportionate in their focus. Everyone and every movement has its own bugbears, and there are plenty of alternative explanations for the left's interest in the Israeli Palestinian situation than anti-semitism. It may for example have something to do with the fact that even if other states engage in worse atrocities, few other states have been entirely openly militarily ruling over another people and controlling their land and resources while also withholding from them from all basic rights for decades on end. The Chinese and the Turks at least claim that Uighurs and Kurds are respectively Chinese and Turkish citizens for example. In Israel the six decades-long rule over a foreign people, who the Israelis themselves openly treat as a foreign people, is completely blatant, and in a world that's based around nationalism that attracts attention.
"Firstly, the right of nations to self-determination is enshrined in international law."Delete
What does that mean? Who is a nation? Do the Kurds have the right to self-determination? The Syriacs? The Yazidis? Chaldean Turks? Catalans? Basques? Uighurs? Any one of the hundreds of different linguistic groups living in Papua New Guinea? Any group can declare itself to be a nation and it clearly isn't feasible for all to have their own states in the places they actually live right now, never mind somewhere else. Furthermore even if a group does somehow have such a right, that says nothing about where that right can or should be exercised, or how to square conflicting rights of self-determination. Clearly exercising Jewish self-determination in mandate Palestine was in direct conflict with the Palestinians' right to self-determination.
"Isn't it nevetheless racist that the Jewish state is singled out for being eliminated with such ferocious criticism and protest?"
I'm not sure that it is being singled out for being eliminated with such ferocious criticism and protest (in the UK at least). I've seen only a handful of people suggest that Israel should no longer exist in its current form - and they have been buried in an avalanche of protest. The great majority of people critical of Israel are critical of its policies rather than its existence and are supportive of a two-state solution.
"When people protest against Israel's right to exist, do they also equally protest against Kurdish nationalism? Do they condemn, with equal force, Kurdish terrorist attacks? Do they campaign equally for Yugoslavia to be put back together and the individual states to lose their independence? Do they also call for former colonies like the US and Australia to be removed of their statehood?"
See my reply to someone else above who argued the same point.
"What even do you mean by the native population? The Land of Israel was predominantly Jewish until the 3rd century - they were expelled by empires numerous times and have returned. So why are Jews the "newly arrived immigrants" and Palestinians the "native population"? "
Well if we want to go back to ancient history, I believe the Canaanites and others predated the Israelites in Palestine. But I think most people would prioritise the claims of actual individuals (some of whom are still alive) and their families who had to leave their homes within living memory, who still have the deeds to their houses and so on, over the general claims of a group of people some of whose ancestors lived somewhere literally millennia ago; otherwise we would have to entirely turn the world upside down.
Regardless of our respective views on all of these questions, it doesn't change my original point that to question or oppose the existence of a modern state in its current form simply cannot be viewed as intrinsically racist (even if, as I said, it may be motivated by racism).
" As for the expulsion of Palestinians after 1948 - many were expelled and it was an abhorrent act, but equally Jews were expelled from the Arab conquered areas. For example, Jordan conquered East Jerusalem and immediately expelled all Jews living there and destroyed 58 synagogues."Delete
I meant to address this too in my reply above.
That is clearly deeply unjust as well. Part of the point though of replacing the current state of Israel with a binational state is that EVERYONE affected by such events would be allowed to return to where they lived.
"Look, in everything you have said, you have singled out the Jews for being Jewish... I'm not sure what else to call it."Delete
No, I haven't. I've said that questioning the existence of a state cannot in itself be said to be intrinsically racist, and given some reasons why people might question Israel's existence in its current form for non-racist reasons. (Personally I'm not really a fan of the entire nation-state model, so in that sense I personally would question the existence of many or most modern states in their current forms). I specifically gave a non-Israeli/non-Jewish example to illustrate why these reasons could be based on general principles. It's really amazing that you could throw around charges of anti-semitism based on that.
