McCarthyism is again, astride the land, like a destroying Saturn. As of this writing, left labor in England has been decimated through the ginned up, explicitly false claims of antisemitism with no end to the aftershocks from this.
If you’ve been paying attention, there is a British Labour party “compliance unit for antisemitism” and it’s exactly as bad as it sounds. Based on the deeply flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism, this inquisitorial system actually is more akin to a Stalinist purge show trial than the already sufficiently odious McCarthy hearings. This self-flagellating cleaning of the ranks has resulted in a wholesale purge of Labour members, most recently, 25 people expelled in a single day.
A high profile example is most telling, Jo Bird, an ascendant left candidate who has been suspended from the Labour List. Jo Bird’s Jewish background is simply ignored here with the more salient issue being her strong left voice and criticism of the entire process. Similar to what Milan Kundera describes in “The Joke” Bird is being accused of antisemitism for comments obviously taken out of context by those seeking to attack left Labour, particularly Jeremy Corbyn. The constant echo chamber claims of rampant Labour antisemitism is a successful, (so far), weaponization and willful distortion of actual antisemitism. This is a planned attack by centrist Labour members, state actors such as Israel, and private actors. Whether cynical or not, this misuse/distortion of antisemitism makes it more difficult to deal with actual antisemitism. White supremacists, neo Nazis and simple antisemites are thrown in with people who have spent decades fighting racism, sexism, union decline and frequently, criticism of Israeli settler colonial policies and actions. In response to these truly alarming developments, Mondoweiss has reported on deeply felt and well-reasoned responses from Haim Bresheeth and Natalie Strecker, both who demanded that they be brought before the compliance unit. Strecker gets directly to the crux of this issues:
I have spent many hours trying to work out the best way of responding, that recognized the genuine hurt of some Jewish members of the party I am a member of, but also addressed what had morphed into a clear attempt to shut down Palestinian solidarity and to designate anyone who calls out Israel for the apartheid regime it is as an anti-Semite and at a time when very real and very dangerous antisemitism is on the ascendency.
Often these people are, like Jo Bird, Jewish and life-long left, anti-racist activists, which brings us to why I’m again discussing this here. The one certain takeaway, that is also germane in the US, is that the weaponization of antisemitism is, unambiguously, an attempt to stifle legitimate and needed criticism of Israel.
Although, we are not yet at a point in the US where a commission has been established to render judgement on who is an antisemite, things are certainly developing in that direction. What is definitely increasing are attempts to silence critiques and critics of Israel, particularly as regards BDS. As of this writing, 28 states have some kind of anti-BDS law, often including this entangled view that critique of Israel is synonymous with antisemitic speech. Thus, England has the inquisitional “compliance unit” while the US has a hodgepodge of anti-BDS laws.
In this regard, Muzzlewatch waited a bit to see what was actually going on with an apparent censoring incident experienced by the reporter, and former RT analyst, Abby Martin. As the details emerge, it’s readily apparent that this is yet another unfortunate censorship datapoint. Martin was contracted to give a talk in media literacy at Georgia Southern University this February 28th. When the actual contract was sent to her, she was surprised to see language mandating that she could only receive compensation if she signed an oath to not advocate for BDS or criticize Israel, as stipulated in Georgia state law. She refused, not a surprise given her work on Palestinian rights and rights abuses committed by the Israeli government. Two civil rights groups have signed on to defend Martin, in response to this obvious case of attempted censorship. Indeed, Edward Mitchell of CAIR-Georgia described the law as “blatantly and hilariously unconstitutional.” And, as repeated SCOTUS decisions have found, “Boycotts are fundamentally a protected free speech rights,” and as Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, wrote, “SCOTUS …… recognized that political boycotts are protected political expression and no state has the right to tell people what they can or cannot say.”
In general, all of these anti-BDS laws fly in the face of established U.S. Supreme Court opinions and those passing these laws know this. In the short run, politicians supporting such attacks on free speech are more concerned about garnering support from “friends of Israel” or, at least not pissing off said friends. A climate of fear, trepidation, and suspicion is also an important “value added,” and any legal battle takes time and money. The larger context is that, for the most part, in the US, there is no political or economic incentive for any politician to not be as right wing on Israel as is humanly possible. Thus, we get not only national level politics being affected but states, and even at a more local level, as well. Indeed, there is far more possible political, personal, and economic consequences for being a US citizen who is critical of Israel than for a US citizen to be critical of the US.
The good news is that there is starting to be a concerted response to such legislation and anti-free speech attacks with the above groups as well as Palestine Legal and the ACLU mounting legal cases. In future columns I will discuss details of the legal theories supporting the anti-BDS claims, the tactics behind this as well as the legal speciousness and willful historical ignorance of such claims.