Dave Rich

Jew-hate: a guide for the perplexed

May 06, 2016 08:03

It's hard to keep up. Stories about antisemitism in the Labour Party have been in the news for weeks. They began back in February in the lowly ranks of a student Labour Club and have now reached Ken Livingstone, one of the biggest names in the party.

The sheer range of allegedly antisemitic statements, tweets and Facebook posts that have emerged is enough to make your head spin. While some reveal straightforward, old fashioned bigotry about Jews, most occurred in anti-Israel contexts and require close interpretation of the differences between antisemitism, anti-Zionism and harsh criticism of Israel.

This is not always straightforward, but there is a rule of thumb that can help. There are two types of language that can be used to criticise Israel. One involves the sort of criticisms made of other governments, involving "human rights", "discrimination", "inequality" and so on. The other is the reservoir of antisemitic ideas that lies deep in Europe's culture, with its talk of international conspiracies, bloodthirsty child killers, wealthy manipulators and anything to do with the Holocaust.

Criticism that uses language from the first group, even if it is inaccurate, is more likely to be legitimate. Anything from the second is probably antisemitic. With this as a rough guide, this article will try to explain some of the recent cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Oxford University
Labour Club:

It is alleged that the term "Zio" was routinely used by members of the Oxford University Labour Club to refer to Jewish students. This case shows how interpreting antisemitic or racist language is often about context.

"Zio" could, at first glance, simply be an abbreviation of "Zionist" with no further meaning. However, this term is only used by people who are hostile to Zionism: Jewish students do not call each other "Zio" as a term of endearment.

It probably originated on the American far right. The wider context for its use at Oxford is the allegation that those same Labour Club members also sang songs celebrating Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians and claimed that US foreign policy was under control of the "Zionist lobby".

Alex Chalmers, who resigned as co-chair of the Labour Club when it endorsed Israel Apartheid Week, says that Jewish students were routinely ridiculed and denounced, while Mr Chalmers himself (who is not Jewish) was called a "Zionist stooge". Put this pattern of behaviour together and the context suggests that "Zio" is a derogatory term used in an abusive and bigoted way.

Gerry Downing: "Why Marxists must address the Jewish Question"

Labour member Gerry Downing was suspended for his article on what Marxists call "the Jewish question".

Marxist theory believes that Jews survived in the Middle Ages because they provided an economic function as money lenders. Because capitalism does not need Jewish money lenders, Marxists believe Jews should have disappeared from trace by now; our failure to do so ruins their theory.

Firstly, wishing the disappearance of Jews, by whatever means, is objectively antisemitic. Mr Downing's website compounds the offence by explaining that Jews' failure to disappear is due to a "world Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie" that dominates America and Europe. This echoes classical antisemitic conspiracy theories about wealthy Jews manipulating governments.

Vicki Kirby: "Who is the Zionist God? Hitler"

Vicki Kirby was the vice-chair of Woking Constituency Labour Party when she tweeted "Who is the Zionist God? I am starting to think it may be Hitler #FreePalestine". She also tweeted "we invented Israel when saving them from Hitler, who now seems to be their teacher". This notion - that Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians the same crimes that Jews suffered under the Nazis - is remarkably common in anti-Israel circles. It is, of course, factually incorrect, but that is not enough to make it antisemitic; nor is the fact that it is grossly offensive.

The real reason this trope is antisemitic is because it uses Israel's Jewishness as the basis of its attack: "See how you Jews behave now, you are no better than those Nazis whose Holocaust you still complain about".

It connects the Holocaust, Israel and today's Jews via the thread of their shared Jewishness to cause hurt, while forcing some of the moral guilt of the Holocaust onto its victims. It is a form of abuse that only works against Jews, and for that reason it is antisemitic.

