Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism – the Labour Party as a test case

Today, as has been well-documented, the Left is at the forefront of a campaign of demonization of Israel and Zionism which frequently crosses the line into anti-Semitism.

Britain's leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn (photo credit: REUTERS)
Britain's leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ask any liberal or leftist if he or she is an anti-Semite and you will be met with shock and indignation. It is liberals, they will scold, who have historically protected minorities and combatted racism. What they probably won’t mention is the long history of left-wing anti-Semitism, particularly on the socialist Left. Anti-Semitism was famously termed “the socialism of fools” specifically as an admonishment to the many socialists indulging in the oldest of hatreds. Prof.
Alan Johnson, in his excellent essay last year on left-wing anti-Semitism, quotes prominent socialists and anarchists from Russia, Germany and Britain referring to Jews as a “people of leeches,” “Jewish capitalists” who should “hang from the lamp post,” and to “a hook-nosed Rothschild” plotting to sow disharmony and war.
Today, as has been well-documented, the Left is at the forefront of a campaign of demonization of Israel and Zionism which frequently crosses the line into anti-Semitism. For those skeptical of the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, it would be useful to examine a test case. Imagine if we had, say, a political party with an anti-Zionist leadership, and we could observe how this might affect the prominence and prevalence of anti-Semitism within that party.
Well here’s the good news. We do have just such a case: the British Labour Party, a long-established force for progressive politics in the Western world.
In September last year, the Labour Party elected as leader Jeremy Corbyn; a formerly peripheral figure from the far Left of the party. Encouraged by a greatly reduced membership fee, thousands registered to join the party, with the right to vote in the leadership election. Many were unreconstructed socialists, for whom capitalism is at the heart of all that is rotten in the world. These people did not even vote Labour at the General Election earlier that year, casting their ballots for one of the motley collection of Trotskyite or Stalinist parties that make a lot noise in demonstrations and call for revolution – partly because the democratic process gives them precisely zero chance of winning even a single seat in Parliament.
This time they had the chance to place one of their own at the head of the mainstream British Left.
Corbyn shares not just their radical anti-capitalism but their sympathy with and support for anti-Western forces in the Middle East. He referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” during an anti-Israel rally, inviting representatives of those two terrorist organizations to a meeting at the House of Commons. He opposed the British government’s decision to ban Raed Salah, accusing it of kowtowing to “pro-Israel lobbying groups.”
(In Israel, Salah is a well-known rabble-rouser and purveyor of anti-Semitic tropes such as the medieval ‘blood libel’ and was convicted in a Jerusalem court for racist incitement and incitement to violence.) Prior to becoming the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Corbyn found gainful employment as an interviewer on Press TV, the English propaganda channel for the Islamic Republic of Iran, and was a chairman of the Stop The War Coalition – an organization which blamed the Paris terrorist attacks on French military action in the Middle East.
So just what kind of effect would the elevation of such a man to the leadership of a major political party have on expressed attitudes toward Jews in the party? Well, where does one start. Perhaps with the readmission of Labour Party members previously suspended for anti-Semitism – such as Gerry Downing who had publicly desired to “address the Jewish question,” or Vicki Kirby, who suggested that Hitler was “the Zionist god.” Or maybe “Exhibit A” would be the anti-Jewish activity of the prestigious Labour Club of Oxford University, which prompted the resignation of the club’s co-chair.
British newspapers uncovered in May that 50 Labour Party members had been quietly suspended for anti-Semitism since Corbyn’s election and the party leader, bowing to public pressure, announced the establishment of a formal internal inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party. Last week, that inquiry published its findings.
Unfortunately the report says nothing at all about the single biggest impetus for the sudden and dramatic rise in Jew-bashing in the party: the election of Corbyn as leader and the resulting influx into the party of far-left anti-Zionists.
Anti-Semitism has become a veritable infestation in a party ostensibly committed to fighting prejudice in all its forms. Corbyn has shifted the party towards the far Left; a faction which long ago surrendered such ideals in its anti-American, anti-Zionist alliance with Islamic clerical fascism.
Even with the Conservative Party in a state of fratricidal chaos following the Brexit vote and David Cameron’s resignation, it was almost inconceivable that Corbyn would be elected prime minister.
Nothing like a majority of British citizens are willing to embrace an explicitly anti-capitalist agenda, neither will they be seduced by an anti-establishment message that includes such crazy Cold War-era socialist fantasies as withdrawing from NATO and backing President Vladimir Putin’s thuggishly authoritarian Russia against the West. But for the sake of British democracy and for the progressive and internationalist principles for which the Labour Party has historically fought, Corbyn must be deposed. And his successor must be able to discern the night-and-day difference between democratic Israel and the totalitarian theocracy of its enemies.
The author is director of the Israel Government Fellows program, an internship and educational program based in Jerusalem. He also writes and lectures on Israeli politics. Before immigrating to Israel from the UK he worked for the Israeli Embassy in London as the ambassador’s speechwriter and was a member of the executive committee of the Jewish Labour Movement.
He is writing here in a personal capacity