Antisemitism: a problem of the left?
27 January this year marked 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz death camp, where over a million people, most of them Jewish, were brutally slaughtered as part of the mass extermination conducted by the Nazi regime. Recently Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, held the World Holocaust Forum that included 47 heads of state, world leaders and royals, under the title “remembering the Holocaust – fighting antisemitism”.
Socialist Struggle Movement Israel-Palestine
Out of 700 seats only 30 seats were allocated to holocaust survivors. This is a symptom of the way Holocaust survivors are treated in the capitalist state of Israel. 25% of Holocaust survivors live under the poverty line and must choose between heating and buying food.
Politicians who are backing far-right movements and inflaming xenophobia, encouraging the persecution of refugees and scapegoating of LGBT+ people, are speaking hypocritically about the `fight’ against antisemitism.
Jews faced centuries of similar and other severe forms of persecution and oppression in the years preceding the Holocaust. The Nazi genocide grew, in the context of fascist and capitalist counter-revolution in Europe, out of the historic persecution of Jews.
The issue of antisemitism is not just a historical matter.
In recent years, with the development of a serious capitalist crisis, there has been an increase in cases of antisemitic attacks, mostly in the US and Europe. The Anti-Defamation League reports a dramatic increase of recorded physical assaults in the year 2018, a year which saw one of the deadliest antisemitic attacks in the history of the US: the mass shooting in Pittsburgh synagogue, which resulted in the murder of 11 people.
Last year didn’t bring any improvement in security for Jewish people. Recentlyfour people were murdered at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City and two were murdered in a shooting in a synagogue in Halle, Germany.
However, while the definition for what should be regarded as antisemitic incidents may be sometimes controversial, it is important to mention that antisemitism shouldn’t be understood only as physical attacks but also as false perceptions and prejudice against Jews. Such prejudice may include views of Jewish people as wealthy and powerful with a lot of influence on the media and finance.
These views are found sometimes in conspiracy theories that claim that the Rothschild family controls the world. Whilst a tiny minority of Jews are capitalists, the overwhelming majority are not. Jewish people are just 0.2%-0.3% of the world population, a large part of whom live in Israel which has the second highest levels of child poverty in the OECD countries.
There is also a perception of Jews as ‘cosmopolitan’ – ‘a culture without a state’ – which contributes to Jewish people being seen by some in the countries they live in as foreigners and strangers. In some cases, Jews are regarded as ‘more loyal’ to Israel than the country they live in.
The Anti-Defamation League tested levels of antisemitism in 100 countries across the world, presenting participants with antisemitic stereotypes that see Jewish people as a homogenous group. Participants were asked whether they agree with them or not. In European countries excluding Eastern Europe, 24% agreed with a majority of the statements. An FRA (Fundamental Rights Agency) questionnaire which tested EU citizens who identify as Jewish showed high levels of insecurity. 89% said that they feel antisemitism has increased in their country in the last 5 years.
Antisemitism in the UK
Compared to other countries, at this stage levels of antisemitism in the UK are relatively low. However, Jews in the UK still face attacks and insecurity which must be taken seriously. The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that monitorsantisemitism in Britain, said there were 892 recorded incidents in the first six months of 2019 – a 10% increase compared to the same period last year. It is the highestnumber in this period since records began in 1984. In particular, it includes an increase of 25% in complaints about violent antisemitic assaults.
Genuine concern for Jewish people?
The issue of antisemitism was widely covered in Britain in recent years and especially during the general elections in 2017 and 2019.
In the capitalist media, Jeremy Corbyn was constantly accused of not addressing the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party and even of being antisemitic himself. There hasn’t been one single piece of serious evidence presented that shows Corbyn holds prejudice against Jews or sees them as a homogeneous bloc. Corbyn, a life-long anti-racist campaigner, has often spoken unequivocally against antisemitism.
Outrageously, some have sought to conflate the serious issue of antisemitism with any essential criticism of the policies of the right-wing capitalist Israeli state.
Corbyn has been involved in Palestine solidarity campaigns for decades. He spoke at protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people, spoke against the occupation and the siege on Gaza and participated in public meetings on this issue.
