Supporters of the Palestinians have long warned that conceding to accusations of antisemitism against the left would stifle criticism of Israel in the Labour Party.
Now those warnings are being proved right.
Earlier this month, the Mail on Sunday “exposed” what it called “antisemitic and anti-Israel” tweets by Salma Hamid, office manager for Labour MP and leadership candidate Jess Phillips.
It was a hatchet job on a Muslim woman by a right wing newspaper, but Phillips suspended Hamid that day.
Among the opinions Phillips found “completely unacceptable” was that, “We must show the world that ‘Israel’ is the murderer!”
Another tweet said, “Israel IS inflicting Holocaust conditions on Palestinians! Oppressive, racist and violent!”
Though wrong—as an attempt to exterminate an entire race of people, the Holocaust is unique—none of what she said was antisemitic.
None of it expressed hatred of Jews for being Jews.
In fact Hamid even drew a distinction between Zionism—the ideology that justifies Israel’s racism towards Palestinians—and Jewish people. They’re “two totally different things,” she said “One is an apartheid nation and the other is a faith based on peace and love”.
But in the Labour Party, the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism has been blurred deliberately by the right.
Emily Thornberry—another leadership candidate—is making driving out antisemitism from Labour central to her campaign.
For decades, enemies of the Palestinians have tried to claim that Israel is an integral part of Jewish identity. They describe Zionism as simply the belief in Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their “historical homeland”.
They tend to ignore the fact that establishing that homeland involved the ethnic cleansing of 850,000 Palestinians, and the exclusion of Palestinians from Israel today.
By trying to put Israel at the centre of Jewish identity, its supporters hope to define opposition to the Israeli state as a “new antisemitism”. This lets them present a one state solution—where Jews and Arabs can live together as equals in a single state—as akin to supporting genocide.
And it allows them to cast aspersions on Palestine solidarity activists for “singling out the world’s only Jewish state.”
This argument has been used to discredit and undermine the left as inherently antisemitic because of its opposition to Israel.
Even the left’s candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey has implied party members have to “recognise the racism” that comes with opposition to the Israeli state.
Her campaign manager Jon Lansman has always argued the left should give ground to the accusations of antisemitism rather than refute them.
Now if you’re in the Labour Party you either stop talking about Zionism or risk getting kicked out.
The predictable tragedy of this is that, now the right have got away with delegitimising opposition to Israel, they’re coming for the whole Palestine solidarity movement.
The Tory government wants to ban councils from boycotting goods from other countries—referring specifically to boycotts of Israel.
So if you’re in the Labour Party you’ve got a difficult future ahead of you.
But even bigger battles to defend solidarity with Palestine are still to come—and they’ll happen outside of Labour.