The furore over alleged antisemitism in Labour is a smear on the party’s left and an attempt to delegitimise criticism of Israel, argues Reuben Bard-Rosenberg
In recent weeks, the real and serious issue of antisemitism has been cynically instrumentalised by people, inside and outside Labour, with an interest in destabilising the party’s left wing leadership.
Let us be clear: antisemitism is not a phantom invented by those with an axe to grind. It is an old and real hatred. It would be remarkable if, in a party of several hundred thousand members, it was not possible to find a small number of members with antisemitic views, especially if sufficient resources are allocated to combing through social media accounts. Yet it does not follow from this that the Corbyn leadership has any truck with antisemitism, or that the far left – that part of the political spectrum that has been the most consistent in fighting all forms of racism – has some kind of peculiar affinity with antisemitism.
To simply state that “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” is valid and necessary but sometimes insufficient. It is valid in the sense that attacking a state and a political movement is quite simply not the same as attacking an ethnic or religious group. Yet it can sometimes be insufficient to confront the reality that the word “Zionist” does, on occasion, get deployed as a euphemism for Jew, and that fundamentally antisemitic sentiments are sometimes expressed under the cover of anti-Zionism. It is, for example, not unknown for “Zionists” to be blamed for things that are unrelated to Israel and Palestine such as the organisation of the world financial system.
Yet this is not the boundary that supporters of Israel and opponents of Corbyn have sought to draw in recent weeks. Rather we have seen attempts to suggest that opposition to Israel must remain moderate; that any kind of militant anti-Zionism bleeds into antisemitism.
It is not antisemitic to suggest that physical force colonialism requires a physical response, or to support the boycotting of Israeli goods. Nor does it take us beyond the pale to question Israel’s “right to exist” as a Jewish ethnic state – a reality that can only be maintained by racist border laws and a system of Apartheid.
Meanwhile sections of the Labour right who still control key parts of the party machine have used the opportunity to declare open season on the left: suspending even Jewish members of the party on spurious charges of antisemitism. In the case of one suspended Jewish activist, the authorities have refused to inform him of the allegations against him whilst simultaneously leaking snippets of the allegations to the Daily Telegraph.
As socialists we need to confidently argue our commitment to fighting antisemitism and all other forms of racism. But we also need to resist attempts to shift the boundaries of legitimate debate by those seeking to delegitimise militant anti-Zionism. And most importantly we need to recognise that issue of antisemitism is being exploited by those who are manoeuvring against the left – as individuals and as a political force – and to respond accordingly.
Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.