On the question of whether the left has an “obsession with Israel” or “singles out the Jews”, this might be true of some individuals but as a generalised statement it is false. I’m active on the left in South Wales and since the protests against the killing of civilians in Gaza in 2014 Israel has not featured highly, until the last couple of weeks when it has forced itself to our attention again. I can’t remember the last time it came up at a meeting I attended, inside or outside the Labour Party. We had a small anti-racism march in Cardiff in March, at which I and many others carried placards stating “No to racism. No to anti-Semitism. No to Islamophobia.” I intend to go to a local meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign this week, as I want to update myself and I don’t think it’s yet an offense for which I could be expelled. But last week I went to a reading group at which we discussed the issues of Kashmir and minorities in India, and to a meeting with representatives of the Colombian farmers’ union and human rights organisation. Much of my time in the past weeks has gone into campaigning for the Welsh Assembly elections and, until Carwyn Jones blundered into the UK debate by demanding Livingstone’s expulsion rather than the due process he is entitled to, Israel had not featured at all. There’s no obsession about this.Delete
The driving force behind the left’s concern with Israel is not anti-Semitism but concern with Palestinian rights. The PSC was formed after the Israeli army allowed its Phalangist allies to murder refugees at Shabra and Shatila in 1982, which for many on the left was the first time they had felt it necessary to protest about Israel’s behaviour. I’m not convinced that Israel occupies much more of the left’s attention than it does in broader society and media. A terrorist attack in Tel Aviv is likely to get far more coverage than one would in most countries of the world. Much of political activity is responsive and when an issue is pushed into public attention then we have to deal with it, as we now have to rebut the accusation of anti-Semitism when we would much prefer to be doing something else.
"none of what you say remotely counters the point that I was making to Simon that criticism of the existence of a state cannot intrinsically be construed as racist"Delete
Well yes, in *principle* there is nothing racist about questioning the existence of a state. In *practice* however the source of this sort of questioning, and much of the criticism of Israel, is often tainted by racism. And when people like Galloway deny Israel's right to exist I don't think the creation of a bi-national state is what they have in mind.
"Well yes, in *principle* there is nothing racist about questioning the existence of a state. In *practice* however the source of this sort of questioning, and much of the criticism of Israel, is often tainted by racism."Delete
Maybe, maybe not, but what Simon said (and what I was responding to) was that attacking the existence of Israel was anti-semitic. He didn't say it was sometimes/often motivated by anti-semitism - he said it was just anti-semitic. As I said, I don't buy that attacking the existence of any state can be construed as intrinsically racist.
I've given reasons above other than anti-semitism why people might question Israel's existence in particular. I mean, if Palestinian refugees attack the existence of Israel, is that obviously anti-semitic - or might they simply be motivated by a desire to return to their homes? And how racist by your standards is Israel's decades-long active prevention of the emergence of a Palestinian state?
"And when people like Galloway deny Israel's right to exist I don't think the creation of a bi-national state is what they have in mind."
First of all, Galloway (of whom I am not a fan, to put it mildly), is not representative of the British left in general or even the Labour left, including pro-Palestinian sections. Respect is an entirely marginal movement. But even so, you are wrong on that - he has repeatedly and explicitly called for a binational state. For example, from an Israeli newspaper two months ago: "Galloway also has said Israel should be abolished and replaced with a binational state. "
I think we have to distinguish two concepts here:Delete
1. The right of Israel to exist
2. The right of Israel to exist in its current form
I take it that the first is what Simon is referring to, and I would agree that it is anti-Semitic to deny it, since it denies the rights of the current Jewish population of Israel (even if these are often in direct conflict with the rights of the former Palestinian population). This is not the same as saying that the creation of the state in the first place was a mistake.
The second is more what you're driving at I think, and it seems obvious to me that denying this is not (necessarily) anti-Semitic since the current status is clearly unsustainable and unjust.
The specific proposition of a bi-national state raises its own difficult questions since it means the end of Israel as a Jewish state, which defeats the object of its creation, and would be regarded by many Israelis as tantamount to denying its right to exist at all. However I would agree with you that it is not anti-Semitic to propose and discuss it.
The much-vaunted two-state solution avoids this problem of course, but we have surely long passed the point where this is possible as a result of Israel's long-standing policy of settlement expansion. The irony is that by rendering a Palestinian state impossible, this policy may ultimately leave a bi-national state, and hence the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, as the only available option. I find it difficult to believe that the current subjugation of the Palestinian people will be tolerated indefinitely.
