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John McDonnell speaks out against antisemitism

McD on MarrInterviewed by Andrew Marr this morning, shadow chancellor spoke out in the strongest possible terms about antisemitism within the Labour Party.

As soon as Jewish people start telling us that there is antiSemitism in our party we’ve got to sit up and listen. That’s why I said last week, if there are people who’ve expressed anti-Semitic views there’s no role for them in our party and I’d like them out of our party for life, to be frank. I believe what we should do is take the advice of the British Board of Deputies and our other Jewish friends as well, to say “how do we tackle this problem” beause it’s a societal problem…. If it’s infected any in our Labour Party we’ve got to root it out and I’m not having it within our party.

Marr then said “There was one example, I think a councillor, a Labour councillor who talked about Jewish people being very aggressive to towards Palestinians and all having big noses, that kind of thing” to which John McDonnell replied:

That is unacceptable. You can be a critic of the Israeli state and its role, but you mustn’t allow that to any way be used by antisemites. We’ve got to root that out and we will do.”



  1. Syzygy says:

    Are these charges of anti-semitism really code for ‘pro-Muslim’? Zac Goldsmith seems to be using the Islamaphobia dog whistle against Sadiq Khan in the London Mayoral elections.

    1. John P Reid says:

      John McDonnell has called out anti semeticism, and anti semeticism,is now dismissed as pro Muslim

  2. James Martin says:

    Yes, all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, must be actively opposed, but the actual examples produced of alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party have been very tiny indeed, and some are not even actual examples. The latest dragged up by the right-wing media a few days ago concerns a Brighton anti-Zionist socialist who is also Jewish (and whose family came from the East End and fought Mosley’s blackshirts) but who has been wilfully misrepresented to the extent that John Mann, a non-Jewish Zionist, attacks him, as a non-Zionist Jew, for ‘anti-Semitism’. You’d laugh if it wasn’t so tragic, but this does expose the real agenda of much of what is being kicked up here by the right wing who see it as a way of both undermining the current leadership and attempting to link *any* criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism.

    1. John P Reid says:

      so some of them are then

  3. David Pavett says:

    John McDonnell was quite right to reply to Andrew Marr in the way that he did even if it is a case of the LP, and more broadly the left, having been subjected to a barrage of false claims about significant levels of anti-Semitism. To avoid any appearance of excuses or evasion there is only one thing to be said and that is that anti-Semitism, like any other form of racism, is 100% unacceptable and will be rooted out.

    I also agree with James Martin that the actual extent of this problem on the left has been wildly exaggerated. I have followed up the claims of the likes of Nick Cohen and have found that they are nearly all based on very thin evidence or on none at all.

    I consider myself sensitive to signs of racism and I have to say that I have come across very little of it in the LP. The most significant in recent years has been from an Iraqi member who tried to tell me that the 9/11 attack was organised by Mosad. The evidence, he said, was that all the Jews working in the building stayed away on that day. He had not, of course, checked his facts. Why would he not check them for such a serious accusation? I can only assume that was because the story fitted so much with what he wanted to believe that he felt no need for further verification. I told him that his view was without foundation. If he repeats it I will take a stronger line.

    I have a concern however. I agree with Owen Jones that if, when the issue of anti-Semitism is raised people immediately switch to talking about Zionism and Israel then those people almost certainly have a problem. But when I said this in a recent meeting it seemed that the others there were genuinely puzzled by the point. Why wouldn’t you talk about Zionism and Israel when someone raises the issue of anti-Semitism seemed to be the view. That, it seems to me, is at best highly naive and at worst a sign of anti-Semitism. I am sure that it is generally the former of these but that is a naivety that should be regarded as politically unacceptable.

    1. Richard Tiffin says:

      If those who defend the actions of the state of Israel visa a vis the way they allow settlements and territorial expansion, build huge walls, defend the oppression of Palestinians, etc. by conflating criticism of Israel with anti Semitism then it is hard to avoid moving from a discussion of anti Semitism to a discussion of the state of Israel.

      You’re correct in my view, we need to keep the two things separate. Anti Semitism is racism and all forms of racism ought to be oppossed by the left. The state of Israel is imperialist and wrong in many ways and needs to be oppossed by the left. Two separate arguments.

      But if the defenders of Israel portray an anti Israel position as anti Semitic then they are raising the spectre of racism and should be criticised for doing so.

      This is further complicated by the position that Israel is becoming less a liberal state and more a theocracy as the religious groupings force their agenda into political discourse. Disentangling the two position is likely to become more difficult under those circumstances.

      Once again, this is not to minimise or dispute the thrust of your argument, but the difficulties need to be recognised.

    2. John P Reid says:

      There was a tweet by a momentum member last week,saying that countries that recognized Palestine got attacks, by so called, Islamists who were really Jews pretending to be mud,I’m, in revenge for the recognition of Palestine

  4. Karl Stewart says:

    That’s an excellent point David.

    We need to unconditionally condemn anti-semitism totally – no “buts” no “howevers” we just straightforwardly condemn it and fight against any appearance of it anywhere, anytime.

    1. David Pavett says:


      1. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

        We need to point this out to people:

        1. Jim Denham says:

          This character is a member of Neturei Karta, a small ultra-Orthodox sect that rejects the existence of Israel in any shape or form, on purely religious grounds. This tiny sect turns up at anti-Israel rallies and is frequently used to deflect charges of anti-Semitism (whether justified or not) as though the presence of a few highly unrepresentative ultra orthodox fanatics is sufficient to disprove any possible suggestion of anti-Semitism.

