Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Labour's Leadership and the Zionist Witch-Hunt

Every summer, in the months before Party conferences, media reporting is obsessed with disputes over attempts to replace some party leader. Traditionally in ancient times if crops failed, the priest-king would be ritually sacrificed in the hope of a better crop.

Still, today, human sacrifices are expected. Their party’s drubbing in the 2017 elections left the LibDem leader exposed. Tories, bitterly divided over Europe and Brexit, are wrangling like rats in a sack, with several ambitious would-be leaders like Boris Johnson hoping for the top job. The Labour Party is divided with Blairite MPs - fiercely opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and policies - latching onto allegations that he is an ‘anti-Semitic racist’, with a media storm against him and any on the Left who dare to express criticisms of Israel’s policies or sympathy for the Palestinians.

Divisions over party leadership are masking but not solving debates over policy. Socialists have always held that a mature, democratic political party has no need for leaders to decide its policy – only sheep need leaders.

We have no time for would-be ‘Great Men’, and historically a party’s leader has often been its weak spot, an Achilles heel. For instance, Michael Foot, an earlier leftwing Labour leader, was smeared in the press in 1995 as an alleged KGB agent; he sued for libel and won, but the libel had done its work. Decades later, the exact same libel has been resurrected in the TIMES (PRIVATE EYE, Sept-Oct 2018). The dead cannot sue for libel so liars have immunity.

Any attack on a Leftwing Labour leader, dead or alive, is useful for the rightwing press, especially as some of Corbyn’s close associates are still strongly pro-Russia, a hangover from the time when so many on the Left ignorantly admired the Soviet dictatorship as a ‘Socialist state’.

The mass media this year, from spring time onwards, have been thrilled to find their hyped-up stories about Corbyn’s alleged anti-Semitism and racism being supported so strongly by Labour MPs. Chukka Umunna went so far as to declare the Labour Party is “institutionally racist” – the phrase used by the Macpherson Inquiry to describe the Metropolitan Police’s discriminatory, systematic and racist use of its ‘sus’ powers for ‘stop and search’.

Socialists hold as a matter of principle that working-class organisation for worldwide Socialism has to be “without distinction of race or sex”. We are strongly opposed to racism, nationalism and all other beliefs, including religion, used to divide the working class. We argue that, while nationalism is used to whip up support for warfare, the real causes of war are rooted in economic and political issues.

... nationalism is not the cause of war. There are in fact no purely nationalist movements. Invariably the nationalist sentiment is mixed with economic factors and made use of by the class that has an interest to serve in achieving independence; and independence means, not the emancipation of the exploited section of the population, but a mere change of masters.

So what lies behind these hyped-up accusations of racism and anti-Semitism? This year, 2018, was the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel – much celebrated both in Israel and among its supporters. But at the same time there were protests by Palestinians who regard that event as the Nakba, the disaster. From the start, Israel’s occupation of Palestine was ruthless and the bloodshed continues, as Israeli forces shoot at mostly unarmed protesters on the Gaza border.

Palestinians’ hopes were that their protests would draw world attention to the horrible treatment they have had from Israel, down decades of brutal ethnic cleansing and occupation. But the vicious row about the Labour leader’s alleged anti-Semitism has made it almost impossible for Labour politicians to be seen to speak out about their cause.

Those who have been attacking Corbyn for alleged anti-Semitism and racism seem to have been acting in conjunction with an Israeli policy to counter international critics: by equating anti-Zionism with racism and anti-Semitism so as to delegitimize critics of Israeli policy.

Israeli policymakers have taken note of the Anti-Apartheid Movement’s successful sanctions against South Africa, one of the Left’s many ‘good causes’, and are determined to prevent the international BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) campaign having a similar effect.

Their media campaign may well have succeeded in making the whole issue toxic, political dynamite, so that to express support or sympathy for the wretched Palestinians is simply suicidal for any aspiring politician.

What is anti-Semitism?

The adoption by the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Association, Romanian Conference 2016) of a “non-legal working definition” of anti-Semitism has been a central demand of the Jewish/Israeli lobby, Labour Friends of Israel included. This “working definition” was finally adopted by the Labour Party leadership but they had reservations about some of the more political examples suggested.

One example especially would make many criticisms of Israel impossible as it would mean that ‘anti-Semitism’ now could include:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour [our emphasis].

This raises the question: is the state of Israel a Jewish state? In the past the state of Israel was conceived of by Zionists as a Jewish State. Zionism had started as a movement in the late 19th century, at a time of pogroms and widespread persecution of Jews in most of Europe. The commitment to setting up this state appeared first in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which explicitly referred to setting up “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

But that Declaration, adopted in 1926 as British government policy, also importantly included “doing nothing to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. This second part of the Balfour Declaration is conveniently ignored by latter-day Israel apologists.

In his book, ANTI-SEMITISM - THE OLDEST HATRED (2015), the Corbyn-hating Labour MP John Mann makes very few references to this historic document, never quotes the text of it and, in his very few brief references to it, he only refers to the first part of the text – never to Balfour’s important condition.

In 1946 a Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion was clear as to what the Zionist movement wanted:

We shall go to Palestine in order to become a majority there. If need be we shall take the country by force... If Palestine proves too small, her frontiers will have to be extended (MANCHESTER GUARDIAN 3 July 1946, from SPGB THE RACIALPROBLEM, 1947, p45).

In July 2018 the Knesset passed a ‘nation-state law’, with constitutional force, stating that the right of self-determination in Israel was exclusively reserved for Jews and only for Jews, thus making explicit the second-class status of all other groups – Arabs, Druze, Christian, Bedouin, etc.