I think there's a bit of, as Smith would say, 'law of unintended consequences' coming through in this. When Corbyn was rising to power, the 'moderates' saw the 'I'm not saying he's antisemetic but he has run around with some unpleasant people, nudge, nudge, wink, wink' attack line as being a good one (didn't work). Now the Tories have picked up on it and are using it against Khan (to much howls of outrage from these same people). This mess is something of Labour's own creation, but it goes back further than just Livingstone being an idiot.ReplyDelete
Great great article. I suspect Daves mudslinging of Khan has less to do with supporting Goldsmiths campaign and more to do with deflecting news away from all their recent policy blunders: disability u-turn/IDS resignation, the doctors strike and the school academy debacle. On top of that there was Cameron's dads tax dodging. You know they are getting desperate when they get this nasty!ReplyDelete
I would agree that attacks on the existence of the state of Israel are tantamount to antisemitism but the attacks I have heard of do not attack the existence but the policies of the state of Israel which, you would agree, is entirely different. In a clip I saw of Ken Livingstone he (quite rightly in my view) distinguishes between antisemitism and criticism of the policies of Israel. Many people conflate the two but of course they are not at all the same. I do not regard myself as antisemitic but I am a severe critic of the policies of the Israeli state.ReplyDelete
With regard to what David Cameron says you really can't expect anything else.
I agree that attacks on Israel right to exist is anti semitic, but I don't agree that labour has ever taken this position. But we do , with, justification, challenge the actions of the israeli state towards palistinians - is that conflated into "an attack on Israel right to exist"? Personally I don't believe I have an anti semitic bone in my body - but if criticising illegal brutality by the israeli state then maybe I am - so far as I'm concerned Israel has deflected justified criticism of it policies with crys of "anti semitism"ReplyDelete
"... and Israel often identifies itself as a Jewish state. So difficult questions naturally arise, like are attacks on the existence of the state of Israel also antisemitic?"ReplyDelete
So are attacks on ISIS anti-islamic?
I'm a bit puzzled with your view on Israel as quoted. I'm not against the existance the state of Israel, but I definitely have misgivings about it being seen as a jewish state. Theocracy is bad news for one, and if being jewish is a question of decent, not religion, then it is worse. I think should understand the problem.ReplyDelete
Personally I do not know anyone in the Labour Party that is anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic and before we accuse people on a particular wing of the party of anti Semitism, we should get the facts straight.ReplyDelete
This link shows who is behind the clear attack on Jeremy Corbyn which is the ultimate target of these smears.
For the record Dr Simon Wren-Lewis, I am not including yourself in anyway with colluding to portray members of the Labour Party as anti-Semites.
Before we accuse anyone of anti-Semitism we should know what Jews themselves are saying about Zionist Israel;
This video explains: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMQ9C6vni0w
The media have gone into overdrive in order to discredit Labour and to sit back whilst they use their powers of communication to peddle myths, is to roll over and let them get away with it.
Here in the USA, most of us think that past immigration laws aimed at maintaining the USA as predominantly of Northern European ancestry were a bad idea, and that the separation of church and state is a good idea. Why is it antisemitic to think that the same is true of Israel?ReplyDelete
I'd agree with reason here - you have to be clear about "rights to exist" and "rights to self-determination". No state has a right to exist - we see changes of statehood regularly, most often because people exert their right to self-determination. A state's right to exist is contingent upon the consent of those living within its territory. That's all the more relevant in the case of Israel, as the state was imposed on many of those already living there.ReplyDelete
This is the nub of the problem. I have no problem with anybody wishing to move to Palestine because they wish to live in the land of the ancestors, and they have to right to a say in the government of that territory - in the same way the immigrants to the UK have a right to vote. What is offensive is to expect to take over the governance of that territory and to expel the existing population. That is what is offensive about Israel, and I would contend that it's not anti-semitic to point that out.
I do find it somewhat troubling that you associate criticism of "the democratically elected government of Israel" with antisemitism. Certainly you are right that there are many people including many Labour supporters who have double standards and are say more critical of the state of Israel than Iran for example which would very arguably constitute antisemitism. However provided there is no double standard, criticism of the government should not be thought of as antisemitic not least because many of the most vocal critics are Jewish themselves. In addition, whilst no one can of course defend Naz Shah's post which was both offensive and antisemitic, there are many legitimate grounds on which to question the state of Israel's right to exist in its current form, beyond the internationally recognised borders of 1967, as a dubiously secular state (as one should any other non-secular state, such as Britain or Iran etc.) and as a semi neo-colonial state. In that sense I feel it could be quite dangerous to associate an anti-zionist position of questioning the right of the state of Israel to exist as it is currently, necessarily with antisemitism either. However I appreciate that your use of the term "right to exist" probably refers more to the context in which Naz Shah used it than in the context that I have here. It should also be mentioned that there is a possibility of further hypocrisy to call out in this issue, since whilst many figures in the Labour Party have rightly called out Livingstone for his offensive and foolish remarks, many of the same figures have never once used their public position to criticise the bombardment of Gaza for example, or the widespread killing of Palestinian civilians. True anti-racist campaigning requires the vocal opposition to all instances of antisemitism and the persecution of Muslims and of all people alike. No one should be allowed to get away with having double standards on this or any other issue, whatever direction they lie.ReplyDelete
"I do find it somewhat troubling that you associate criticism of "the democratically elected government of Israel" with antisemitism."Delete
That I most certainly do not do! What I said was that because the left is critical of the Israel government, it opens itself up to attacks of antisemitism. (Its a statement of fact - no implications are intended.) It therefore becomes important that the left correctly draws the line between criticism of a government which is perfectly justified (as it often is) and statements that amount to antisemitism. That is not easy, as the comments to this post make clear.
