Back in April 2018, I started an article with the line:
I was getting to the stage where I didn’t think it was possible for the Labour Party antisemitism row to go any further. But it has.
Unfortunately, not only has the row gone further, it’s gone so much deeper than any of us suspected it would. I haven’t written much on it since then. I said a lot of what I initially wanted to say in that piece, and in another piece I wrote in September 2018. And Nancy Mendoza’s piece also summed up a lot of my feelings about being Jewish and opposing both antisemitsm and political Zionism.
And if I’m honest, it’s hard to admit – but I’ve been scared. My mental health is often fragile, and the internet is so toxic that I find it so much healthier not to engage. And what I want to say often doesn’t fit into a tweet that’ll get lost in translation. So I’ve kept quiet.
But recently a charity event for the children of Gaza was cancelled due to “antisemitsm fears”. I’ve seen a screening of Jeremy Hardy’s film about Palestine cancelled. It’s got to the stage where shouting “Free Palestine! Free Gaza!” feels like a subversive, rebellious act. It’s shaken me awake and made me realise that keeping quiet isn’t an option anymore.
It’s made me so angry that I need to write about this again. I’m angry that my Jewish heritage, culture, and generations of persecution are being abused for a political agenda. And I’m furious this is being done at the expense of standing up for the people of Palestine.
Feeling safe, but what’s the price?
I’ve been involved in Palestinian activism for around 20 years. I can remember arguing with my grandma when she used to support Israeli fighters shooting at Palestinian children after they threw stones at tanks. I really tried to understand how she could support live ammunition being used against kids with stones.
I knew that a large part of it was through living through the war and her grandparents having escaped the pogroms in the Russian empire.
So I understood her support for Israel. But some of my passion for Palestinian activism comes through being Jewish. Because instinctively, when I first learned about Israel, I supported the idea of somewhere that Jewish people could feel safe. But the more I read and learnt, the more I realised I couldn’t support the state of Israel and what it was doing. It never made sense to me that one group of people could feel safe through killing, repressing, and displacing another group of people.
I’ve been involved in boycott protests against shops like Selfridges which stocked products from the occupied West Bank – a campaign that was eventually won. I’ve also taken part in actions at the Israeli embassy. I’ve protested the bombing of Gaza. I was supposed to go to Palestine in 2002 – but the trip was curtailed when the police discovered my plans, and I had to surrender my passport as part of bail conditions for an offence I was later acquitted of.
These campaigns have run for years. They’ve been about the Israeli state. And they’ve been about the fact the Israeli state kills, displaces, and represses Palestinian people in breach of international law. These campaigns haven’t been about Jews versus Muslims. They haven’t been about Jews running the world. They’ve been about a government hellbent on what appears to be the extermination of an indigenous population.
Suddenly, welcome to 2019 and supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) is apparently antisemitic. Supporting Palestine is antisemitic. And, FFS, supporting a charity working with children in Gaza is smeared as antisemitic. It’s got to the stage where you can’t tweet “Free Palestine” without expecting a Twitter pile-on. It’s disgusting. It’s got to stop. And it’s time to shout. Loudly.
Derby MP Chris Williamson has been demonised over the supposed antisemitic crisis in the Labour Party.
But it’s hard not to have sympathy with Williamson when we’re living in a country where charity events are banned under the banner of antisemitism; when every day the Labour antisemitism crisis fills column inch after column inch about racism in the Labour Party.
And it’s hard not to have sympathy when non-Jewish Labour centrists like Tom Watson and his ilk use the ‘crisis’ for their own ends on a daily basis; when people who have never spoken out against antisemitism, or any other form of racism for that matter, are rallying to the cause for clear political gain. And when we’re in a situation where non-Jewish people are regularly attacking Jewish people for daring to point out that the Jewish Labour Movement and associated bodies do not speak for them. Oh, and then there’s the antisemitic trope of the ‘self-hating Jew’ – which apparently is the only trope we’re all encouraged to embrace if it means a stick to beat those who don’t agree with the mainstream narrative.
So we end up in a catch 22 situation. Anyone who speaks out against the way the antisemitism ‘crisis’ is being portrayed is antisemitic. This means there’s no space for critical analysis, and there’s no space for dissenting voices.
Equally, we live in a time where all dissenting voices are lumped together. As I’ve previously written, there is antisemitism on the left that needs to be stamped out. And there are commentators who make antisemitic comments. Just look at George Galloway’s comments about Tottenham. Galloway’s tweet, linking all Jewish people to Israel, was deeply offensive and antisemitic. But Galloway’s comment doesn’t fit into the same paradigm of comments such as Williamson’s, that asks for people to look critically at the way the Labour Party has handled antisemitic accusations.
Anyone who talks about the ‘crisis’ as a ‘smear’ is labelled antisemitic. It’s really very clever if you look at it from an emotionless perspective. Take the left. Take a group of people who have fought against racism and fascism most of their lives – one of the worst insults you can throw at them is racism. We’ve got a prime minister who’s been openly racist on numerous occasions. And yet, it’s the left that is being demonised as racist. You couldn’t make it up.
