All my life, I voted Labour. My parents voted Labour. My aunts and uncles voted Labour. Voting Labour was about social justice, fighting class prejudice, equal opportunities, supporting the ‘workers’, confronting undeserved privilege, helping the weak against the strong.
In 2001, on polling day in the UK General Election, I was visiting my mother in hospital and intended to vote that evening. My car broke down in the car park and I had to wait for the AA to tow me to a petrol station. I then had 12 minutes to get to the polling booth, a distance of about 4 miles. I broke the speed limit several times, finally screeching to a halt at the school where I was to vote. As I ran in, the officials were packing up. ‘Am I too late?’, I asked. ‘You have one minute’, they replied. I put my X against the Labour candidate and presumed that I was the last person in the country to vote.
I have always insisted that we should all vote. People died so we can vote. Most people in the world do not have the right to vote in a democratic election.
I had also long held the view that whatever your views on Israel and how those views are shared or not shared by a particular political party, you should vote for what is best for the country, for the UK. Your support of Israel should not influence how you want THIS country to be run. This was always my view. I took the position that I have a duty to my fellow citizens to vote for a party that would would benefit most people and I should not subordinate this solemn duty to my own parochial affiliations,
Then Ed Miliband happened.
Miliband began making statements about Israel and Gaza which would sit well coming from the mouths of Israel’s enemies; virulent and shrill anti-Zionists. Yet Ed declared he WAS a Zionist. So, why was he couching discussion of the Gaza conflict in such terms? I came to the conclusion that he was disingenuous. He was playing to both the far Left in his party and the Muslim community, which he assumed likes to hear politicians condemning Israel. In other words, he was a left wing Labour politician first and a Jew and a Zionist somewhat low-down in his list of cultural identification. The virulence of his language simply said ‘Yes, I’m a Jew, but don’t let that put you off voting for me because I can condemn Israel like a good’un’.
At the last election, despite knowing my Jewish Labour MP is a Zionist, I decided that voting for him would mean that I wanted a Labour MP and another seat in the Commons which might bring Miliband to power. My view was that the UK would become a darker place for Jews if that happened. I’m sure my parents and ancestors would have understood why I stopped supporting the Labour party. Turkeys shouldn’t vote for Christmas, as the saying goes.
And it would be darker because anti-Zionism is very easily converted to anti-Semitism. You don’t believe me? Well, does your church, mosque, C of E school or your Muslim school require three metre high fencing and security guards? My Jewish school does. My synagogue does. And the reason is not because there are a lot of anti-Semites in the UK, it’s because there are a lot of anti-Zionists – and they don’t pay too much attention to the distinction.
If you don’t think anti-Zionism is all too often anti-Semitism then explain to me why any conflict between Israel and the Palestinians makes me less safe, but when Islamists kill UK citizens across the globe the Muslim community in the UK, quite rightly, garners sympathy and reassurance that these events have nothing to do with them.
So when Ed lost the election I was relieved. And, despite Cameron also using emotive language on Gaza and the conflict in general, he is very strong on fighting anti-Semitism (its why there is a security guard outside my synagogue) and he is generally supportive of Israel whilst being, when so moved, a critical friend. That’s fine. Israel is not immune from criticism.
Then Corbyn happened.
This was pretty much the nightmare scenario that no-one believed could happen. But happen it did. The Trots had arrived. And I wrote about it here.
I predicted that this election of a long-standing Israel hater would embolden every anti-Zionist in the party and outside. Since his election as leader it has been clear that anti-Israelism is firmly centre stage as never before for the the far Left. Anti-Semitism was fashionable and unashamed at last, albeit, frequently fig-leafing itself as anti-Zionism.
A string of anti-Semitic statements from Labour Party members in recent weeks and days culminated in one the Four Horsemen of whom I wrote, Ken Livingstone, making the most egregious and incomprehensible statements about Jews and Nazis that has ever been heard from a politician in this country,
I don’t want to rehearse the details of this furore or Ken Livingstone’s historical illiteracy, as you can find many more able commentators views strewn across the media (Niall Ferguson in the Sunday Times, for example), but I do want to try, as others, to make the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. I also want to understand how politicians from a progressive party actually inflame the problem which they vehemently oppose.
Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. That is the dictionary definition and anyone who claims he can’t be anti-Semitic because Arabs are Semites is clearly anti-Semitic.
Anti-Zionism is more complex. To understand anti-Zionism you have to understand Zionism. Zionism was and remains a political movement that sought to establish a national home for Jews in their ancestral land. How that was to be achieved and its affect on other groups living in that ancestral home are not part of the definition, although they are part of the history of Zionism.
