The UK Tory press and the Israel Lobby have lit a match under the Labor Party, which is led by its left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Rump forces within the Party who oppose his left-wing agenda have poured gasoline on the flames. They’ve collaborated in an effort to sabotage his leadership, commencing a witch-hunt that identifies progressive Labor Party activists, and even elected officials, as anti-Semites. In order to “get there,” they must transform comments that are anti-Zionist into outright anti-Semitism. Labor’s Torquemada’s have been eager to make that fatal leap into the ideological abyss. More on this later in this post.
Ken Livingstone, former Labor mayor of London, is the latest to fall under the ax. He was suspended from Party membership for an interview he gave in which he defended a fellow member who’d also been suspended for publishing an alleged anti-Semitic post on Facebook. The Guardian described her comments thus:
[MP Naz] Shah said Israel should “relocate to the US” and posted an article that likened Zionism to al-Qaida.
She shared a picture of Israel’s outline superimposed on to a map of the US under the headline: “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States,” along with the comment: “Problem solved.”
The post went on to say Americans would “welcome Israelis with open arms”, and the relocation would bring peace to the Middle East by ending “foreign interference”. The post suggested the US had “plenty of land” to accommodate Israel as a 51st state, allowing Palestinians to “get their life and their land back”.
Livingstone’s infraction was this:
During his interview, Livingstone said Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews” and claimed there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israel policy as antisemitic.”
At least in the McCarthy era you might get a hearing before being branded a Communist. You’d have an opportunity to defend yourself or rebut the charges. In the current Labor Party, you can be suspended without a hearing and without even knowing what your infraction was. That’s true in Livingstone’s case.
One of the worst aspects of this travesty is the willing collaboration of the so-called liberal press. Leading the charge against the Labor left isn’t just the Telegraph (aka Torygraph) and other usual subjects. Rather, the Guardian is leading the pack of baying hounds seeking the tail of the anti-Zionist foxes. In its latest headline regarding the Livingstone controversy it calls his comments “offensive.” Excuse me, but I thought a newspaper reporting the news allowed the facts of the story to speak for themselves and didn’t intrude the reporter’s moral recriminations into the reporting.
Haaretz has joined the fray, publishing a false, malevolent smear of Livingstone penned by one of the UK Israel Lobby’s chief executioners, Alan Johnson. He is a BICOM enforcer. Haaretz, you remember is the flower of Israeli liberalism. It stands for all the best values of democracy, tolerance, and humanism. Except when it comes to those who pose a threat to its own brand of liberal Zionism. Then the newspaper bares its fangs and bites deeply into the flesh of its victims. Not so humane. Not so tolerant.
In reviewing these two comments, I begin by saying both are intemperate, vituperative and even over the top. They overstate a case that can and should be made in a more sober fashion. One of my main problems with both comments is that they conflate Zionism with Israel. I understand why critics do this, and the State of Israel itself encourages people to see Israel as a stand-in for both Zionism and world Jewry, which it isn’t. Zionism, like any nationalist ideology or religion, has various strains. Some are extremist and violent. Some are liberal. And some are radical (progressive). Opponents of Zionism are correct in noting that the current iteration of Zionism as reflected in the ideology of the Israeli government is identified with the most virulent, intolerant and even murderous elements within the Zionist tradition.
But it would be as much a mistake to argue that Donald Trump represents the current values of America or is America, as it is that Zionism is one giant evil genocidal belief system.
Arguments against Israel or Israeli policy should be submitted to the proper address and that is the Israeli government. This sort of articulation of criticism is more precise and less prone to sloganeering or overheated rhetoric.
On the other hand, it’s important to note that when understood in proper context, neither of these comments by Shah or Livingstone is far off the mark. Let’s begin with Shah: is it offensive to suggest that Israel should be America’s 51st state? Even American liberal Zionists and Israelis themselves offer this satirical reflection as mordant criticism of Israel’s over-reliance on U.S. largess, weapons stocks, and political power.
What about likening the current policies of the Israeli government to Al Qaeda? How many of the Labor Party interrogators know that Israel has made an alliance with the Al Qaeda affiliate, al Nusra, in Syria? How many of them know of the racist laws enacted by the Israeli Knesset, which ratify not just Arabophobia and Islamophobia, but also trample democratic values underfoot? How many understand the level to which the State has become hostage to Jewish religious extremism, whether it’s espoused by rabbis or cabinet ministers?