          1. Susan O'Neill says:

            They are not the only Jewish Rabbis to condemn Israel. Hundreds marched arm in arm on Washington of all different Jewish sects denouncing Israel’s treatment and attitude towards other human beings. For those who disagree, Palestinians are Hyman Beings not “beasts” and Palestinian children are not “little snakes” as Ayelet Shakhed described them.

          2. Jim Denham says:

            “Condemning” Israel is not necessarily the same thing as denying its right to exist.

  5. This comment is by David Rosenberg, reproduced from Facebook where it was originally made.

    It is admirable for John McDonnell to take, and be seen to be taking, a strong uncompromising stand against antisemitism including that expressed by Labour Party members/people on the left but there are two things to be very wary of:

    1. the current wave of accusations of antisemitism in the LP are conflating a very small number of cases of malicious antisemitism, a larger set of cases of unintended/unconscious antisemitism that stem from ignorance, and other cases that are not antisemitism at all, but forthright and justified support for Palestinian rights that condemns Israeli government policy and the nationalist, and in many aspects racist, ideology of Zionism.
    All charges of antisemitism need to be properly examined but it is only the first that should be dealt with by bans. The second might involve temporary suspensions and hopefully rethinking and be dealt with essentially by argument and persuasion. But we need to be aware that this second category and the third are both the object of a concerted campaign by pro-Tory forces, right wing labourites/bitterites/Blairites, and right wing Zionists – who are cynically exploiting the serious issue of antisemitism to try to undermine Corbyn and the LP led by Corbyn.

    2. The Board of Deputies of British Jews – who McDonnell says we should take advice from on this – are part of the problem not the solution. They are not in any shape or from true representatives of the the Jewish community but faithfully reflect its more conservative/ wealthier/pro-Zionist elements. they are not politically neutral. Their current president Jonathan Arkush who had a big-splash in the Evening Standard the other week saying “Jews don’t trust the Labour Party any more” is a hard-right Tory/right-wing Zionist.
    There are many progressive, anti-racist forces in the Jewish community , concerned about antisemitism as they are with all forms of racism, whom it would be much better for McDonnell to take advice from on this issue. Be great if someone could convey this to him.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I agree with your comments. I few of them I wanted to make myself but, things being what they are, it was easier for you to make them than me.

      I too was surprised by McDonnell’s suggestion that the LP will be advised by the Board of Deputies. It would have been better to say that it will listen to any complaints about specific instances that it cares to make. In practice I don’t think that any arrangement can amount to more than that so I am not all that concerned about it. If the Board has a complaint then it has to be specific. I doubt that we will hear a lot from it on those grounds.

    2. John Penney says:

      Excellent, and very sensible, comment by David Rosenberg, and the comments by yourself , David Pavett.

  6. Karl Stewart says:

    Fair points David, but I do think there is a problem of people using “Zionist” as a euphemism for “Jew”.

    When I hear some people say: “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Zionist” it sometimes sounds to me a bit like: “I’m not racist, but I’m against all this political correctness.”

    I’m finding the term “Zionist” more and more problematic to be honest. Maybe it’s time we stopped using it.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Yes. Labels act as a convenient form of short hand when they reflect a common understanding. When people have very different takes on what they mean they obstruct rather than aid discussion and it is time to stop using them. In those circumstances we have to state what we mean without the short hand. It takes longer but it means it is clearer what we are trying to say (if there is anything clear that we are trying to express that is).

  7. Karl Stewart says:

    Not saying this is what you’re doing by the way David, just that this is something that some people seem to be doing.

  8. Bazza says:

    Excellent points by David Rosenburg; says it all.
    And we shouldn’t forget the great role played by Jewish people (as well as the Irish and all BME groups) in the history of Labour and the trade union movement and still today.
    And Rosa Luxemburg is still my favourite socialist thinker.
    Left wing democratic socialists aim to unite diverse working people, of all religions and those of none. Solidarity.

  9. Jim Denham says:

    When Left Futures last published an article about anti-Semitism of the so-called “left”, Jon Lansman had to close down comments, writing:

    “I have deleted all comments on this article and will publish no more. Some comments were just offensive, others in my opinion antisemitic. I have no objection to serious critiques of Zionism nor to opposition to Israel government policy — I am myself a strong critic of the policies of the Israeli government, its occupation of the West Bank and unilateral annexation of Palestinian land as regular readers of this site will know, but it not acceptable to use the term “Zionist” as a term of abuse. One comment included libelous statements about named individuals. Unfortunately, in view of the nature of these comments, comments are now closed on this article. I apologise to commenters whose comments were critical of these things but felt that I could not delete part of a comment thread without deleting all of it.”

    In my opinion, the tenor of the comments here, downplaying and dismissing anti-Semitism,in a way that would be unthinkable about any other form of racism, demonstrates that there *is* a continuing problem with ‘The Socialism of Fools.’

