As resistance to the crimes of the Israeli state and solidarity with the Palestinian cause grows internationally, the precise nature of the ideology of Zionism remains as confused as ever. But this ideology, far from being a relic of the early days of the state of Israel, is central to the occupation of Palestine and the support this project receives from imperial powers like Britain.
On the most basic level, Zionism is the principle of nationalism applied to the Jewish people. As the bourgeoisies of Europe’s national groups were forging modern nation states like Germany and Italy in the 19th century, some Jewish intellectuals saw this as the only feasible future for the Jews of Europe. Originally, few Jews were convinced by this project, but in the face of the atrocities inflicted upon them in the following centuries, and with many Jewish refugees being turned away from countries like Britain, Jewish migration to Palestine provided the conditions under which Zionism would win more support from Europe’s Jews.
With the support of U.S. and British imperialism, as well as – originally – the Soviet Union, Zionist political organisations began to buy Palestinian land from which the local populations were expelled in order to settle newly-arrived Jewish refugees. This process of displacement culminated in the 1948 ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe) in which 800,000 Palestinians were removed from their homes. This vindicated what critics of Zionism had said all along: that the Zionist nationalist project would require the displacement of another people and the denial of their national rights.
The Zionist political project today is premised on the continued denial of these rights, and the continued exclusion of the expelled Palestinians from their homeland. As a consistent ally, Britain is itself committed to this project, supplying Israel with arms and diplomatic support. Consequently, the British state enjoys close relations with pro-Israel political organisations, who try to win support for Israel in civil society organisations and disrupt the activities of Palestine solidarity campaigns.
The alliance of the British state and Israel advocacy organisations jointly opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, both as a political figure promising public ownership and higher taxes on the rich, and as a consistent supporter of the Palestinian cause. After some trial and error – originally focusing on his solidarity with the Irish republican movement, and bogus claims that he worked as a spy for Communist Czechoslovakia – a smear campaign painting him an anti-Semite began to develop.
Such a campaign was so effective at discrediting the left-wing Labour leader because it built on the decades-long project to equate opposition to Zionism with anti-semitism. With the support of the British media, and Zionist organisations like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the recently refounded Jewish Labour Movement, this campaign began to accuse Labour of institutional anti-semitism under Corbyn’s leadership, a accusation for which, in fact, the EHRC’s report into the question found no evidence.
After the 2019 General Election defeat and Corbyn’s replacement by Sir Keir Starmer, the new right-wing leadership began to use allegations of antisemitism as a pretext for a systematic purge of the party’s left wing. Starmer was certainly the preferred candidate of Britian’s apologists for Israeli apartheid, having received a £50,000 donation from Trevor Chinn, who sits of the executive of the British-Israel Communications lobbyist group, and having also given a job to Assaf Kaplan, a former Israeli spy.
Since winning the party’s leadership, Starmer has clamped down on any dissent, disallowing even discussion of issues such as Labour’s internal disciplinary procedures, dismissing such discussions as anti-semitic themselves! Starmer, who, upon winning the Labour leadership contest declared, “I support Zionism without qualification”, will continue to equate anti-zionism with anti-semitism. Those in the Labour party need to resist this, fight to end the witch hunt, and continue to support the Palestinian cause in defiance of the leadership. Zionism does not offer a solution to either the Palestinian people or the Israeli working class, only socialist internationalism in which Israeli’s and Palestinians live with equal rights in a single, workers-run state.