anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: Jewish voices against the pro-Israel witch hunt

Ask yourself a simple, but serious, question. You go for a job interview. Which trait is most likely to work against you: if you’re ugly, if you’re fat, if you’re short, or if you’re Jewish? It’s perhaps a sad commentary on our society’s values, but the trait most likely to elicit a rejection letter is if you’re ugly. Then fat; then short. The factor least likely to work against you is, if you’re Jewish.

says American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein.

Finkelstein, who is the son of holocaust survivors, a leading authority on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and a fierce opponent of Zionism, was replying to questions about Labour’s alleged “antisemitism problem”. Asked about the current campaign against Corbyn, he continued:

The question you have to ask yourself is, why? Why has this issue been resurrected with a vengeance, so soon after its previous outing was disposed of as a farce? Is it because of a handful of allegedly antisemitic social media postings from Labour members? Is it because of the tongue-in-cheek map posted by Naz Shah? That’s not believable. The only plausible answer is, it’s political. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the factual situation; instead, a few suspect cases of antisemitism – some real, some contrived – are being exploited for an ulterior political motive. As one senior Labour MP said the other day, it’s transparently a smear campaign.

Finkelstein has chosen to break his silence on this latest pro-Israel witch hunt by giving an interview to Jamie Stern-Weiner. A transcript published May 3rd is available here.

He concludes the interview as follows:

Labour has now set up an inquiry that is supposed to produce a workable definition of ‘antisemitism’ – which is to say, to achieve the impossible. It’s been tried countless times before, and it’s always proven futile. The only beneficiaries of such a mandate will be academic ‘specialists’ on antisemitism, who will receive hefty consultancy fees (I can already see Richard Evans at the head of the queue), and Israel, which will no longer be in the spotlight. I understand the short-term political rationale. But at some point, you have to say, ‘enough already’. Jews are prospering as never before in the UK. The polls show that the number of, so to speak, hard-core antisemites is miniscule. It’s time to put a stop to this periodic charade, because it ends up besmirching the victims of the Nazi holocaust, diverting from the real suffering of the Palestinian people, and poisoning relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities. You just had an antisemitism hysteria last year, and it was a farce. And now again? Another inquiry? Another investigation? No.

In order to put an end to this, there has to be a decisive repudiation of this political blackmail. Bernie Sanders was brutally pressured to back down on his claim that Israel had used disproportionate force during its 2014 assault on Gaza. He wouldn’t budge, he wouldn’t retreat. He showed real backbone. Corbyn should take heart and inspiration from Bernie’s example. He has to say: no more reports, no more investigations, we’re not going there any more. The game is up. It’s long past time that these antisemitism-mongers crawled back into their sewer – but not before humbly apologising to Naz Shah, and begging her forgiveness.

It is true that Bernie Sanders’ response is an exemplary one, but we should of course bear in mind that he is a Jewish candidate. This provides immunity (at least to some extent – though not entirely as we shall see) from spurious charges of antisemitism.

Incidentally, the published interview was afterwards appended with the following clarification:

Readers have expressed shock at the scandalous remarks attributed to Jonathan Freedland. Finkelstein decided to amend the paragraph so as to quote Freedland word-for-word. Readers will now perhaps be even more shocked.

Here’s what Finkelstein said that caused such a furore:

You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn. Incidentally, when my book, The Holocaust Industry, came out in 2000, Freedland wrote that I was ‘closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it’. Although he appears to be, oh, so politically correct now, he didn’t find it inappropriate to suggest that I resembled the Nazis who gassed my family.

We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work. Why should anyone get agitated? Later, on the program, it was pointed out that the Guardian, where he worked, had serialised The Holocaust Industry across two issues. He was asked by the presenter, if my book was the equivalent of Mein Kampf, would he resign from the paper? Of course not. Didn’t the presenter get that it’s all a game?

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkelstein’s scathing rebuke of all accusations of latent racism within the Labour Party, including those levelled at Ken Livingstone.

*

Naz Shah has been hung out to dry today. She has confessed, recanted and repented. Her shame is absolute. She has had the Labour Party whip withdrawn and people like the rapidly moving rightwards airhead, Owen Jones, was in the vanguard of the witch hunt calling for her suspension John McDonnell was right to swiftly force Naz Shah’s resignation – but now the party has to suspend her. All we need is the scaffold and then she could literally be hung out to dry.

writes founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Tony Greenstein, who has also written a number of articles for the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’, before “being censored because he rejected the idea that comparing Zionism and the Israeli State to the Nazis was anti-Semitic.”

Greenstein continues:

Indeed Naz Shah has confessed to her comments being anti-Semitic. Isn’t that enough proof? No. The defendants in the Stalin purge trials also confessed to being Trotsky’s agents and more. It is perfectly possible to create a psychological atmosphere such that people will confess to all manner of things, even though they are not guilty. Police interrogators have, throughout the years, been quite skilled in obtaining false confessions without the need to beat people up or torture them.

