By now at least 20 members of the British Labor Party, all holders of political posts of one sort or another, are reported to have been suspended from the party against the background of anti-Semitic remarks. The numbers are certainly disturbing.
My automatic reaction to all manifestations of anti-Semitism anywhere in the world, and anti-Israeli demonstrations that go way beyond anything that may be justified by facts and figures, is “thanks for reminding me why I am a Zionist, despite my reservations about many social and political developments in my homeland.”
However, as an Anglophile who received six years of her education in the UK, my thoughts on these events clearly go much beyond the confirmation of my belief in the necessity of the Jewish state.
One of the aspects of the current affair which has drawn my admiration was the speed with which the Labor Party – which is currently being led by a man not particularly fond of Israel and who is known for having associated with numerous anti-Semites, though he himself is apparently not one – suspended the wayward members.
Indeed, some might take a cynical view and point out that the haste was dictated by fear of the negative ramifications on Labor’s performance in last Thursday’s local and municipal elections. However, it was done, whatever the motivation, and one cannot help comparing this to the total lack of reaction in the Likud, for example, to some scandalous anti-Arab remarks made by several of its MKs (including one deputy minister) in the Knesset plenum since the previous general elections.
But back to British anti-Semitism. I recall that as a student in the UK in the early 1960s I was taken by some Arab friends to a meeting of one of the Arab societies in London, where some of the most venomous words against Israel and the Jews were from non-Arab Brits. In fact, the Arab chairman of the society actually got up and disassociated himself from what one non-Arab British woman had said.
All anti-Semitism is inexcusable and condemnable, but there are certain manifestations of anti-Semitism that are more inexcusable and condemnable than others.
The fact that some of the individuals – both of Muslim and Christian origin – recently suspended from the Labor Party had accused Israel of being behind Islamic State (ISIS) and its horrific acts is the most contemptible. It is an accusation in the same category as that of Jews using the blood of Christian children to bake matzot, and those in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The problem is not only that there are people who have no qualms about consciously and deliberately inventing and spreading such accusations, but that there are many who are content to believe them.
Regarding the accusation that Israel is behind ISIS, this libel is especially despicable when it comes from the mouths and pens of Muslims. ISIS is an outgrowth of Islam, and thus a problem of Islam which Muslims must address, even though it affects others as well. The inclination of some Muslims to blame Israel and the Jews is not only a manifestation of anti-Semitism, but a manifestation of an apparent Muslim disinclination to take responsibility for the actions of co-religionists.
Though I do not deny that Israel bears some responsibility for the fact that the Palestinians have not gained political independence, the basic fact remains that the main reason the Palestinians do not have a state of their own is that they rejected out of hand the UN partition plan, which allocated a large portion of mandatory Palestine (a territory much larger than the West Bank and Gaza Strip) for an Arab state. How many Arab/Muslim children are taught this basic fact? I doubt whether any are. So now there is a new trend – to blame Israel and the Jews for ISIS.
But even if we leave libel aside, some of the remarks labeled as anti-Semitic had as much to do with ignorance as with contempt or even hatred for Israel and/or the Jews.
Take the remark of a Labor MP Naz Shah, who called for moving Israel to the United States. Certainly this statement was not based on philo-Semitism, though it might have seemed so for those who dream of Israel turning into the 51st state. But seriously, what does this comment mean? That Israel’s 6.3 million Jews should somehow be moved (by whom and how?) to the US, even though the vast majority of them didn’t originate in the US and around half of them are of Muslim country origin? And to be absolutely honest, aren’t there Israelis who over the years have advocated the transfer of the Palestinians from Israel – including Rehavam Ze’evi, whose heritage is currently part of our children’s curriculum? My own reaction was that Shah would do better to try a resolve the real problem of millions of Muslim refugees whom the Europeans do not want and whose status is the result of actions by fellow Muslims than advocate the breakup of the miraculous solution to the problem of millions of Jews, even though this solution admittedly contributed to the creation of the Palestinian problem.
The allegedly anti-Semitic statement by former London mayor Ken Livingstone is even more problematic.
That Livingstone detests Israel is an established fact. Whether he is an anti-Semite is another question, though his attempt to distinguish between Jews and Zionists has got him involved in many incidents that smack of anti-Semitism. However, his statement that Hitler supported Zionism before he “went mad and decided to kill six million Jews” smacks more bad taste than anti-Semitism.
The gentiles who over the years have supported Zionism have done so for a mixture of reasons, including the desire to get rid of the Jews, agreement with the Zionists that there is no other solution to the suffering of the Diaspora Jews, a belief that the return of the Jews to Israel will hasten the return of Jesus, etc.
As to what Livingstone said about Hitler, as he himself claimed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on October 20, 2015, before the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, that Hitler’s original intention was to expel the Jews, not kill them. True, Netanyahu didn’t say that Hitler supported Zionism, but if the British hadn’t decided to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine in the 1930s, certainly Hitler would not have objected to expelling them to Palestine – and for several years he actually supported the Haavara which enabled German Jews to move to Palestine and bring with them German-produced industrial equipment.
So the issue of anti-Semitism in the British Labor Party is a complicated one, and the reaction of the party to date has certainly been better than nothing. However, though it might put a stop to public manifestations of anti-Semitism in Labor, it will not solve the problem of the existence of anti-Semitism in the party, or in other parts of British society.
It will also not absolve us from admitting that some manifestations of what we call anti-Semitism can be found in our own society, only directed against the Palestinians – which was at least part of what Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan alluded to in his controversial speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day, for which he was accused himself of anti-Semitism.
The writer is a political scientist and a retired Knesset employee.