The truth behind the charge of anti-Semitism in Britain
By Ruth Tenne
The charge of anti-Semitism in the UK has resurfaced recently and is specifically directed against the Labour Party and the left.
However, this charge is not an altogether new phenomenon. Norman Finkelstein, a reputable Jewish academic, argued in his book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, (2005) that “a parallel distinction needs to be made between real anti-Semitism and the instrumentalisation of anti-Semitism by American (or other) Jewish elites”. He goes on to say that the “evidence of new anti- Semitism comes mostly from organisations directly, or indirectly, linked to Israel or having a material stake in inflating the findings of anti-Semitism”.
Meanwhile, the Jewish community in Britain has expressed growing concerns over a reported surge in anti-Semitism. This was followed by former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s assertion in 2006 that “anti-Semitism is spreading around the world in a kind of tsunami effect”.
In the course of my work with peace organisations in the UK I encountered… the phenomenon of “reverse anti-Semitism” – namely, being accused of being an anti-Semite by Jewish groups and individuals who could not tolerate the fact that a Jew, or an Israeli like myself, are prepared to criticise Israel’s policies and its treatment of the Palestinians.
As a result of these concerns, the Labour government in 2005 set up an All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism. The inquiry chose quite an open-ended definition of anti-Semitism whereby “a racist act is defined by its victim”. It took the broad view that “any remark, insult or act the purpose or effect of which is to violate a Jewish person’s dignity or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him is anti-Semitic”.
As a working definition, it used the one employed by the former European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which included manifestations against Israel, arising from the state being conceived as a “Jewish collectivity”. A follow-up paper issued by the British government in March 2007 took a similar view, stating that “current rhetoric about Israel and Zionism (from the far right to the far left and Islamic extremists alike) employs anti-Semitic motifs that are consistent with ancient forms of hatred towards Jews”.
Harassment and smears by pro-Israel groups
The reality, however, was quite different .Various forms of harassment by Israel’s apologists have been widespread in contemporary Britain. In the course of my work with peace organisations in the UK I encountered, along with my colleagues, the phenomenon of “reverse anti-Semitism” – namely, being accused of being an anti-Semite by Jewish groups and individuals who could not tolerate the fact that a Jew, or an Israeli like myself, are prepared to criticise Israel’s policies and its treatment of the Palestinians. In the light of my experience I felt compelled to make an unsolicited, personal submission to the All-Party Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism .This included the following points:
- For historical reasons, anti-Semitism is used solely to refer to the Jewish race. Yet, the definition of modern-day anti-Semitism may have a direct bearing on, or implications for, other religious and ethnic groups (who may also be part of the Semitic race). Therefore, an inquiry into anti-Semitism ought to be concerned with the manifestations of hatred and abuse directed at any religious or ethnic group (e.g. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs) and, consequently, embrace a much wider agenda.
- The all-embracing definition of anti-Semitism, as well as that of other religiously-motivated abuses, should be tightened up in order to prevent it being exploited as an emotional term which may trigger an outrage and highly charged statements by some interest groups (e.g. the Jewish community and Israel’s lobbyists on the one hand, and Muslim groups on the the other). That is to say, that the definition of anti-Semitism and of other religiously-motivated offences ought to be closely related to the existing Race Relations Act, which has long been seen as an integral part of British society and of its legal and law-enforcement bodies.
- The monitoring of anti-Semitism and other religious or race-hate incidents should be conducted in an objective and methodical way. Therefore, it has to be defined by precise categories referring to the type and severity of the abuse, e.g. hate-inciting public utterances as compared with malicious damage, arson and violent attacks against the members of a faith or ethnic group. Therefore, a public body should be set up to monitor and record all religious or race-aggravated offences rather than leave it to partisan groups which are set up by the community in question (e.g. the Jewish Community Security Trust).
I concluded my submission by saying that if the government chose to ignore the political and social marginalisation of the Muslim community, and to regard the views of Israel’s critics as an implicit form of anti-Semitism, it may face the danger of engendering a perilous and inexcusable rift in Britain’s pluralist society .
The truth behind current accusations of anti-Semitism
The recent rise of the left in the British Labour Party and the strong support of its new leadership for human rights and social justice for the Palestinians has triggered new charges of anti-Semitism, made by the Jewish community against members of the Labour Party. Some of those allegations attracted a great deal of sensational reports by the media , especially in the case of Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone.
