We seem to be hearing a lot these days about an “antisemitism problem” on the Left – and particularly, in the growing part of the Left that is starting to embrace the cause of Palestinian rights. Accusations of “antisemitism” are almost sure to arise whenever Israel is criticized, as we saw in January when pop singer Lorde was called a “bigot”in a full-page ad in the Washington Post and accused of “prejudice,” “antisemitism ” and “Jew-hatred” for canceling a performance in Israel after appeals from BDS activists, or in April when Israeli-American actor Natalie Portman was accused of “borderline antisemitism” by Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz for declining to receive an award in Jerusalem due to her privately-expressed discomfort with the massacres of unarmed protesters in Gaza, or in the UK right now with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn being called a “f***ing antisemite and a racist” by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, after as controversies swirl around his history of support for the Palestinian cause.
Corbyn’s record as a tireless crusader for peace, justice and universal human rights could hardly be longer, more consistent, or more clearly based in true ethical principles rather than political expediency. In High School he became involved in such organizations as the League Against Cruel Sports and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (which he later vice-chaired). At 19, he spent 2 years working and teaching in Jamaica with Voluntary Service Overseas and on his return to the UK began working as a labor union organizer. He championed affordable access to healthcare in the 70s, took a vocal stance on LGBT rights in the early 80s, and served on the National Executive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. He was arrested protesting Apartheid in 1984 and protesting a trial of of IRA members in 1986, and went to court over his refusal to pay the Poll (flat) Tax in 1990. As a member of the Steering Committee for the Stop the War Coalition, he organized against the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions. He is vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) on Human Rights and the Chagos Islands, where he has advocated for the Chagossians’ right of return after their forced removal in 1971, and has defended Black and Asian Party members, as well as the basic human rights of Kurds, Indian Dalits, Western Saharans, Northern Irish Catholics – and Palestinians.
Corbyn signed all 5 “Early Day” Parliamentary motions condemning antisemitism long before becoming Labour Leader and fought the holding of an event by Neo-Nazis in 2015. Islington North, his constituency for the last three-and-a-half decades, where has won up to 73% of the vote, has a large Jewish population. Corbyn has close ties to Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Socialist Group and is now being passionately defended by such Jewish groups as Jewish Voice for Labour. As he is nowhere on-record in his decades as a public figure saying, writing or doing anything antisemitic, most of the allegations against him concern attempts to tie him to the words and actions of others – including of Jews.
One example concerns a Facebook Group that Corbyn briefly joined several years ago called Palestine Live, many of whose members are Jewish, including a number of Israelis and at least one Holocaust survivor. A few of the hundreds of thousands of posts made in the Group over the last 5 years are alleged to have included “links to Holocaust denial myths, allegations of Israel’s involvement in the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks and conspiracy theories involving the Rothschilds.” Corbyn denied having seen those posts and said he would have challenged them had he seen them – and it’s frankly hard to believe he would have had the time to go scouring through the posts the way the mole who gathered information on the group – a man by the name of David Collier, who had already been seen attending pro-Palestine events falsely posing as pro-Palestinian – obviously did. Elleanne Green, the Group’s founder, who is half Jewish and has not been accused of having said or done anything antisemitic herself, now faces expulsion from the Party. (Full disclosure: I’ve personally known Ms. Green since before the group’s founding and can personally attest that the allegations against her are absurd).
Another recent allegation concerns Corbyn’s participation in a Passover Seder of the Left-wing anti-Zionist Jewish group Jewdas, which has been critical of Israel. The group has also called the recent wave of antisemitism allegations “the work of cynical manipulations by people whose express loyalty is to the Conservative Party and the right wing of the Labour Party.”
Perhaps the most outrageous accusation centers around Corbyn’s participation in a panel entitled “Never Again for Anyone,” In which Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer drew parallels between his personal experience of the Nazis and of Israel today. Thus it seems the fact that Corbyn was sitting next to the 86-year-old Meyer when he made the remarks about his personal experience and thoughts as a Holocaust survivor and failed to call Meyer out on his antisemitism is now being considered as evidence of Corbyn’s own “antisemitism.”
It is not insignificant that, as Jewdas points out, cries of “antisemitism” often seem to come from the Right (in Corbyn’s case, largely from the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, which is about as pleased with him as the DNC is with Bernie Sanders). In the US, Israel is championed by the Trump Right, and Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer calls himself a “White Zionist” and Israel a model for the sort of White Nation he would like to see the US become. The only major party candidate to decline to speak at AIPAC – and the only one to raise the issue of Palestinian rights at all – was Socialist Bernie Sanders (who is also Jewish), while the only candidate with a strong stance for Palestinian rights was Jill Stein of the Green Party (also Jewish).
