Britain  •  Debate

‘Antisemitic’ Labour: a Jewish socialist writes

10 December 2019

Jewish people face casual discrimination on a day-to-day basis within capitalist society. This continues a long-standing historical trend; we were forced to become money-lenders in Europe during the Middle Ages, leading to harmful stereotypes which persist to this day, such as that the Jews are a duplicitous people who are only interested in money and have outsized influence over the media. Every Jewish person has experienced these forms of antisemitism at some point in their lives. There are also more subtle forms of antisemitism which now exist within our society, such as the fact that “Jewish” is never an option when selecting ethnicity on a diversity questionnaire, and that Jewish people are frequently excluded from minority caucuses. However, the most insidious form of antisemitism that I have encountered in my life is the suggestion that a lack of support for the murderous Israeli regime indicates a hatred for my own people or even invalidates my Jewish identity. Such views are highly prevalent throughout society.

As a Jewish Labour member who supports the rights of the Palestinian people, it is clear to me that the accusations of antisemitism against Labour and Jeremy Corbyn are a disgraceful slur. Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party, many on the pro-Israel Labour right wing have deliberately conflated support for the rights of Palestinians with antisemitism, in order to undermine the leadership and bring pressure on Labour to support the Israeli state unconditionally. As a result of Britain’s strategic interests in the Middle East and its alliance with the USA, support for the Zionist project of Israel is a lynchpin of Britain’s imperialist strategy. Thus, the identification of a ‘universal’ Jewish identification with Israel results in accusations of antisemitism supporting the idea that Corbyn is a menace to Britain’s national security and world power interests. The Labour party is being systematically smeared throughout the liberal press by the representatives of Israel and its embassy, the Jewish Labour Movement (“the JLM”). The JLM was re-founded as a special purpose attack vehicle by the Israeli embassy for just this purpose. The beneficiary of these smears is clear – it is the party of capital and the main purveyors of racist state violence, the Conservative party.

After the horrors of the holocaust, the survivors were sold a dream of a homeland for the Jewish people, free from the spectres of pogroms, expulsions and death camps which haunt Europe. Those who bought into this project of European imperialism and established the Israeli state have now been placed in the position of colonial oppressor, putting both Israeli and Palestinian workers in a terrible position. The only beneficiaries of this inhuman arrangement are the capitalists in Israel and America. Although Jewish workers in Israel clearly benefit from the oppression in an immediate, material sense, the division between Jewish and Palestinian citizens is ultimately not in the historic interest of these workers as it prevents them from linking up with their Palestinian brothers and sisters to fight for their common class interests. The state of Israel, a nation which claims to be the “homeland of all Jews”, is now inflicting a form of apartheid and has developed a bunker mentality. In western capitalist society, as a result of the imperialist need to maintain the state of Israel, bourgeois ideology officially rejects antisemitism. However, the bourgeois press and the Tories do not care about the Jewish people. They care only for the profits of their owners. It is disingenuous to pretend to care about the rights of Jewish people solely for the purpose of preventing reform. This use of the Jewish people as a mechanism through which to obtain political ends is in itself deeply antisemitic. The portrayal by corporate media of antisemitism as an issue apparently exclusive to the Labour party breeds antipathy towards the Jews amongst the wider public, as offensive tropes are regularly given a platform in the liberal press. As a result of the slurs, many Jewish people who are not fully politically conscious have been misled by the propaganda into fearing for their safety under a Labour government.

The causal implication that voting for the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn could potentially result in another holocaust is not only blatant fear mongering, which is an insult to the intelligence of workers, but is highly disrespectful of those who died in the past horrors. Such disinformation causes Jewish people to support the Tories, largely against their own class interests. It also provokes fear in a community that is used to being attacked and vilified and has good historical justification to be afraid. Antisemitism is also now used by white British liberals as an excuse not to support Labour. I have had many conversations with people who are clearly right-wingers opposed to the policies of the left in general and who use antisemitism as an excuse for not supporting Labour. This is a harmful effect of the smears because it provides an ostensibly legitimate motivation for those who wish to support the Conservatives without appearing heartless. Further to this point, I and other Jewish people I know who support Labour have experienced many instances of non-Jewish people telling me I must support the Tories to keep out Labour due to their “antisemitism”. This assumption of acceptance of the prevailing narrative denies the rights of Jewish people to independent political thought and to their own agency.

