Anti-Semitism is an issue that has often afflicted both the right and the left, much of the time, for good reason. It is entirely just and righteous to defy the beliefs and actions of Holocaust Deniers and those that try and attribute the gross inequalities of an entire socio economic system, to one religious or ethnic group. It is important as Socialists and Anarchists that we recognise that Anti - Semitism is a problem, and that we do all we can to address it. Despite this, the words of those on the left are sometimes undeniably twisted by the mainstream media, to point a knife at those that would dare condemn the actions of Israel against Palestine, or those that sell Israel arms. Again, this is not to suggest that criticism of Israel cannot be done in a way that promotes antisemitism. Discrepancy must of course be shown to make sure we do not conflate the actions of the Israeli state, with the beliefs and actions of individual Jews. The issue of Anti-Semitism on the left, recently expressed itself in the UK, when both the Labour Party and The National Union of Students (NUS) were accused of harbouring anti Semites. Both these examples bring up some interesting questions about the leadership and beliefs of both these groups, and about the issue of antisemitism on the left in general.
Do the left single Israel out for criticism?
Today the British Media often attack the left for singling out Israel for criticism and not criticising the regimes of Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine. Despite this, history tells quite the opposite story. For example, The Arab Revolt in Palestine, concided with the Spanish Civil War. However, while the left rallied to fight against Franco during the war, the Palestinians were either ignored or condemned. Labour, fully opposed to the Revolt, fully supported the governments counter insurgency, while left wing publications such as the Daily Herald condemned the revolt as the work of Hitler and Mussolini who were ‘attacking British Rule and Jewish Colonisation’. In addition to this, when the 1948 Palestinian war created 700,000 Palestinian refugees, those on the left who usually formed the basis of refugee relief campaigns were silent. No semblance of support for Palestinians was even remotely visible.
The reason for this attitude cannot be attributed to the influence of Jews on the left in my opinion, but to eurocentrism and a colonial attitude, from which the left was by no means immune. A belief widely held amongst leftist circles at the time, was that Jewish Colonisers in their material progress were acting as a modernising vanguard. Furthermore, a hope held amongst those to the left of the Labour Party, such as the Communist Party, was that Israel would become a left leaning Jewish state, which would offset the block of western controlled countries in the Middle East such as Iraq and Syria. This proved to be a false hope when within a few years Israel was positioning itself as a pro McCarthyism, Anti Soviet state. The pro-Israel attitude only began to change in 1967 when the Arab Israeli War, forced a new left, influenced by anti-racist and anti-colonial attitudes, to undertake a reassessment of the issue. This was strengthened by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation), giving a voice to Palestinians. Despite this, it would take many decades before the wider British left embraced the Palestinian cause.
The Media’s attitude to religion in the UK
Earlier this year, Labour MP Naz Shah made a series of Anti - Semitic comments. Notice I use the term Anti – Semitism to describe her attitude. This is because, I feel that, regardless of the intension, some of Shah’s comments are worthy of condemnation. Almost immediately following this was a controversy within the National Union of Students, when their Muslim Leader Malia Bouattio made the comment that some universities are ‘something of a Zionist outpost’. Regarding the fact that the reaction to this was mainly from Conservative Students, rallying for disaffiliation with the NUS, I do not personally regard this comment as anti-Semitic.
Weather you interpret the above mentioned comments as Anti – Semitic or not, I do think it is unfair of the media to play games, by acting as if the attitude of some People are the attitude of the entire political Left. Right wing newspapers and media outlets have already latched on to the controversy to tar and undermine Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as other left wing individuals and groups. The right wing media are extremely unlikely champions for this cause. Only a year ago, they were pushing the narrative that the previous Labour Leaders Jewish origins, apparently made clear by the fact that his father was a Marxist and that the Labour Leader could not eat a bacon sandwich, made him unfit to be Prime Minister. The antisemitism row implicating Naz shah and the NUS, occurred against the backdrop of a hostile London mayoral election, where Labour Candidate Sadiq Kahn, being a Muslim, was turned in to a campaign issue. Despite Khan distancing himself from Jeremy Corbyn, making clear that his interests lie in appeasing London’s elite, Khan was labelled by conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, as a Trojan horse candidate for Islamic extremists. It is ironic then, that despite Jews being chastised by the media prior to World War One, for being supporters of communism, predominantly Jewish organisations such as the Zionist Federation, are now being called upon to lead the charge against Muslims and the left. What are the possible reasons for this?
UK foreign Policy and Israel
Blair and Bush’s Middle Eastern interventions in the early 2000’s, included the unreserved backing of bombings against Palestinians in Gaza and Lebanon. Despite Blair distancing himself from the asinine and right wing ‘clash of civilisations’ rhetoric, by arguing that Islam had a moderate wing, he stuck to the simplistic and misguided belief that what fuelled Islamist movements was not political grievances, but ways of life contrary to liberal modernisation. Rather than acknowledging that the militant Islamic groups Hamas and Hezbollah were born from Israeli occupation, Blair sought to appease the Palestinians by repeatedly affirming to them that he cared about their cause. All the while Blair focussed on prioritising Israel’s security concerns, thus diplomatically yet dishonestly collaborating with Palestinian authorities, in order to underpin the Israeli occupation.
Years of British governments, Labour or conservative, have tried to keep the status quo in Gaza and Lebanon. This has dulled the reactions of Leaders of the Jewish Community in the UK to Israel’s brutal foreign policy, to its right wing ideology and to its increasingly racist political culture. Jeremy Corbyns condemnation of Israel at this week’s labour antisemitism committee, have already come under fire from some of these leaders. This is not to label everyone affiliated with the Jewish Community an Israel supporter or a racist, but simply to say that those condemning the entire left for antisemitism, are much of the time, those same people turning a blind eye to Israeli politicians, advocating that Palestinians of the occupied territories be ‘transferred’ to neighbouring countries. This problem goes beyond the occasional bit of rhetoric. Either by the revoking of ID passes or by demolition of property, Palestinians in places such as East Jerusalem, The Negev and Jordan valley are being ethnically cleansed, by a regime that do not care about the damage it inflicts. In Israel itself, Palestinians are withheld state provisions and constantly concentrated into smaller and smaller areas. While I am not going to sit here and pretend, like some small minded liberals do, that this is an issue which transcends political ideology, it is an issue which regardless of your personal beliefs, needs to be recognised. We do not achieve anything by using blanket condemnations of the left, Muslims, or any other group or minority.
The Zionist aspiration to have Israel fully realised as the homeland of the Jews, cannot be realised without relying on western imperialist ideology, and denying the self-determination of indigenous people. The current hostility of the left towards Zionism is, for the most part, nothing to do with the fact that it is related to Jewishness, but due to the fact that Israel’s foreign policy towards the Palestinians is an extension of western power and racial privilege. This is not to say we should ignore all accusations of antisemitism levelled against the left, many of them may well be genuine, and it is important that we have a serious discussion about the issue of racism within leftist groups. However, campaigns such as the boycott Israel and the divestment and Sanctions Campaign show that solidarity with Palestine has become intrinsic to the struggle against racism and all other forms of oppression.