There are those who use the hashtag #JSIL, to dramatize Israel’s current status as a racist theocratic state. One might argue that the term is over-dramatic, since Israel hasn’t yet taken to cutting off the heads of Arabs and displaying them on pikes as ISIS does. But given that the social media platform is like a dramatic stage, I don’t find the terms inappropriate. Twitter isn’t a PhD treatise nor a legal proceeding. It’s a place where people argue and use dramatic tropes and language.
What else is offensive in Shah’s Facebook post? That Israel brings ‘foreign interference’ to the region? How can anyone deny the truth of this? Israel’s virtually sole ally is the strongest superpower in the world. We provide Israel with the most advanced, lethal weaponry in the world. When Israel is fighting a war and runs low on ammunition, who restocks Israel’s weapons armories?
But let’s be frank, we aren’t the only foreign power putting out noses into the region. Such interference goes back a century or more to the European colonial powers who divvied up the spoils of the region amongst themselves. Today, Russian, Iran, the U.S., and even nations within the region like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have intervened in various conflicts like Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen. So let’s not ignore the intervention and damage done by others in the region. But let’s also not forget that as the most powerful nation on earth, the U.S. does far more damage here than any other power (viz, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan).
The Labor Party Zio-Thought Police will also not like the inference in Shah’s statement that Israeli Jews should leave the region. It smacks too much of ethnic cleansing or even those long ago claims of Arab strongmen that they would “drive the Zionists into the sea.”
But to be true to history (which this witch-hunt entirely ignores), the Zionist leadership from Ben Gurion onward has embraced ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants, as I wrote in a new article published at Mint Press today. The Nakba, in which nearly 1-million Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, was the result of official Zionist policy. Ethnic cleansing is thus a two-way street.
Now let’s turn to Livingstone’s comments: it is overstated to say that “Hitler supported Zionism.” He didn’t support Zionism in the sense that a Trump voter supports Donald Trump; or a Labor voter supports its MK candidates. But Hitler saw Zionism, up until the onset of World War II, as a useful tool to realize his goal of ridding Europe of Jews. Before he adopted the policy of genocide in 1942, the Nazi approach (at least through 1939) was to encourage Jews to emigrate. Though Adolf Eichmann is known as the official who implemented the Final Solution, he had an entirely different approach before the War. He even visited Palestine on a fact-finding trip in 1937.
It was official Nazi policy to see Palestine as the answer to the problem of where to send the Jews after they left Europe. Both the rightist Irgun and the Yishuv leadership (which later became the Labor Party) negotiated deals with the Nazis. The most notorious and well-known of these is the Haavara Agreement, by which the lives of European Jews were ransomed in return for the Nazis confiscating their property and possessions and turning them into cash to support the growing war machine of the Third Reich.
It’s important to note (and Livingstone does so in his comment) that the Nazi approach of voluntary emigration didn’t last after the War began. By then, the Nazis wanted a surer and faster approach to the “problem” and they chose extermination.
Let’s return to the issue of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. I addressed this subject in an American context in a recent piece I wrote for Mint Press. The key issue is that they are not the same thing. Nowhere near it. Anyone who attempts to turn anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism is committing a grave injustice that exploits the trauma of the Holocaust for political purposes. Ken Livingstone, Naz Shah, and Tony Greenstein, all suspended from the Party for such infractions, oppose Israel and its policies. None of them is an anti-Semite. Greenstein, in fact, has been a leading campaigner against anti-Semitism on the left. None has expressed hostility to Jews or Judaism. THAT is the true definition of anti-Semitism. If you wish to turn anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism then you are conflating Judaism with Zionism and Israel. They are not the same nor must progressive Jews allow them to become the same.
Finally, the main problem with the current Labor Party witch-hunt is that it makes a travesty of history. If you want to discipline party members, if you want to tarnish their careers and drive them out of politics forever, do so based on historical accuracy and truth. You remember Sen. Joe McCarthy’s claims there were 50, or 100 or 300 Communists working in the State Department? On what were these claims based? On real evidence? Or truthful claims? Or fabrications? History shows that in almost all cases (with a few rare exceptions) McCarthy was a liar and a braggart.
I ask the Labor Party to consider whether they want to go down this road. Do they want to do to their Party what Joe McCarthy did to America in the 1950s? I understand that there are right-wing Blairites who would be willing to stop at nothing to take their revenge on Corbyn. But in the process they may destroy the Party for decades to come as a viable political force for progressive values.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.