Our response to Labour’s decision to adopt all the IHRA examples of ‘antisemtism’.
Labour will go on conceding ground to the right-wingers and Zionists but it will never be enough for them. Today’s cowardly decision throws Labour’s conscience to the wind, and Palestinians, socialists and Jews of conscience to the wolves. The IHRA examples will stifle discussion and stop freedom of speech, because that is what they were written to do. But we will go on fighting for what is right. Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer, WE’LL keep the ‘red’ flag flying here.
Below are background notes that we wrote for Richard Leonard:
NOTES FOR SCOTTISH LABOUR FROM SCOTTISH JEWS AGAINST ZIONISM
We don’t imagine that there is anything here that you have not seen before, but it may be helpful that it is Jews who are saying it. Like any other ethnic group, Jews don’t all speak with one voice.
We are a newly established organisation for the growing number of people who identify as Jewish — ethnically, culturally, or religiously — and oppose Zionism. We work together to ensure that there is a specifically Jewish voice in the wider Scottish movement for Palestinian rights and against Zionism. We are Jews who feel compelled to speak out, and to demonstrate that opposition to Zionism is not inherently anti-Semitic; and we believe we have a particular right to speak out when injustice and oppression are perpetrated in the name of all Jews.
We understand how historical circumstances persuaded the post-War generation that Jewish survival needed Zionism – the movement for the establishment and then the development and protection of a Jewish nation in the historic land of Israel. But we are painfully aware of the fundamental fallacies in the belief that this would in fact create a better or safer society. We believe that the concept of a ‘Jewish state’, or any state defined by ethnicity or religion, is inherently discriminatory and racist. And when that state is established in a land that is already inhabited by others, and can only be manifested through settler colonialism, this discrimination is magnified.
Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism
Anti-Semitism can be defined simply as hostility to or prejudice against Jews. Zionism is a modern (19thcentury) nationalist movement that became the subject of intense argument among Jews, and that only gained dominance after the horror of the Holocaust. Not all Jews support Zionism, and not all Zionists are Jewish. Confusion has arisen because supporters of Zionism have purposefully portrayed its political nationalism as integral to Jewishness, so that opposition to Zionism becomes tantamount to anti-Semitism. We argue that this presumption that all Jews share the same political position is actually racist; and that wrongly accusing people of anti-Semitism both damages those accused, and obscures genuinely anti-Semitic acts.
Anti-Semitic incidents and memes
Although there are always examples of unthinking casual anti-Semitism, and we are very worried by the rise of the far-right, levels of anti-Semitism in the UK are generally low. We are concerned that the deliberate conflation of Zionism and Judaism by some Zionists can encourage people to blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government, and to pick on people who look visibly Jewish; however this attitude is rare among the more politically engaged, who are aware and critical of Zionist tactics, and can distinguish between a political movement and an ethnicity.
An area where people are less careful has been the sharing of memes. Our ability to judge the reliability of memes and stories is not good; and people who have found themselves frequently misled by mainstream sources can prove too ready to credit counter-narratives that argue against the mainstream. In many cases the sharing of memes and links with anti-Semitic connotations is an indication of lazy reading and thinking rather than anti-Semitism, and is easily treated with a spot of education. This is especially true of the meme that uses the Rothschilds as a synonym for bankers. (This meme caught out one of the Dundee Labour councillors, who took it down as soon as he was made aware of its import. We wrote a letter in his support to the Sunday Herald, though unfortunately it was not published.)
The debate around the IHRA definition examples
Several of the IHRA examples have been clearly written to make it impossible to criticise the concept of Zionism without being accused of anti-Semitism. We would be far from the only Jews to fall foul of them. They have been comprehensively scrutinised and condemned, and even the original writer is concerned about the use to which the definition is being put and its elevation to unquestionable truth. These examples are very obviously part of a deliberate Zionist attempt to blur the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and so make criticism of Zionism unacceptable.
Of course the definition can also be used as a tool with which to attack any political opponent who also shows support for the Palestinian cause and even mild criticism of Zionism. In Corbyn’s case it is being used by Zionists terrified of the prospect of a UK Prime Minister who has campaigned for Palestinian rights, and by right wingers within and outwith the Labour Party who don’t want to see a Prime Minister who is not afraid to talk about socialism. This is an era of political shocks and surprises, but the chutzpah of the Daily Mail accusing a veteran anti-racist of anti-Semitism takes some beating (even when they are quoting a former chief rabbi who wrote a speech for Mike Pence).
The importance of the current debate for the Palestinians
As intended, it has become increasingly difficult to say anything critical of Zionism or Zionists without being accused of anti-Semitism. This can lead to self-censoring by campaigners, and also serves as a diversion from what is actually happening in Israel/Palestine
The importance of the current debate for Jews
Jews, like any other ethnic group, cover a whole range of political views. The majority are probably supportive of Zionism though not of the actions of the current Israeli government. The combined efforts of hard-line Zionists and the right wing press have no doubt succeeded in making many of these people believe that a Corbyn government would be a threat to Jews. Their fear is genuine even though the arguments it is based on are not.
There is also a growing awareness of the politics behind what is happening and fear of the consequences. Many people do not want to see Jews automatically associated with a now openly racist Israel, or with a smear campaign against the left. They don’t support this, and they also realise that it creates a potentially dangerous place for Jews to be in.
The importance of the current debate for UK politics
More and more people are realising that this debate is a very deliberate campaign to undermine the Labour left and any prospect of a more socialist government in the UK, and to divert attention from Tory failures and Labour policy alternatives. Some people will always think that there’s no fire without smoke, however others can’t but be affected by the increasing absurdity of the claims being made. Our concern is that every concession made to the smearers can give them unwarranted credence and actually make them stronger. If Labour backs down over the IHRA examples, the complainers will feel justified and the complaints will only get stronger. That will have dangerous consequences for Palestinians, for Jews, and for the prospects for socialism.