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Anti-Zionism is the gateway drug to anti-Semitism, for the ‘New York Review of Books’

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Coverage of the British Labour Party antisemitism controversy has been sparse in the US. The NYT had a reasonably fair article on it in late July, where they not only covered the accusations of various Jewish organizations, but also conveyed some sense of why Labour refused to give in on the demand to accept a definition of anti-Semitism that included the statement that “Israel is racist.” Labour contended that that International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition is unfair to the Palestinian point of view.

Most commentary simply ignores the Palestinian viewpoint altogether or treats it as an obstacle that stands in the way of Labour dealing with the antisemitism controversy. The best example of this patronizing approach is a piece by Matt Seaton published by the New York Review of Books website several days ago, under the title “Behind the Anti-Semitism Crisis of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.”

I suggest clicking on the link and reading the whole thing, but here are some of the most revealing portions — revealing, that is, of the author’s own condescending attitude towards Palestinians. Seaton says that the controversy has left “British Jews feeling utterly dismayed and alienated from Labour.”

The main impression abroad must surely be… to reinforce a growing sense that there can be no smoke without fire, and that the party of Keir Hardie, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, and Barbara Castle must have been taken over by anti-Zionist zealots and Jew-hating bigots.

The difficulty with this story is that, in proper perspective, it is absurd. Labour does have a problem with Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism in the party, but, as I told my American friend, the Labour Party is not that anti-Semitic. The controversy is, in reality, a displacement of a deeper, more systemic political rift in the party. And, in vital ways, that’s a far more significant obstacle than the administrative-disciplinary issue of rooting out a small minority of Holocaust equivocators and vitriolic anti-Zionists.“

This passage sets the tone. On the one hand, Seaton realizes the overheated charges against Labour are ridiculous. On the other hand, he groups together “anti-Zionist zealots” and “Jew-hating bigots” and reassures his American audience that most Labourites are not like that.

The unspoken assumption, and it has to remain unspoken and stay below conscious realization, is that Palestinians have no right to be anti-Zionist and that anti-Zionism is a form of vitriolic zealotry and can never be a principled human rights position.

Next passage —

No one seriously believes that Corbyn himself is an anti-Semite, nor disbelieves his protestations that he is a lifelong anti-racist…

Corbyn aside, there is certainly anti-Semitism in Britain, but it remains predominantly a phenomenon of the traditional polite-snob anti-Semite—found more in England’s shires, suburbs, and golf clubs than on its metropolitan streets. One partial exception to this is the strong anti-Israel feeling, which sometimes shades recklessly into what certainly sounds like Jew-hate, among a minority of hotheaded British Muslims.

Another, related exception is that among the huge wave of mainly young, more left-wing people who joined Labour in the last five years and helped to elect Corbyn as leader, there is a new stridency and passion on the Israel-Palestine issue—particularly aligned with support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. (For a brilliant exposition of the politics of the BDS movement, see Nathan Thrall’s recent Long Read in The Guardian.) As Israeli politics have moved rightward under pressure from pro-settler politicians committed to an ethno-nationalist state and gradual annexation of the occupied territories, the voices of condemnation from activists have become louder. And some of the noisiest are failing to make distinction between criticizing the current Israeli government and its policies and rejecting outright the whole Zionist enterprise—which is, in effect, to deny the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish homeland. And when the anti-Zionist rhetoric reaches a pitch where the insult “Zio” is simply code for “Jew,” we are fully in the zone of left-wing anti-Semitism.

So does he think Labour is antisemitic? Let’s see.

But has the Labour Party been taken over by anti-Semites? That’s ridiculous.

Apparently not.

No, what bothers him is that there are “hotheaded” British Muslims with strong anti-Israel feeling that “sometimes” shades into Jew hate. Note the slippery slope argument. He applies it to Muslims who are critical of Israel while saying that only “some” are Jew haters. But clearly in his mind anti-Israel feeling is a gateway drug and so once again he lumps them in with those who are anti-semites.

In Seaton’s mind, the same is true of leftists in general. Start out with anti-Zionist feelings and before you know it, you are an anti-semite. Jewish anti-Zionists go unmentioned, but perhaps they are just “leftists.”

What group is immune to this slippery slope to hatred? Which group can make accusations and engage in harsh and overheated and unfair and exaggerated criticism with perfect sincerity because their motives are pure and their concerns all completely legitimate? Certainly not British Muslims or anti- Zionist leftists. Let’s take a look—

“To call Corbyn’s past chumminess with, say, Hamas representatives a weapon suggests that Corbyn’s opponents inside the Labour Party have instrumentalized the issue of anti-Semitism in a cynical way. I mostly don’t believe that is the case. Many Labour Party members, including Jewish members, as well as British Jews generally, have been gravely offended by Corbyn’s missteps and are in perfect good faith in voicing their objections.”