Are attacks on the existence of the state of Israel anti-Semitic? I think that depends on what exactly is said and its context. If someone says “I don’t think Jews should have their own state but it’s fine if Muslims, Buddhists or anyone else does”, then that is clearly anti-Semitic as it seeks to deny to Jews what it allows to others. But if someone says “I don’t think there should be a Jewish state, a Christian state, a Hindu state or any other state defined by religion, which should always be kept separate, with equal rights for all citizens”, that is not anti-Semitic as it applies the same principle to all. Trickier are statements along the lines of “I agree in principle that Jews could have their own state but I can’t see how one can exist in practice without denying the national rights of Palestinians”. That could be seen as anti-Semitic if the speaker has no problem with the existence of other states that also deny the rights of national groups outside the state’s self-definition (e.g. Turkey with regard to the Kurds or China with regard to Tibet). But the rights of the Palestinians cannot be ignored so insisting that any political solution gives their rights equal weight to that of Jews should not be seen as anti-Semitic.ReplyDelete
One of the many depressing aspects of the current argument is the way in which discussion of the rights of Palestinians has been marginalised. Yet the defence of these is at the heart of the criticism of Zionism. It is sometimes argued in defence of the existence of Israel that its foundation was no worse in its treatment of the original population than that of any other settler state (Australia, Chile, the US, etc.). That is true. Indeed, even the Nakba massacres do not compare with the genocidal acts (people hunts, infected blankets, etc.) sometimes conducted in other cases. But that misses the point. The argument is not about history but about today. In other states originating in European settlement, the original population continues to suffer from poverty and discrimination and a continual struggle to establish its rights. But there is nothing equivalent to the illegal occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza, the dispossessed refugees, incessant land theft for settlements, or the periodic slaughter of civilians in military assaults. That’s what makes Israel distinctive, not its history, not its Jewish character.
It is this ongoing behaviour that brings into question the legitimacy of the Israeli state. I’m open-minded about what exactly a solution might be. If a two-state solution can be found that is widely recognised as fair on both sides, with acceptable resolution of issues such as refugee rights, borders and security, then fine. But it looks increasingly unattainable as the years go by, as the settlement programme goes ever deeper into occupied territory, and advocating a future two-state solution cannot justify the oppression today of the Palestinian people. Other options, such as a single secular and democratic state, with full political, civil and religious rights and local autonomy, should also be considered. The essential point is the right of all to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The existence of states and their boundaries is a means to that end, not an end in itself.
I can’t leave the subject of anti-Semitism without a comment on Ken Livingstone. He should have been more careful and sensitive, as there are real worries, particularly given the recent targeted attacks on Jews in Europe. But I am not convinced that his observation regarding the Haavara agreement that “Hitler supported Zionism until he went mad and killed millions of Jews” is anti-Semitic. An exact parallel would be, with regard to the Nazi-Soviet pact, that “Hitler supported communism until he went mad and killed millions of Russians” but nobody would regard that statement as anti-Slav. Both statements are inaccurate as making a deal does not imply agreeing with the political philosophy of the other side. Hitler was just pursuing his own objectives and saw these arrangements as expedient at the time they were made. Livingstone is making an error of historical judgement, but Zionism is a political current, not a religion nor an ethnic group, so the statement “Hitler supported Zionism” is no more anti-Semitic than saying “Reagan supported jihadism” is Islamophobic.ReplyDelete
This whole dispute is accelerating rapidly towards a McCarthyite witch-hunt in which those wishing to defend Palestinian rights will be intimidated into silence. We need to step back, focus on today’s issues rather than history, allow time to debate complex and difficult matters, establish clear guidelines and accept due process in investigations. This is getting out of hand.
