By Isabel Ringrose
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Are the left and the Palestine movement awash with antisemitism?

We must not back off in the face of slurs and lies
Issue 2892
Palestine protest with a large banner "UK Jews demand stop the genocide, end the siege".

Antisemitism? Marching for Palestine in January (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Is the left, and even Keir Starmer’s Labour, saturated with antisemitism? That is certainly what you would think from a glance at the media.

Labour’s decision to dump its Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali led to a renewed rush of allegations of antisemitism.

Azhar Ali’s claim that “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” were behind Labour MP Andy McDonald’s suspension was wrong. It plays up the notion that “Jews control the media”.

In fact, between October 2022 and September 2023, of the 534 meetings between the press and the government, 218 involved the empire ruled over by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch personally met with government representatives 12 times, and the prime minister six times—in a year.

This is an example of where the real media power lies.

But facts are noticeably absent from much of the furore about antisemitism.

The right and those who opposed Jeremy Corbyn have hammered home one basic lie for years.

It is that Israel equals all Jews. So if you criticise Israel, then you are antisemitic. And because the left is more likely to be pro-Palestinian and against what Israel does, then to be left wing is also antisemitic.

Last week there was a revealing intervention from former shadow chancellor Ed Balls after Graham Jones, candidate for the Hyndburn constituency was recorded saying “fucking Israel” at a meeting.

Balls said of Jones, “I know him well. He was an MP–he is not a Corbynite, not hard left. Absolutely not anti-Israel. I don’t think he was intending to send those kind of antisemitic messages at all.”

He’s not a lefty, so he can’t be antisemitic. If he had indeed been a supporter of Corbyn then he should have been thrown to the wolves.

Starmer adopted a version of this “criticising Israel equals antisemitism” slur, and now it has returned to savage him.

The Telegraph newspaper last week said Starmer is under pressure to investigate five MPs and candidates who “have been involved in controversies over Israel”.

These so-called controversies include shadow cabinet minister Thangam Debbonaire saying in 2015 that selling arms to Israel was a “grave concern”.

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood is under attack for urging people to “boycott Israeli goods” in 2014.

These basic shows of solidarity with Palestine are not antisemitic. It might be tempting to say just that Starmer is now reaping the bitter harvest that he has sown.

But the spread of these antisemitism allegations has to be opposed everywhere.

Backers of Israel, including the Labour right, have a long history of deliberately conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism to tarnish support for Palestine.

Corbyn sent shivers down the spines of Zionists. Members of his own party tried to sabotage him by proving that Labour was “institutionally antisemitic”.

In 2016 the media feasted on news that Oxford University’s Labour Club chair had resigned in protest at the club’s support for Israel Apartheid Week.

The right as a counter to the growth of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement—and fury at Israel—accused Corbyn of encouraging antisemitism.

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s blundering and inaccurate—but not antisemitic—claim that “Hitler was supporting Zionism’’ was also seized upon.

Of course, the media that took up these issues have no problem in playing down the tidal wave of Islamophobia at the top of British society.

They ignore the antisemitism that infects the right and the far right.

Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, is a good friend of the Tories—and of Binyamin Netanyahu. He is also a vile antisemite who targets Jewish financier George Soros as the shady power behind the global bankers.

One Orban speech had the classically antisemitic passage, “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding. Not straightforward but crafty, not honest but base, not national but international, does not believe in working but speculates with money, does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

The British media also slated former Labour leader Ed Miliband’s father as a “man who hated Britain” for being a Jewish Marxist—and poked fun at Ed Miliband for eating a bacon sandwich.

The right raked up evidence to “prove” Corbyn was an antisemite—such as being part of a Facebook group where some members shared conspiracy theories, or attending a Seder feast with the left-wing Jewdas.

In an inversion of reality, the anti-racists were fingered as racist. The people who had compromised with racist views saw a chance to smear their opponents. 