So British supporters of Israel are acting in perfect good faith. Sure.

This is the root of the problem. A fairminded person would recognize that there is some anti-semitism in some of Israel’s critics. Brian Klug, who has been a defender of Labour against its critics on the IHRA issue, acknowledges anti-Zionist anti-Semitism here, giving an example with his “Daphne” anecdote– in which a friend who at a Labour Party meeting puts forward the statement, “The history of the holocaust is part of the identity of all Jews, whatever they may feel about Israel,” was treated as if she were an agent of Israel.

On the other side, Klug is reluctant to criticize his friends in the Jewish community, which is understandable; but clearly the pro Israel side is soaked in bigotry. The fact of the matter is that Israel as a Jewish state could only have come into existence through some form of ethnic cleansing, and that is exactly what happened in 1948-1949. Zionists for the most part have difficulty with this history. But if you think it through, you must recognize that the IHRA definition of alleged anti-Semitism as calling Israel a racist state is unacceptable to anyone who thinks Palestinians have the right to live in their own homeland. Zionists insist on such a definition, but even if someone favors a two state solution as the pragmatic solution, it is understandable why such a definition of bigotry upsets Palestinians.

Seaton, of course, thinks the IHRA examples should be accepted in full, with no cherrypicking by the Corbyn “clique,” as he calls it. He never misses an opportunity to denigrate anyone concerned or sympathetic to the Palestinian view. The one exception is his recommendation of the Nathan Thrall piece on BDS in the Guardian. Like many liberal Zionists, Seaton is willing to be critical of the Israeli right, but that is the limit of his sympathy. He wants Palestinians to grant a moral endorsement to their own ethnic cleansing. He can’t admit this— maybe he can’t even think it through, which is why he has to link anti-Zionism with anti-semitism. It is a way to cover up his own unfair assumptions.

Seaton says the real problem is that Labour has been taken over by doctrinaire anti-imperialists who think the US and Israel are the chief evildoers in the world. While on that subject, he gives us more thoughts on the nature of antisemitism.

A great irony in all of this concerns the nature of anti-Semitism itself. A common feature of anti-Semites is precisely their unhealthy preoccupation or obsession with Jews, Judaism, and Israel—all conflated and muddled together. It is characteristic of their anti-Semitism that, in this warped worldview, Israel and Jews matter too much, in a deeply creepy way. Why, one might reasonably ask of Labour members, both pro- and anti-Corbyn, is this area of the party’s foreign policy different from all others? To borrow a rhetorical strategy from the pro-Israel proponents of the arguments of “the New Anti-Semitism”: “What about Darfur?” (Or Yemen, or Myanmar, or Congo…)

Seaton missed a couple of ironies in his own paragraph. First, it is Labour’s opponents who insist that criticism of Israel is the second coming of the Nazis. On the one hand they want it to be considered antisemitic to criticize Jews for the actions of Israel–and they are right in that position–while they also want what they consider excessive criticism of Israel to be considered antisemitic because apparently if you criticize Israel too much you are criticizing Jews. So they are conflating Israel and Jews themselves. Seaton has himself been conflating the two categories throughout his piece. (“British Jews generally, have been gravely offended by Corbyn’s missteps…”)

Second, Seaton has the gall to bring up Yemen. Corbyn has been very critical of British support of the Saudi war crimes there. Like the US, the British have been supporting the Saudis as they slaughter children. Yet somehow Yemen is the fault of the anti-imperialist left.

Seaton’s piece is not completely worthless. If you take into account his presumably unconscious bigotry and liberal narcissism, he might be giving an accurate description of what is going on inside the Labour Party. I wouldn’t know, but the stereotype of the anti-imperialist leftist who only sees evil in the actions of America and its allies is probably a somewhat slanted description of real people, and their opponents, presumably liberals like Seaton who want us to focus most of our attention on our dastardly foes, probably represents the other side, at least on foreign policy.

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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27 Responses

  1. ErikEast on August 22, 2018, 2:09 pm

    I for one cannot stand the cheap generalisations that have littered the debate regarding Labour and antisemitism this summer. One such generalisation is that British Jews are fretting about Jeremy Corbyn- led Labour gaining power. No one seems to provide data to back this claim up beyond claiming to know someone who plans to relocate to Israel.

  2. JWalters on August 22, 2018, 9:57 pm

    “Most commentary simply ignores the Palestinian viewpoint altogether”

    Matt Seaton follows the universal Zionist practice of leaving out the Palestinian half of the story and lying about the Zionist half.

    These people are intelligent enough to know they are doing this. Therefore they are deliberately, dispicably dishonest. Their veneer of “reasonable” mannerisms is purely a predatory ploy.