I want to make a couple of corrections to the third sentence.Delete
1) Remove the word ‘exact’: all parallels between situations have some inexactness; similarly, replace ‘would’ with ‘might’.
2) Replace ‘communism’ with ‘Stalinism’. Communism is an abstraction so would parallel nationalism rather than Zionism. Stalinism is a better fit as it refers to specific people and place.
The sentence then reads ‘A parallel might be, with regard to the Nazi-Soviet pact, that “Hitler supported Stalinism until he went mad and killed millions of Russians”, but nobody would regard that statement as anti-Slav.’
Sorry if this seems pedantic but as this is a well-known blog I have to assume the thought police are monitoring it, so I prefer to be as precise as possible.
I'm really quite disturbed by the first bit of this post. In terms of Israel's right to exist there are several different questions.ReplyDelete
Should have Israel - as in the current state in the current place - been created?
Should have Israel - as in a Jewish homeland somewhere - been created?
Should Israel continue to exist as a specifically Jewish state?
Answering no to any (or all) of these questions is not inherently antisemitic. Not believing in the creation of an ethno-religious "homeland" for a specific group of people is not racist, particularly in terms of not believing that a particular area - which had to be colonised in order to establish a majority in the area - should be that homeland.
The messy part comes in what happens now that the state does exist. If it's "drive all the jews into the sea", then yeah, that's racist.
I really don't see the problem with recognising that Israel shouldn't have come into existence. The USA shouldn't have come into existence - created on the back of genocide and colonialism. The UK shouldn't have come into existence - created on the back of various stages of bloodshed and dominance. Continue that with pretty much every country in the world - history is pretty bloody.
The difference with Israel is that the initial process of colonialism was really quite recent and is continuing.
From JD's comment: "But effective criticism depends on not crossing the line into anti-Semitism, and many on the left seem to find that very difficult. Criticism from people who call for the entire population to be transferred to the US will rightly be dismissed."ReplyDelete
Shah's post on moving the state of Israel onto the continental United States was as realistic a solution to the volatility of the Middle East as Swift's "A Modest Proposal" was to Irish starvation at the end of the 18th century. In other words, a satirical solution which was interpreted as a serious solution by those seeking to harm Labour by a well-timed, modern, low-key version of the Zinoviev letter.
To characterise Naz Shah as a modern-day Swift is just silly.Delete
I agree with Simon on this, though. The kind of anti-Semitism reflected in Shah's post is so commonplace in certain circles that I can believe that she deployed it unthinkingly, and her apology seems genuine. More rejoicing in the kingdom of heaven over a sinner who repents and all that.
On the question of whether the left has an “obsession with Israel” or “singles out the Jews”, this might be true of some individuals but as a generalised statement it is false. I’m active on the left in South Wales and since the protests against the killing of civilians in Gaza in 2014 Israel has not featured highly, until the last couple of weeks when it has forced itself to our attention again. I can’t remember the last time it came up at a meeting I attended, inside or outside the Labour Party. We had a small anti-racism march in Cardiff in March, at which I and many others carried placards stating “No to racism. No to anti-Semitism. No to Islamophobia.” I intend to go to a local meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign this week, as I want to update myself and I don’t think it’s yet an offense for which I could be expelled. But last week I went to a reading group at which we discussed the issues of Kashmir and minorities in India, and to a meeting with representatives of the Colombian farmers’ union and human rights organisation. Much of my time in the past weeks has gone into campaigning for the Welsh Assembly elections and, until Carwyn Jones blundered into the UK debate by demanding Livingstone’s expulsion rather than the due process he is entitled to, Israel had not featured at all. There’s no obsession about this.ReplyDelete
The driving force behind the left’s concern with Israel is not anti-Semitism but concern with Palestinian rights. The PSC was formed after the Israeli army allowed its Phalangist allies to murder refugees at Shabra and Shatila in 1982, which for many on the left was the first time we had felt obliged to protest about Israel’s behaviour. I’m not convinced that Israel occupies much more of the left’s attention than it does in broader society and media. A terrorist attack in Tel Aviv would be likely to get far more coverage than one would in most countries of the world. Much of political activity is responsive and when an issue is pushed into public attention then we have to deal with it, as we now have to rebut the accusation of anti-Semitism when we would much prefer to be doing something else.