Oh – and you’re labelled antisemitic if you try and drill down into the actual figures; you’re antisemitic if you actually try and take apart things like the Panorama hatchet job. And you’re supposedly antisemitic if you point out what Corybn’s done to support Jewish communities, or if you attempt any critical analysis of the reams of mainstream press on the ‘crisis’. And yep, obviously, outlets such as The Canary are targeted and called antisemitic because we oppose political Zionism and dare to undertake such analysis.
Meanwhile, genuine antisemitism gets wrapped up in the same parcel. Those of us who dare to speak out get lumped together with people whose comments we don’t condone; whose comments we’d call out. And by the same token, it makes it harder for many people to distinguish real antisemitism. I’ve seen Facebook groups calling out antisemitism where, buried among people being called antisemitic for supporting Palestine, are genuine, hideous cases of antisemitism.
The boundaries are getting blurred; and this is dangerous for everyone, including, and especially, Jewish people.
The even bigger catch
One of the oldest antisemitic tropes is of the rich, powerful Jew. Whether it’s a Shylock or Fagin-inspired character or conspiracy nonsense about the Rothschilds. It does exist on the left. It’s vile, and it always needs challenging. I’ve seen it go in phases – and it’s risen alongside the ease of social media to perpetuate such nonsense.
So it then becomes easy for proponents of the antisemitism crisis to cry wolf if anyone dares to point out the power of the Israeli state and how that state would be scared of a Corbyn government. And how a state that powerful might want to agitate against a potential PM who has long spoken up for Palestinian people.
Because doing so leaves you open to charges of conspiracy as there isn’t any watertight proof. At best, it’s pure speculation. So the question becomes: is that speculation antisemitic?
So what is antisemitic?
Due to old antisemitic tropes, it’s easy for the two to be conflated. So there will be conspiratorial antisemitic commentators who link the two – the rich Jew controlling the world with Israel manipulating global politics. There is no question that this is antisemitic and must always be challenged.
But it’s not antisemitic to look at the actions of the Israeli state in the past and present. It’s not antisemitic to look at who it’s assassinated and the plots Mossad and other Israeli agencies have been involved in instigating around the world. And it’s not antisemitic to at least question the advantages to the Israeli state in destabilising Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.
It really is quite simple. At least it should be. Yes, in base and gross terms, it is antisemitic to say that the antisemitism crisis is being manufactured by rich and powerful Jews in order to continue their world domination. It’s not antisemitic to engage in critical analysis about what the Israeli state is capable of.
It’s so simple it shouldn’t need explaining further. But it’s been so hugely misinterpreted that I will. If you’re comparing the actions of a state to a particular race or group of people – that’s racist. If you’re critiquing a state or government based on the evidence of what that state/government has done and is doing, then that’s what every rational person should do. These aren’t just questions that need raising about the Israeli state but about states and governments everywhere.
Down the rabbit hole
It’s 2019. In case you missed it, we’re living in a time when the far right is on the rise; where racists occupy the White House and Downing Street; where right-wing terrorism is on the increase; and where there is regular violence from far-right street protests in the UK and across Europe. And yes, it’s a time where there is a terrifying rise in antisemitism. Just not antisemitism in the Labour Party. But the antisemitism where the far right desecrates Jewish graves with swastikas, and there are open attacks on Jewish people in the streets.
It’s 2019. This is the reality we’re living through. But the antisemitism ‘crisis’ in Labour has become so twisted that the Jewish Chronicle (JC) wrote the following after antisemitism hate crime numbers were published – numbers that the organisation who produced them said had no connection to Labour Party members:
They are the legacy of the most dangerous racist in British politics — a man whose toxic views and behaviour pose a far greater threat to ethnic minorities than the National Front or the BNP ever managed.
Yes, it’s 2019. And we live in a world where we at The Canary are accused of “fake news” because we question mainstream analysis, backed up by links and a stringent editorial process, but the JC can say one of the most active anti-racist politicians in the UK is “the most dangerous racist in UK politics”.
And yes, in 2019, this is taking place against a backdrop of increased racism; where we live in a society that is fundamentally racist on every level – from institutional racism in the police force, to the hostile environment, to the Grenfell tower fire. Racism is alive. It’s everywhere, and it’s more mainstream than ever thanks to the likes of Trump, Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Steve Bannon. It’s also fucking scary.
So it’s 2019 and we have to take a stand. All of us. We have to speak up. We are facing a genuine threat from the far right. There is a genuine crisis that we need to fight. Any and all antisemitism on the left needs stamping out. But fixating on it risks losing sight of the bigger picture.
And both as a Jewish person and an anti-fascist activist, it’s that bigger picture, the threat from the far right and the dangerous path so many Western countries seem to be embarking down that’s the real threat. Let’s stop being distracted by the ‘crisis’ that mainstream narratives keep perpetuating and focus on the real ‘crisis’ of the vile racist politics sweeping the globe.
Featured image via Flickr/David Holt
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