Analysis: The upside of the British Labor Party’s anti-Semitism furor

The number of British politicians using anti-Semitic imagery must concern Israel, because it indicates there are many constituents out there receptive to such rhetoric.

By
May 3, 2016 02:12
3 minute read.
Jeremy Corbyn

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labor Party Jeremy Corbyn. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Another day, another revelation of anti-Semitism inside Britain’s Labor Party.

Not one, but two, party functionaries were suspended Monday for anti-Semitic rants.

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One, Ilyas Aziz, a Labor councilor in Nottingham, was suspended for 2014 Facebook posts saying, similar to a suspended MP, that Israel should be relocated to the US. He added an illustration implying that Israel drank the blood of Gazans.

The other, Salim Mulla, a former mayor of Blackburn, was also suspended for calling to relocate Israel to the US, as well as for saying that Israel was behind Islamic State. His brilliant proof: Both France and Japan were targeted by the organization after showing support for the Palestinians.

What the brouhaha over anti-Semitism in the Labor Party has effectively done is thrust Israel, Zionism and the Jews into the center of London’s upcoming municipal elections, where Labor’s candidate, Sadiq Khan, has said these revelations could very well cost him the vote. And the questions must be raised: Is all the attention over the issue good for Israel? Is it good for Israel that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have turned into a central election issue in Britain? On the one hand, the glass here is half empty. If these anti-Semitic comments, tweets and Facebook posts were just the sentiments of a maverick Labor party functionary, one could perhaps turn a blind eye and say it is all sound and fury signifying nothing.

But the revelations over the past few weeks of one incident after the other demonstrate a real problem.

From Israel’s point of view, the problem is not just that Labor’s ranks are apparently infused with folks who are not only critical of Israeli policies, but opposed to the idea of a Jewish state at all. The problem is that these politicians are publicly reflecting what they apparently feel their constituents want to hear.

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Politicians of all stripes do not generally say something if they do not believe there is a receptive audience for their words.

The sheer number of British politicians using anti-Semitic imagery, therefore, must concern Israel, because it indicates there are many, many constituents out there receptive to such rhetoric.

But, even more so, Britain itself should be deeply concerned.

This anti-Semitism is more of a danger to British society than to Israel. Israel will survive it, but what this hate represents and says about Britain should concern all those who care about that country.

This is an internal British debate, and it is wise, therefore, that the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry have stayed out of it. Israel need not insert itself, even if it is the source of the debate, because to do so would be to invite accusations of intervening in an internal British issue.

The obvious exception is Israel’s embassy and ambassador in London, who should comment – when asked – on the issue. But this needs to be done, obviously, without being seen as taking sides.

And now the good news.

It is positive that, finally, the issues of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are being debated in full daylight, and that people of influence and repute are coming out and saying that, yes, while not all criticism against the Israeli government is anti-Semitism, some of it most definitely is. It is positive that influential voices are saying that there is a line between legitimate criticism and hate speech, a line that one Labor Party functionary after the other seems to be crossing.

It is good when the issue is being discussed in the Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph and even in the op-ed pages of The Guardian, a newspaper harshly critical of Israel. It is positive when the BBC runs on its website a lengthy background piece under the headline “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?” It is important that Labor’s London mayoral candidate publicly and completely repudiates these sentiments.

And it is constructive when noted British World War II historian Roger Moorhouse uses former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s implication that Hitler was a Zionist as an opportunity to school his countrymen on Hitler’s true nature and what indeed was involved in the 1933 plan to rescue German Jews and bring them to Palestine. To conclude that Hitler supported Zionism, Moorhouse wrote on his blog last week, “is not only historically inaccurate, it is historically illiterate.”

The demonization of Israel and Zionism is something that generally bothers just Israel and its supporters. It is positive to see this finally concerning others as well, especially in Britain, where, among certain circles, this demonization has, for quite some time, been not only fashionable, but also – oddly – a sign of enlightenment.

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