Smearing Labour in this way is very damaging to the actual prospects of countering the growth of fascism which was the proximate cause of the holocaust. I am not here attempting to deny the contribution that various ‘left-wing’ governments have made to the legacy of colonialism and imperialism which forms the history of the British state. The support of social democracy for colonialist and imperialist projects means that all bourgeois governing parties have been responsible for acts of racist oppression, such as the Islamophobic ‘war on terror’ or the repression of black communities by the police. Racism is employed as a tool to justify these acts of oppression, and escalating racist rhetoric is used to gain public support for neo-colonial wars. This is just as true under ‘left’ governments such as that of Tony Blair’s New Labour, as under the ‘right’ government of May or Johnson. However, right-wing governments are more aggressive in pushing racist ideas, and allow a political space within which fascists can operate semi-legitimately, as we have seen over the last 10 years in Britain and recently in the USA.

If the liberal media were truly concerned with preventing racism, they should be far more focussed on the growth in support for fascist ideas. Fascists do not support the Jewish people, any more than they support the rights of any minority group, but they will happily use false claims of antisemitism to smear the left while it is convenient for them to do so. Contemporary racists, evangelical Christians and far-right organisations often profess ‘support’ for Israel because they want Jews to go back there due to an obscure religious doctrine, or because it is a ‘western’ ‘democratic’ nation in a sea of Islamic nations which these groups see as little more than uncivilised barbarians. This qualified support of Israel does not mean that these groups are not antisemitic, although they may view Islam as a more immediate concern.

The Tory party, as a purveyor of bourgeois ideology, officially rejects antisemitism, due in large part to its historical imperialist support for the Zionist project. The true opinion of those on the right towards the Jews is clear however; we are in an election where a Tory candidate, selected by the party, stated that the holocaust was exaggerated. This is a far more serious case of antisemitism, from a far more senior member of the party, than any comparable allegation within the Labour party. If such a despicable comment had been made even by any ordinary Labour member, it would have been front-page news in the tabloid and liberal press. And yet, the liberal press does not suddenly decry “Tory antisemitism”, instead focussing on a letter from the Boris Johnson supporting Chief Rabbi, which was based upon lies and slander.

There has been little to no focus on the continuing history of racist oppression under the Tories, of which the Windrush scandal is a prime example, or of their leader’s many discriminatory comments towards Muslims and members of other minority groups. Nor has there been any attempt by the media to shed light on Jeremy Corbyn’s many years of campaigning against racism. Rachel Riley even photoshopped over an anti-apartheid message from a photograph of Jeremy Corbyn protesting against apartheid in order to accuse him of antisemitism, revealing her own offensive prejudices in the process. The simple truth is that Jeremy Corbyn is clearly not antisemitic, and this has been proven repeatedly by his many actions and statements over more than 30 years in the public eye. He supported the rights of Yemeni Jews to be settled within the UK while the other political parties did not. He consistently sends out messages of solidarity on Jewish holidays. However, Mr Corbyn does not show solidarity only with the Jewish people but with ordinary people of all races. I have seen accusations of antisemitism on the grounds that Labour and Jeremy Corbyn have reminded people previously on holocaust memorial day that it was not just Jewish people who were killed by the Nazis, but also many others including traveller families, people of Slavic origins in Poland, disabled people and homosexuals. This is not an antisemitic statement – it is a fact. The failure of other commentators to include these other groups within their remembrances of the holocaust demonstrates their own racism and homophobia.

Far from antisemitism being an issue exclusive to the Labour party, it is the opponents of Jeremy Corbyn who have revealed their own innate antisemitism. A poll was taken to determine the extent of antisemitic attitudes within the various political parties, and society in general. Labour was found to have a lower proportion of people who subscribed to antisemitic views within its ranks than any other political party, or indeed within the general population. These results were repeated in the JPR Report of September 2017 which found that participants who identified themselves as right-wing were more likely to hold antisemitic attitudes than those who described themselves as left-wing. Yet antisemitism within the Labour party has been focussed on by the liberal media while it is statistically a greater problem in other political parties. The reason for this media bias should be clear to all – it is a blatant attempt to prevent a reformist Labour government by any means necessary. For speaking out on this issue, I have been branded “not a real Jew” by both Jewish people and gentiles, called a race traitor, and other vile comments. This vitriol did not come from any members of the Labour left, but rather from Conservative supporters and members of the Labour right wing.

Labour, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has been shown to be an anti-racist party which would end the support of the British state for Israeli apartheid, and support for all wars more broadly. This would reduce the global influence of the neo-colonialism of the British state, which is something that British capitalists will not allow. Therefore, whilst capitalist relations continue to exist between people, racism will continue to be a staple feature of our society. Only by recognising our common class interests can we rise above those who seek to divide us on the basis of our genetics. The method we must adopt to overcome racism is mass solidarity. Members of the working class should recognise that their common interests are with each other, not their national and ethnic bourgeoisies. The only strategy that we can employ if we truly hope to combat all forms of racism, including antisemitism, is to unite the workers of the world and lead a global struggle for revolution against the capitalist imperialist world order, and towards the formation of a socialist society which truly recognises that, behind the veil of race and ethnicity, we are all one people.

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