    1. James Martin says:

      I think we would need to see some evidence of what the alleged problem in the Labour Party is though, as so far there appears to be very little of substance. We had Vicky Kirby who it seems made anti-Semitic social media comments between 2011-2014, was suspended in 2014, investigated by the NEC/compliance unit, warned and had the suspension lifted the same year (although it was then used as a stick to beat Jeremy with despite Ed being leader at the time). Then there is Oxford Labour Club, currently under investigation, but where the initial allegations centred on the decision to support the BDS Israeli Apartheid Week (which is also supported by Jews for Justice for Palestinians of course), followed by Gerry Downing who had only recently joined Labour and who while I don’t consider him to be personally deliberately anti-Semitic does spout a stupid and unacceptable line that leads in that direction where he confuses and conflates the powerful Zionist lobby in the US and UK with Jews, whereas of course most Zionists are not Jews and most Jews are not Zionists.

      This is not to say that outside the Labour Party there are significant issues of anti-Semitism. I know for example that Luciana Berger has faced horrific online anti-Semitic abuse that appears to come from the far-right, as have many of the attacks on synagogues over the years. But also there are wider issues that need to be recognised, particularly in the Middle East and among some British Muslims where anti-Zionism merges with anti-Semitism. In fact a friend of mine who taught English in Egypt in the early ’90s was shocked when he discovered that while the language used by many in his classes was of ‘anti-Zionism’ the meaning of that to them was nearly always not as we understand it as a political ideology but of opposition to *all* Jews.

      So while the issues of anti-Semitism are very real, I have yet to see any real evidence that the Labour Party or the wider left in this country is guilty in any significant way of it, and it was a mistake of McDonnell to pander to the Board of Deputies of British Jews as he did given that they have a political position on uncritical support for Israel and Zionism that is not in line with Labour Party policy and the Board have been actively opposed by many Jewish socialists who do not accept that criticising Israel is inherently anti-Semitic.

      If you want to find the socialism of fools then look no further than right-wing Zionist John Mann, although you will find very little socialism there when you do.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        James, you’ve given examples there of people using the word ‘zionist’ as a euphemism for ‘jew’.

        Let’s not use the word ‘zionist’.

        1. James Martin says:

          But Zionist and Zionism are real terms, have real histories not as abuse but of words used by those who subscribe to the nationalist theories of Zionism themselves from Theodor Herzl onwards so I can’t see how you can. It would be like saying let’s not use the term ‘Stalinist’ because it gets used sometimes as a form of abuse rather than as a accurate descriptor. Of course there are different strands within Zionism, although the socialist kibbutz Zionism (even where it wasn’t based on stolen Palestinian land) is very much a tiny strand these days compared to the powerful right wing inside and outside Israel, and the racist settler movement. And also of course most Zionists are not Jews. John Mann is a good example of this inside the Labour Party, and it is impossible to understand his political position and attitude to Israel without understanding his Zionism.

          The other problem with your suggestion is where that logic would lead you. Would you also stop using the terms Jew and Jewish because rather than seeing within them a huge range or religious, secular, political and social outlooks some have wrongly defined the terms in a misleading, partial and racist manner?

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            Yes, but there’s an enormous difference between someone who staunchly supports the Israeli Government and its ongoing brutal and illegal occupation of the West Bank on the one hand, and someone who supports the existence of Israel within its pre-1967 UN-partition borders while condemning the illegal West Bank occupation.

      2. John P Reid says:

        Regarding the Luciana Berger comments, were they from the far right,hopefully you’re right, the press were saying they were from the left, so this maybe a smear at the Labour Party, by the press

        1. James Martin says:

          The right-wing media were also saying that about the mysogynist online abuse of MPs like Stella Creasy but none of those prosecuted have been Labour Party members so far as I’m aware. In the case of Luciana (who despite being on the opposite wing of the Party and holding a different view on Israel to me I defend unconditionally), this is one example of the fascist scum that were (and I think still are) trolling her:

          1. John P Reid says:

            What was the story with the heckler after the Syria vote was that made up ,I know Muslims in her constituency who think very highly of her lthere’s a Muslim burial ground next to a Romany gypsy, site the Gypsys,let their horses stroll in the burial ground and sh@t on the Muslims graves,but the police tried to stop them,were accused of being anti gypsy

      3. Jim Denham says:

        James says “of course most Zionists are not Jews and most Jews are not Zionists”: really?

        Since 1948 the only coherent definition of “Zionism” has been support for the right of the state of Israel to exist. That may mean in pre-1967 form or not, as the case may be. It may mean support for various Israeli governments, or not. It may mean support for settlements of not. It may mean support for Palestinian rights or not. It includes both the left peace movement Gush Shalom and the ultra right in Israel. Internationally, it includes the overwhelming majority of Jews of both left and right, except for a few ultra-orthodox religious Jews who oppose the existence of Israel of religious grounds and a handful of people influenced by Tony Cliff and or the failed bi-national movement.

        1. James Martin says:

          Really? Well blow me, I’ve been a ‘Zionist’ all along and have never noticed. The PLO too then are also ‘Zionist’, but that will come as something of a shock to them, are you going to tell them Jim, or do you want me to?

          But why stop there, as surely this logic also means that those of us who campaigned against South African Apartheid and the transformation (but not destruction) of South Africa were actually apartheid supporters all along as we didn’t deny the right to exist of South Africa. This is amazing stuff, revolutionary even!

          But it is utter nonsense of course, and to try and claim that supporting Israel’s right to exist (which is inherent two-state position of the PLO and many on the left) makes you a ‘Zionist’ is distasteful at best, but of course an actual Zionist like Jim Denham knows this very well.

