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We must resist attempts to silence the left on Palestine

Some people falsely smear all critiques of Israel as antisemitic, writes Paul Keleman. We cannot let this bad-faith manoeuvring hinder our pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people.

April 9, 2018
5 min read

What has sparked this vehement denunciation of the left for antisemitism?  Only a few months ago, the largest survey on attitudes in Britain to Jews and Israel was published by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (IJPR). It concluded that a ‘relatively small group of the general population can justifiably be described as antisemitic’ and that ‘the very left-wing are, on the whole, no more antisemitic than the general population, but neither are they less antisemitic’. A still more recent YouGov survey shows that since Jeremy Corbyn has been the Labour party leader, antisemitism has declined among Labour voters.  

Whereas, for example, in 2015, 22 percent of Labour voters agreed with the suggestion that ‘Jews chase money more than other people’, this had declined in 2017 to 14%. Among Conservative voters, the decline over the same period to this question was much smaller and the overall levels of prejudice much higher: 31 percent in 2015, and 27 percent in 2017. Opinion polls give, at best, a rough assessment and opinions are fluid but the decline of antisemitism among Labour voters probably results from younger people, more at ease with multiculturalism, indentifying, in greater numbers, with Labour since Corbyn has become leader.  Whatever the reason, it belies the ideological assault to drum into public consciousness that the party and its supporters released from the grip of New Labour’s rightwing agenda are descending into antisemitic bigotry.

If, indeed,  antisemitism had been the principal concern of  those Jewish community leaders and Labour MPs who now condemn Corbyn for being ‘soft ‘ on antisemitism, they would surely be demanding action not only from the Labour leader but from May and other leaders of the political right.  Or, if they want to seriously address the issue of antisemitism, they would be looking to build broad support for it by pointing to the connection between antisemitism and other forms of racism. There is potential for alliances. As the IJPR report noted, there are much higher levels of hostility in Britain to Muslims.   

The eagerness with which the charge of left-wing antisemitism has been seized on by the right of the Labour party has naturally lead to the conclusion that this issue has been inflated to weaken and preferably replace Jeremy Corbyn.  Yet, this is only one of the ingredients. For the pro-Israeli lobby, which is the main driving force in this campaign, Corbyn would be merely collateral damage. Since assuming the party leadership, Corbyn, has tried to fend off criticism of his past sympathy for the Palestinian cause by reaffirming, mainly through Emily Thornberry, the party’s shadow foreign affairs minister, Labour’s commitment to the two-state solution – a convenient fiction to perpetuate international collusion in Israel’s policy of dispossessing and marginalising the Palestinian people. Thornberry has accompanied her repeated affirmations of Labour’s historic support for a Jewish state in Palestine by eulogising Israel’s ‘egalitarianism’, not withstanding the well documented discrimination between Israelis and the Palestinians both in Israel and in the West Bank.

The inequality is inseparable from the Zionist project of taking over the land and supplanting the indigenous population in favour of Jewish settlement.  In 1948, just 8 percent of the territory that is now Israel belonged to Zionist organisations and the rest to the Arabs. Today, the Israeli state and the Jewish citizens of Israel to whom the state has allocated land, own 97 percent and the same process of dispossessing the Palestinians of their land is far advanced in the West Bank through the settlement expansion. However, for the pro-Israeli lobby, Labour’s call for the British government to recognise a Palestinian state, even a feeble and mini, is undesirable and what it dreads still more is that a Corbyn led government, under left-wing pressure, may break the longstanding Western consensus in favour of unconditional support for Israel

Interviewed on Channel 4 News (29th March), Tony Blair, indicated the source of the alarm. He identified the radical left as responsible for the Labour party’s alleged antisemitism:  ‘Their position on Israel goes far beyond criticising the Israeli government and actually criticises the existence of the state’. Yet, opposing the current constitutional form of the Israeli state, in which anti-Palestinian discrimination is inscribed,  is no more racist than it was to oppose the institutional arrangements that produced the South African apartheid state or the Protestant domination of the Ulster state. The radical left’s critique of the Israeli state can accommodate Israel’s Jewish population’s self-determination, stripped of its exclusiveness and anti-Arab racism. It merely circumscribes the limits within which that democratic right can be practised in order that it does not negate the national rights of the indigenous people.

The frenzied campaign that purports to have detected a tidal wave of leftwing antisemitism is aimed at closing down debate on Israel’s continuing settlement expansion and military occupation that is fragmenting the Palestinian population into ghettos, fenced off behind walls, barriers and army checkpoints and deprived of land, water, adequate housing, medical services and opportunities for work.   The besieged and impoverished people of Gaza who these last few days have been confronting the Israeli army to demand an end to their invisibility, need international support. The left far from allowing its solidarity with the Palestinians to be delegitimised and criminalised, must redouble its campaign in their support.

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