Zionism achieved its goal in 1948. The State of Israel is as legitimate an entity as the United States. Whether you like it or not. Being anti-Zionist means you do not believe that a national home for Jews in Palestine should have been created.
Anti-Zionism, in these terms, is a perfectly legitimate position to hold. I could say that I don’t believe Kurdistan should become an independent state (I actually do believe it should, by the way). That would not mean I am anti-Kurd, it might mean that I don’t believe the national aspirations of the Kurds should allow chunks of Turkey, Iraq and Syria to be taken as that homeland.
68 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, millions of people, mainly Muslim, but also their Marxist and progressive friends in Europe and across the world, want to see the Jewish state destroyed. Either they want the Jews to ‘go back home’ or they are deluded to believe that if there were one state for Jews and Palestinians it would be a democratic country where everyone would get on swimmingly with each other and no-one would kill anyone any longer.
That is anti-Zionism. It is either blatant anti-Semitism or it is the denial of Jewish nationalist aspirations. Anti-Zionism can be different to anti-Semitism, but it almost always is, at its core, anti-Semitism because it denies Jewish identity, history and rights whilst championing those who are openly and proudly anti-Semitic.
Time and again we hear the defence that critics of Israeli policies are smeared with accusations of being anti-Semitic to close down the debate on Israel’s ‘crimes’. That would be true if these ‘criticisms’ were made in the same way as criticism of other countries. Yet, when Israel attacks Gaza the streets of countries across the world are thronged with demos of very angry people who want Israel destroyed, Jews exterminated, and in support of Hamas or Hezbollah or both. Can you name any other country which creates such outrage and hatred? No Israel supporter I know, no Jewish or Zionist institution I know regards criticism of Israeli government policies illegitimate or anti-Semitic. Contemplating the destruction of Israel because you don’t like it is, surely, anti-Semitic. If not, tell me another country you wish destroyed.
‘Criticism’ of Israel can be found in the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement which seeks to stop all trade and cultural contact with Israel to force it to change its policies and whose members often reveal that their real goal is to destroy Israel by kicking out 6 million Jews, or at least visiting on those Jews the consequences of becoming part of a Palestinian state. I’m sure they would all call themselves anti-Zionists even those that would need to have the concept explained to them. But never anti-Semitic.
I cannot help come to the conclusion that the Palestinians have become the poster-boys of Left Wing anti-Zionism because Israel is a Jewish state. Otherwise, how can a ‘progressive’ become an apologist for, and find common cause with, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, anti-Democratic, homophobic Islamists in the form of Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority. By all means criticise settlements, prejudice, even the tactics of war, but don’t then ally yourself with anti-Semites. Does that not make YOU an anti-Semite, even if you did sleep with a couple of Jewish girls (Livingstone).
Some Labour politicians (and those from other parties most notably Greens and Lib Dems, SNP and also some in the Conservative Party) ideologically support those that demonise the Jewish state and wish for its destruction whilst at the same time being completely against anti-Semitism. Once such person is Diane Abbott MP.
Her constituents include many Ultra Orthodox Jews. She has worked vigorously to protect them from attack in their schools and synagogues. But this same MP who appears at pro-Palestinian rallies, as a dutiful progressive has to do, cannot see that one of the reasons her Jewish constituents need her protection is because the uber-rhetoric of anti-Zionism which demonises, delegitimises and seeks to destroy Israel, which she cannot fail to see at these same rallies, is responsible for the hate directed at her Jews. It is the same equation we have seen in Belgium and France. The only difference is that the outcome of murderous Jew-hatred has not yet been visited on London or Manchester.
This is the double-think of the progressive Left. It divides the brain so that they can be class warriors fighting all forms of prejudice but at the same time supporting the most bigoted people on the planet. The progressive Left, therefore, in the UK or Europe, is guilty of outrageous hypocrisy and must share at least some part of the blame for the toxic anti-Semitism that is invading Europe. It is responsible because it is often the midwife of ‘anti-Zionism’.
This is why the leader of the Labour Party has asked for an investigation into anti-Semitism AND “other forms of racism’ in the Labour Party.
He simply cannot bring himself to admit that anti-Semitism has a unique place in his party. He is unlikely to find very much, if anything, about these ‘other forms’, so why include them when the recent row was about anti-Semitism only. But, perhaps, he might ask Shami Chakrabati to investigate anti-Zionism in his party – and how it victimises Jews in their national homeland. He might ask Shami to investigate individual party members’ support for pernicious Islamists and anti-Semites. Now that would be a worthwhile enquiry.
Sadly, Shami is likely to turn over a few small stones lurking in dark, dank places in the party and find, lo and behold, someone is anti-Semitic. Hooray, the party faithful will say, that’s sorted that problem out, now let’s move on to that rally where we can all be Hamas.