OPINION: Labour’s new ‘No Place For Antisemitism’ guide validates Israel hatred

OPINION: Labour’s new ‘No Place For Antisemitism’ guide validates Israel hatred

Labour Party and Jewish Labour Movement member Andrew Apostolou on how the latest attempt to quell the crisis dangerously promotes a flawed history.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech during the Durham Miners' Gala. Photo credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech during the Durham Miners' Gala. Photo credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

The Labour Party’s most recent attempt to resolve its antisemitism problem has been a failure.

On 21 July, the party released “No Place For Antisemitism” and a micro-site to “provide Labour members and supporters with some basic tools to understand antisemitism so that we can defeat it.” The leaflet accepts the seriousness of Labour antisemitism. Unfortunately, it also promotes a flawed history that will allow antisemites to claim that Zionism and the creation of Israel are illegitimate western European guilt trips. This will validate, rather than refute, the anti-Zionism that antisemites use to harass Jews in the Labour Party.

The leaflet gives the false impression that antisemitism is largely a western European phenomenon and Zionism is the Jewish reaction. Readers are told, for example, that the Holocaust was the murder of “six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.” This is a common mistake. Far from being limited to Europe, the Nazis intended the global extermination of the Jewish people. They went to great lengths in their desire to kill Jews.

German death squads sought mountain Jews in the North Caucasus. Germany’s Vichy ally imposed discrimination against Jews in North Africa. In 1942 the Germans had a special unit ready to start the slaughter of Jews in the Middle East were Rommel to prevail in the Western Desert.

The West European focus of “No Place For Antisemitism” means that it excludes the important history of antisemitism in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The leaflet’s potted history includes the expulsions and massacres of Jews during the Crusades from “Germany, England, France and Austria.”

What that misses is important events such as the forced conversion of Jews in Iran (17th century), the blood libels in Damascus (1840), Corfu (1891), Shiraz (1910), the pogroms in Greece (1931), Turkey (1934), Iraq (1941), Egypt (1945) and Libya (1945 and 1948). The closest this pamphlet comes to acknowledging the experience of Middle Eastern Jews is a passing reference to “discrimination after the founding of the State of Israel.”

These errors allow the Labour leaflet to describe Zionism as a “response to 19th Century European antisemitism.” This is also faulty. The first wave of modern Zionist thought began with Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai in the Ottoman Empire. It was the Damascus blood libel that convinced Alkalai that the Jews needed to control their own fate.

As Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg argued, Alkalai drew his inspiration from Jewish texts and could see the nationalism stirring in the Balkan states.

This inaccurate history is dangerous because it is consistent with the claim that Zionism is about colonialism, not Jewish liberation. Based on “No Place For Antisemitism,” Labour antisemites can assert that the state of Israel is the product of a European crime, the unjust colonial punishment of the Palestinian people.

Worse, the leaflet encourages this opinion. According to the Labour Party, it is legitimate to reject the Jewish right of self-determination as “Labour is a political home for Zionists and anti-Zionists.” It would be interesting to know whether Labour is also the “home” for other forms of discrimination, for example the denial of national rights to the Kurds?

Comforted by this inadequate account of antisemitism and Zionism, Labour antisemites will keep using anti-Zionism to target Jews who they believe are not loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. They will keep asking supposedly disloyal Jews whether we are connected to the Israeli embassy.

It does not matter that the leaflet argues that opponents of Israel should not be “demanding that Jews in Britain or elsewhere answer for its conduct,” because the same paragraph proclaims the political legitimacy of anti-Zionism. The antisemites do not care that many Jews in the Labour Party are supporters of Palestinian self-determination.

For them, we are not individuals. The antisemites turn us into representatives of a foreign state. What counts is featly to Jeremy Corbyn, not advocacy for Palestinian children.

The crisis in the Labour Party demonstrates that antisemitism is a useful political tool, a model for targeting disloyal minorities. A day after Labour published its antisemitism leaflet, there was a Twitter argument between Grace Blakely, the pro-Corbyn economics editor of the New Statesman, and Ayesha Hazarika, a Labour moderate.

Blakeley sought to clinch the argument by reminding Hazarika that she is a minority, a woman of colour. Although she has since deleted the tweet, Blakeley wrote: “Austerity has had a disproportionate impact on women – and an even more disproportionate impact on women of colour. If you can only see ‘lads’ criticising Jo Swinson for supporting it, it’s probs time to decolonise your feed.”

In two sentences Blakeley robbed Hazarika of her individuality. What begins with the Jews does not end with us.

read more: