“Keir Starmer is in the pockets of his Israeli paymasters,” is an explanation you might come across—especially online—for events in the Labour Party.
But this line of reasoning obscures the more fundamental reason why support for Israel is pushed so relentlessly. And it can lead to antisemitic arguments.
The “Israel lobby” is generally seen as individuals and organisations committed to political interference to benefit Israel.
The idea that this is behind the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn can seem convincing.
Why else would the Labour Party put so much effort into destroying its former leader over his support for Palestinians?
There’s a lot of evidence to back it up—and there is some truth to it. There really is an effort to silence criticism of Israel in the Labour Party—and pro-Israel organisations have played a part.
There’s the fact that many of those politicians who grandstanded against Corbyn have links to pro-Israel campaigning.
There’s the fact that organisations leading accusations against Corbyn, such as the Jewish Labour Movement, see support for Israel as central to their activities.
And then there’s the fact that the right to criticise Israel—to call it a racist state—has been at the heart of the assault. Accusations of antisemitism against Labour members are increasingly focused on shutting down support for Palestinians.
This has been going on since long before Corbyn became leader.
Israel put a lot of effort into delegitimising support for the Palestinians by branding it antisemitic. Its ministry of strategic affairs supports and funds efforts to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Yet this is just part of an even wider political fight against anti-imperialist politics.
Labour’s support for Israel isn’t because of the malign intervention of some mysterious lobby—it’s a fundamental part of its own politics.
Labour politicians often speak proudly of how the party has always supported Israel.
They even sometimes boast that Labour supported the creation of an Israeli state in Palestine before the Tory government did in 1917.
Ultimately, the reason Britain supported the colonisers who wanted to establish Israel was because they offered to play a role defending the British Empire.
Palestine was hugely important to the British Empire. The Empire was hugely important to the British state.
And managing the British state is the Labour Party’s ultimate goal.
So Labour politicians enthusiastically supported both the Empire and Israel.
Even after the collapse of the British Empire, Israel is the foremost enforcer of the US’s rule in the Middle East.
That means it is still important to the British state whose governments—Labour and Tory—have seen its interests best served as the US’s junior partner.
The British state has always supported Israel because it benefits its own interests.
And Labour’s politicians—always keen to be responsible managers of the British state—are perfectly capable of arriving at support for Israel themselves.
The right hated Corbyn’s support for the Palestinians for the same reason they hated his opposition to nuclear weapons.
It was a challenge to the idea that Labour would protect Britain’s role as a supporter of the US as the dominant power.
The interests of the Labour right and supporters of Israel aligned.
And the charge of antisemitism was the perfect weapon to undermine and discredit Corbyn.
Understanding this relationship is an important part of being able to combat it.
Continuing to believe it’s all simply orchestrated by an “Israel lobby” can lead you down some very dark paths.
But it also actually lets the Labour right off the hook.
Wildcat strikes are back
Karol Modzelewski, 1937-2019,