OPINION: Anti-Semitism has its roots deeply planted in the left

OPINION: Anti-Semitism has its roots deeply planted in the left

Jeremy Havardi writes in the Jewish News, reflecting on roots of anti-Semitism

Jeremy Havardi is a freelance journalist and author

Ken Livingstone was suspended by the Labour Party in 2016
Ken Livingstone was suspended by the Labour Party in 2016

The turmoil in the Labour Party over the continuing revelations of anti-semitism shows few signs of abating. Scarcely a day goes by without another figure being outed for having made hateful remarks about Israel or Zionism. None of this is remotely surprising to seasoned observers.

It is the bitter fruit of a poisonous ideology that has enveloped the left for decades and distorted its worldview beyond recognition. That militant ideology involves a fathomless and unrelenting hatred of the Jewish state, one which borrows from the vernacular of classical anti-semitism, recycling its pernicious canards in more fashionable anti-Zionist garb.

Consider some of the things that have been routinely trotted out by the left in the UK. Israel has been accused of being a genocidal state which replicates the methods used by the Nazis in WW2. In an article for TheIndependent, columnist Yasmin Alibai-Brown decried the policy of “brutal ethnic cleansing” that she believed to have characterized the 2009 war in Gaza. She asked, “How many Palestinian Anne Franks did the Israelis murder, maim or turn mad?”

The former Labour MP, Oona King wrote of how Israel’s founding fathers “could surely not imagine the irony facing Israel today: in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature—though not its extent—to the Warsaw ghetto.”

During Operation Protective Edge, former UK deputy prime minister Lord Prescott added to this Holocaust analogy by likening Gaza to a “concentration camp.” And in a poem he wrote for the Observer called Killed in the Crossfire, the academic and poet Tom Paulin talked of Palestinians being “gunned down by the Zionist SS.”

Jeremy Havardi
Jeremy Havardi

Determined attempts to hijack Holocaust Memorial Day for political ends have followed. In 2013, Liberal Democrat MP David Ward expressed sadness that the Jews, “who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust” could “within a few years of liberation” go on to inflict “atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Lee Jasper, a candidate for the Respect party, declared that Israel had “failed to learn the lessons of its own tragic history having evolved into a racist oppressor.” He added: “Israel has … allowed itself to turn into the very thing that it despises the most, a political ideology that seeks to oppress people on the basis of race or religion.” The Muslim Council of Britain followed this up with a full scale boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day.

These are just a few examples but they could be multiplied many times over. Such a grotesque and offensive comparison aims to turn Israel into the ultimate pariah state while it also mocks and trivialises the mass murder of 6 million Jews. Such language is a form of Holocaust revisionism because it also suggests that our sympathy should be transferred from the Jews to the Palestinians.

When Ken Livingstone made the breathtaking remark that Hitler “was supporting Zionism” in 1932 before “he went mad”, he effectively linked Zionism with Nazism, tarnishing Israel (and its supporters) by association.

Leftists have long accused ‘the Zionist lobby’ of controlling the media and subverting the interests of foreign governments. They accuse it of exercising a bewitching control of the western media and forcing hapless politicians to fall under its spell.

Thus consider the comments recently made by Malia Bouattia, the recently elected President of the NUS. She claimed there were “Zionist led media outlets” in the UK and that the government’s anti-terror Prevent strategy was fuelled by “all manner of Zionist and neo-con lobbies”. She has not been alone in such deranged conspiratorial thinking.

Veteran Labour MP Tom Dalyell warned that Tony Blair was being unduly influenced by a “cabal of Jewish advisers” in forming his Middle East policy towards Iraq, Syria and Iran. In 2006 Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP, denounced “the influence of the Jewish lobby that seems to have far too great a say over the political decision-making process in many countries.”

In the same year, veteran pro–Palestinian campaigner Baroness Jenny Tonge declared: “The pro–Israeli lobby has got its grips on the Western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party.” And while he was still a humble backbencher, Jeremy Corbyn was calling for an enquiry into the influence of the Israel lobby.

