Whether primarily motivated by defence of Israel’s apartheid regime or a hostility to the left, concocted accusations of anti-Semitism serve to erode support for Palestinians’ struggle against occupation and oppression. Leftists have to decide how to respond. Their decisions can accelerate or counteract that erosion.
Anti-Semitism is real. Last year a fascist murdered eleven people in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
US president Trump has praised the fascists who marched through Charlottesville, Virginia chanting “Jews will not replace us”: Trump said the march included “many fine people”. He has imitated Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán by spreading conspiracy theories about wealthy Jewish financier George Soros.
Fascist organisations have been growing in the US and several European countries. Their members vary in the competence with which they conceal their anti-Semitic beliefs. Until earlier this year the Freedom Party, with its core of fascist members, was part of Austria’s governing coalition. Its fascist wing is dominant in the far right Alternative for Germany party.
Bogus charges of anti-Semitism are also becoming more frequent in Australia and abroad. In 2014, there was a series of groundless accusations of anti-Semitism against Socialist Alternative clubs on a series of Australian campuses by Zionists.
Supporters of Palestinian rights often criticise Israel at a very fundamental level, because its existence is based on the racist oppression of Palestinians. The claim that this is a form of anti-Semitism has been used as a bludgeon against Palestine solidarity activists and the left in many countries.
The slanders about anti-Semitism and the measures they have justified have weakened efforts to fight real anti-Semitism by diverting the energies of activists on the left, who are the most effective campaigners against racism, including anti-Semitism, and against fascism. Meanwhile, those making the accusations not only endorse the racist structures and policies of the Israeli state but often also collaborate with real anti-Semites or, like Trump, are themselves anti-Semites.
US spin doctors George Birnbaum and Arthur Finkelstein, who had served the Republican Party, later also worked for Benjamin Netanyahu, the right wing Israeli politician and current prime minister. Netanyahu recommended them to his friend Victor Orbán. These two Jewish Zionists were the architects of Orbán’s campaign against George Soros. And, despite that campaign, Netanyahu continued to have a good relationship with Orbán.
The charge of anti-Semitism has been used as a means to undermine any criticism of Israel. The equation of such criticism with anti-Semitism has also become a tactic in the war against the left.
It has been used particularly widely in Britain.
The rise of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the British Labour Party and the influx of hundreds of thousands of new members has challenged the grip of the right on the party. Corbyn had an excellent record of supporting the Palestinian cause. His opponents – inside Labour, Conservatives and in the liberal media, notably the Guardian newspaper – conflated anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism to tarnish him and demoralise those enthused by his leftwing policies and record.
Many of his supporters have been expelled or suspended from the party.
Jackie Walker, a Jewish anti-Zionist, was expelled in February this year, primarily for comparing the Nazi genocide of Jews with the genocides of other peoples. She was a leader of the pro-Corbyn Labour Party faction Momentum, with tens of thousands of members.
Pete Willsman was a member of Labour’s leadership body, the National Executive Committee. He was suspended from the party in May 2019 for arguing that many of the allegations of anti-semitism against party members were bogus and that the Israeli embassy was involved in organising them. In January 2017, an undercover Al Jazeera investigation had already demonstrated that the embassy was engaged in this activity.
Chris Williamson, a left wing member of parliament, had his membership suspended in February and again in June this year for criticising the party’s handling of accusations of anti-Semitism.
Corbyn and the Labour left have failed to effectively combat this campaign.
Defensive responses to false accusations of anti-Semitism, like those of Corbyn and his allies have given ground to right wingers and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racists, while undermining solidarity with the Palestinians.
Sections of the left even supported the adoption of the characterisation of any anti-Zionism as anti-Semitic by the Party’s National Executive Committee, in September 2018. This was embodied in examples appended to the definition of anti-semitism formulated by International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). This flawed policy is systematically promoted by supporters of Israel because examples that conflate opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism are attached to an apparently harmless definition.
Corbyn initially endorsed the definition but proposed an alternative clarification of its meaning to the examples given. He withdrew this proposal when it became clear that he did not have the numbers on the committee. Even some of his own supporters, like the influential founder of Momentum Jon Lansmann, backed the adoption of the IHRA definition in its unaltered form.
Corbyn has not shifted his critical position on Israel, but he has conceded ground to his opponents by failing to engage in a whole-hearted counter-attack against them inside and outside the party.
In particular, he has not publicly and unambiguously denounced the campaign against his supporters for their alleged anti-Semitism and he backed down over the National Executive Committee’s adoption of the IHRA examples.
All for the sake of party unity. Underlying that is his focus on parliamentary politics, which prioritises above all else winning a Labour majority in parliament at the next election.
But Corbyn’s concessions to the party’s right have not appeased them. A few Labour members of parliament have split away into oblivion. But the rest of the right, which still has a majority in the parliamentary party, are continuing the battle to reclaim “their party”.
Both the Jewish and Christian bibles are extremely unreliable as historical accounts, but secular interpretations of some insights are valuable. This is not from my testament, but it gets to the point: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mathew 16: 26).
Having failed the Palestinians in opposition, a Corbyn Labour government will hardly advance their cause in office. The same is true of Corbyn’s abandonment of his hostility to nuclear submarines and watering down of his critique of the European Union, and the other compromises of principle.
Rick Kuhn was the initiator of Jews against Oppression and Occupation in 2002.