    Given the 70 years of massive, vicious crimes committed behind this facade, it is no wonder the term “evil” gets applied.

    • Maghlawatan on August 23, 2018, 3:20 am

      Self censorship is a huge problem when ambitious journalists address the Augean stable of Israel. If they want a career they word the memes.

      Rule # 1 of journalism:

      If one person tells you it is raining and another tells you it is not, look out the fucking window.

    • CigarGod on August 23, 2018, 9:45 am

      For years I have asked people why they watch FOX.
      “Because it is Fair and Balanced,” they respond.

      FOX, Matt Seaton, NPR, etc…know they can leave out half the discussion, lie about the other half, and people can still be kept in line at the end by saying sincerely: “Fair and Balanced”…or similar.

  3. Brewer on August 23, 2018, 3:20 am

    Strip it away.
    Separate out all this semitism stuff.
    It is a diversion.
    I have become convinced that “anti-semitism” is a logically unsustainable concept. No other “crime” is defined by the ethnicity of the victim.
    If you are a Jew and you have been offended against because of your ethnicity, call it what it is – racism.
    If this rule is followed, whole lotta things gonna change.
    Try claiming “racism” on some guy who has a go at the government of Israel.

    • CigarGod on August 23, 2018, 9:47 am

      Interesting thing to think about today.

    • Citizen on August 26, 2018, 6:52 am

      ” No other “crime” is defined by the ethnicity of the victim.”
      Really, in the USA, what is a legislated “hate crime”?

      • echinococcus on August 26, 2018, 10:34 am


        That’s exactly what Zionists are trying to write into law.

      • Maghlawatan on August 26, 2018, 11:29 am

        Zionists are accusing Corbyn of antisemitism because he accused UK Zionists of not getting the UK sense of irony. In the old days anti Semitism meant using violence against innocent Jews. How times have changed

  4. StephenKMackSD on August 23, 2018, 10:13 am

    Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein are now long gone from a publication I read for over forty years , off and on. This publication was part of my self-education that lasted until the Pro-Ukrainian Coup propaganda of Timothy Snyder, and others, that appeared even in the last days of Mr. Silver’s editorship.
    Just recently James Kirchick and Michael D. Weiss were published in the NYRB. What’s the cliche ‘are there no standards’?
    The pioneer of the Anti-Semitism hysterics is Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian. New Labour is being eclipsed by a Labour Party that rejects the Neo-Liberalism of the Blairites, and their desperation the defame Corby is a symptom of that loss of power.
    Its also about the superficial character of ‘Journalism’ that reports on this manufactured crisis without any interest in its political motivation, in sum, Neo-Liberal Blairites invent lies to smear Corbyn. Think of the American context of the Republicans in post war America, calling the New Deal ‘a generation of treason’ and the political rise of the Nixon and McCarthy.

    • Donald on August 23, 2018, 11:04 am

      Seems like the racists are going to win. I have seen other commenters in the MW comment section link to the piece below ( which has appeared before) or to similar pieces, but it sounds like Corbyn is going to surrender. Not that I blame him too much— he is a politician and from this side of the Atlantic it seems like he is getting relentlessly pounded in the press, with very few defenders.

      • StephenKMackSD on August 23, 2018, 11:45 am

        Donald , thank you for your thought provoking comment. Mr. Cook is one of the indispensable reporters/critics of Israel and Zionism. Corbyn’s dilemma is stated here with a refreshing frankness, not repeated in the respectable bourgeois press.

        ‘ And as he has lost all sense of how to respond in good faith to allegations made in bad faith, he has begun committing the cardinal sin of sounding and looking evasive – just as those who deployed the anti-semitism charge hoped. It was his honesty, plain-speaking and compassion that won him the leadership and the love of ordinary members. Unless he can regain the political and spiritual confidence that underpinned those qualities, he risks haemorrhaging support.’

        The vexing question then becomes what will Corbyn do? If he surrenders to the blackmail of the Blairites, he is rendered into the same political category as his defamers. Is the political/existential fate of the Palestinians worthy of simply saying unequivocally ‘here I stand’ ?



      • oldgeezer on August 23, 2018, 12:40 pm


        I don’t necessarily disagree with you but the labour party membership is constantly increasing while all of this is going.

        Very few defenders maybe but a lot of grassroots support who can see what is going on.

      • Citizen on August 26, 2018, 6:57 am

        Nothing about Corbyn & the “anti-Semite” controversy in the US mainstream media, i.e., cable tv news & infotainment shows. Although Dershowitz has a video out that calls Corbyn a Jew-Hater, I don’t see it discussed in said media.

      • Bumblebye on August 26, 2018, 9:44 am

        Citizen, Dersh was on our ch4 news last week – behaved so bad they apparently had to issue an apology before the end of the prog.

