The Labour right’s use of antisemitism as a political football is sickening, and it must stop

Margaret Hodge

On 22 July, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour needed to “move on” after MP Margaret Hodge unrepentantly called party leader Jeremy Corbyn an “antisemite and a racist” last week. And McDonnell’s right. The party really does need to move on – by booting her out.

Who’s doing the ‘silencing’?

Hodge’s lawyers said the understandable disciplinary action after her ridiculous smear was a “veiled attempt to silence her”. Yet she and her friends on the Labour right have long been trying to silence criticisms of Israel’s far-right government.

Corbyn is a veteran anti-racist, who has consistently made his opposition to antisemitism clear – along with his criticism of Israeli crimes against Palestinian civilians. And among many other reasons, that’s why party members overwhelmingly backed him as Labour leader – on two separate occasions.

But when Labour approved the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism on 17 July – with updates to the parts that could have gagged legitimate criticism of Israel – Hodge and others were outraged. Even though 36 international Jewish groups had clearly expressed their own serious reservations about the IHRA definition’s ambiguity on Israel.

So for some Labour MPs, it seems, silence on Israel is fine. But disciplinary action after publicly smearing the party leader is censorship.

Pull the other one.

Meanwhile, Israel legalises apartheid

All of the fuss surrounding Hodge, meanwhile, came just as the Israeli government ‘legalised apartheid‘. And there was precious little from Hodge and other right-wing Labour MPs in response. But that was no surprise, given the quiet that also prevailed recently as the Israeli state:

  • Destroyed homes in the occupied West Bank, in what can only be described as a form of ethnic cleansing. (Human rights groups say this activity is a war crime.)
  • Murdered protesters in Gaza who were resisting Israel’s devastating and ongoing blockade on the territory. Israel massacred at least 60 Palestinian protesters in one day on 14 May, and has murdered over 120 civilians in total in recent months. (This behaviour has drawn UN condemnation and allegations of war crimes from human rights groups.)

Stop antisemitism. And stop Israeli crimes. 

Left-wing Jewish group Jewdas has slammed the creation of a false link between criticising Zionist Israel and discriminating against Jewish people. It clearly wrote in its guide on How to criticise Israel without being anti-semitic:

Jews do not represent the Israeli government any more than British people represent the British government…

There are many, many Jews and Jewish organisations that oppose the Zionist ideology and Israeli occupation and apartheid.

It also said:

The basic definition of Zionism is the belief that there should be a Jewish state in Israel. Many Jews are not Zionists, and political Zionism is a comparatively new movement within Jewish thought (150~ years old). To equate Judaism with Zionism is misleading – Jews do not have a responsibility nor a natural tendency to be Zionists.

As activist organisation Jewish Voice for Peace has stressed: “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism”.

For these reasons, many people in the Jewish community have refused to accept cynical political attempts by right-wing Labour MPs like Hodge to gag critics of Israeli crimes. Prof David Graeber, for example, said Hodge’s behaviour was “vile” and undermined the fight against antisemitism:

Jewdas has also slammed people who use antisemitism as a political football. After the right-wing media launched an ill-fated attack on the group in April, it clarified:

Labour is not immune from antisemitism, but the vast majority of such discrimination comes from right-wing organisations – as one parliamentary report admitted [pdf, p8] in 2016. Hence Jewdas’s claim of “cherry picking”.

Wherever racists hide, they must be dealt with. Because discriminating against people on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexuality is wrong. And whether it happens in Britain or Israel, it’s totally unacceptable.

The Labour right’s dedication to preventing a Labour government

Labour is taking more action than any other party to avoid and prevent discrimination of all types – all while the ruling Conservative Party has done precious nothing to deal with the “endemic racism” in its own ranks.

Those on the Labour right, along with their friends in the corporate media and the broader right of British politics, are distracting people – intentionally or not – from a Tory-led government in chaos over Brexit; from a despicable Israeli government; and from the fact that the Conservatives have done nowhere near what Labour has done to stamp out racism.

In other words, these Labour MPs clearly have little interest in getting Labour into government. Rather than see Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, they seem perfectly happy to undermine his leadership and keep Labour in opposition, exposing millions of British citizens to further suffering under the Tories.

Grow up, or leave

Right-wing Labour MPs must support – or at the very least respect – Jeremy Corbyn. If they can’t, they must leave.

Apologists for Israel’s crimes – or those of any repressive government for that matter – have no place in the Labour Party. And if right-wingers in the party can’t grow up and treat their democratically elected leader with respect, they need to leave the party too. Corbyn must not allow them to just keep smearing, insulting, and undermining him without meaningful consequences.

The cynical attempts by the British right to use antisemitism as a political football are an absolute disgrace. And they must stop right now.

Get Involved!

– Do you have a Labour MP who has been undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership? Let them know (politely) how you feel about that. Also share with them your concerns about the crimes of Israel’s hard-right government.

– Join the fight against prejudice with Hope not Hate. Also check out Jewish Voice for PeaceJewish Voice for Labour, and Free Speech on Israel.

– Support the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. Find out more about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. And see previous Canary articles on Israel.

– Join The Canary, so we can keep holding the powerful to account.

Featured image via Policy Exchange

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