British Labour Party’s Anti-Semitism Document: Criticizing Israel Is not Anti-Semitism

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Moshé Machover discusses the advances and limitations of the Labour Party’s document on anti-semitism, which represents an important step forward to diffuse an issue that has become an artificial controversy designed to undermine Jeremy Corbyn

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Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert.

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn took the British Labour Party by storm in September of 2015, taking it in a more progressive direction, the old leadership has tried various tactics to try to delegitimize Corbyn in order to retake power. One of the main tools the conservatives in the party have used is to blame Corbyn and his supporters of anti-Semitism. Corbyn and the progressive Momentum movement within the Labour party openly demand an end to Israel’s occupation in Palestine. Conservatives within the Labour Party exploit the fact that not everyone understands the difference between the state of Israel and the Jewish people, and therefore frame every criticism of Israeli policy as anti-Semitism. Since then, many Labour Party members have been kicked out of the party over accusations of anti-Semitism, some of them justified and some not.

Also, after Al Jazeera published a documentary exposing the influence of the Israeli lobby on the Labour Party’s internal politics, the Labour Party has been severely weakened. This week, the Labour Party published a new document in order to lay the issue of anti-Semitism to rest. Pro-Israeli groups immediately attacked the new document because it does not stipulate that criticism of Israeli policy is a form of anti-Semitism.

Joining me now to discuss this is Moshe Machover. He is a member of the Labour Party who himself was kicked out of the party last year over false allegations of anti-Semitism, although he himself is Jewish. He was reinstated into the party after a major scandal ensued. Thanks for joining us today, Moshe.

MOSHE MACHOVER: Very nice to be with you, But I have to correct you on a couple of points. First of all, I was not expelled on the grounds of anti-Semitism. When I was expelled, on a completely different charge, they included in the letter expelling me an insinuation of anti-Semitism. This is quite typical, because a lot of the time people have been maligned as anti-Semitic with no proof whatsoever. Secondly, it was not only the conservatives within the party that are attacking him. It is sort of a joining together of conservatives and Zionists within the Labour Party, as well as the Conservative Jewish establishment, the self-proclaimed leadership of the Jewish community. And also forces without, I mean like the whole establishment.

And thirdly, it has not weakened the Labor Party, despite the best efforts. The Labor Party’s going strong. And in fact, although the attacks intensified before the latest elections to- local elections, to various local councils, and so on- Labour did very well in those elections. So these these attacks have been so far frustrated, but they are going on.

GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, thanks for those clarifications. So, regarding the document, do you think that the Labor Party took the right step by adopting this new document? And do you think that it will lay the issue of anti-Semitism to rest eventually? Also, how likely is it that the Labour Party will stand by the document, and not change it in the face of future pressure from its right wing?

MOSHE MACHOVER: The answers are yes, no, and maybe. Yes, it has taken the right step in the right direction, although the version that it adopted, the sort of code of conduct regarding the issue of anti-Semitism, is not perfect. It has one or two flaws, which we can discuss later. Your second question was how about how likely it is to stop the attacks. It will not stop the attacks, because they are they are motivated by animus of conservative anti-Corbynites within the party and without the party, in British society.

And unfortunately, I think after adopting a fairly good document, which is an advance on what the pro-Zionist, pro-Israel lobby demanded, it is better than what they demanded, it left the back door open, because it capitulated to pressure by saying they will go on discussing with pro-Israel groups, essentially the Israel lobby, how to improve the formulation that they adopted. So they are actually inviting the Israeli lobby to continue its pressure on the Labour Party instead of saying look, this is what we have adopted. That’s it. We stand by it. They left the back door open for further pressure.

GREG WILPERT: So, regarding some of the things that the document actually says, it considers, for example, that anti-Semitism to be a form of racism. This has been a clear message by progressive Jewish organizations around the world, which are working to build coalitions with other groups targeted by racism, such as Muslims and African-Americans and other groups. Why do Israeli groups attack this point so severely, insisting that anti-Semitism is actually not a form of racism?

