Three of the UK Jewish community’s most influential writers have expressed concern about Jew-hatred in Labour, criticising the party leadership’s “derisory” response to “antisemitism under the cloak of so-called anti-Zionism”.
In a joint letter published in today’s Times, Simon Schama, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Howard Jacobson highlighted the “tone and direction of debate about Israel and Zionism within the Labour Party".
They wrote: “We are alarmed that during the past few years, constructive criticism of Israeli governments has morphed into something closer to antisemitism under the cloak of so-called anti-Zionism.
"We do not object to fair criticism of Israel governments, but this has grown to be indistinguishable from a demonisation of Zionism itself — the right of the Jewish people to a homeland, and the very existence of a Jewish state.”
Mr Schama and Mr Sebag Montefiore have both written historical works about Israel, while Mr Jacobson has written regularly about Israel and the UK Jewish community in his newspaper columns.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, was widely criticised within the Jewish community for his refusal to attend an event commemorating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration last week. By contrast, a video of support from Jeremy Corbyn was played at an anti-Balfour march which took place on Saturday. Signs carried at the march included a sheet covered with fake bloodstained hands, along with the words “Zionist media covers up Palestinian holocaust”.
In their letter, the three writers say that “although anti-Zionists claim innocence of any antisemitic intent, anti-Zionism frequently borrows the libels of classical Jew-hating.
“Accusations of international Jewish conspiracy and control of the media have resurfaced to support false equations of Zionism with colonialism and imperialism, and the promotion of vicious, fictitious parallels with genocide and Nazism. How, in such instances, is anti-Zionism distinguishable from antisemitism?”
The JC has reported numerous examples of antisemitic statements, often connected with Israel or Zionism, made by Labour party members over the last few years.
“Such themes and language have become widespread in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the letter continues.
“So far the Labour leadership’s reaction has been derisory. It is not enough to denounce all racisms in general when this specific strain rages unchecked.
“Zionism — the longing of a dispersed people to return home — has been a constant, cherished part of Jewish life since AD70. In its modern form Zionism was a response to the centuries of persecution, expulsions and mass murder in Christian and Muslim worlds that continued from the Middle Ages to the mid-20th century. Its revival was an assertion of the right to exist in the face of cruelty unique in history.
“We do not forget nor deny that the Palestinian people have an equally legitimate, ancient history and culture in Palestine nor that they have suffered wrongs that must be healed. We hope that a Palestinian state will exist peacefully alongside Israel. We do not attempt to minimalise their suffering nor the part played by the creation of the state of Israel. Yet justice for one nation does not make justice for the other inherently wicked. Zionism is the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. We believe that anti-Zionism, with its antisemitic characteristics, has no place in a civil society.”