Shadow chancellor John McDonnell went on BBC Politics Live on 6 September. During the programme, he responded to the recent appearance of posters in London that say “Israel is a racist endeavour”.
McDonnell also spoke about Jeremy Corbyn’s so-called ‘racist Israel‘ clause. He supports the Labour leader on this. And so he should. Because his contradictory reaction to the posters shows how desperately needed Corbyn’s clause is.
As the London Palestine Action network pointed out, the posters appeared at various bus stops around London:
— LDNPalestineAction (@LondonPalestine) September 5, 2018
Whether calling Israel racist amounts to antisemitism is a much discussed topic in the UK currently. Because the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) argues that “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” is an example of antisemitism. So it included this in a list of examples accompanying its antisemitism definition.
Until recently, however, the Labour Party didn’t accept that this amounted to antisemitism. Its National Executive Committee (NEC) decided on 4 September to change that. The posters emerged in the aftermath of this decision.
No, it’s not the right thing to say. It’s against the examples that we set out yesterday, linked to the IHRA definitions.
McDonnell explained further why he believed the posters were not acceptable:
It is not at all antisemitic to be able to describe a state as racist… But it is antisemitic if you’re saying having a state of Israel is racist.
To be clear, the posters didn’t use the words ‘a state of Israel’ or, indeed, ‘the state of Israel’. It read: “Israel is a racist endeavour”.
These offensive adverts are not authorised and are acts of vandalism which Transport for London and its advertising partner takes extremely seriously.
McDonnell’s condemnation of the posters on Politics Live, however, essentially put him at odds with himself. Because, on and off the BBC show, the shadow chancellor has supported a clarification Corbyn put forward for his party’s antisemitism code of conduct. In this clarification, the Labour leader asserted that people should be allowed to hold Israel to the same standards and international laws as other countries. He also argued that describing “Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist” doesn’t amount to antisemitism.
So, McDonnell’s support for this clarification contradicts his opposition to the posters. Because the posters appear to do nothing more than describe “Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist”. In answer to the BBC host’s question, this is an “okay thing to say”. At least, it is according to Corbyn’s clarification.
— LDNPalestineAction (@LondonPalestine) September 5, 2018
McDonnell’s contradictory position appears to stem from the presumption that the posters’ creator meant ‘a state of Israel’ rather than ‘the state of Israel’. This is exactly why critics of the IHRA definition argue against it. Because its conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism, combined with its rather woolly wording, leaves a lot open to interpretation.
This can severely hamper people’s ability to call Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians what they really are: racism. That’s what the large-scale ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 by militants amounted to. It’s also an apt label for the recent decision by Israel’s Supreme Court to allow the authorities to raze an entire Palestinian village to make way for Israeli settlers. The passing of Israel’s nation state law, which gives Jewish people an “exclusive” right to self-determination in the country, is another racist case in point.
McDonnell’s interview was excruciating for this very reason. Less than 48 hours after his party adopted the full IHRA text, it showed what a perilous situation it’s created for the party in its ability to stand up for Palestinian rights. It’s now walking a tightrope on this issue.
Many opponents of Corbyn and his team will surely be hoping it’s only a matter of time until they fall off.
– Join The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.
Featured image via BBC News/YouTube
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?