Antisemitism continues to pollute the Left
Friday 25th March 2016
In February, the co-chair of the Oxford Union Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, resigned his position in protest against antisemitism in the society. That evening the OULC had voted to support Oxford Israeli Apartheid Week which, according to its official website, “aims to raise awareness about Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people.” An internal investigation conducted by the OULC has been sent to the Labour Party. A press release by the Oxford Union Jewish Society appears to vindicate Chalmers.
This month the Labour Party has re-expelled one vehement antisemite, Gerry Downing, has put another, Vicki Kirby, under investigation, and, has openly readmitted Beinazir Lasharie, a Labour councillor in Kensington who thinks that Jews were “behind 9/11 and … ISIS,” as reported by the blogger Guido Fawkes over at order-order.com. It would be easy to pin the blame on Jeremy Corbyn. His hard Left faction has always had a penchant for antisemitism, but it’s been spilling over into the mainstream for some time now.
Traditional antisemitism is based on eugenics and race theory. Jews, it is said, are an inferior race because of their parasitic nature. They set-up in a host country, take over its economic system by stealth, defile its women, muddy the blood of the natives, and break down the moral and structural fibre of civilisation. In the United Kingdom, this exists chiefly on the far-flung fringes of the extreme Right. This, however, isn’t the Left’s antisemitism. Framed by its own prejudices, the antisemitism of the Left can be described as ‘antisemitic anti-Zionism’.
Founded upon an excessive hatred for Israel, Leftist antisemites see the Jewish state as the last bastion of imperialism. White European settlers ethnically cleansed the land of an indigenous population of Palestinian Arabs. Palestinians tried to reclaim their property and were driven back into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Victimised and oppressed, beaten into submission, and at risk of being exterminated, the Palestinians have been forced by Israel to use violent methods to get their homes back.
At its most extreme, antisemitic anti-Zionism attempts to expiate the Holocaust by inverting it, making Israel play the role of Nazi Germany. Zionism is racist because it views Jews as superior, so the logic goes. The Palestinians have been herded into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, their “open air concentration camps.” Rumours persist of abductions, medical experiments and even clandestine mass exterminations. Palestinians are now the Jews, and the Jews have become the Nazis. Benjamin Netanyahu is Adolf Hitler, and the Israeli Defence Force is the SS – all that’s missing are a few swastikas.
If you peel enough layers off of the onion of history you can find your desired culprit. If you selectively read history and deny people agency then you can come up with a very warped narrative to nicely compliment your partly-peeled onion. Leftist antisemitism does both of these things superbly.
It is often said that criticising Israel gets one unfairly labelled an antisemite. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be (and is not) regarded as antisemitic. It’s when Israel is held up to a higher standard that it crosses the line into antisemitism. Political scientist Alan Johnson spoke to this topic in a 2015 lecture. He explained that it constitutes the demonisation of Zionism as racism, an absolute rejection of Zionism, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
This comes to the crux of the issue: the hard Left does not want a two-state solution; they want a single Palestinian state. They want to wipe Israel off the map “from the river to the sea.” There is a distinction between criticising government policy and demanding the end of a country, the latter is something quite different.
Nit picking over the founding of a state is also different; for example, I believe the partition of India to be a mistake. I think that the creation of Pakistan and, eventually, Bangladesh has created problems for future generations, some of which may well turn out to be insurmountable. That does not mean that I want to see the end of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The partition was completed long ago and I do not dispute the right of each nation to exist. The hard Left, on the other hand, yearn for Israel to be a thing of the past.
Stating that one is against nationalism is a legitimate position, but there can be no exceptions. If one does not view Palestinian nationalism with the same critical eye as they do Jewish nationalism then, unless they are Palestinians, they are prejudiced. Sure, question the treatment of the Palestinians, there is quite a bit of room for improvement in that department, but don’t protest Israel’s right to exist; as Christopher Hitchens said: “Lots of states are founded upon injustices or foolishness or bad ideas, it doesn’t mean that anyone can just come and evict or destroy them. … But it should be a matter of principle, if Jews born in Brooklyn have a right to a state in Palestine, then Palestinians born in Jerusalem have a right to a state in Palestine. Anyone who doesn’t agree with that principle, I think, is suspect.”
The final aspect Johnson described is the BDS movement: the exclusion of, as he put it, “one state – and only one state – from the economic, cultural and educational life of humanity: the little Jewish one.” The organisations and groups which have signed up to the boycott do not sell or promote Israeli goods, nor do they allow Israelis a platform. The supporters of the BDS movement treat all Israelis as responsible for the actions of the state of Israel, and they only apply their standard to Israel, other nations are ignored. Turkey, for example, refuses to acknowledge the Kurds’ right to self-determination and has occupied a substantial portion of Cyprus, a member state of the European Union, since 1974, yet there is no BDS movement against Turkey, just Israel. Combined with the other factors, this double standard is antisemitic.
The Left has a problem with this antisemitic anti-Zionism. Indeed, the more one veers toward the hard Left, the more antisemitism one uncovers. The Stop the War Coalition, for example, which Jeremy Corbyn chaired until he became leader of the Labour Party, routinely crosses into antisemitism. The student unions of several British universities have signed up to the BDS campaign. The National Union of Students website has a free downloadable handbook “designed to be a practical tool for activists who are setting up local BDS campaigns.” Three hundred and forty-three academics at English and Welsh universities pledged to boycott Israeli academia in October 2015. This is the hard Left. It’s what to be expected when one pathologically hates anything which has links to the West. This wasn’t as problematic when they were the kooky fringe, but now they control the party. Corbyn is the leader. The hard Left is the mainstream by definition.
Early in his tenure, Corbyn spoke with Labour Friends of Israel and managed to exit the meeting without allowing the word ‘Israel’ to pass his lips. Furthermore, since he assumed the leadership he has not explicitly disavowed his links – however tangential – to antisemites like Raed Salah, Dyab Abou Jahjah, Paul Eisen, Stephen Sizer, and violent terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. This is because, in one way or another, they’re all fighting Israel: Corbyn found common ground and has chosen to ignore the rest.
The rise of the hard Left (and the Labour Party’s consequential problem with antisemitic anti-Zionism) stems from a predominantly Leftist delusion. We like to gaze through an idealistic lens, one which can obscure reality. The Right are relatively quick to expel fascists and extreme elements from within its ranks. This is a legacy of fascism. If one has a fascist as a member of one’s party, it is unsurprisingly easy for opponents to levy the charge of ‘fascists’ and spark images of the Holocaust in the public’s mind. The Left has used this tactic with remarkable efficacy, so the Right has had to learn quickly. The Left, on the other hand, has been appallingly slow at dealing with its own extreme fringe: communists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, etc. Reasoning for this is twofold: first, the Left has a benign belief in ‘re-education’ which, when combined with a stubborn confidence in one’s principles and the powers of persuasion, leads to the idea that eventually anyone can be persuaded to your position. Secondly, communism does not have a symbol as emotive as Auschwitz; thoughts of the Gulag pale in comparison to gas chambers and leather jackboots. This may be a fault of our education system; nevertheless, ‘communist’ is not as pejorative as ‘fascist’. Thus the Left give second and third chances, the Right rarely does the same. Had Corbyn held a belief at the opposite end of the political horseshoe it is tremendously unlikely that he would have won the leadership of the Conservative Party.
Authoritarians and totalitarians will not become social democrats. They will try to recruit those from the centre ground, and in doing so they may just poison the well with a vile strain of antisemitism. The danger of the hard-Left needs to be understood by the centre-Left. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening any time soon. All the same, I think it’s too late.