Israel flag. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Israel flag. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

While the Labour right try to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, Israel just enshrined apartheid into law argues Mark Porciani

In the year of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death and a day after Nelson Mandela would have turned 100, the Israeli State decided that a fitting tribute would be to enshrine in law the first Apartheid State of the 21st century.

The “nation-state” law passed by the Israeli Knesset stipulates that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it”. Following its 70 year anniversary celebrations that were supported by May and Trump, the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the silence from world leaders as unarmed Palestinian protesters demanding their right to return were shot dead by Israeli snipers, Netanyahu’s government clearly sees itself as being in a position to infringe Palestinian rights even further.

This would be no surprise to the late Palestinian-Jew Yigeal Gluckstein aka Tony Cliff. He was born into a family who were part of the first Zionist settlers. After a brief relationship with left Zionism, he broke from it in the 1930s. This was on account that the backbone of Zionism was racism towards Arabs. His socialist understanding of this subject shaped my own understanding.

Israel has long been practising apartheid with its ongoing brutal military occupation, the siege on Gaza and refusal to afford basic rights to the Palestinians it rules over, but now there can be no qualms that the Israeli State is officially a racist state via her own lawmaking. It is time for those in the Labour Party who believe any criticism of Israel is antisemitism to explain how we oppose this racism without a critique of Israel at the heart of it?

Labour’s NEC rightly passed an antisemitism code that differentiated between criticism of Israel and racist behaviour towards Jewish people. But the Labour right haven’t let that pass without trying to drag Corbyn through the mud. The Jewish Labour Movement accused the party of breaking the law by not including all the examples of the IHRA definition (which conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism) and a number of MPs took aim at Corbyn.

John Woodcock cited “tolerating antisemitism” as part of the reason he resigned from the Labour Party – not evading the investigation he’s under for sexual harassment. Dame Margaret Hodge viciously called Jeremy Corbyn a “f****** racist and antisemite”. The hypocrisy is clear as day when you remember that Margaret Hodge was supported by the BNP in arguing that British born people should be prioritised for council housing in 2007.

In light of Israel passing this clearly racist law straight out of apartheid South Africa and at the same time as children in Gaza are being killed by missiles dropped from F35s, how can Labour MPs that voted to adopt the IHRA definition, and have now pushed Labour into a new consultation on the matter, justify forcing the leadership to accept a definition of antisemitism that would stifle criticism of Israel?

The attacks on Corbyn, the false accusations being mounted against him and the push to stifle criticism of Israel are all part of the ongoing campaign against Corbyn, the left and the Palestine solidarity movement. The Labour right have made clear that far from legitimate concern for rising antisemitism (note none of them were present to oppose far-right Tommy Robinson supporters doing Nazi salutes outside Downing Street), they will not be satisfied unless Corbyn drops his principled support for Palestinian freedom or is removed from being leader of the Labour Party.

I came across the type of hostility Corbyn has experienced recently as a student. This was over 20 years ago. It is tragic that politicians and members of our mainstream media do not know how to grow up and have an adult debate on this subject. At a time like this, we can’t be defensive, we have to support Corbyn and put the question of Palestine front and centre.