I have been writing about how the Israel lobby in the US is attempting to stifle criticism of Israel for its atrocious treatment of Palestinians, the latest move being to pass a law declaring the country as a Jewish state, placing into law what had been in practice already. One effort to stifle critics in the west is to formalize the definition of anti-Semitism, while at the same time expanding its definition to include legitimate criticisms of Israeli government policies. In the US, the lobby is going so far as to advance legislation to punish advocacy for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement that seeks to apply to Israel actions similar to those that led to the collapse of apartheid in South Africa. The reason for the lobby’s actions is the concern that an increasing number of Jews and non-Jews alike see the actions of the Israeli government as indefensible and are referring to its policies as apartheid.
I have been following reports from the UK in which the Jewish establishment in the UK has been attacking the Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn as being anti-Semitic because they did not adopt in full an expanded definition of anti-Semitism in party documents. It is clear that the Israel lobby in the UK is aligning itself with those forces who are alarmed that a progressive like Corbyn could well be the next prime minister, and are using this issue to discredit him.
Robert Cohen provides a much-needed explanation of what has been happening in the UK. He starts by warning of the danger of raising the charge of anti-Semitism too casually
Greetings from Britain, where the Jewish community is facing an “existential threat to Jewish life”. At least that’s according to an editorial shared by all three of our Jewish community newspapers this week – the Jewish Chronicle, The Jewish News, and the Jewish Telegraph.
You’re probably thinking that Her Majesty’s Government must have just introduced the equivalent of Hitler’s Nuremberg race Laws of 1935. Perhaps it’s worse. Perhaps the round-ups have already begun.
Don’t worry, you haven’t missed a major global news story. Britain remains one of the safest places to live as a Jew on the entire planet. That doesn’t mean there’s no anti-Jewish prejudice here. It’s just that there’s a great deal less of it than some people want you to believe. That’s true for now, but how long will it last?
Thanks to a Jewish communal leadership and a Jewish press which have merged Jewish interests in Britain with the need to defend the interests of the State of Israel, we are set on a path that risks turning fake antisemitism into real antisemitism. What we are witnessing could be an on-coming, self-inflicted tragedy for the Jewish community in Britain. Calling it out now is the best way to stop it happening.
So what exactly has caused these explosive charges to be raised by the Jewish establishment in the UK?
It all began three years ago soon after Corbyn’s election as Labour party leader. What started off as allegations that he was allowing antisemitism to fester in his party unchecked have evolved into direct accusations that Corbyn is himself antisemitic.
This week’s show of Jewish media unity was all about attacking Corbyn for failing to adopt “in full” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. This has become the pretext for all-out war against the Labour leader.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the IHRA document has now become the ‘gold standard’ for our Jewish establishment in determining exactly what antisemitism is in the 21st century. This despite the fact that the IHRA webpage itself describes the document as a ‘working definition’, that is to say it’s a work in progress and a document to be studied, not a statute of government or a piece of international law.
But this appears to be far too much nuance for the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council which have led the community to war against Jeremy Corbyn.
Two weeks ago, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) decided that the IHRA document might not be as perfect as the Jewish leadership and media think it to be.
While adopting the vast majority of the IHRA wording, and indeed tightening it up in places, the NEC thought it better to separate out those parts of the document that suggest that criticism of Israel could in certain circumstances become antisemitic.
Cohen says that the source of this hostility by the Jewish establishment is not hard to see.
It’s impossible to understand the hostility against Corbyn from the Jewish community without acknowledging Corbyn’s long standing support for the Palestinian people and the need for their rights to be respected and internal law implemented. Take this fact away and the last three years would have been very different.
Others including a Jewish Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, felt it justified to call her party leader “a fucking anti-Semite and racist” to his face. This despite Corbyn’s record on fighting racism which looks a whole lot more impressive than just about any other MP at Westminster, certainly Margaret Hodge, as this piece from David Rosenberg shows.
Cohen warns that this single-issue focus is dangerous.
If Labour runs a good campaign the election will also be fought on the issues that mattered long before the Brexit referendum – ending economic austerity, funding for the National Health Service, affordable housing, safer communities, and care for the elderly. As the most radical version of Labour for many decades, a Corbyn victory could well herald serious change and the reversal of the neo-liberal economic agenda pursued by Thatcher/Major/Blair/Cameron/May for the last thirty years. The quality of life for millions of people in this country is at stake. For a change, who wins the next election will actually make a difference.
But none of this is of the slightest concern to the Jewish community’s leadership or its media. They only have one issue on their mind – Israel, and how best to protect it from criticism. On this basis they are willing to brand the main opposition party in Britain as irredeemably antisemitic under Corbyn’s leadership. The Jewish Chronicle has already called for Jewish Labour MPs to break away from the party.
This is where you end up when you allow antisemitism to become mixed up with Israel and Zionism. This is where the merger between Zionism, Judaism and modern Jewish identity leaves you: fighting racism with both hands tied behind you back.
Expressing support for the rights of the Palestinian people, expressing concern for the appalling conditions in which they live under Israeli occupation and control, and criticizing the apartheid polices of the state of Israel often triggers charges of anti-Semitism. But the more frequently and unjustifiably that charge is leveled, the less seriously it is taken. But as a result the danger is, as the story of the boy who cried wolf illustrates, that warning signs of real anti-Semitism may then also be dismissed. We see that right now in the US with the rise of neo-Nazi groups who are being coddled by right-wing politicians and evangelical leaders who use their reflexive support for Israeli government actions as a shield against charges that they are creating the conditions for anti-Semitism to flourish.