The attacks on Corbyn should also be seen in light of the recent growth of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement. South Africa decided to cut diplomatic ties with Israel in February and Ireland passed a BDS bill in July. In the US, Palestinian rights are already embraced by Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, and many respected figures on the Left, including Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Cornel West, Glen Greenwald, Naomi Wolf, Naomi Klein, Angela Davis, Jill Stein, Alice Walker, Medea Benjamin and Amy Goodman (many of whom are Jewish). With a Pew Center poll at the beginning of the year – before the highly visible trial of Ahed Tamimi and the Great Return March – showing Democrats almost evenly split on Israel-Palestine and Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez all publicly questioning Israel’s killings of Palestinian protestors in recent months, support for Palestine is poised to enter the Democratic mainstream – a shift further enabled by the growing membership and visibility of Jewish pro-Palestine groups such as JVP and IfNotNow. Corbyn, who is ahead of Sanders in the struggle to reclaim his party from corporate-backed politicians, is also ahead on Palestine, and his ability to overcome the current attacks will be a sign to mainstream Democrats that criticism of Israel is no longer a political death sentence.
This brings us to one last allegation against Corbyn: Labour’s merely partial adoption of the 11-point International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of “antisemitism.” Under the IHRA definition – in which no less than 5 of the points are specifically focused on Israel – it is “antisemitic,” for example, to draw “comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” Thus, while it is clearly acceptable to compare Hamas to the Nazis (as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has done), Iran to the Nazis (as Netanyahu has also done) and BDS activists to the Nazis (as Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett has done), it is apparently racist to do so in the specific case of Israel. Presumably this extends to very specific and factually-grounded comparisons, such as the counting of calories going into Gaza to the counting of calories in concentration camps by the Nazis, or the Nazi policy of “concentrating” Jews into ghettos (and later into camps) with the Israel policy of concentrating Palestinians into sealed Gaza and West Bank towns that are encircled by a tightening matrix of walls, settlements, outposts, bypass roads, closed military zones and checkpoints, or the use of the “Dahiya Doctrine” in the Shujjaiya and Rafah neighborhoods of Gaza in 2014 to the collective punishments used by the Nazis in retaliation for Resistance attacks. Are such comparisons really more unacceptable than the practices that elicit them?
It is one thing to suggest that criticism of Israel could in some cases be motivated by antisemitism and quite another to outlaw such criticism wholesale on the grounds that it could potentially be misused. Indeed, the latter is a form of political censorship that itself could be compared to that of Fascist regimes like the Nazis. The IHRA definition appears to be more focused on tamping down criticism of Israeli actions, policies, laws and institutions than on protecting people from racism. Furthermore, British human rights activist Jacqueline Walker, who is herself of Jewish descent and has already been suspended from Labour for alleged “antisemitism,” warns that adoption of the full IHRA definition by the party “would be the presage for another set of mass suspensions and exclusions which might go up to, and include, many prominent long serving Labour figures.”
What should really concern is racism – including, but by no means limited to – anti-Jewish racism. The fight against racism is by its very nature about universal equality and inclusion, and not special protection of any one group – let alone any government or political entity. Keeping our focus on racism rather than only antisemitism also makes it easier to see the shocking prevalence of racism in the discourse of Zionists themselves. If the IHRA’s standards were applied to all people equally, we would no longer tolerate such racist statements as “peace will come when the Palestinians love their children as much as they hate the Jews,” or Netanyahu’s electoral dog-whistling that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves,” or Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s collective condemnation of of 2 million trapped civilians, more than 3/4 of whom are women and children (“There are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip”), or Naftali Bennett’s casual dismissal of the value of Palestinian lives (“I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that”), or Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s statement that “the entire Palestinian people is enemy” and call for the mass murder of “the mothers of the martyrs” and destruction of their homes lest “more little snakes” be raised there. These statements take on more weight when read against recent events, such as this week’s Israeli killing of a pregnant mother and her baby daughter and shooting of several medics and journalists.
These are just a few relatively recent examples from high-level Israeli government officials. For more exhaustive accounts of Israeli racism, one can consult the work of people such as Canadian-Israeli (and yes, Jewish) journalist David Sheen. Indeed, anyone who wants to see the torrent of racism, hate and abuse that pro-Palestinians have come to expect from Zionists has only to post this article in a space where there are good numbers of Zionists. The real point is: just as the relentless deaths of Palestinians are routinely ignored by Western media and politicians, just as the right of Palestinians to safety and security or to defend themselves are never mentioned, anti-Arab racism against Palestinians is considered a non-issue, even though it is Palestinians and not Jews who are actually experiencing the crushing and murderous effects of racism at the hands of a powerful state.
As Palestinians continue to suffer and die for the crime of being non-Jews in the land claimed by the “Jewish State,” we can no longer allow Zionists to use “antisemitism” to bludgeon anyone who dares to speak out against this intolerable – and yes, quintessentially racist – situation.