A split has emerged within the ranks of anti-Israel campaigners after one of Israel’s harshest parliamentary critics, George Galloway, warned his fellow activists that claims that a powerful Zionist lobby is steering the Middle East policies of Western governments could lead to outright antisemitism.
But Lib Dem peer Baroness Tonge reiterated to the JC her belief that there is indeed a Zionist lobby which exercises disproportionate influence.
Mr Galloway, the Respect Party MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, told a Westminster meeting last week that blaming a Zionist conspiracy for controlling Middle East policy was racism.
He was responding to remarks from the floor claiming that an influential Zionist lobby was in control of American Middle East policy.
In words that revealed unease in anti-Israel ranks about accusations of anti-Jewish racism, Mr Galloway told the gathering: “I do not agree with the argument that there is a shadowy Jewish influence. Israel is doing what America wants it to do and to argue otherwise is to go down the dark tunnel of racist antisemitism.
“It leads to looking for Jewish names in the American administration and in editorial boards of newspapers. I am against this ‘hunt the Jewish conspiracy’ theory because it leads to this feeling that we can’t do anything because they are too powerful. Arguing that they control the world is the ultimate cop-out.”
Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who chaired the meeting, said: “He has a very valid point. I am against Israeli policy in Gaza and Palestine but anything that discriminates against the Jewish people, linking their successes in the world with the Middle East, is unacceptable.
“I know that people use these types of meetings to attack Jews and the Jewish faith and that is unacceptable. I agree with his sentiments.”
Baroness Tonge, who did not attend the meeting, said: “I would not use the words ‘Jewish lobby’ because I distinguish between Jewish people and the Israeli government and it is important to do it. I do it on behalf of Jewish people who don’t want to agree with the Israeli government, so I must make that distinction.”
But the Lib Dem peer continued: “I would say to George Galloway that, of course, no single group rules the world, but who can deny that Aipac [American-Israel Public Affairs Committee] has had a lot of influence on American foreign policy? Just read John Mearsheimer’s book on the Zionist lobby.”
Baroness Tonge was referring to the controversial 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.
Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala said: “I think Galloway’s views are spot on. It is unhealthy to entertain the idea of a conspiracy of that sort. It is true Israel is treated with kid gloves and works under the cover of the Americans. But that is different from a worldwide conspiracy theory. ”
In 1992, however, Mr Bunglawala wrote in a Muslim magazine: “The chairman of Carlton Communications is Michael Green of the Tribe of Judah. He has joined an elite club whose members include fellow Jews Michael Grade and Alan Yentob...[They are] close friends… so that’s what they mean by a ‘free media’.”
Crispin Blunt, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Counter-terrorism, and a former chair of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding said: “It’s welcome that George Galloway, from his remote part of the political spectrum, attacks the notion of a global Jewish conspiracy.
“This makes clear that the whole of British politics sees this idea as nonsense.
“Anyone who knows any Jewish community, not least those in Israel and Britain, and how they embrace an enormous spread of ideas and views and debate them with the best democratic disputatiousness, will also know the concept of a global Jewish conspiracy is ridiculous.”
Richard Burden MP, chair of the Britain-Palestine all party parliamentary committee, said: “In my view it is quite dangerous to use the term ‘Zionist conspiracy’.
“It is legitimate to say that there are collusions between the foreign polices of Israel and America but to say this is a matter of conspiracy can leave the door open to antisemitism.
“It can conjure up all types of images and this is not helpful. I do not take the view that Zionism and Judaism are the same and I know that some antisemites try to equate the two.
“Anti-Zionists need to be incredibly careful of their choice of words — and, if that is what George Galloway is saying, I agree with him.”