Something of the same sort was part of the Nazi project. In both there was and is the same mindset: ‘we’ are a superior race or group, the Chosen People, so all others are by definition inferior, untermenschen.

Modern Israel is in fact a racist state, with racist policies and a racist ideology, one which discriminates systematically against Palestinians. Its methods of repression, many of them illegal under international law, include house demolitions, house searches, closure of towns or villages for weeks at a time, curfews, use of spies and informants, ‘administrative detention’ even of children, and torture. Water supplies are controlled by the Israelis, likewise the issue of permits to allow for building work.

In Gaza electricity is only available a few hours a day: without power, water treatment fails so raw untreated sewage flows into the Mediterranean. Unemployment and restrictions on fishing add to the misery.

Israel’s gunboats patrol the coast, shooting at fishermen and even at children playing football on the beach. And all exit routes are closed.

As in apartheid South Africa, the state controls the textbooks: Israeli schools’ textbooks only refer to Palestinians negatively. Every effort is made to keep Jews and Palestinians apart. And state spies and informers are everywhere in the occupied territories.

Israel and the Left

In Britain, sympathy for the underdog has always been a feature of Leftwing politics. It is natural and shows a sense of ‘fair play’, of anger at perceived injustice. In the early days of the Israeli state and for some time after, Israel was seen with sympathy and goodwill as the state of the Jewish victims of Hitler’s Nazi genocide, a form of compensation for the unforgivable injustices suffered by Europe’s Jews.

With the founding of Israel, the world turned a blind eye to Jewish terrorism and violence, the wholesale expropriation of Palestinian property, destruction of homes, and bulldozing of villages and towns, as Palestinians were driven out, forced to flee as refugees into neighbouring states. That was ‘ethnic cleansing’ long before the phrase was invented.

Until the 1967 Six-Day War, the outside world still broadly supported Israel. The cause of Israel was especially appealing to Left idealists, many of whom in the 1950s and 60s volunteered to work on the kibbutzim, Israel’s egalitarian collectives.

But after the 1967 war of aggression, even the Left started to shift their position, realizing that Israel was no longer a special sort of ‘victim’ state but a new colonialist and racist regime. Israel’s annexation of the West Bank from Jordan, the Sinai from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria showed it was an aggressively expansionist, militarist power.

In his book CURSED VICTORY (London, 2014), historian Ahron Bregman wrote (p.xxv) that the 1967 Six-Days War:
... marked the turning point... world sympathy started shifting from the Israelis to the new underdogs – namely the people who came under Israel’s occupation

. Palestinians then came to be seen as the underdogs, especially as Israel’s crude, oppressive occupation was combined with gross injustice, and political and economic inequality. Later the Sabra and Shatila massacres, when Israel shelled the wretched refugee camps in Lebanon, led the peaceniks of the Left to oppose Israel’s militarism.

As Israel’s founders had always held that they were surrounded by potential enemies, they needed and relied on support from the US.

Over time, American financial, military and technological support has resulted in Israel’s armed forces having the only nuclear weapons in the region, plus the most advanced drones and electronic eavesdropping technology. Israel became the US proxy in the oil-rich Middle East. While American politicians live in terror of the powerful gun lobby, for them to criticize Israel’s policies would be political suicide.

After the 1967 Six-Days War, at a time of many ‘national liberation’ anti-colonial movements, that switch in public sentiment was expressed in the 1975 UN resolution (3379), which equated Zionism with racism and apartheid, as a “racist and imperialistic ideology... a form of racism and racial discrimination”. Later, in 1991, after heavy lobbying from Israel and the US, this was rescinded.

Jews, Zionism and racism

The Jews’ claim that Palestine is their land derives from the Bible: as God’s Chosen People, it is the ‘will of God’ that this piece of planet earth is theirs. Jews from all over the world have been encouraged to return, their illegal settlements loom over Palestinian villages, and their right of return is guaranteed in Israeli law.

But the driven out Palestinians remain stateless refugees over the borders or cooped up in the cramped and hopeless open-air prison which is Gaza. Such is the ‘will of god’.

A Jewish national identity cannot be found in any sense of a ‘Jewish race’. Scientists know that there are in the modern world no longer any identifiable biological ‘races’, and even Jews have blended with non-Jews in many different countries. So, in a biological sense, there is no Jewish ‘race’. However there is a Jewish religion, and for some being ‘Jewish’ can be defined, as Einstein wrote, in terms of culture:

The bond that has united the Jews for thousands of years and that unites them today is, above all, the democratic ideal of social justice coupled with the ideal of mutual aid and tolerance among all men.

Would Einstein now see in today’s Israel a state with those values, of “social justice ... and tolerance among all men

”? The reality is that from the start the Zionists intended Israel to be a Jewish State. Any Arabs or others were tolerated only as a source of cheap labour, a second-class group. Accusing those who criticize Israeli policy towards the Palestinians of being ‘racists’ is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Socialists call for workers to unite and realize they have only one enemy: the capitalist system. We are all victims of world capitalism, of exploitation, of endless conflicts.

Ideologies and belief-systems like racism, nationalism and religion are used to create divisions. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to all forms of racism, anti-Semitism included, and also to all nationalism, and we work to develop working-class unity “without distinction of race or sex

”. Workers today have more historical and ideological shackles dividing them than ever before. We are all victims of history. New wars and enmities add their divisive weight to all our older shackles. Marx’s slogan is even truer now than it was in the 19th century: “Workers of the world, unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains!

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