Mark Gardner

Richard Burgon's remarks show how deep Labour’s antisemitism problem runs

The deputy leadership candidate sees he was wrong about Zionism but only partly, writes Mark Gardner

February 13, 2020 15:12

Remarks by Richard Burgon MP, standing in Labour’s deputy leadership election, give a profound but very simple insight into how deep the party’s antisemitism problem runs.

Burgon, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at a Jewish Labour Movement event this week in Manchester, clarified his objectionable 2014 remark that “Zionism is the enemy of peace”.

He told the JLM this was “a crude oversimplification” that he would not now use. He has now “been to Israel…and Palestine” and “I understand that the phrase Zionism doesn’t just mean Netanyahu and people who support him.

It means "anybody who believes in a state of Israel”, including “of course, people who are campaigning for peace”.

Unpick Burgon’s words and you see how deep the problem runs. He sees he was wrong, but only partly. Because what about the many Zionists who support Benjamin Netanyahu?

Worse still, what does “support” mean and what if that “support” comes during a time of war? And what about those Zionists who supported David Ben Gurion, or Golda Meir, or Yitzchak Rabin, or even…heaven forbid…Ariel Sharon?   

To Jewish ears at least, Burgon’s initial ignorance seems staggering. Some may choose not to believe it, but to me it seems a million percent believable.

Not because it is Burgon, but because of how many times I have heard the same thing in private meetings from other left-leaning politicians. For Richard Burgon, you can read thousands upon thousands of political activists, including current MPs.

Burgon had a righteous hatred of Zionism, because “Zionism is the enemy of peace”. Now, he realises he got it wrong, but how can Jews ever be regarded as equals in political settings that hate Zionists and Zionism with such certainty and such stupidity.

Understand that this is not criticism, it is hatred. This is real, proper, revolutionary hatred, for an enemy that must be smashed for the revolution to succeed. Hatred because you, the Zionist, embody the evil forces that run the world and must be overthrown: racism, imperialism and capitalism. That is why anti-Zionism looks, feels and tastes so much like antisemitism, because it makes exactly the same accusations.

Obviously, the charges are made against Zionists, not Jews, but how can a Jew ever be free of the suspicion that they might be a Zionist?

And what of mainstream Jewish representative bodies that self-describe as Zionist? This is why communal concerns about Labour antisemitism are derided as being fake cover for Israel, including by university lecturers.

This pathology is pushed, constantly, by Jewish anti-Zionists. Their personal and collective obsession with hating Zionism and Zionists has done tremendous damage to the left’s perception of the mainstream British Jewish community, but never more so than during these last few years of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership.

I was in the ill-fated Jewish communal leadership meeting with Mr Corbyn in April 2018. At one stage, in answer to our questioning, he said that he believed in the right of Israel to exist.

Trying not to be ironic, I said that this made him “a Zionist”, whereupon he nearly fell off his chair. It was all I could do to avoid laughing, but it was not funny at all, because this anti-Zionist culture is utterly fundamental to Labour’s antisemitism problem.

In particular, it explains why so many Labour and Momentum members deny that the problem even exists.  

February 13, 2020 15:12

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