GREG WILPERT: Well, I don’t think this is a major point either in the attacks. It is maybe an undercurrent, because the view of the pro-Israel lobby is that anti-Semitism is something sui generis. It is not like any other form of racism. It’s something, you know, like-. Just as they like to claim that the Holocaust, the genocide, in effect, of Jews under the Nazi regime in Europe is not- a genocide that cannot be compared or even even discussed in conjunction with other cases of genocide. But it is just something on its own. It’s a kind of object outside general history, shouldn’t be discussed in conjunction with any other genocide. This is, it’s to make Israel, in effect, something special, and Israel supporters something special. This is, this is part of their ideology.

But this is not the major line of the attack. The major line is that while adopting the really [faulty] and ambiguous definition of anti-Semitism associated with the IHRA, the International Holocaust Remembrance Association, Labour failed to adopt some of the examples that have been appended, associated with that definition, which explicitly conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, or disgust, attack on, on the Israeli Zionist regime.

And failing to, for those various parts of the Israeli lobby and the conservative establishment inside and outside the party, the main point is to ring fence Israel and the Zionist project to colonization against criticism. They are not really interested in anti-Semitism per se. This is not, this is not why they have, they made all these, you know, immense public campaign, part of which is motorized, or driven from Israel via the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, so-called. They know they’re not really interested in anti-Semitism.

For example, they don’t argue against Israel’s relations with the most anti-Semitic regimes in Europe. At the moment, while we are speaking, I think Orban, the anti-Semitic prime minister of Hungary, is visiting Israel on very friendly terms. So they don’t criticize this. They are not, I think, not really interested in anti-Semitism per se. They are interested in using or abusing accusations of anti-Semitism in order to ring fence Israel and its project of colonization.

GREG WILPERT: I want to turn to what effect this document might have within the party, though. Britain played a major role in creating the colonial legacy in Israel-Palestine with the Balfour Declaration and with military support for the state of Israel. But there are also Palestinian members of the Labour Party, such as Ghada Karmi, who demands a voice in the party just like everyone else. Does this new document protect against the creation of a different kind of racism or discrimination, that is, the silencing of Palestinian voices in the party?

MOSHE MACHOVER: I don’t think they can silence the, not only the Palestinian voices. It is not just the Palestinians. It is the vast majority of the membership of the Labour Party that is supportive of Palestinian rights and is very critical of Israel. This was evident in the party conference last year, in which the greatest applause during the speech that was made by the leader of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, the greatest applause and most enthusiastic was a sentence in which he supported the rights of the Palestinian people. So it’s not just the Palestinian people inside the party. There are very few, I mean, relatively speaking.

Listen. I mean, the Labour Party, following the ascension to leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, is a huge party. It is, its membership is about 600,000 people in a country like Britain, with roughly a population of 60 million people. It is a huge party. It is the largest party of any color in Western Europe. And its majority is vastly pro-Palestinian. There were several Jewish people who made speeches at the conference last year in support of Palestinian rights and in opposition to Israeli policies, and they got enormous applause. So within the party, the pro-Zionists and the Israel-worshippers are in a small minority.

GREG WILPERT: Finally, I just want to ask you about the role that all of this plays in British politics. That is, the Labour Party recently published a wide-ranging platform on issues ranging from education to defense, from environmental responsibility to health policy. How important is the issue of Israel-Palestine to British foreign policy, and how important is the issue of anti-Semitism to internal British politics that it takes such a major part of the political debate within the Labour Party?

MOSHE MACHOVER: To be honest with you, I think the general British electorate is, is not very much concerned one way or the other with Israel-Palestine. Perhaps it is not concerned enough, and it should be concerned in a proper way. It is not a major issue in the minds of most British people. It is artificially fomented, it is artificially raised by the said pro-Israel lobby within the party and the, the right-wing Jewish self-proclaimed leadership.

GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Moshe Machover, activist and writer on Israeli-Palestinian issues. Thanks for having joined us today, Moshe.

MOSHE MACHOVER: It’s a pleasure.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. Also, I’d like to remind you we are in the midst of our summer fundraiser, and need your help to reach our goal of raising $200,000. Every dollar that you donate will be matched. Unlike practically all other news outlets, we do not accept support from governments or corporations. Please do what you can today.