Tony Greenstein has been suspended from the Labour Party for alleged anti-Semitism. Tony is 100% Jewish from an Orthodox family. But he is also one of the founders of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and in the current hysterical witch-hunt, being pro-Palestinian rights is sufficient indication of anti-Semitism. Just as making herbal medicine used to make you a witch.
The catalyst for the campaign is that one of the clearest dividing lines between Blairites and Corbyn supporters is Israel. Blairites are unanimously, unequivocally pro-Israel and prepared to defend even the most blatantly disproportionate Israeli attacks on Gaza, land grabs or checkpoint shootings as self-defence. Corbyn supporters unanimously have more sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and are critical of what they view (and I agree) as the apartheid state Israel has developed.
Because of the dreadful persecution of the Jews in the 20th century, anti-Semitism is the most emotionally charged of all political accusations. As it should be. Anti-Semitism is an appalling racism, and while all racism is evil, recent history makes anti-Semitism especially charged.
The background is that the Blairites are in utter political disarray. They and the rest of the Right are struggling against popular revulsion at the massive wealth inequalities fostered by their extreme neo-liberal policies these past four decades. There are very few things they can say which gain any popular traction. So they reach for the dread accusation of anti-Semitism.
The other meme of the right which gains popular support is the massive exaggeration of the threat of “Islamist” terrorism, again fuelled by natural popular revulsion at events like Paris and Brussels. Government programmes like Prevent are designed to further inculcate Islamophobia. All these issues can then be merged as a symplistic lie that Muslims hate Jews, therefore those defending Muslims from Islamophobia are also anti-Semitic. The witch-hunt spreads further.
This is the background to David Cameron’s extraordinary parliamentary attack on Sadiq Khan. Less attention has been paid to an even more appalling parliamentary exchange yesterday as allegations of anti-semitism were thrown around with gay abandon:
– Matthew Offord: Just weeks after the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour club stepped down, saying that a large proportion of both the OULC and the student left in Oxford “have some kind of problem with Jews”, I am sure my right hon. Friend will be incredulous to hear that students who attended the National Union of Students conference in Brighton yesterday debated boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day and then went on to elect as its president someone who described the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost” in British higher education. May we have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to set out measures that the Government will take to counter the rise in anti-Semitism that is being fomented on university campuses?
– Chris Grayling: That is simply unacceptable in our society. The views expressed yesterday are not acceptable. The shadow Leader of the House was absolutely right when he talked about anti-Semitism in his own party. All of us from all political parties should work to stamp it out across our society, as it is simply unacceptable.
– Bob Blackman: Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), it is ironic that the Holocaust Educational Trust was holding a reception and information session in this place at the same time as the National Union of Students was debating a motion to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day, and that speakers in favour of that were applauded for saying that Holocaust Memorial Day was not inclusive enough. Clearly, there is a great deal of work to be done on education to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism, so may we have a debate in Government time on what action we are going to take to root that out once and for all among all political parties and among all sections of society?
– Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is right. We are seeing that happen time and again—statements about the Jewish population in this country, statements about Israel, that are unacceptable in a democratic society. Of course, there are legitimate debates to be had about the future of Israel and Palestine and the peace process, but some of the anti-Semitic views that are appearing in our society are simply unacceptable. [Interruption.] Labour Members mention Islamophobia. I have stood at the Dispatch Box time and again and condemned Islamophobia in this country, but that is not a reason for not paying attention to the issue of anti-Semitism, which is becoming more and more of a problem and must be addressed head-on now by all those in public life, including the Labour party.
– Barry Sheerman: [excerpt] After the unfortunate remarks by the Leader of the House about the Labour party being riddled with anti-Semitism, may I ask, as someone who has fought anti-Semitism in the Labour party and in this country all his life, whether we can have an early debate about that issue? That is so important on a day when the people who want to take us out of Europe have invited Marine Le Pen to come here and speak.
– Chris Grayling: On the issue of anti-Semitism and the Labour party, I would encourage Labour Members to have a debate. The shadow Leader of the House is absolutely right to have written the article he did, saying that anti-Semitism is not acceptable, but, of course, his words have to be turned into action by the Labour party.
I frankly find it very difficult to believe that anti-Semitism is rife in Oxford University, and find the prominence given to the unsubstantiated claims of one single extreme pro-Israel activist rather extraordinary. The attack on new NUS President Malia Bouattia is a truly horrible piece of witch-hunting. But it is useful in one thing; it makes the witch-hunt’s primary method, the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, absolutely explicit.
Daniel Clemens, the president of Birmingham J-Soc, said her response was “completely unsatisfactory”. “There is quite a bit of uproar among the wider campus and student community,” Clemens said. “I think that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two and the same thing. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people should have a homeland to live in without threat of annihilation or war. This stems from a Jewish belief. So when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand.”
The idea that the religious belief of entitlement to the land of the Palestinians, is such that it is racist to deny the land to those who hold that belief, is frankly crazy. But that is the entire intellectual basis of the current witch-hunt, which operates solely on conflating the anti-Zionism of Tony Greenstein with anti-Semitism. It is a constant theme in the media, led of course by the Blairite cheerleaders at the Guardian. I called out Nick Cohen on his hate speech a few weeks ago.
Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph even completely fabricated a story that DFID had withdrawn funding for the charity War on Want because it organised “anti-Semitic” conferences. I personally contacted the DFID spokesman, who said that no funding had been withdrawn at all. But more disturbing is that, again, Gilligan seeks to portray simple anti-Zionist statements as anti-Semitic. He objects to:
“At another rally – sponsored by War on Want – a speaker said that British government policy was created by “Zionist and neo-con lobbies”.”
That is a statement which I – and millions of others – would heartily endorse. But we are not anti-Semites. Unsurprisingly, Gilligan calls in precisely the same Oxford University student to back up his wild accusations.
Anti-Semitism does exist. In a membership as large as that of the Labour Party, there are bound to be a handful around, and if they can be identified they should indeed be expelled. I have seen a couple of examples quoted – people who talk of “big noses” and “jewish bankers”. Certainly such people must be shunned. In my lifetime’s experience, anti-Semitism is more prevalent on the right than the left, but fortunately does not infect a significant proportion of the population in the UK. I have yet to encounter any in Scotland.
But to conflate anti-Semitism with opposition to the apartheid state of Israel is to demean the very meaning of anti-Semitism. If they really had respect for its victims, they would not seek to do that.