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            Isn’t this exchange between you and JimD a good example of why maybe we should stop using the term ‘zionist’ altogether?

            I think what JimD did was to define it extremely widely (possibly in order to show that it’s not a useful term, I’m not sure). And then you respond by calling him a ‘zionist’.

            I think the term is not useful and, I also think there are some – not contributors on here I hasten to add – who use the term in a derogatory way as a euphemism for ‘jew’.

          2. Jim Denham says:

            “Well blow me, I’ve been a ‘Zionist’ all along”… precisely.

            On this issue, if nothing else, I agree with Karl.

          3. Jim Denham says:

            ” and to try and claim that supporting Israel’s right to exist (which is inherent two-state position of the PLO and many on the left) makes you a ‘Zionist’ is distasteful at best,”: so give us your definition of “Zionism” then, James.

    2. John P Reid says:


  10. Karl Stewart says:

    Anti-semitism has nothing whatsoever to do with socialism. It’s a right-wing, fascist ideology.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Fascism isn’t right win,g, even though theNazis were right wing ,big Business, funding them, Volkswagon etc,
      Fascism is suppression of democracy,so can be left wing as well
      But racism is anti semticism,it’s possible to be racist and not a fascist,Enoch Powell for example,

  11. David Pavett says:

    Let’s keep it simple because it really is simple.

    If negative assumptions are made about someone with Jewish heritage on no other grounds than that heritage or if any questionable or objectionable behaviour is explained as a direct and inevitable result of that heritage then we are dealing with anti-Semitism. It is a failure to treat the someone as a person in their own right on the grounds of their background. It is the same with all racism.

    Please note that none of this has anything to do with Zionism or Israel. It is always unhelpful to confuse those issues. Systematic confusion about this can even itself be a sign of anti-Semitism.

    I agree that John McDonnell went over the top in response to Marr but that is a reflection of the poor level of discussion and understanding within the LP about racism and ethnic/religious minorities.

    I think that Kenan Malik contributed significantly to discussion with his books Strange Fruit and From Fatwa to Jihad. I would really like there to be a discussion based on these texts.

    1. James Martin says:

      Yes David, but the problem is that we cannot keep it this simple because of what supporters of Israel (including the Board of Deputies that Mcdonnell has suggested he will now be guided by) have done in linking criticism of it to anti-Semitism, and which is now the official UK government position. If you don’t believe me take a look at this from Eric Pickles and the FCO last week:

      In particular how do socialists view the statement that “such [anti-Semitic] manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” which could have been written by Netanyahu himself (and possible was in fact)? Or what about “[D]enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”, does this mean that when we expose racist treatment of Palestinian Arabs inside Israel and the occupied territories we are being ‘anti-Semitic’, and what legal threat does that then hold? And does “[D]rawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” mean that it is now illegal to refer to Gaza or the dividing walls and military watch towers as ghetto-like prisons created by Israel? Because you see this is the *actual* reason for this manufactured hullabaloo of Labour Party anti-Semitism, it is to both undermine Jeremy and also future criticism of Israel by linking it to anti-Semitism as Pickles has now openly done, and this is the reason why the latest potential victim of what appears to be an ongoing witch-hunt against socialists inside the Labour Party is a Jewish activist from Brighton whose writings against Zionism have led him to be branded ‘anti-Semitic’ by the right-wing media and the likes John Mann. The dangers here are very real indeed, and we cannot deal with them by simplistic arguments any more I’m afraid.

      1. David Pavett says:

        James, I think that it IS simple. We mustn’t allow Conservatives like Pickles to cloud the issues.

        The Pickles definition of anti-Semitism is not acceptable precisely because it isn’t simple and smuggles in political judgements. Your response seems to be to accept that it is complicated because people like him try to make it so. We should reject his definition because it complicates the issue by introducing matters of political judgement into the concept of ant-Semitism. Many on the left want to respond to the Pickles approach using the same terms but reversing some of the judgements. This is horribly mistaken.

        Pickles claims that it is ant-Semitic to question that people of Jewish origin have a right to “self-determination”. One only has to think about such a “right” applied to various ethnic and religious groups to see how untenable it is. It is possible to argue for and against the idea that special considerations apply to people of Jewish origin in this respect but the point is that it is arguable. That argument cannot legitimately be reasonably resolved by the declaration of a so-called “right”.

        Logical slippage is taking place here. Pickles connects anti-Semitism with views about Israel. It is true that a certain type of criticism of Israel can be evidence of anti-Semitism but it a question of symptom (such criticism) and cause (the anti-Semitism). It is a mistake to try to build the symptoms into the concept of the cause. That is what Pickles does and some on the left want to respond by doing the same thing but with a different judgement about the symptoms. This is equally confused and confusing. The definition of anti-Semitism is simple and it has nothing to do with Israel or Zionism. Conflating it with those issued should be strongly resisted. If person X claims that person Y is money-grabbing because as a Jew he or she is bound to be so then that is anti-Semitic and no knowledge of Israel or Zionism is required to see that.

        There is a certain type of defence of Israel which bats away criticism by describing it as anti-Semitic even when there are no grounds for the claim. It is a second logical slippage to respond by accepting that the two issues are inherently connected. They are not. This is akin to another logical slippage which usually passes unnoticed (including on the left) in which ‘white minority rule’ is said to have been replaced by ‘black majority rule’. It is worth noting that this expression was not used by the ANC in its struggle against apartheid. The true opposite of white minority rule is majority rule and not black majority rule. Use of the latter expression demonstrates a desire to overcome racism without having yet managed to completely dispense with racist thinking.

