Socialist Worker

Racism row in the Labour Party - myths and reality

Is it racist to oppose the Israeli state? Does a Zionist lobby shape policy? Tomáš Tengely-Evans explains it all

Issue No. 2502

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone (Pic: Overseas Development Institute)

The Labour right and supporters of Israel are hypocritically using Ken Livingstone’s comments last week to witch hunt the left as antisemitic.

Livingstone was defending Bradford West MP Naz Shah. Shah was suspended for a Facebook post that said, “Solution to the Palestine conflict—relocate Israel to the US”.

Livingstone’s comments that “Hitler was supporting Zionism” played into the right’s hands.

The attacks on Labour that followed have been driven by a desire to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet leading figures on the Labour left buckled under the right’s assault and joined the chorus that led to Livingstone’s suspension.

Jeremy Corbyn has not come out fighting. Instead he has set up an inquiry headed by human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti.

The Labour right wants to tear into Corbyn by stealing the mantle of anti-racism from the left.

There’s another argument behind these attacks.

Israel feels threatened by the growing Palestine solidarity movement and wants to smear its opponents as antisemites.

Is it antisemitic to oppose Zionism?

Zionism is based on the idea that Jewish people cannot live peacefully alongside non-Jews.

Zionists see antisemitism as inevitable and argue that the only answer is the setting up of an exclusively Jewish state. This led to migration to Palestine and ethnic cleansing after the Second World War.

For Palestinians, this has meant brutal racist oppression since Israel was set up in 1948 in alliance with western imperialism.

Israeli settlers forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, forcing them into refugee camps where many remain.

This brutal process—and denying Palestinians the “right to return”—is justified by Zionism.

Those Palestinians who’ve managed to remain live under occupation or siege in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli settlers continue to build settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli society has racism at its heart. Opposing Israel and its underlying Zionist ideology is not antisemitic, but anti-racist.

Should Israel have the right to exist?

The “two state solution”, with Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side, is no solution.

It would do nothing to address the huge imbalance of power that exists between Israel and Palestine.

Israel would continue to oppress Palestinians because it would see a Palestinian state as a threat.

It would win support from the US and Western powers, which back Israel for their own imperialist interests.

Israel’s incursions into Palestinian territory make a two state solution unfeasible. And such a “solution” would not give Palestinians the right of return.

Israel faces a problem as a settler society—what to do with the people it has dispossessed?

The only real solution is to allow Palestinians the right to return and for Jews and Arabs to live together in a democratic, secular state.

The socialist and internationalist case for the liberation of Palestine is not one in which Jewish people are expelled, but one where they live alongside free Palestinians.

Naz Shah’s tweets about “moving Israel to the US” wrongly suggested Jews would be driven out or forcibly removed.

Palestinian liberation can only be achieved as part of a broader fight for liberation against imperialism.

Does a Zionist lobby exist?

Western imperialist powers back Israel to the hilt. The US gives Israel £2 billion in military aid every year and sells it arms to use against Palestinians.

This has led some to argue that a “Zionist lobby” influences US and British foreign policy. Sometimes this argument is genuine. But racists also use it as code for “Jews”.

Either way it gets the relationship the wrong way around.

The US and Britain back Israel for their own imperialist interests. Israel is the West’s watchdog in the Middle East.

Is antisemitism a problem today?

Antisemitism is a real threat to Jewish people across Europe.

This threat doesn’t come from the Palestine solidarity movement, Muslims or the left—it comes from Nazis and the racist right.

In Slovakia the Nazi People’s Party broke through in parliamentary elections for the first time in March. A poll had found 41 percent agreed that “the Jews have too big an influence on the economy and administration”.

While the fascist Front National (FN) in France uses Islamophobia to mobilise its base, its core ideology remains deeply antisemitic.

Smearing opponents of Israel as antisemitic shuts down debate and can allow space for the idea that Jewish people are to blame for Israeli crimes.

So while Naz Shah is not antisemitic, her comment that the “Jews are rallying” to an online poll on Israel was.

The Daily Mail newspaper claims to be outraged by antisemitism. But it pumps out racism every day.

Fighting antisemitism means fighting racism and the right, not trivialising it by opportunistically smearing the left.


Read more about Israel and Zionism

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