A century ago, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion purportedly revealed a sinister Jewish conspiracy to take over the world and subvert the values of civilisation. Anti-semites depicted global Jewry as a manipulative, shadowy force, secretly plotting behind the scenes to further its tentacles of control over unsuspecting gentiles. The parallels between that language and the accusations of ‘Zionist control’ are not hard to miss.

Anti-semitism and bigotry on the left can be detected in the sheer willingness to blame Israel for every major fault in the Middle East, just as Jews were routinely blamed for fomenting world crises. If Islamic State are busy engaging in wholesale ethnic cleansing, beheading and rape, it must be down to the actions of the Jewish state.

Hence the eyebrows raised when the former mayor of Bradford, Salim Mulla, suggested that Israel was behind the recent attacks by IS. Others have simply blamed Israeli behaviour for the fact that Muslims are being radicalised, rendering the country a strategic liability for the West.

Thus Polly Toynbee has written of Israel as a progenitor of worldwide terrorism. Palestine, she has declared, is “the rallying cry for the terrorism that hurled itself at the World Trade Centre.” She was joined in her view by Caroline Lucas, leader of Britain’s Green Party, who commented about how grievances over Palestine were at the heart of the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

She said: “I think that the situation in Palestine for example, with the ongoing Israeli occupation with the absolute strangulation of Gaza with this siege on Gaza—essentially this economic blockade— is really feeding so much anger right across the world and it means that there is more of a fertile breeding ground then for extremists to flourish.”

During a speech in the House of Lords during the Strategic Defence and Security Review, Jenny Tonge talked of how the “treatment of Palestinians by Israel” was “the root cause of terrorism worldwide.” Such views are de rigueur even for those not on the militant left. In an article for an Iranian newspaper in 2001, former foreign secretary Jack Straw wrote: “One of the factors that helps breed terrorism is the anger which many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine.”

All this ignores the fact that radical Islam has a long and inglorious history, starting with the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah in the thirteenth century, continuing with the jihadist campaigns waged by Wahhab in eighteenth century Arabia and culminating in the terrifying ideological warfare of Hasan Al Banna and Sayyid Qutb in the twentieth century.

It ignores the fact that the main aim of these radicals is to create an Islamic Caliphate ruled by Sharia law and that their objections to Israel stem from what it is i.e. an embattled outpost of Jewish, secular democracy. Worse, this Islamism denial strips Muslims of agency and responsibility. They are presented as automatons, pre-programmed to engage in terror the moment they are consumed by anger. Such a view insults the majority who rightly abhor violence.

Anti-semitism can be detected in the way that Israel is subjected to a unique standard among the nations of the world. The anti-Zionists of the left do not believe that Israel has a right to exist and think that because it was ‘conceived in sin’, it now deserves to be removed from the map.

This was literally the case when Naz Shah MP re-tweeted a call for the transportation of Israel (by which she must have meant Israeli Jews) to the United States. The notion of a forcible mass evacuation of Jews has terrible resonance in recent Jewish history but such is the paralysing hatred for Zionism that such language, indeed any language, is deemed acceptable.

No other country faces this kind of relentless onslaught. But when Israel is treated in such discriminatory fashion, there is an egregious double standard against the ‘Jew among nations’. It is another aspect of the anti-semitism crisis within the left.

The most frightening thing about these purveyors of hatred is that they remain convinced of their own righteousness. They sincerely believe that they could never be accused of racism or discrimination, and that such accusations are always made in bad faith. In essence, they claim that anti-semitism is a special ruse designed to immunise Israel from criticism. But it isn’t legitimate criticism of Israel that is being conflated with anti-semitism. It is legitimate criticism conflated with frenzied hatred.

So without doubt the left, in Britain and elsewhere, does face a crisis of anti-semitism and Israel hatred. But the crisis is long standing and, with or without a proper enquiry, it will not be eradicated any time soon.

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