        I remain convinced that clarity on issues of racism, including anti-Semitism, can only be achieved by keeping the key ideas simple. There are matters for which even the basic ideas are difficult and complicated. This is not one of them. By keeping it simple we will be more effective in dealing with the attempts to use this issue to undermine Corbyn. The last discussion thread on Left Futures (now deleted) was a perfect example of how not to do that. This thread has been a big improvement on that.

        P.S. On another matter, it is possible to describe the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians while avoiding the word “Nazi”. All things considered, I think that it makes good sense to do so.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          If it was possible to address the problem of anti-semitism without touching at all on the subject of the state of Israel, then that would make life a great deal more straightforward.

          Absolutely everyone – apart from a tiny number of completely marginalised nazi headbangers – would be in full agreement in condemning it absolutely.

          However, one cannot wish away the serious issues raised by the state of Israel, its history, the reasons it came into existence, and the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.

          So much of this arises from the historic, collective history of the Jewish people and of the collective history of the Arab and Palestinian people.

          I do think that there is a genuine and completely reasonable justification for a nation-state for a people who, throughout history, have been the oppressed scapegoats in so many nations, facing progroms repeatedly and of course the genocide of their almost total destruction, as a people under the fascists and the Nazis.

          A safe place, a nation of their own, is reasonable and is an idea I do certainly agree with and support.

          But that doesn’t mean I don’t also wholeheartedly condemn the illegal and brutal occupation of the West Bank, because the Palestinian people also deserve to have a nation-state of their own, as a people who have historically suffered imperialist conquest and rule and are today suffering occupation and oppression as a people.

          My view, for what it’s worth, is that I broadly support the underlying principles of the post WWII UN partition plan, which provided for both of these outcomes.

          So, when Jewish people hear others argue that their nation-state should not exist, then although in many instances – indeed in the vast majority of instances – those arguing this view do not hold anti-Jewish prejudices, I do appreciate that many Jewish people, who may well also be completely opposed to the West Bank occupation, may well feel that this is an attack on them, as a people, or at least an under-appreciation of their history.

          1. David Pavett says:

            I disagree with most of your points in your latest reply. There is not space to deal with them here. So I will just point you to the analyses of Shlomo Sand (e.g. The Invention of the Jewish People)and Maxime Rodinson (e.g. Israel – A Colonial-Settler State?) with which I am in agreement. It seems that I am not explaining my point clearly enough because you are replying to something else. So I will state it one last time.

            I do not for a moment want to wish away the issues raised in connection with Israel. Those issues however have nothing to do with the nature of anti-Semitism (even if they effect the forms that it takes) which must be defined completely independently of whatever Israel does. They are different issues and should not be conceptually confused.

          2. Karl Stewart says:

            DavidP, the reality is that, every time the issue of anti-Semitism comes under discussion, that discussion always moves onto the terrain of Israel, the Middle East and related issues.

            Whether this should or should not happen is rather like arguing whether it should or should not rain.

            It does happen, and it happens every single time the subject is raised.

          3. Karl Stewart says:

            Thanks for the two book references by the way DavidP.

            I haven’t read either work – although I’m aware of the Sands book and some of the debate around it.

            I’ll try to get them from my local library.

          4. David Pavett says:

            @Karl Stewart. If someone is attacked on no other grounds than that he/she is Jewish then I want to deal with that as a case of anti-Semitism and I do not want to hear anything about Israel or Zionism.

  12. Chris says:

    You know and I know that there is no antisemitism in the Labour Party.

    There are various groups of anti-Semites in the world: neo- Nazis and white nationalists, Islamists, at least some traditionalist Catholics.

    None of those groups are present in the Labour Party in any numbers.

    We all know that accusations of antisemitism against the left are a tactic used by apologists for Likud in order to undermine critics of the Israeli government, so why do we play this game? Why do we pretend to take accusations against our comrades seriously when we know they are false?

    1. John P Reid says:

      So Stalin wasn’t a anti Semite or Joe Kennedy,or Walt Disney

      1. peter willsman says:

        Chris has made a good point.I have been in our Party for nearly 50 years and can’t recall any anti semitism.Two prats keep being mentioned,as if that means anything in a Party of 400,000.I’m sure we have at least two prats who think the world is flat or the moon is made of cheese.What the Nazis did was the greatest evil and crime in the history of the human race and it should never,ever,be forgotten or downplayed.When Israel was governed by the Labour Party there was a lot of support in our Party and little effort to probe too deeply.It has, especially, been the illegal settlements and the awareness that Israel does not treat it’s citizens equally that has led to a change of attitude towards their Gov’t.and increased support for the oppressed Palestinians.This change has nothing at all to do with the religion of said Gov’t.

        1. John P Reid says:

          I recall Labour Party conferences in the early 80’s saying Zionism was racism, I recall some quite left wing Labour Party member Jews,who received anti semeticism, not just because they supported Israel at conference,
          Maybe you just weren’t looking

        2. Jim Denham says:

          There are three difficulties, three confusions and obfuscations, that stand in the way of rational discussion of what is meant by “left-wing anti-semitism”.