      • annie on August 26, 2018, 10:05 am

        i’d love to see a clip of that bumblebye.

      • just on August 26, 2018, 10:47 am

        Here’s all I could find, Annie. channel 4 scrubbed the bit about Jeremy Corbyn on their youtube videos, but Arutz Sheva still has it up:

      • annie on August 26, 2018, 10:58 am

        news programer must like his style of punditry, they keep hosting him. what scum.

      • Bumblebye on August 26, 2018, 1:09 pm

        Annie, Ch4 have omitted that from the video on their youtube channel, but appears to be at algemeiner and yeshivaworld (which I won’t link to, they’re nasty!).

  5. Ossinev on August 23, 2018, 2:09 pm

    “Very few defenders maybe but a lot of grassroots support who can see what is going on”

    I think that the lack of clear defenders is a clear reflection of the level control that the Zionist/Zioland lobby have over the MSM. In other words the views of the grassroots other than in comments columns are simply not reflected in the headlines and lead articles. Jeremy Corbyn became popular and was elected as Labour Leader because amongst other reasons he has a refreshing honest intellect and because he was open to dialogue with those with whom he disagrees. His style makes him easy prey for the attack jackals in the Ziolobby and the self serving Blairites.

    Like you I hope that the “grassroots” supporters do see what is going on. I would go further and hope that this unprecedented attack on a leading UK politician will be seen by the greater UK public for what it is a blatant interference in internal UK politics by a foreign government.

    As for the issue at hand the so called Anti- Semitism I hope that this will backfire on the Zio lobby and their Labour collaborators and at some point in the very near future the penny will drop with the great British public whose forebears fought so valiantly against the Nazis at huge cost and gave shelter to so many Jewish people that they are being accused by inference of sheltering “swathes of Anti- Semites” and that the accusations effectively come from admirers of Jewish terrorists who butched innocent British peacekeepers and civilians during the mandate period.

    I for one am truly sick and tired of the constant eternal victimhood whinging and whining coming from the Zio lobby and the claim for totally unmerited special definitions or treatment for UK Jewish citizens because of the Holocaust. These special definitions and/or treatment may well be applicable to those European countries which collaborated with the Nazis and Fascists during the second world war – that is for their citizens to consider and decide. I hadn`t yet been born by the end of the war and neither had my children or grandchildren. My parents and grandapents and their families suffered greatly as did all of the British population during the fight against Nazism. To be accused of being the citizen of a nation which harbours huge numbers of anti – Semites is not only a blatant lie it is also grossly insulting to me , my family and my forebears.

    As I have said in a previous post I think that a good way of pricking this grossly inflated Zio balloon is for the Labour Party leadership to take the initiative by calling for a review of discrimination legislation in the UK with a view to introducing a law/laws which clearly define what constitutes hatred of individuals or individual religions in which all individuals and individual religions are categorised and treated equally with no extra or separate codicils or definitions being applicable uniquely to Judaism. In other words simple equality in the eyes of the law.

    • Maghlawatan on August 23, 2018, 4:30 pm

      How many Zionist soldiers died fighting the Nazis? Most of them were tooling around in Palestine. Zionists are such a mixture of needy, whiny and vicious.

      • RoHa on August 23, 2018, 8:20 pm

        The British set up a Palestine Regiment, which fought in North African campaigns. The regiment was composed of both Jews and Arabs. It later fell apart because the Jews wanted to fight under a Star of David flag, rather than the British flag. The Arab soldiers were left out of most history books.

    • RoHa on August 23, 2018, 8:13 pm

      ” I hadn`t yet been born by the end of the war and neither had my children or grandchildren.”

      I’ll accept that you weren’t born by the end of the war, but are you sure about your children and grandchildren?

    • RoHa on August 23, 2018, 10:49 pm

      And I have given my view on Holocaust whining in a much earlier comment. If the search engine comes before the Messiah does, you might be able to find it.

  6. RoHa on August 23, 2018, 10:47 pm

    This attack on Corbyn serves several purposes.

    1. Distracts from the fake Brexit that the powers are trying to push.

    (Good old George has a nice article here.

    2. Protects Israel.

    3. Revenge of the Bliarites.

    This list is not exhaustive, and the order of importance depends on the party involved.

  7. Ossinev on August 26, 2018, 10:23 am

    “I’ll accept that you weren’t born by the end of the war, but are you sure about your children and grandchildren?”

    Yup I have double checked and they are definitely younger than me.

    You may be interested in listening to Good Old George interviewing Norman Finklestein on the subject of the Corbyn Jackal Hunt:

    Particularly strong words from Norman.Particularly liked his description of the Yahoo. Priceless !

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