Beinazir Lasharie:
"ISIS: Israel Secret Intelligence Service"

Modern antisemitism relies on conspiracy theories. Beinazir Lasharie, a Labour councillor in Kensington and Chelsea, is accused of posting a video on Facebook called "ISIS: Israeli Secret Intelligence Service" and another post saying "I've heard some compelling evidence about ISIS being originated from Zionists!" This is complete nonsense, of course. Conspiracy theories blaming war, terrorism, financial disaster or other calamities on Jews have been around for well over a century. After the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, these conspiracy theories modified their language slightly to blame Zionists or Israel instead of Jews, but the way of thinking is identical. Without those explicitly anti-Jewish predecessors, today's conspiracy theories about Zionists and Israel wouldn't exist in the way they do. The change in language, though, means contemporary conspiracy theorists may not understand what they are doing.

Lasharie blamed ISIS on "Israel" and "Zionists" while saying "I've got nothing against Jews", so she clearly thinks she isn't antisemitic. In fact she is spreading antisemitism without even knowing it.

Khadim Hussain: "Six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler"

Sometimes "Zionist" is just a straight swap for "Jew". Khadim Hussain, a Labour councillor in Bradford and its former Lord Mayor, posted on Facebook about "Anne Frank and the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler". This use of the word "Zionists" is a direct synonym for "Jew". Anything else Hussain has written about "Zionists" should be read with that in mind.

Naz Shah: "Relocate Israel into United States"

Labour's antisemitism problem went stratospheric last week when Naz Shah MP was revealed to have previously posted an image on Facebook titled "Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict: Relocate Israel into United States".

Shah's post was antisemitic for a number of reasons. Israel is, among other things, the world's largest Jewish community. Endorsing the mass deportation of its citizens - ethnic cleansing, effectively - is both racist in itself and has obvious antisemitic antecedents. The post suggested Israel's existence in the Middle East is "foreign interference", thereby denying the historic Jewish connection to the land of Israel and the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in the region. Opposing Israel's historical creation or its current existence can be made to sound reasonable as a bland academic or theoretical argument. In the real world, though, the political movements in the Middle East who are trying to end Israel's existence are all violently antisemitic. In the world of real politics, this is the movement to which Western opponents of Israel's existence attach themselves.

Ken Livingstone: Hitler "was supporting zionism" before he went mad

Ken Livingstone said that Hitler was "supporting Zionism" when he came to power in Germany, and only later "went mad and ended up killing six million Jews". Mr Livingstone did not make this up himself. He was simply regurgitating Trotskyist propaganda that first appeared on the British left in the 1980s and had a strong influence on him. This propaganda cherry-picks examples of contact and negotiations between Zionists and Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s and uses them to place Zionism and Nazism alongside each other, as if they are somehow connected.

Hitler never wanted Jewish rights or self-determination, he wanted the exact opposite. Some Zionists thought they could save Jewish lives by negotiating with Nazis, but this was an act of desperation and nothing more.

Then there is the fact that Hitler did not "go mad" and "end up" killing six million Jews. The Holocaust was the result of a genocidal mind-set that was evil but not insane in the way Mr Livingstone says. By the time Hitler came to power he had already written Mein Kampf, one of the most antisemitic books in history.

Mr Livingstone, the pub bore, ignores all this to make his ugly political defamation of Zionism, the very movement that Jews invented as an answer to antisemitism.

Many of these examples date from before Jeremy Corbyn became party leader, but they are no less important for that.

This problem has been building on the fringes of the left for years, where it was generally unchallenged and normalised. Now that the fringes have moved to the mainstream this antisemitism is getting the scrutiny it deserves.

There is a separate question about whether the singling out of Israel, via the accumulation of relentless harsh criticism, is itself a sign of something deeper.

Sometimes it is the obsessive and emotional nature of anti-Israel criticism that is problematic rather than its content.

It is for Israel's opponents to explain why they devote so much of their righteous fury to the world's sole Jewish state, while ignoring so much other suffering in the world.

May 06, 2016 08:03

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