          The first is that left-wing anti-semitism knows itself by another and more self-righteous name, “anti-Zionism”. Often, your left-wing anti-semite sincerely believes that he or she is only an anti-Zionist, only a just if severe critic of Israel.

          The second is that talk of left-wing anti-semitism to a left-wing anti-semite normally evokes indignant, sincere, and just denial – of something else! “No, I’m not a racist! How dare you call me a racist?”

          No, indeed, left-wing anti-semites are not always (or even usually) personally racist (though some I’ve met are). There was anti-semitism before there was 20th-century anti-Jewish racism. And there is still anti-semitism of different sorts, long after disgust with Hitler-style racism, and overt racism of any sort, became part of the mental and emotional furniture of all half-way decent people, and especially of left-wing people.

          Left-wingers are people who by instinct and conviction side with the oppressed, the outcasts, those deprived of human rights, the working class, the labour movement. We naturally side against the police, the military, and the powerful capitalist states, including our “own”. We are socially tolerant; in contrast to the “hang ‘em, flog ‘em, build more jails” types, we look to changing social conditions rather than to punishment to deal with crime — we are people who want to be tolerant, consistent democrats. Confused some such people may be, racists they are not (with a few exceptions).

          The third source of confusion and obfuscation is the objection: “You say I’m an anti-semite because I denounce Israel. I’m not anti-Jewish when I denounce Israel, but anti-Zionist”. And sometimes, at this point, you get the addition: “By the way, I am myself Jewish”.

          The objector continues: Israel deserves criticism. Even the harshest criticism of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza, and of Israel’s long-term treatment of the Palestinians, is pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist, not anti-semitic. To equate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is just crude and hysterical Zionist apologetics.

          No, “left-wing anti-semitism” emphatically does *not* mean political or social criticism of Israel or of the policies of Israeli governments. Certainly, not all left-wing critics of Israel or “Zionism” are anti-semites, even though these days all anti-semites, including the right-wing, old-fashioned, and racist anti-semites, are self-procalimed “anti-Zionists”.

          Israel frequently deserves criticism. Israel’s policy in the Occupied Territories, the settlements and its general treatment of the Palestinians deserve outright condemnation. The oppressed Palestinians need to be politically defended against Israeli governments and the Israeli military. The only halfway equitable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a viable, independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel, needs to be argued for and upheld against Israeli power.

          Solidarity condemns Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. We must defend the Palestinians and champion an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.

          The difference here between left-wing anti-semites and honest critics of Israel — a category which includes a very large number of Israeli Jews as well as Israeli Arabs — is a straightforward one of politics, of policy.

          The left-wing anti-semites do not only criticise Israel. They condemn it outright and deny its right to exist (“absolute anti-Zionism”). They use legitimate criticisms, and utilise our natural sympathy with the Palestinians, not to seek redress, not as arguments against an Israeli government, an Israeli policy, or anything specifically wrong in Israel, but as arguments against the right of Israel to exist at all. Any Israel. Any Jewish state in the area. Any Israel, with any policy, even one in which all the specific causes for justly criticising present-day Israel and for supporting the Palestinians against it have been entirely eliminated.

          The root problem, say the left-wing anti-semites, is that Israel exists. The root “crime of Zionism” is that it advocated and brought into existence “the Zionist state of Israel”.

          Bitterly, and often justly, criticising specific Israeli policies, actions, and governments, seemingly championing the Palestinians, left-wing anti-semites seek no specific redress in Israel or from Israel, demanding only that Israel should cease to exist or be put out of existence.

          They often oppose measures to alleviate the condition of the Palestinians short of the destruction of Israel. Thus the petitions and chants on demonstrations: “Two states solution, no solution!”

          Why is the drive and the commitment to destroy Israel anti-semitism, and not just anti-Zionism?

          Because the attitude to the Jewish nation in Israel is unique, different from the left’s attitude to all other nations; and because of the ramifications for attitudes to Jews outside Israel. Apart from a few religious Jews who think the establishment of Israel was a revolt against God, and some Jews who share the views of the one-state leftists whom we are discussing here, those Jews outside Israel instinctively identify with and support Israel, however critically. For the left-wing anti-semite they are therefore “Zionists”, and proper and natural targets of the drive to “smash Zionism”.

          The attitude of the “anti-Zionist” left to Israel brings with it a comprehensive hostility to most Jews everywhere – those who identify with Israel and who defend its right to exist. They are not just people with mistaken ideas. They are “Zionists”.

          In colleges, for example, where the anti-Zionist left exists side by side with Jewish students, this attitude often means a special antagonism to the “Zionist” Jews. They are identified with Israel. They, especially, are pressured either to denounce Israel, to agree that it is “racist” and “imperialist” and that its existence is a crime against the Arabs — or else be held directly and personally responsible for everything Israel does, has done, or is said to have done.

          In such places, where the left “interfaces” with Jews, the logic of the unique attitude to Israel takes on a nasty persecuting quality. In the past that has taken the form of attempting to ban Jewish student societies. Non-Jews who defend Israel’s right to exist are not classified in the same category.

          But is the attitude of the “absolute anti-Zionists” to Israel really unique? There are seeming similarities with left attitudes to one or two other states — Protestant Northern Ireland, apartheid South Africa, or pre-1980 white-ruled Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) — but the attitude to Israel is unique, because the reality of Israel cannot properly be identified with Northern Ireland, apartheid South Africa, or white Rhodesia.