Ms Shah is the new Labour MP for Bradford West. However, in August 2014, before she became an MP, she shared a post on Facebook which initially appeared on the blog of the Jewish American academic Norman Finkelstein, author of the book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History referred to above. The post showed an image of Israel’s outline superimposed onto a map of the US under the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States”, to which Ms Shah added the comment “problem solved”.
Ms Shah, who was only 19 years old at the time and had no official connection with the Labour Party, appeared to have been outraged, along with many human rights activists, by Israel’s military operation “Protective Edge” in Gaza, which had been launched in July 2014, only a few weeks before the Facebook post.
Ironically, perhaps, nearly 20 per cent of Israel’s population are Palestinians. This means that Ms Shah’s Facebook post would apply to the totality of the state of Israel, and therefore could not be regarded as anti-Semitic since it did not refer to a “Jewish collectivity” as defined by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s working definition of anti-Semitism referred to above. Yet, as result of growing public pressure, generated primarily by the pro-Israel lobby, and irrespective of her public apologies, Ms Shah has been suspended by the Labour Party, pending an investigation by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
Ken Livingston, a former London mayor and a member of Labour NEC, tried to defend Ms Shah. In a radio interview, he made a hurried reference to reported links between the early Zionist leadership and the German Nazis:
Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.
He went on to say, among other things:
There’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this.
Mr Livingston’s remarks could be seen as over the top and somewhat imprecise, but they were not far from the truth. A report published on the Jewish Virtual Library clearly states that
The Trust and Transfer Office Haavara Ltd was established in Tel Aviv, following an agreement with the German government in August 1933, to facilitate the emigration of Jews to Palestine by allowing the transfer of their capital in the form of German export goods… The Zionists saw this agreement as a way of attracting Jews to Palestine and thus rescuing them from the Nazi universe even if that meant cooperation with Hitler. For a time the Nazi programme of making Germany Judenrein [“clean of Jews] and the Zionist policy of seeking olim [“immigrants”] coincided.
Furthermore, Lenni Brenner, a reputable Jewish historian, had published two books, Zionism in the Age of Dictators and 51 Documents, which detail the illicit cooperation between Zionist leaders in Hungary and Nazi officials. In Zionism in the Age of Dictators, Mr Brenner describes in detail the deal made by the Hungarian Jewish leader Rudolf Kastner with the Nazis where he had been complicit in the murder of 450,000 Jews in return for transporting 600 prominent members of the Hungarian Jewish community to Palestine, including his own family.
As an Israeli-born citizen I well remember the trial of Katzner in Jerusalem where Judge Halevi in June 1955 ruled that Kastner’s
collaboration had crucially aided the Nazis in murdering 450,000 Jews and, after the war, he further compounded his offence by going to the defence of Becher.[a Nazi officer]…The Nazis’ patronage of Kastner, and their agreement to let him save six hundred prominent Jews, were part of the plan to exterminate the Jews. Kastner was given a chance to add a few more to that number. The bait attracted him. The opportunity of rescuing prominent people appealed to him greatly. He considered the rescue of the most important Jews as a great personal success, and a success for Zionism.
In summing up this gruesome deal, Mr Brenner convincingly argues that
by far the most important aspect of the Kasztner-Gruenwald affair was its full exposure of the working philosophy of the World Zionist Organisation throughout the entire Nazi era: the sanctification of the betrayal of the many in the interest of a selected immigration to Palestine.
Zionist lobby bullying of the Labour Party
Despite the full details of the reported links between Zionism and Nazism, it appears that in modern-day Britain the Zionist lobby still tries to muscle in so as to protect Israel’s interests in the name of anti-Semitism. It successfully forced the British Labour Party to yield to its considerable pressure by setting up a special inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. The inquiry, which is being chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, a barrister and former chair of Liberty, aims to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour in order to “establish guidance about the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and language”, and “develop clear and transparent compliance procedures for dealing with allegations of anti-Semitism and racism”.
Yet, it is appears that “other forms of racism” are mentioned in name only, whereas anti-Semitism appears to be the main focus of the inquiry. That may raise some concerns in the Muslim community whose members have seen a significant increase of Islamophobic incidents in 2015. It is hoped, therefore, that the Labour Party’s Inquiry into Anti-Semitism and other Forms of Racism would cover in equal measure allegations of Islamophobia and take on board the concerns of the Muslim community whose members are the main target of recent anti-Semitic allegations, and of Britain’s Prevent Strategy that became statute in 2015.
Would the Inquiry stands by its terms of references of recommending actions to “ensure that the Labour Party is a welcoming environment for members of all communities”?
The jury is still out.