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who called Corbyn “a fucking antisemite and a racist”, conveniently forgot she backed the Nazi BNP’s policy in 2006 to prioritise “indigenous” people on council house waiting lists.

Pressure, from the Labour right, including from Starmer, mounted on Corbyn to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and all its examples.

Producing and popularising such a definition seems entirely uncontroversial. But the process was used to target supporters of Palestinian rights.

In July 2018 Labour adopted the IHRA’s definition but without the examples that would silence criticism of Israel.

This included banning people from “claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”.

Corbyn’s allies, including trade union leaders, said accepting the full IHRA would make the problem go away—even at the expense of standing up for Palestine.

By September 2018 Labour accepted the full IHRA definition, meaning it was antisemitic to call Israel “a racist endeavour”, and talk about Israel’s ethnic cleansing or a one-state solution.

But it only opened the door to more attacks on solidarity with Palestine.

The IHRA definition has been weaponised by the Tories and right at an institutional level in councils, trade unions and universities to silence support for Palestine.

It’s wholly positive that recently workers have felt more able to speak out against it and for free speech on Palestine as they campaign against the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The great movement in support of Palestine since October has again terrified Zionists. And that’s why the media is again pushing false antisemitism claims.

They not only distract from the Tory crisis, they also seek to shatter support for Palestine, particularly from Muslims.

The right wing Guido Fawkes website posted last week, “The thing that nobody says yet we all know, is that the Labour Party have chosen to seek unsophisticated Muslim community support for numerical reasons at the expense of sophisticated Jewish support.”

 The post managed to be both Islamophobic (“unsophisticated Muslims”) and antisemitic (the “sophisticated Jew” is the sort of thing Orban might say).

It was taken down because of the antisemitic element. 

Home secretary Suella Braverman tried to say waving a Palestine flag or chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was antisemitic.

But the Palestine movement did not concede to such outrageous claims. Instead, hundreds of thousands have continued to flood the streets with their flags and their chants. Braverman’s gone, and we’re still fighting.

Such defiance is the exact opposite of what Corbyn did. He capitulated to the attacks and that just led to more assaults.

Antisemitism has to be combated—and there are occasions when people on the left also swallow the lie that Israel equals all Jews.

It’s antisemitic to say that all Jews are to blame for the horrors that Israel is carrying out in Gaza.

And it weakens our movement to select the wrong target.

The enemy is Israel and its imperialist allies, not Jews.

That’s why we need to build a mass movement against Israel and its murderous backers in Downing Street and the White House. 

We have to proudly proclaim that many Jews also stand against Israel—and are deeply anti-Zionist.

Look at the Jewish contingents on the London marches or the big Jewish mobilisations in the United States in support of Palestine. There are Jews who are anti-Israel, and non-Jews who are Zionists, such as the US evangelical right.

Zionism isn’t about religion. Israel, founded on and justified in its own terms by Zionism, is the key outpost for the US in the Middle East.

As the US’s watchdog, defending Israel is about defending imperialism and the West’s interests in the region.

These imperialists did not back Israel because they were in favour of Jewish rights. They were seeking their own interests.

Claiming that anti-Zionism is antisemitism also wipes out the views of Palestinians who cannot object to their expulsion and oppression without being accused of antisemitism.

They are stripped of their rights to oppose the racism that is integral to Zionism.

And they are also cut off from a place in the wider battles against colonialism and imperialism.

The right’s attacks are, and always have been, part of a wider assault on anti-imperialism, as well as on Muslims.

Confidently combating the lies about antisemitism now is crucial to strengthening the movement for Palestine.

Read more
  • Antisemitism—the far right, Zionism and the left, by Rob Ferguson, £3 Go here
  • The challenge of antisemitism by Anna Gluckstein, go to tinyurl.com/ISJ1023
  • Israeli settler colonialism is at an end, a lecture by Ilan Pappe go to tinyurl.com/PappeIHRC

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