          In apartheid South Africa and white Rhodesia a minority lorded it over the big majority of the population, exploiting them. Israel is a predominantly Jewish state consisting of all classes. The Jewish nation does not subsist, and never has subsisted, on the exploitation of Arab labour, or depended in any essential way on such exploitation.

          The general left hostility to the Northern Ireland Protestants — who are not exploiters of Catholic labour, and who are the compact majority, if not of the Six Counties, then of the north-east half of the Six Counties — is the closest to the attitude to Israel.

          But it is not widely believed on the left that the Northern Ireland Protestant-Unionists simply have no right to be there. The right of the Jews to “be there” is denied in those sections of the left that we are discussing. The organisation of Jewish migration to Palestine — that was the root “crime” of Zionism, of which the “crime” of establishing Israel was only a further development. The “solution” is not only to undo and abolish Israel, but to reverse Jewish “migration” — which now includes people born there, to parents born there — and to roll the film of Middle-Eastern history backwards.

          The prerequisite for left-wing anti-semitism is the catastrophic decline in the culture of the left over the last decades, a decline which allows people who want to be socialists to chant “Sharon is Hitler, Israel is Nazi” and similar nonsense without checking on the words. The specific framework within which what we have been describing exists, and without which it probably couldn’t exist in these “left-wing” forms, is the poisonous and systematic misrepresentation and falsification of the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict and of the Jewish people in the 20th century.
          In real history, Jews fled to Palestine, where a small Zionist colony and a small pre-Zionist Jewish community already existed, from persecution in Europe in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In the 1930s and 40s they fled for their lives from Nazism, which killed two out of every three Jews alive in Europe in 1939, in a world in which no non-persecuting state would let them, or enough of them, in.

          They fled to the existing Jewish national minority in Palestine (a long-established minority which, though small, was for example the majority in Jerusalem in 1900).

          While Hitler was organising mass slaughter, Britain shut out Jews from Palestine, interning those who tried to enter. Overloaded, unseaworthy boats carrying illegal cargoes of Jews sank in the Mediterranean trying to get to Palestine (for example, the Struma, in which over 700 people died).

          Israel was set up by those Jews on licence from the UN, which stipulated two states in Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab. When the state of Israel was declared in May 1948, the surrounded Arab states invaded. States like Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt were then British-dominated, and some of the armies were staffed by British officers.

          The Israelis defended themselves and won. In the war three quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs were driven out or fled; in the same period and afterwards, about 600,000 Jews were expelled from or fled Arab countries.

          In the Arab invasion of 1948, the Arab-Palestinian state was eliminated. Most of its territory went to Jordan, and fell under Israeli control in the war of 1967. That was a tremendous tragedy that will only be redressed when an independent Palestinian state takes its place alongside Israel.

          This complex and tragic history is presented by the “absolute anti-Zionist” left as a conspiracy of Zionism, conceived of as a demonic force outside history. It is not rare to find “left anti-Zionists” arguing that this Jewish-Zionist conspiracy was so all-powerful that it was able even to manipulate Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust in which six million Jews died (see the play by the veteran Trotskyist Jim Allen, Perdition, of which Ken Loach planned a performance at a London theatre in 1987).

          The core idea, the root of modern left-wing anti-semitism, is that Israel, in one way or another, is an illegitimate state; and that therefore, in one way or another, it should be done away with. If its citizens will not be the first in history to voluntarily dismantle their nation-state and make themselves a minority in a state run by those whom they have had to fight for national existence; if they will not agree to voluntarily dismantle Israel and create a “secular democratic Arab state”, in which Israeli Jews can have religious but not national rights – then they must be overwhelmed and compelled to submit or flee by the Arab states, now or when they are strong enough.

          Usually beginning with the benign-seeming proposal to sink Israel into a broader Arab-majority entity in which “everyone could live in peace”, the chain of logic rooted in the idea that Israel should not have come into existence, that it is an illegitimate state, leads directly — since Israel will not agree to abolish itself — to support for compulsion, conquest, and all that goes with it. Israel must be conquered.

          For instance, an increasingly-disoriented SWP (UK) could look to a Saddam Hussein to “free Palestine”, that is, conquer Israel.

          The point here is that states and nations are the products of history. There is no such thing as an illegitimate nation or a “bad people” which does not deserve the rights conceded to other peoples.

          The German socialist leader August Bebel, confronted by raucous denunciation of “the Jews” ludicrously depicting them as the epitome and embodiment of capitalism said of anti-semitism that it was “the socialism of the fools”.

          The anti-semitic left today, which depicts Israel as the hyper-imperialist power — either controlling US policy, or acting as its chief instrument, the story varies — is in the grip of an “anti-imperialism of the fools”. And that in practice leads to a comprehensive hostility to Jews not far from what Bebel called the socialism of fools.

          One of the great tragedies of today is that many young people, whose initial instincts to support the Palestinians are healthy, are being poisoned with “left-wing” anti-semitism through the “pro-Palestine” BDS and PSC movements and the so-called “Stop The War Coalition.”

          “Left-wing anti-semitism” is, in short, a comprehensive hostility to most Jews alive, branding them as “Zionists” and seeing that description as akin to “racist” or “imperialist”. It excepts only those Jews who agree that Israel is racist imperialism in its most concentrated essence, and oppose its continued existence.

