Whilst some Conservative MPs have been busy this summer bullying Muslim women about their dress code, the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been exchanging blows with Pro-Israeli factions in his party and elsewhere. A day does not pass, without a new photo, new handshake, or a new gesture, indicating support for so called ‘anti-Semitic’ views.
Corbyn’s summer could have been better. He faced a barrage of criticism after video footage emerged in which he said a group of British Zionists had “no sense of English irony”. Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks branded the comments as “the most offensive statement” by a politician since Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech and accused the Labour Leader of being an “anti-Semite”. Corbyn said he was “more careful” with language now.
Then came the Tunisia Wreath row, where the Labour leader was criticised over his presence at a ceremony in Tunisia in 2014. He was accused of honouring the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich terror attack, during which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and killed. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Corbyn deserved “unequivocal condemnation” for laying a wreath on the grave of one of those behind the atrocity.
Corbyn said he attended the event in Tunis in 2014 as part of a wider event about the search for peace. In response, the Labour leader said Mr Netanyahu’s claims about his “actions and words are false”.
In July 2018, the UK’s three main Jewish newspapers published the same front page, warning that a government led by Corbyn would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life”. In August 2018, Corbyn apologised over an event he hosted in 2010 where a Holocaust survivor compared Israel to Nazism. After the Times published details of the event, the Labour leader said he had “on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject” and was sorry for the “concerns and anxiety that this has caused”.
Corbyn’s allies have also been in the firing line. Peter Willsman quit the party’s ruling body, after he criticised “Trump fanatics” in the Jewish community.
The Labour MP Margaret Hodge, after she reportedly called Corbyn an “anti-Semite” and a “racist”. Ms Hodge refused to apologise and the action was later dropped. The backdrop to this was the new code of conduct Labour adopted on Anti-Semitism, which critics, including Jewish leaders and some Labour MPs, say is not as comprehensive as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) guidelines.
Labour does not accept this, saying it has replicated the international definition word-for-word in its code of conduct. The row centres on a list of “contemporary examples of anti-Semitism” cited by the IHRA. Labour has come up with its own list, “derived in part from the IHRA guidelines”.
Labour says it has “expanded and contextualised” the IHRA examples to provide “legally sound guidelines that a political party can apply to disciplinary cases”. Critics say the Labour code leaves out examples of how criticism of Israel can be anti-Semitic. For example, it omits a line that warns against “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
Labour says that “without contextualisation” this line “could curb legitimate criticism of the Israeli State”, and could deny Palestinians the right to speak about the oppression and racism they feel they have suffered.
Labour says its code of conduct expressly prohibits criticism of the Israeli State that holds it to a higher standard than that expected of other democratic states, and which denies Jewish people the same right to self-determination as other peoples, in line with IHRA guidelines.
In 2016, Mr Corbyn announced an independent inquiry into Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. That was after his party suspended an MP, Naz Shah, and the Labour former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Shah was suspended over historical social media posts, including one suggesting Israel should be moved to the United States. When she was reinstated, she blamed the posts on her “ignorance”, admitting they were anti-Semitic.
Livingstone, a long-term ally of Corbyn, was suspended in 2016 over remarks he made as he defended Naz Shah. His comments, linking Hitler and Zionism, led to calls for him to be expelled from Labour. He said he had been misquoted and repeatedly insisted his version of events was historically accurate. He quit the party, saying his long-running case had become a “distraction” for the party and its political ambitions.
An inquiry, carried out by human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, concluded that while the Labour Party was not overrun by Anti-Semitism, there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” and made a series of recommendations, not all of which have been implemented yet.
In March 2018, Corbyn was criticised for sending an apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in 2012. In a message sent via Facebook, he had appeared to question a decision to remove the artist’s controversial mural. He later said he had not looked at it properly, calling it “deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic”. The artist, called Mear One, denied this, saying the mural was about “class and privilege”.
The recent resignation of veteran MP Frank Field from the Labour whip, over Anti- Semitism has further damaged the reputation of Labour. In a scathing letter to Labour’s chief whip, Nick Brown, Field wrote: “It saddens me to say that we are increasingly seen as a racist party”.
This debate of Anti-Semitism is not confined to some members of the Labour party, the debate is relevant to anybody that opposes the violent actions Israel has carried out against the Palestinian people. Accusations such as those levelled at Corbyn and others, are numerous across all sections of political activism, especially when they have opposed Israel and Zionism.
The first Black Muslim Female President of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, was heavily criticised for remarks she made about Zionists. The President of Birmingham University Jewish Society commented that “when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand”.
Even during the Brexit campaign, Anti- Semitism was a label stamped on Muslims, as if they were all prejudiced against Jewish people. Leave.EU claimed that Labour will not tackle anti-Semitism because it has “3 million Muslim votes”. The provocative tweet featured a see-saw with Muslim votes on one side, Jewish votes on the other and the words: “Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!”. It was reported as a ‘hate crime’, however it did illustrate how Anti- Semitism is used in political and media circles.
Anti-Semitism is being used in a dangerously careless way, which has now included the criticism of a state, that continues to abuse the Palestinian people. There are too many atrocities by Israel to mention, however a brief snapshot will be sufficient.
According to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, Israeli security forces have killed 9,456 Palestinians since 2000, compared to the 1,237 Israeli security personnel and civilians killed by Palestinians. In 1982, up to 3,500 Palestinian and Lebanese refugees were massacred by Israel’s Phalangist allies in the Sabra and Shatila camps.
UNICEF and the Gaza Health Ministry reported that from 8th July to 2nd August 2014, 296 Palestinian children died due to Israeli action. In Gaza, Israel has targeted hospitals, schools, daycare centres, multi-storey apartment complexes, UN Relief and Works Agency shelters and mental health clinics.
It cannot be Anti-Semitism to highlight these massacres, rather the term has been used to whitewash such crimes and silence people.
Anti-Semitism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people’. Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, corresponding to the historic land of Israel. It emerged as a political movement in 19th century Europe, aimed at establishing a Jewish homeland. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 gave British support to the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, already home to millions of people.
Israeli forces occupied 213 villages and expelled more than 400,000 refugees, before the British mandate ended on May 15, 1949. After the defeat of Arab forces in December 1948, Israel confiscated nearly 85 per cent of the territory. Most of this land was taken from about 800,000 Palestinians from 531 villages, cities and tribes, who were thrown out or fled in fear of their lives.
From definition, criticising Israel and Zionism is not Anti-Semitism, nor is it racist. To oppose the cruelty of any people, regardless of race, religion and nationality is a moral duty. To oppose a state that continues to murder innocent people since 1948, is an international duty. However, criticism of Israel that commits horrific crimes has labelled people as anti-Semitic or racist.
Of course Judaism is not the same as Zionism, they are completely distinct. Judaism is a religion practised by millions of the faithful. Zionism is a political movement, asserting the Jewish claim to Palestine, over the expressed will of the 70% Arab majority before 1948. Israel could not have been established, other than by soaking the soil with the blood of Palestinians. The Israeli state destroyed centuries of history, ruining homes, infrastructure and the future of families.
Anti-Semitism is used to silence critics of Israel, signifying that opposing Israel or Zionism is a slur on Jewish people, which is completely false. It is to silence critics of Israel by charging them with racism. Lord Sacks gross linkage to Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech is evident of this deep hypocrisy and irony.
Anti-Semitism is absolutely wrong, but to link it to supporting the Palestinian people is a gross distortion of what the term actually describes. A dangerous precedent has been set, where a state like Israel cannot even be criticised without the unjust charge of prejudice.