“No need for a conspiracy”: antisemitism and free speech on Israel

07 November 2016

Red Flag spoke to Naomi Wimbourne-Idrissi of the website ‘Free Speech on Israel’ about the continued charges of antisemitism levelled against the left in general and supporters of Corbyn in particular

RED FLAG: First, who set up Free Speech on Israel and why?

NAOMI WIMBOURNE-IDRISSI: It was earlier this year, that a number of us from different Jewish groups had a very informal meeting to discuss the alarming increase in the use of accusations of antisemitism to attack the left in the Labour Party. We decided that there was a quite specific role that we could play to combat this new assault. I suppose we could see a coinciding set of interests here. As pro-Palestinian activists, we have experienced an increasing trend to demonise people who are critical of Israel as antisemites. Supporters of Israel try to portray growing criticism of Israel as growing antisemitism but we see it as a growing understanding of what Israel is up to, and how Israel is increasingly discredited.

RF: OK, but why do you think this charge is being levelled against Corbyn and company, who are well known as anti-racists?

NW-I: When Corbyn’s name appeared on the list as a possible leader of the Labour Party, immediately the Israeli lobby went into overdrive because here was the danger of somebody leading a major British political party, potentially a Prime Minister, who is not only on the left but has a consistent record of supporting Palestine. The prospect of somebody like that leading a major party, with power on the international stage, was absolutely terrifying to them. The red lights were already flashing because Britain is seen as a hotbed of anti-Israel activism, which is clearly alarming for them. So the meetings started to happen, subgroups of the Israeli foreign ministry were set up, Mark Regev was sent to Britain as the new Israeli ambassador. He was the attack dog of the Israeli government, as its chief spokesman, during the two major assaults on Gaza and here he is now, playing that role in Britain.

RF: That would explain why Israel, and its supporters, would use this against Corbyn but does it explain why everyone else, for example, the right wing of the Labour Party is also picking up the same accusation to attack, have they all got the same purpose?

NW-I: No, there are clearly some who do not have any interest in Israel or Palestine or in fighting racism. What they do all have is an interest in finding a really handy weapon with which to beat the left-wing in this country. There are some for whom the major concern is suppressing the Palestinian narrative and those who support it, whether they’re Jews or non-Jews. The right, both in the Labour Party and outside it, all those who want to see capitalism continue unchallenged, they’ve been handed this fantastic weapon; what charge could be worse than to suggest that Corbyn and his supporters are filled with malice and hatred of the Jews? … and my God it has been quite terrifying, the extent to which the media has gone along with this message. You would have thought that some journalists would attempt to at least look into the allegations and explore them, to see what foundation they have, but hardly anybody actually has.

RF: Is there not a danger in explaining the linkages between these different groups, who are all opposed to Corbyn, that this could be presented as a modern version of the Jewish conspiracy?

NW-I: If they were all Jews, maybe, but one of the main points we have tried to get across is that not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews. Look across the water at the United States, there are a terrifying number, 30 or 40 million, evangelical Christians who subscribe to this messianic story about the Jews needing to return to Zion for the second coming of Christ to occur, Armageddon and all that, and they support the “in-gathering of the exiles” for that reason. Most Zionists are far too canny to challenge this nonsense. Someone like Sajid Javid is a significant figure in the Tory party and not Jewish, but he is an ardent supporter of Zionism in this country; or Wes Streeting who represents Ilford North for Labour and has been vigorous in supporting this agenda on the right of the party. There’s no need for a conspiracy because there is, simply, a coincidence of interests.

RF: You mentioned the pro-Israel movement in the United States, do you think there is an international dimension to the attacks on Corbyn, using the charge of antisemitism. Is Corbyn someone that bothers the Zionist movement outside of Britain?

NW-I: Oh yes, definitely. As far as the Israeli state is concerned, it is not only in Britain that they are trying to demonise the pro-Palestinian movement and, in particular, the boycott movement. The reason why they have been so determined to push this antisemitism agenda for the last decade or so is because that is the period during which the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has gained a lot of traction all over the world; not only in Europe and the United States itself, but in Latin America, South Africa and Asia. That is a global dimension which obviously the Israeli state is concerned about.

RF: Final point, where does the campaign to defend Corbyn and oppose Zionism go next?

NW-I: We need to find a way of breaking through to the media; Jews who are non-Zionist, let alone anti-Zionist, are completely invisible. We really are completely ignored, so you get the situation where, for example, in the coverage of the row over Jackie Walker, who got into a lot of trouble because she said the Holocaust memorial should commemorate all genocides and not only the terrible things that were done to the Jews, the fact that she is herself Jewish, was largely ignored. So this is a huge challenge for us and we need to get through to a wider audience.

I think that by talking sensibly to people, particularly in the Labour Party, who are very bemused and baffled to see obvious lies being told about themselves and their comrades, gradually we are getting a wider audience and giving them a better understanding of the dynamics of the campaign. We are beginning, maybe, to make ourselves a big enough voice that people will listen to us. But we cannot let it rest, this message, that not every Jew is a Zionist and not every Zionist is a Jew, is very important. Apart from anything else, if people were to believe that every Jew is a Zionist and then they see what Zionism has led to in terms of the injustices to the Palestinians, that really would stoke up antisemitism! This is something the Zionist lobby is completely blasé about, I don’t think they care because, basically, the more they ratchet it up, the better for them.


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