So let me say it here – there is nothing anti-Semitic in what Naz Shah has said. She made what was quite a flippant humorous joke in the midst of something that was anything but funny – the merciless use of American planes, white phosphorous and the most modern missiles and rocket technology against a people who had nothing except pea crackers to fire back with (the ‘rockets’ that Israel used as a pretext for the bombardment and invasion). Let us not forget that 2,200 people were murdered in Gaza including 551 ‘terrorist’ children.

He adds:

The anti-Semitism talked about today is nothing more than an attempt to defend Israel. It has nothing to do with actual anti-Semitism. Zionists (no it’s not a term of abuse it means those who defend the State of Israel – they do after all have a World Zionist Organisation) find it difficult to defend incarceration and torture of children as young as 12 (if they are Palestinian). Jewish children of course can’t be locked up unless they are at least 14 and they have social workers and parents accompanying them unlike Palestinian children who are kept in solitary confinement, beaten and worse. It is difficult defending a system where 93% of Israeli land is reserved wholly for Jewish use. It is much better to cry ‘anti-Semitism’ and attack the messenger rather than the message.

What is happening is that the millions of pounds that the Israeli government has devoted to propaganda is being spent now to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn and the new Labour leadership.  They are hunting down every tweet, email etc. in order to create an atmosphere of permanent instability. I know because tweets I have issued have been taken totally out of context to suggest I am anti-Semitic. If someone calls me a ‘self-hater’anti-Semite’ etc. I will accuse them of being ‘zio scum’ or whatever. Anti-Semitic? Get a life.

Greenstein is another to have been caught up in the recent witch hunt, when he was prominently featured in an article published by The Telegraph on April 1st entitled “Activist who derides critics as ‘Zionist scum’ admitted to Labour in latest anti-Semitism scandal to hit the Party”. The piece very studiously avoids any mention of the rather glaring fact that Greenstein is from an Orthodox Jewish family, although at the end a clarification has since been added that “we have been asked to make clear that we had not intended to imply that Tony Greenstein is anti-Semitic. We are happy to do so.”

Click here to read more from Tony Greenstein’s extended piece entitled “Naz Shah – More False Allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ – British Jews are NOT oppressed: This is a Bogus Campaign Worthy of Stalin’s Purges”

*

As the witch hunt gathered pace, the Jewish Socialists’ Group issued a formal statement. Thanks to social networking forums it quickly gathered a sizeable audience across the internet. However the corporate media turned an immediate blind eye instead.

I recommend reading the full statement, but here is a flavour:

Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm a supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally. […]

The attack is coming from four main sources, who share agendas: to undermine Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour; to defend Israeli government policy from attack, however unjust, racist and harmful towards the Palestinian people; and to discredit those who make legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy or Zionism as a political ideology. As anti-racist and anti-fascist Jews who are also campaigning for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians, we entirely reject these cynical agendas that are being expressed by:

  • The Conservative Party
  • Conservative-supporting media in Britain and pro-Zionist Israeli media sources
  • Right-wing and pro-Zionist elements claiming to speak on behalf of the Jewish community
  • Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour party.

[…]

The Jewish Socialists’ Group sees the current fearmongering about antisemitism in the Labour Party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents.

We stand against antisemitism, against racism and fascism and in support of refugees. We stand for free speech and open debate on Israel, Palestine and Zionism.

*

Concluding remarks:

Back in March, as the current witch hunt was just brewing, I posted an extended article entitled “anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: playing the race card cannot diguise Israel’s guilt”. As an epigraph, I quoted a dictionary definition of the word ‘racism’. My idea was to encourage readers to reflect on the strict meaning of the word so as to reach an appreciation that this has significantly drifted and, more importantly, been diluted.

On reflection the use of such a device was gauche and may have appeared sententious, although in light of what has since transpired my concern was surely a justifiable one. Indeed, the need to reclaim the word ‘racism’ is becoming an urgent one. Casually brandished by those whose sole purpose is to blacken the name of their opponents, its proper meaning is cheapened. This is an exceedingly dangerous game. For words very often act as safeguards against the gravest of our errors: ‘racism’ serves as just such a safeguard. We undermine its correct meaning at our collective peril.

*

Update:

Jackie Walker, Vice Chair of the grassroots movement Momentum that helped Jeremy Corbyn become party leader, is another Labour activist who was suspended over alleged antisemitic comments posted on social media.

Walker, who is a black activist of Jewish heritage and lifelong anti-racist campaigner as well as a signatory to Jews For Justice For Palestinians was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground on March 21st:

 

On May 21st, Walker was invited back on the show to speak about the charge of antisemitism against her and how the suspension has affected her life:

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