A different take on this. ‘Mainly Macro’ frequently discusses the questions of the media and stories and I’m wondering how much of the row about anti-semitism is about how positions are being presented rather than their actual content.ReplyDelete
Livingstone said ““Hitler supported Zionism until he went mad and killed six million Jews”. Suppose that instead he had said “The documented evidence on the Haavara agreement shows that, in the first year of Hitler’s government, it was possible to find some common ground between the Nazi wish to expel Jews from Germany and the Zionist desire to gather Jews into a common homeland. Of course, it didn’t last, and Hitler later lost all sense of political judgement or restraint and murdered six million Jews.” Would this have caused the same outrage?
Similarly, on the existence of Israel, understood as a distinctively Jewish state. “Israel must be destroyed” would be condemned as anti-semitic. But someone might argue “The only solution I can see to the conflict would be negotiations, leading to the creation of a single democratic and secular state from the Jordan to the sea, that would offer to all Jews and Palestinians full citizenship with civil, political and religious rights, and restitution for dispossession.” Would that be seen as anti-semitic, and if so, why?
"in the first year of Hitler’s government, it was possible to find some common ground between the Nazi wish to expel Jews from Germany and the Zionist desire to gather Jews into a common homeland. Of course, it didn’t last, and Hitler later lost all sense of political judgement or restraint and murdered six million Jews.” Would this have caused the same outrage?"ReplyDelete
Actually, this statement would have caused much more outrage. Of course there is common ground between Hitler and the Jews - Hitler wanted the Jews out of Germany or he'd gas them and so the Jews wanted out of Germany to avoid being gassed. These are common in the sense of being polar opposites. To draw an analogy, it's almost exactly like saying the BNP and the state of Pakistan have common ground because they both support people of Pakistani origin living in Pakistan.
In fact, had the state of Israel existed before 1948, we might have saved some of those 6m who were murdered because Hitler's zionist drema wasn't realised. You're forgetting that the Holocaust was one of the main justifications for the need for a Jewish homeland. The Jews ultimately faced extermination in Germany and nobody else would take them. Look, in an ideal world, we wouldn't need self-determination because we'd all be enlightened, anti-racist and could live together without discriminating against and subjugating each other. Until then, I have to ask you why the principle of Jewish self-determination is so controversial?
I’m confused by this response. You appear to object to my use of the phrase “common ground” but then use it yourself. In an earlier comment I stated that “Hitler supported Zionism” was inaccurate as making a deal does not imply agreeing with the political philosophy of the other side. The desire of Jews to leave Germany from 1933 was obviously justified and I have no objection in principle to deals having been made to expedite that (although I might have issues with the actual content). I said “common ground” as, by definition, without it there could be no agreement, but please suggest an alternative if you prefer.Delete
Political trajectories wind around and occasionally paths cross unexpectedly, particularly in situations of conflict. Let me give a couple of examples. During the war, Germany released some Indian prisoners of war so that they could join the Indian National Army. That did not show that Hitler had become converted to the cause of Indian independence (towards which he was always contemptuous); it was simply a matter of military expediency to force Britain to divert resources from other theatres. Similarly, when the German high command agreed Lenin could travel to St. Petersburg in a sealed train, they had not been converted to Bolshevism, nor did it show that Lenin betrayed his revolutionary principles. Far too much is being made of the Haavara agreement. Seeing it as unacceptable does not justify anti-Semitism, and seeing it as acceptable does not justify the oppression of the Palestinians.
You ask why the principle of Jewish self-determination is so controversial but the controversy is not about the principle but about the practice. The reality is that implementing that principle has brought decades of dispossession, occupation, blockade and death to the Palestinians, and that’s what people object to, not the principle itself.
You assert without evidence that I am “forgetting that the Holocaust was one of the main justifications for the need for a Jewish homeland”. On the contrary, I agree that without the Holocaust, Zionism would have remained a small minority current. The argument that European states failed to protect the Jews and that only a strong Jewish state can be relied on to do so has to be taken seriously, and any resolution of the conflict has to address it. But I have to question if the state of Israel with its oppression of the Palestinians and its often aggressive posture towards its neighbours can really provide that protection. Over the long term, the demographic, military and diplomatic balance is shifting against Israel. Unless a durable solution can be found, then one day, perhaps decades hence, the dam will break with catastrophic consequences for both the Jewish people and the wider world. A negotiated resolution that meets the legitimate concerns and aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians is essential for security as well as for peoples’ rights.