This article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle, you can read it here.
There is nothing illegitimate or antisemitic about criticising the actions of the Israeli government. Millions of Israelis – and Jews in Britain – do it every day.
However, for at least the past 40 years, a discourse has existed on the hard left which crosses the line of criticism of the Israeli government into something altogether more disturbing and unacceptable: a discourse which seeks to delegitimise the state of Israel and deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination.
Some believe that antisemitism and anti-Zionism are separable. I do not agree, not least because the vast majority of British Jews have a strong attachment to Israel, the world’s only Jewish state.
Almost without exception, every instance of alleged antisemitism by members of the Labour party which has come to light over recent months – whether it be claims that Hitler supported Zionism; calling Jewish students “Zios”; or suggestions that the Holocaust is a “political tool of the Zionist government” – has been focused on, or related to, Israel.
Labour’s antisemitism problem is thus one of what Professor Alan Johnson has termed “anti-Zionist antisemitism”. Recognising this problem and providing us with a framework as to how to tackle it will be the key test of Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry into antisemitism.
We should be clear that this problem precedes Labour’s current leadership. In recent years, we have seen Labour parliamentarians use language – comparing Israelis to Nazis, labelling Gaza a concentration camp, and accusing British Jews of dual loyalties – which is equally unacceptable.
As a point of principle, “anti-Zionist antisemitism” is unacceptable. But displacing facts and evidence with wild conspiracy theories, deeply offensive references to the Holocaust, and traditional antisemitic imagery debases, and does nothing to further debate about Israel, the peace process or the wider challenges faced by the Middle East.
We hope to see Ms Chakrabarti outline some red lines which make clear where legitimate criticism of Israel ends and antisemitism begins. In our submission to her inquiry, LFI outlined where they might be drawn:
First, the use of imagery and language which invoke classic antisemitic tropes and accusations. Some of these are probably not hard for most people to spot. But others – such as suggestions of Jewish conspiracies and cabals – are no less pernicious and, sadly, all too evident in some of the criticisms levelled against Israel.
Second, the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and claims that equate Zionism with racism.
Third, the drawing of comparisons between Israeli policies and those of the Nazis.
Fourth, holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel.
Finally, the application of double standards which demand of Israel behaviour not expected of any other democratic nation, while recognising that criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot and should not be regarded as antisemitic.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians – and the manner in which we best achieve a two-state solution – will continue to be debated within the Labour Party. We all know it is one that arouses strong passions and that sometimes that debate will be fierce, with sharp disagreements.
That debate, however, must be freed from all manifestations of “anti-Zionist antisemitism”.
We look to Shami Chakrabarti to begin that long-overdue process