By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
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Livingstone, Labour and the fight against racism

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Tomáš Tengely-Evans and John Rose look and the response to accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party
Issue 2501
Newspapers on the Labour Party
Newspaper coverage of Ken Livingstone

The Labour right and supporters of Israel are hypocritically using Ken Livingstone’s comments yesterday, Thursday, to smear the left as antisemitic.

The Labour right, knowing their weakness in the wider party, have sniffed an issue where they can tear into Corbyn, Supporters of Israel hope to hold back the growing movement for the Palestinians.

Livingstone was defending Naz Shah, the Bradford West MP, who was suspended for Facebook post that said, “Solution to the Palestine conflict—relocate Israel to the US”. Shah is not antisemitic and neither is Livingstone.

Livingstone’s comments that “Hitler was supporting Zionism” before the Holocaust played into the right’s hands, but he is not racist or antisemitic. 

He has spoken out against racism throughout his career—one reason he was condemned by right-wingers for being part of the “loony left”. He supported the successful battles against the fascist British National Party (BNP) and English Defence League (EDL) and stood up in solidarity with Muslims facing a racist offensive. 

The left should take no lectures on anti-racism from the right, whether they’re in or outside the Labour Party.

The left should take no lectures on anti-racism from the right, whether they’re in or outside the Labour Party.

The Daily Mail that purports to be horrified by any whiff of antisemitism, infamously ran a headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in the 1930s.

Nearly every day the Mail, Sun, Express and other papers that denounced Livingstone will run stories that viciously scapegoat Muslims and equate Islam with terrorism.

The Mail ran a cartoon that (just as the Nazis did with the Jews) pictured refugees as rats.

Racist papers cannot battle antisemitism.

John Mann MP, who berated Livingstone on live TV, did not confront David Cameron or Phillip Hammond as racists when they branded Calais refugees as “marauding”, a “swarm” or a “bunch of migrants”.

A wider argument is going on. Israel feels threatened by the solidarity movement with the Palestinians and the rising Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns. In desperation the attempt is made to say that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic.

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism are not the same thing. Zionism is based on the idea that Jewish people cannot live peacefully alongside non-Jewish people and that Israel should be an exclusively “Jewish state”. 

Opposing a state that’s built on systematic Palestinian oppression is not antisemitic—it is anti-racist.

Opposing a state that’s built on systematic Palestinian oppression is not antisemitic—it is anti-racist.

Opponents of Israel sometimes talk of a “Zionist lobby” or the “Israel lobby” influencing US and British foreign policy. While Israeli and its supporters put a lot of effort into influencing politicians, this talk gets the West’s relationship with Israel the wrong way round.

The US and Britain don’t back Israel to the hilt because of a “Zionist lobby”, but because Israel is the cornerstone in safeguarding their imperialist interests in the Middle East.

Shutting down debate with smears that supporters of Palestine are antisemitic, can actually allow space for the idea Jewish people are to blame for Israeli brutality.

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

We will take no lectures from the right on antisemitism. By conflating antizionism and antisemitism, the right trivialises the real problem of antisemtism, which is a real danger to Jewish people in Europe. 

Don’t fall into your opponents’ traps

by Myths of Zionism author John Rose  

Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah are not antisemites. Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. Nevertheless the anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian case must be argued effectively and sensitively. Traps must be avoided which favour our opponents.

On Thursday Ken Livingstone created then walked into precisely such a trap. The argument about Zionist collaboration with the Nazis has been around for a long time. It is rightly ignored by solidarity activists with Palestine.

Ken, as a seasoned campaigner, should have known that. I explain in some detail in my book The Myths of Zionism the problems with this argument.

It’s true that when Hitler came to power some Zionist leaders stupidly thought that they could do a deal with him that would enable some German Jews to go to Palestine. But Ken should have known that this disgraceful manoeuvre bitterly divided the Zionist movement.

Many young Zionists, in particular, were outraged. They took for granted you had to fight Hitler to the death.

It suited Hitler to string those particular Zionist leaders along for a while. Part of the deal was that they would oppose the world-wide anti-Nazi campaign demanding a boycott of German goods.

In 1989 I had the good fortune to meet Marek Edelman in Poland, then the last remaining leader of the five-person command group that led the Warsaw Ghetto resistance to the Nazi Holocaust. I asked his permission for the Socialist book shop Bookmarks to publish his memoir The Ghetto Fights in Britain for the first time. He agreed.

During our discussion I asked about his relations with the Zionist fighters in the resistance. Marek was a member of the anti-Zionist Socialist Bund, a Jewish workers’ movement adamantly opposed to Jewish migration to Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state.

He told me that whatever their differences were over Palestine, the anti-Zionists and the Zionists had to unite to fight the common enemy, the Nazis. The creation of the united Jewish Fighting Organisation (JFO), including the Communists, would have been impossible without them.

Marek’s closest comrade in the JFO was “Antek” Zuckerman. His memoir, A Surplus of Memory, is as powerful as Marek’s. But unlike, Marek, who refused to live in Israel after the war, much preferring his native Poland, Antek went to live on the Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz in Israel.

It’s both a reminder of the complex roots of Zionism and underlines part of the unique international socialist case for the liberation of Palestine. This perspective sees a free Palestinian Arab majority welcoming its Holocaust survivors, and the generations that have followed them, as equal citizens in their country.

Marek Edelman died earlier this century. He remained steadfast in his views until his dying day. One of his last public acts was to declare the solidarity of the Jewish Fighting Organisation and the Warsaw Ghetto resistance with the Palestinian fighters for the liberation of their homeland.

Some further reading

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