While some individuals hold reactionary prejudice against Jews in the context of opposition to the actions of successive Israeli governments against the Palestinians, the motivation behind the great majority of people participating in solidarity protests with Palestine is to fight back against the ongoing occupation and the siege on Gaza. In the last decade, the time in which the Palestine solidarity movement was at its peak was when the Israeli military was launching devastating attacks on Palestinians including three major military offensives that resulted in the deaths of over 5,572 Palestinians and 248 Israelis.
The genuine nature of the concerns for Jewish people by Corbyn’s political opponents, including those in the right wing of the Labour Party, is doubtful. If these concerns are genuine then why hasn’t there been similar outrage, criticism or attention when it came to Toryparliamentary members orcouncillors making clearly antisemitic comments or having friendly relations with antisemitic figures? Such examples have not been highlighted or confronted.
Meanwhile, many of the claims made against Corbyn do not stand up to proper scrutiny, For example, in 2017, Corbyn was accused of being in contact with Paul Eisen, who co-founded the organization “Deir Yassin Remembered” and who came out as a holocaust denier a few years after the organisation was formed. This was based on the fact that Corbyn had attended meetings of this organisation. But Corbyn denied any contact with Eisen and has explained that he attended the meetings to commemorate the slaughter that occurred in Deir Yassin, a Palestinian village that was destroyed in 1948 as a part of the foundation of Israel. This attempt at guilt-by-association, even where the association is denied, ignores Corbyn’s long history of support for holocaust remembrance events and longstanding opposition to holocaust-denial, which is most prevalent on the far right.
Meanwhile, there hasn’t been much said about Johnson’s several year-long editorial career in The Spectator, which is a magazine that published articles with clear antisemitic remarks against Jews and hosted antisemitic columnists.
The Tory party was also closely associated with far-right antisemitic parties while in the European Parliament. One of these parties was Fidesz, the ruling party in Hungry. Its leader, Victor Orban, besides promoting hatred against immigrants, refugees and Muslims, also uses classic antisemitic tropes, such as the undertones in his attacks against Hungarian-Jewish capitalist George Soros.
In one of his speeches Orban said about Soros:
“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open; but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; it does not believe in working but speculates with money; it does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”
Orbán had also said that he is a fan of Miklós Horthy, an antisemitic Hungarian regent who collaborated with Hitler during the second world war. Yet this didn’t seem to concern the Tory MEPs, who voted against a motion that criticised Orban’s remarks and disciplined Fidesz on the basis that this was a “domestic issue”.
Johnson’s relations with Trump have not been criticized in these terms either. It is hard to forget Trump putting the blame on “both sides” after the murder of the antifascist activist Heather Heyer who was deliberately run over by a Neo-Nazi in aprotest inCharlottesville. One side’s main slogan was “Jews will not replace us”, carrying Nazi symbols, and the other chanted “no nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA” and “Black Lives Matter”. Under Trump, white supremacists and neo-Nazis feel more confident to raise their heads out of the gutter.
Another argument that was constantly made by the capitalist right was that Corbyn is a terrorist sympathizer. But again, there hasn’t been a shred of evidence presented that shows Corbyn supports terrorist attacks against Jews, Israelis or in general.
Two main incidents were used to make this claim. One was when, several years ago, Corbyn invited Hamas and Hezbollah to speak in Parliament, and the other was when Corbyn allegedly put wreaths on the graves of the alleged planners of the Munich Massacre. In the first case, Corbyn has since said that he regrets using the word “friends” in reference to Hamas and Hezbollah and has explained that he opposes their methods. In the second case, Corbyn clarified that he actually put wreaths on graves of victims of an Israeli airstrike in Tunisia in 1985 – not on those of alleged terrorists as had been claimed.
This was essentially confirmed by a BBC report showing that a yearly ceremony to the victims does take place in the small section in the cemetery where Corbyn was photographed.
When Tory officials describe the Saudi Arabian royal family as ‘friends’ it doesn’t spark similar outrage. This brutal regime routinely executes protestors and oppositionists. Many will remember the savage murder of the journalist Khashoggi. This is a country in which women and LGBT+ people have no rights. Saudi Arabia is also prosecuting the war in Yemen with constant airstrikes. Yemen now faces the worst humanitarian crisis in the world withreports of over 100,000 fatalities including 12,000 civilians. But not only do the Tories use friendly language, their government is actively participating in arming the Saudi regime, encouraging and allowing the selling of weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile Corbyn has, on principle, opposed this.
