As readers are aware, the Labour Party in Britain is now under attack for alleged anti-Semitism because of its support for Palestinian human rights. There is a full-on assault in the mainstream press on the party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who in the latest turn of the story was shown to have accused British Zionists of lacking British irony in 2013, despite “having lived here all their lives,” remarks that some have interpreted as anti-semitic. (And that Jerry Haber defends.)
What leaps out from the ongoing controversy is that for starters, the assault is relentless, and it will surely come to the United States when pro-Palestinian advocates establish a beachhead in the Democratic Party, as we surely will. We too will be ripped to shreds by mainstream media when that media at last ceases to ignore us. (Norman Finkelstein and I will be accused of anti-Semitism for remarking on Jewish inclusion in the establishment.)
The mainstream press is clear about its stance. Both the New York Times and the New Yorker have lately written that Corbyn’s comments are anti-Semitic. “[S]candal upon Jew-hating scandal has washed up at Jeremy Corbyn’s door,” Josh Glancy writes in the New York Times. The NY correspondent for the Sunday Times of London, Glancy says Corbyn is guilty of “classic anti-semitism.”
Here were a group of Jews with whom Mr. Corbyn has a political disagreement. And he smeared them not on the basis of that disagreement but on the basis of their ethnicity. He accused them of failing to assimilate English values, of not fitting in, of still being a bit foreign.
The next major thing that leaps out from the controversy is that there is nothing in the mainstream articles about Palestinian human rights. The slaughter of Palestinians for protesting at the Gaza fence goes unmentioned; the massive checkpoint at Qalandiya that prevents Palestinians in the West Bank from visiting Jerusalem or the sea, unmentioned; the Jim Crow order in the West Bank of settlers over Palestinians, unmentioned. These are the reasons that I’m an anti-Zionist and that so many young Americans are coming to anti-Zionism. However good Zionism looked on paper 100 years ago, it has worked out very badly for the Palestinian population; and at this site we insist that the treatment of Palestinians is the most important question (many of us support boycott, as discrimination in Montgomery, Alabama, once demanded the bus boycott), and that to ignore Palestinian human rights is inexcusable. As Donald Johnson says, “Since people are revving up their finely calibrated anti-semitism detection apparatus on this subject, while the machinery for detecting anti Palestinian bigotry is rusting unused on a junkpile somewhere, I think we have to explain ourselves.”
Finally, these articles completely erase any difference between Zionists and Jews. “’Zionists’ are conflated with ‘British Jews’ in the space of two paragraphs,” Naked Capitalism notes acidly in its link to the New Yorker piece. That conflation leaves Corbyn in a difficult position. He’s being attacked for saying that Zionists lack the British sense of irony because it is charged that he meant Jews when he was saying Zionists. But the critics are themselves saying: Jews are Zionists.
Consider Glancy, the Sunday Times correspondent who said Corbyn has been washed by one Jew-hating scandal after another. He and Ben Judah are co-authors of a series in Tablet on anti-Semitism in the UK, “the Polite Hatred,” in which they assert flatly that to be Jewish in Britain today means to be a Zionist, because British Jewish identity has become so intertwined with Jewish nationalism in Israel.
Ties between the Jewish community in Britain and Israel have become so close that an attack on Israel is taken by many in the community as a personal affront. Sometimes these attacks have anti-Semitic motivations, often they do not: It can be difficult to tell. But anti-Semitic or not, they are attacks on Britain’s new kind of Jewish life…
This transition can be summed in a single word: “We.” Many British Jews say “we” when they talk about Israel, rather than “they.” No one knows quite when this started, but given this choice of pronoun it is perhaps not entirely surprising that non-Jewish people can also say “you.” Both are identifying Jews and Israel collectively.
Glancy and Judah say anti-Zionism feels anti-Semitic.
The new anti-Zionism, which is becoming ever more pronounced, feels the same way that anti-Semitism does: a singling out, discrimination, them turning against us. One reason for this … is that in the past 50 years many British Jews have become, in part, culturally Israeli. Zionism is at the heart of their Jewish identity.
Notice the absurd degree of generalization that the authors offer about British Jews. They are “culturally Israeli.” Imagine if Corbyn had been stupid enough to say the same about British Jews: they’re culturally Israeli. What would people say about him?
At the end of their article the authors say that anti-Zionists and Jews don’t even understand this new oneness of Jewry and Zionism, but that if Israel becomes a pariah state, Jews will be at great risk.
Many British anti-Zionists may sincerely think they are only teaching their supporters to oppose “Zionists” and not Jews. But in reality they are teaching their supporters to oppose British Jews not as they imagine them, but as they really are…
It may well be the case that many British Jews don’t fully appreciate the complexity of their new identity either. Or what the implications of this will be if Israel does indeed become a pariah state to Europeans, as many of its detractors hope it will.