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Israel, Labour & Antisemitism

As the Labour party tries to put to bed the summer long controversy it has unwittingly found itself embroiled in, chiefly due to the actions of its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Londoners woke up to another vile display of anti-Semitic sentiment thinly veiled under the guise of anti-Zionism (I have written previously about this here).

Placed at six public bus stations around the city were posters with the statement; “Israel is a racist endeavour”. They were put up without the authorisation of the Transport for London (TfL) authority by the pro BDS advocacy group London Palestine Action. The group identifies as “a network of people in London taking creative action against Israeli apartheid through BDS and other effective, participatory Palestine solidarity work.”

The stunt was seemingly in response to the reluctant acceptance by the Labour party of the working definition of anti-Semitism put out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which states:

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

As part of the guidance for this definition the following illustration is used:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

It is this statement that caused the controversy as the Labour Party has been replete with activists who make accusations like this about Israel, not least its leader Jeremy Corbyn. His personal interference in the process by trying to push through an addendum to the definition that would allow Labour members to call Israel racist is a prime example. He was overruled on this by the National Executive Committee (NEC) labour’s highest-ranking body. However, they did also adopt a statement clarifying that by accepting the IHRA definition it will not “in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of the Palestinians.” Whatever that means? Corbyn added that it is not to “be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

This is why Labour had such trouble accepting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism; their leader clearly does not agree with it! In the 1980’s Corbyn was involved with a group called the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine, whose stated purpose was its “opposition to the Zionist state as racist, exclusivist, expansionist and a direct agency of imperialism.” Or more simply put to “eradicate Zionism” [1]…. i.e. eradicate the state of Israel.

In case anyone is in any doubt, or still wishes to hide behind the claim that “it is not racist to criticise the state of Israel” (a fact the IHRA clearly agrees with) we need only look at a few more examples that prove his actions go far beyond mere criticism. Corbyn has a long-standing relationship with the propaganda wing of the Islamic Republic of Iran Press TV. A channel that is a constant source of vile anti-Semitic tropes including hosting terrorists and holocaust deniers. Recently a video surfaced from 2013 of Mr Corbyn claiming that “Zionists” – including those who have lived in the UK their whole lives, clearly do not understand English irony. Again, any unbiased observer can obviously see that the term “Zionist” is being used as a euphemism for Jew. If we need to continue, we can: In 2001 Mr Corbyn invited the radical hate preacher Raed Salah, who champions classical anti-Semitic blood libels and promotes terrorism, to have tea at the UK Parliament. Then of course we have the more recent scandal where Corbyn was seen laying a wreath at a ceremony in Tunisia in 2014 to honour the masterminds of the 1972 Munich Massacre – when Palestinian terrorist group Black September kidnapped and killed eleven members of the Israeli Olympic Team. No one, not even the usual left-leaning media outlets, were too impressed with his “I was present but not involved” explanation.[2]

Such a consistent and disgusting list of offences coming from the leader of a major political party should alarm all of us. Veteran labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge recently called Corbyn an “anti-Semite and a racist”. A statement she was briefly investigated for by a disciplinary panel, which was subsequently dropped. However, in light of recent revelations she has now said that “everything that has happened since then has confirmed my view that I was right.” She is not alone in expressing deep concern over the direction of the Labour Party. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaking at the Jewish Labour Movements annual conference urged Corbyn to remove the “stain” of anti-Semitism from the party.

Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to one member, there are currently over 250 cases featuring alleged anti-Semitism that have been referred to Labour’s ethics panel for investigation. The truth is that for a long time the hard-left socialist ideology that undergirds progressivism has been a fertile ground for anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist narratives towards Israel. The irony is that as these critics are coming from a party that is supposedly “anti-racist” in all forms. Therefore, having accepted a skewed narrative of the current complexities of the Middle East they honestly believe their criticism is legitimate – even justified! As author Melanie Philips has said;

“This is why Labour’s antisemitism problem cannot be solved. Far beyond the unlovely person of Corbyn himself, it is rooted in bigotry over Israel that has become the default position of mainstream progressive politics. And that, in turn, is part of a broader picture.”[3]

This same fact has long been recognised in academic literature too. Writing in the 1990’s leading expert on anti-Semitism Robert Wistrich says:

“that this contemporary anti-Zionist left…will invariably claim that it is anti-racist and rejects anti-Semitism. Yet the stereotypes of Jews that are found in the literature of the political left are extremely negative, reflecting as they do a built-in visceral hatred of Israel and Zionism”. [4]

Such activities are nothing more than classical anti-Semitism repackaged under a hard-left pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist narrative and should be called out as such! If any one is still puzzled by this connection, I trust the irony is not lost on them that the day (6th September) which these posters appeared on bus stops around London is the anniversary of the 1972 Munich massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed. I doubt that the London Palestine Action group was unaware of this.

Is it any wonder that a recent poll conducted by The Jewish Chronicle in Britain revealed that almost 40% of British Jews said they would consider emigrating if Corbyn became PM. We should be very careful not to dismiss this undercurrent of anti-Semitic sentiment presently rearing its ugly head as scaremongering or political posturing. For as the Jewish community know well, and modern historians will confirm, that one of the principle lessons of Jewish history is “that repeated verbal slanders are sooner or later followed by violent physical deeds.”[5]

How tragic it is that not even one generation has passed since the Holocaust and we are once again witnessing the blatant outward expression of anti-Semitism in the western world. It requires a firm response from all those who understand the debt western civilisation owes to its Judaeo-Christian heritage. It also requires an equally firm response from anyone who claims to oppose racism – not racism based on identity politics or victimhood narratives that are part of progressive politics, but racism against all people equally. As Christians it means we must absolutely repudiate anti-Semitism in the strongest possible terms wherever and whenever it appears. Unfortunately, there is a sad legacy not only of virulent anti-Semitism within politics but also within the church. The church today must show solidarity with and assurance to the Jewish community by demonstrating to them that these charges will not go unnoticed and will not be left unanswered.

[1] Freedland, Jonathan. For Corbyn, precision and honesty are the way out of this wreath mess. The Guardian. 15th August 2018.

[2] Sabbagh, Dan. Jeremy Corbyn: I was present at wreath laying but I don’t think I was involved. The Guardian. 14th August 2018.

[3] Phillips, Melanie. The West’s Anti-Semitism Crisis. September 7 2018.

[4] Wistrich, Robert. Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism in the Contemporary World. London: The Macmillan Press. 1990. Pg. 48

[5] Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. London: Phoenix Press 2001. Pg. 579


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