Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Antisemitism: where angels fear to tread.

When Billy Elliot's coal-miner Dad was asked if he were a supporter of the ballet he replied that he wasn't exactly and expert. I feel much the same  in daring to discuss antisemitism but it does seem to me, as a non-specialist, that the Labour Party is receiving far too much stick as the result of  the parliamentary committee report published this weekend.

In my view the problem arises becasue  it is far too easy to conflate criticism of the actions of the Israeli government with antisemitism.  Jeremy Corbyn, and some prominent members of the Labour party, have a long history of being critical of the Government of Israel.  That does not, in my view, necessarily make them antisemitic.

Unfortunately the standard definition of antisemitism:

a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

is ambiguous if  "criticisms of Jewish community institution" is taken to include criticism of the actions of the government of Israel.  Outside this definition there also seem to be instances in whcih support of the Palestinians can be construed as antisemitism.

The Liberal Democrat party does not have a good record in making a proper distinction..  Jenny Tonge, when an MP (she is now a peer and sits as a cross-bencher) was rapped over the knuckles for saying, after a visit to Palestine, that whilst she would not condone the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers, she could understand why they they did it.

 David Ward, one-time MP for Bradford East, was similarly reprimanded  and temporarily suspended from the party for criticising the Israeli government's treatment of the Palestinians.  He commented at the time of the "veritable tsunami" of public condemnation which resulted from any such criticism.

It is clear that there is a well funded and well organised lobby which is quick to organise in defence of the Israeli government  in the face of any criticism. It is also clear that parts of this lobby are not slow to distort legitimate criticism with the accusation of antisemitism.

The Israeli/Palestine problem  is a classic case of two wrongs  not making a right.   The  wrong done to Jewish people in the holocaust by Europeans was an enormity beyond description.

At the same time, the action of the ruling powers in the post war era of ignoring the second part of the Balfour Declaration, that in the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people it should be  "clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" was a wrong done to the people living there, compounded by the continues occupation of the Occupied Territories in defiance of UN Resolution 242, and others, whcih exacerbate the wrong.

A solution to the problem can only be achieved by both sides backing down on what they see as fundamentals and reaching a compromise.  Such a solution requires open discussion, and will not be helped by one side attempting to stifle  arguments made on behalf of the other.

I am not now and never have been a member of the Labour Party, but I'm pretty certain that the bulk of their discussions on this topic will be limited to political aspects of the Israel/Palestine situation, and not concerned with abuse of Jews as individuals or collectively.

I have not read it but assume that is the conclusion of Shami Chakrabarti's report. . I have been a member of Liberty for several years, have met Shami Chakrabarti,  heard her speak at least twice, and enjoyed many of her contributions to the BBC's  Question Time. She is one of our most respected  commentators on legal, social and political matters.  I only with she had joined the Liberal Democrats.  I find it nonsensical that she could have produced a "whitewash" report as a quid pro quo for a Labour peerage. That this accusation has received  so much coverage is evidence of the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby.

I have never looked at Twitter and don't really understand Facebook but am well aware that people, usually under a pseudonym or unanimously, can post vile suggestions.  An example, albeit nothing to do with antisemitism, was mentioned in the Guardian magazine over the weekend, of someone who had posted , with regard to a 14 year old Afghanistani refugee, Raheemullah Oryakhel, killed on the fringe of the Calais "jungle": "Can't they show it happening I would enjoy watching it one less to worry about."

So I understand that  disgusting things can be said on social media.  I'm sure some are said about Jews.  I doubt if many are by serious members of the Labour Party.  One method of reducing their incidence would be to insist that  the posters identify themselves properly, save in exceptional circumstances, as in newspaper letter pages.

Finally I find it a bit rich that the Conservatives are making such a meal of Labour's alleged culpability.  After all, in my lifetime among the last organisations to abandon bans on Jewish membership were the golf clubs.  Not many socialists there.


  1. There is also a big difference between 'criticism of the actions of the Israeli government' and questioning the right of the state of Israel to exist at all (either de jure, by simply saying it should be removed, or de facto, by proposing 'solutions' which would leave it not a viable state), and a lot of Labour party discussion probably crosses that line (probably more, now Labour has been thoroughly infiltrated by the SWP et al).

  2. I'm not so sure arguing that the State of Israel should not be in Palestine (alternative location have been considered) is necessarily antisemitic but admit it does sail close to the line.

    What is clear, as I argue in the original post, is that both Israel and the Palestinians will need to row back on fundamental issues if there is ever to be a peaceful solution. This will clearly be difficult for both of them, but full and frank dialogue is necessary if anything acceptable to both is ever to be achieved. Attempts by ether side to stifle this debate will not help.

    I have little knowledge of the SWP but I'm told there aren't all that many of them so "thoroughly infiltrated" is probably a bit of an exaggeration. Nor have I any reason to suppose that they are more likely to be antisemitic in the sense of being opposed to Jews as such rather than simply critical of the government of Israel