Corbyn would have been brutally attacked by the capitalist establishment due to his anti-austerity stance, with any perceived weakness ruthlessly exploited. However, the right was better able to undermine Corbyn because he has, in the view of Socialist Alternative, held some mistaken positions, including on some questions about the Middle East as well as on the approach to anti-imperialist struggle in general. Corbyn and others on the left have not always put forward a clear, class-based, internationalist and socialist position on the national question.
The problems of oppressed nations and of national conflicts absolutely require opposition to any form of national oppression and imperialism, but also a critical class approach to all social and political forces involved – including towards right-wing political forces involved in national liberation movements.
Organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah are not genuine ‘friends’ of the working class, whether in Palestine, Lebanon or elsewhere. Instead, the leaderships of both organisations represent right wing and sectarian religious politics – not based on working-class self-organisation and hostile to socialist ideas. Both of them played a reactionary role in attacking mass protests that broke out in Gaza and Lebanon last year.
Corbyn’s use of such language, while he now accepts it was wrong, is indicative of an approach towards questions of national liberation which is not fully rooted in class-based, socialist politics.
The way forward for achieving a lasting solution in Israel-Palestine, including winning genuine self-determination for the Palestinians, alongside Israelis, is through a mass struggle against the occupation, the siege and the brutal day-to-day oppression, as a part of a ‘Socialist Spring’ across the region. As part of such a struggle, working-class Palestinians and Israelis could potentially come together in a coordinated working-class fightback crossing national, religious and ethnic divisions. The Palestinians suffer brutal national oppression from the Israeli state. At the same time the working class within Israel are exploited by the Israeli government and capitalist class – with extremely high rates of poverty, inequality and insecurity.
Sentiments of opposition to the Israeli ruling class and the reactionary agenda of the Netanyahu regime were expressed among the Israeli population in mass struggles on many occasions in the last decade, and in the last couple of years in particular. A broad and coordinated struggle by Palestinians and by the left and workers’ movement in Israel can win over important layers of Israeli workers and youth who want to see an end to the ongoing bloody conflict. A mass movement linking together the question of economic exploitation and national oppression, fighting for a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel, as part of a democratic socialist confederation of the Middle East, signifies the way forward.
Is it really about antisemitism?
The reason antisemitism in the Tory party hasn’t been featured in the press with the same intensity is that this was never a sincere attempt by the accusers to address the real problem of antisemitism in society.
Antisemitism was cynically used against Corbyn in an attempt to halt the rise of left and socialist ideas that pose a challenge to capitalism.
Corbyn represented a rejection of austerity while advocating demands such as raising the minimum wage, scrapping tuition fees, renationalising rail, mail and energy sector, and opposition to British imperialist intervention in the Middle East.
Many left and socialist activists who were Corbyn supporters, including Jewish socialists who have fought against antisemitism and racism all of their adult lives, were expelled or suspended from the Labour Party under false accusations of antisemitism.
‘Dealing with antisemitism’ through suspending members who, for example, point out the fact that the chief Rabbi is a Tory supporter or argue that Labour has been “too apologetic” in its response to false allegations is an insult to the real attacks that Jewish people face, verbally and physically.
Moshe Machover, a socialist and a former Israeli, was expelled after he wrote an article for a left wing newspaper that “appears to meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism” as the article claims that “Anti-Zionism does not equal antisemitism”. He was reinstated after his expulsion was publicly condemned by a large number of left wingers which put pressure on the Labour Party bureaucracy.
This worrying witch-hunt has used similar methods to some of those employed by the Israeli government in dealing with opposition to its policies.
We think that Rebecca Long-Bailey should retract her comments in the Jewish Labour Movement hustings, where she agreed that to “describe Israel, its policies, or the circumstances around its foundation as racist” was to make an antisemitic statement if she really wants to help promote and advance a solution in the interests of working-class Israeli Jews and Palestinians.