          The general antidote to this anti-imperialism of fools is the propagation of rational democratic and socialist politics. Such politics focus on a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They measure and criticise Israel — and the Arab states — according to their stand in relation to that just solution — the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            Wow! Powerful and well-argued analysis. Very thought-provoking indeed.

            (Mind you, I still think you spout a load of crap about the EU and other issues!)

  13. James Martin says:

    What a poor historian Jim Denham is. So many words and yet the Irgun terror organisation is not mentioned once. Nor the Deir Yassin massacre, where not only were nearly all the Arab villagers massacred, the survivors that included women and children were then paraded through the streets of Jerusalem were they were stoned and spat at before being tortured and killed. How any ‘socialist’ can mention this period without once mentioning the Nakba by name is telling, and it is why the colonial nature of Israeli military occupation and the racist settlers (akin to the Pied-Noir in French colonial Algeria) is something that a right-wing Zionist like Jim Denham will never face up to.

  14. Jim Denham says:

    ” a right-wing Zionist like Jim Denham …” I think you’ve just exposed your own prejudice, Mr Martin: now try answering some of my factual points, if you please.

    1. James Martin says:

      I have answered your twisting of history, but here is a very simple question for you: Given your previously stated association with the right-wing US occupation of Iraq supporting AWL do you share that sect’s disgraceful opposition to the Palestinian right to return? Bearing in mind the right of return is supported by numerous UN resolutions and something the UN describes as an ‘inalienable right’. Yes or no?

      1. Jim Denham says:

        FACT, Mr Martin: the AWL did not, and never has supported “the occupation of Iraq”, so you’re either ignorant or a lair on that.

        No, we do not simply support the “right of return” intended to end the existence of Israel, but *do* support a democratic, negotiated right of Palestinians (and their families) who were displaced in 1948 to return to their homes in Israel.

  15. prianikoff says:

    It’s not entirely consistent for John McDonnell to condemn anti-semitism within the Labour Party, while remaining silent about the meetings that took place between Labour politicians and the Ukrainian politician Andriy Paruiby last October.

    During his visit, Parubiy, a co-founder of the “Social National Party of Ukraine” (later called Svoboda) met with the Labour peer Lord Robertson , and the Labour MP’s Chris Bryant (the Shadow leader of the Commons) and Stephen Pound.

    Concerns about Paruiby’s visit were expressed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust, since Svoboda’s leadership have a record of anti-semitism and nazi collaborationist politics.

    In 2014 Paruiby became the leader of the “Euro-Maidan” Defence forces and subsequently the Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, before he was made a vice-speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament.

    John McDonnell can’t claim ignorance of the facts
    because on March 10th 2014, he hosted a meeting at the House of Commons at which the Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko was a co-speaker.

    An expert on the Maidan protest movement, Ishchenko has recently published a detailed study on the far-right’s role in the protests in 2014.

    Ishchenko argues that:-
    “the data indicate that the far right Svoboda party was the most active collective agent in Maidan protest events, while the Right Sector was the most active group in Maidan confrontation and violence. Protests with the participation of the far right were not isolated events on the margins of larger ‘peaceful and democratic’ protest…. “

    John McDonnell should pay careful attention to the conclusions of this study and draw the necessary conclusions.

  16. Jim Denham says:

    A comparison between Israel and the Palestinians, and Turkey and the Kurds is very apposite, and more should be said about it.

    Turkey as a modern state was built on two rounds of ‘ethnic cleansing’ – first of Armenians, during the First World War, then of Greeks, just afterwards. This is only thirty years or so earlier than the creation of Israel. As far as I am aware pretty much nobody thinks the restoration of Armenian land in Turkey, or the giving back of Izmir (Smyrna) to the Greeks, are necessary democratic demands.

    I guess the retrospective-left view of this is partly shaped by the fact that Turkey at that time was also a kind of prototype ‘anti-imperialist’ nationalist state (at the same time as it slaughtered and expelled Greeks it was driving out especially French imperialism). But on one level it was the Ottoman state, which had collapsed, reconstituting itself. (The future Attaturk was the Ottoman military commander who inflicted the devastating Allied defeat at Gallipoli).

    But if someone was to suggest that Turkey was a state so illegitimate and so racist in its DNA as to have no right to exist, and that nothing short of the return of the descendants of Greeks and Armenians could be considered remotely acceptable, they’d be considered very strange.

    And yet such an argument is considered OK on much of the left, when it comes to Israel.

  17. David Pavett says:

    I thought about this some more and would like to offer the following distinction (which was only partially expressed in my contributions above).

    (1) When dealing with incidents of anti-Semitism only one thing is appropriate and that is deal with it as a case of racism and therefore as totally unacceptable. To introduce discussion of Zionism and or Israel into such a process is a distraction which itself is a sign of confusion which itself may be anti-Semitic.

    (2) When discussing the phenomenon of anti-Semitism it is legitimate to discuss the misuse of the term, including its use to suggest that someone is, or may be, anti-Semitic on no other grounds than his or her criticism of Zionism and/or the policies of the Israeli government.

    Racism, including anti-Semitism, can never be justified, or regarded as anything other than totally unacceptable, by reference to anything done by, or in the name of, the people against whom it is directed.

    Unfounded accusations of racism, including that of anti-Semitism, are always unacceptable and are harmful to the cause of anti-racism.

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