Long-Bailey also mistakenly adopted the 10 pledges by the Board of Deputies, a right-wing organisation that claims to represent British Jews. One of the pledges is to fully recognise the IHRA working definition of antisemitism including its examples. While there are some reasonable examples of antisemitic actions contained in this definition, some of those that are related to Israel are very alarming and can be wrongly interpreted as meaning that criticizing Israel or calling it a racist state is antisemitic. Kenneth Stern, who drafted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, himselfsaid he was alarmed by the use of this definition as a hate speech code on campuses and said it will be used as an attack on freedom of speech.
Criticism of Israel’s policies
There can be antisemitic ideas dressed up as or contained within some approaches to criticism of Israel. Tropes which place blame on all Jews for the crimes of the Israeli regime fall into this category. Not only are such ideas false, but they can be used by the right in its attempts at delegitimising criticism of Israel’s policies, including the Israeli occupation, as well historical understandings of the foundation of Israel which take into account the brutal destruction of at least 400 Palestinian villages, for example.
Such criticisms are frequently labelled by the Israeli right as antisemitic. Jewish and Israeli people who hold such views are among those targeted in this way. For example, Israeli activists against the occupation, including former combat soldiers who gave witness to what they had seen and done in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, have disgustingly been tarnished by the Israeli government as ‘collaborators with antisemites’. On this basis, these brave individuals have also faced incitement against them.
Natalie Portman, an American- Jewish actress who was born in Israel,refused to participate in the Genesis Prize in Israel because she didn’t want to be seen as endorsing Netanyahu. She was told by the Energy minister Yuval Steinitz, that ‘boycotting Netanyahu is boycotting Israel’ and that her decision “borders on antisemitism”. Steinitz also called a decision of the International Court of Justice to investigate the possibility of war crimes in the 2014 Gaza war, in which there were more than 500 Palestinian children casualties, a “blood libel”.
Saying it is “antisemitic” to “describe Israel, its policies, or the circumstances around its foundation as racist” is absolutely outrageous and spits in the face of many Israelis and Palestinians who fight in solidarity against racism and national division. In the summer of 2018, tens of thousands, Jews and Arabs, protested against the Nationality Law – which is a racist attack against Arab-Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship. A few weeks before those protests, in a big rally of 70,000 on the day of the strike against attacks on LGBT+ rights in Israel, Jewish and Arab speakers on stage referred to opposing the Nationality Law in their speeches and received overwhelming support.
Netanyahu is struggling with unprecedented levels of political crisis that is expressed through the inability of any party to form a majority government with three general elections in a period of 11 months. A major part of his propaganda during the latest elections, as previously, is incitement against Arabs and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. In the election in September last year, Netanyahu put forward a bill to allow putting cameras in polling stations, while scapegoating and stirring up incitement that the Arab- Palestinian citizens of Israel are allegedly stealing elections. His main propaganda against his rival Blue and White party was that their government will rely on support Arabs, in order to scaremonger and mobilise right-wing voters.
The labour movement in the UK should support the protests and struggles of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians against national oppression, the occupation and anti-democratic policies – not collaborate with the Israel’s right-wing capitalist government with its attacks on any sort of opposition and attempts to paint all opposition to it as antisemitic. This is a hypocritical use of a real problem faced by Jewish people today in an attempt to censor and silence any sort of criticism.
The struggle against antisemitism should be a part of a wider struggle against all forms of racism and for a socialist society.
We call for a united struggle of workers and youth against all forms of racism and ‘divide and rule’. The capitalists try to divide workers and scapegoat oppressed groups in society to blame them for the problems caused by their system. In the background of the financial crisis and decades of austerity and privatisation of services, we see many capitalist governments using right wing populism and inflaming tensions. They whip up hatred against immigrants, refugees and Muslims.
The problems faced by working class people in society, such as poverty and job insecurity, lack of affordable housing, the collapse of services such as health and education, are ultimately caused by the capitalist system. Capitalism is driven by profits that are created on the basis of exploiting workers. We need to fight for a socialist alternative that can consign antisemitism and all forms of racism and division to history, and can lay the basis for a society run in the interests of working class, where human need is put before the drive for profit.