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Political purges are not new. Trotsky was purged from the Soviet Communist Party and Ernst Rohm was purged by the Nazis. Currently we are witnessing the spectacle of “progressive” groups ostensibly dedicated to the cause of Palestinian rights turning on long time advocates of that cause because they are not viewed as sufficiently engaged in demonstrating that they are not anti-Semitic. Indeed, demonstrating one’s anti-anti-Semitic credentials seems to have become a sine qua non for establishing the bona fides of any friend of Palestine, apparently more important than actually doing anything for the Palestinians, who have been losing land continuously to the Israelis and regularly getting killed whenever they resist.
That the Palestinians have been victimized by the self-designated Jewish State funded by Jewish organizations and enabled through Jewish manipulation of America’s legislature and media would appear to be an irrelevancy to the self-righteous standard bearers adhering staunchly to what they choose to describe as their “anti-racist principles.” In a recent disagreeable incident involving the Students for Justice in Palestine at Stanford University a Nakba survivor Palestinian woman speaker was actually disinvited because it was feared that she might verbally challenge the legitimacy of the Zionist occupation of her former home. One wonders if the students would have censored an anti-Apartheid speaker from South Africa in a similar fashion in the 1980s?
I have sometimes noted how the Zionist conspiracy is international in nature, with hate crime legislation strictly enforced in places like France to sanction any criticism of Israel, which has been conveniently and incorrectly conflated with anti-Semitism. The latest focal point for making any critique of the Zionist enterprise unacceptable is Britain, and more particularly in the Labour Party, which once upon a time was viewed as the most progressive of the country’s three major parties. It also has long included Jewish Britons in senior party and government positions and is home to two formidable pressure groups, the Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement.
Some recent Labour Party history is required. In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the parliamentary Labour Party to replace Ed Milliband. Corbyn, who has a long history as a human rights advocate and anti-interventionist in his foreign policy views, was considered a long shot when he began his leadership campaign but eventually won with nearly 60% of the vote due to “anti-establishment” fervor similar to what is taking place in the United States currently. Along the way, his campaign was assailed by a number of Jewish organizations in Britain based on allegations that he was hostile to Israel.
Corbyn had indeed been outspoken on Middle East policy as a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, condemning the Israeli handling of the conflict in Gaza and denouncing what he describes as apartheid in Israel. He has supported a selective boycott of Israel and believes that weapons sales to it should be blocked. Asked on by an interviewer in July 2015 why he had referred to both Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”, Corbyn replied, “I use it in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk. Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No. What it means is that I think to bring about a peace process, you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree … There is not going to be a peace process unless there is talks involving Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas and I think everyone knows that.”
Corbyn also supported the lifting of sanctions as part of a negotiated agreement to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program, and the initiation of steps to place Israel’s nuclear arsenal under Non-Proliferation controls. Though one would think that the statements were pretty mild stuff relatively speaking, Corbyn continues to be assailed as being tolerant of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party as a consequence.
Observers in Britain believe that much of the behind the scenes anti-Corbyn agitation within the Party is being orchestrated by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who wants to see Corbyn replaced by someone closer to his brand of political centrism. One longtime Blair supporter and major Labour donor David Abrahams apparently agrees, ending his financial support of the party over its alleged anti-Semitism, declaring it “a plague that has to be stamped out.”
Britain is going to the polls on Thursday in local and municipal elections. It is perhaps no coincidence that the attacks on Labour have intensified in the past several weeks and polls are now suggested that the Party might well lose “hundreds” of local government seats at least in part due to the apparent turmoil reflected in media coverage of the anti-Semitism issue.
The wave of attacks on Labour members deemed to be too hostile to Israel actually began in August 2015 with widely publicized but later discredited claims that the Oxford University Labour Club was dominated by anti-Semites. As it turned out, Alex Chalmers, the student who made the allegations, was a member of Britain’s Israel lobby. Currently it is being fueled by appearances in the national media by Israel’s Ambassador Mark Regev and also by former associates of Tony Blair who are demanding a thorough review of possible anti-Semitism within the party. They have focused on two Labour notables, Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone, “Red” Ken, who have been suspended over comments and social media postings relating to Israel.
Naz Shah, a member of Parliament, reportedly made a Facebook post before she was elected to office that copied a graphic of Israel superimposed on to a map of the United States with the message “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States” with the additional notation by Shah “Problem Solved,” a joke intended to demonstrate that if the U.S. and Israel love each other so much they should collocate, solving the Middle East conflict as a consequence. The graphic was copied from American professor Norman Finkelstein’s blog.
Shah has apologized four times for her transgression.
Ken Livingstone reportedly told the BBC that Adolph Hitler had supported Zionism in that he negotiated with German Zionists to transfer Europe’s Jews to Palestine in the event of a German Army defeat of the British in the Middle East, a victory that never materialized. Livingstone, well known for inserting his foot in his mouth, was, in fact correct in his comment, which he later declared as “historical” in nature. Under attack, Livingstone defended himself by declaring that the truth about Hitler and Zionism is “not taught in Israeli schools.”
Corbyn and other members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet have repeatedly stated that any party member who makes anti-Semitic or racist comments will be expelled. He has responded to the demands in the media and from within the party by initiating an official inquiry into possible racism headed by Shami Chakrabarti, a highly regarded former head of a civil rights charity called Liberty.
The disturbing aspect of the current purge underway in Britain is not only about racism, if that is indeed how one should define anti-Semitism. It is over the extent to which one can criticize the state of Israel without suffering consequences and also over the degree to which any such criticism should or can be equated with anti-Semitism. It is in the interest of Israel and its supports to make the two issues one and the same and they have had considerable success in making the distinction between the two largely invisible. Corbyn’s comments on the Middle East are decidedly progressive but not necessarily wrong. Naz Shah played with a graphic on Facebook expressing her views, which were not genocidal or racist, in a silly fashion that most Facebook users have likely emulated at one time or another. Ken Livingstone has a history of shooting from the lip and turning him into a whipping boy for an ill-advised comment that had no racist overtones or that did not in any way call for violence is more than a bit of overreach. None of the three attacked Jews either as an ethnicity or as a religion but they were criticized as if they had done so.
Critics of Israel in the United States, possibly to include the Stanford University Students for Justice in Palestine, should learn from what happens in Europe. Once you start your critique with an apology lest you offend someone you have already lost the argument. Refusing to listen to speakers who just might upset part of the audience is self-censorship, designed to go along to get along and in the end it is self-defeating. If you want to tie yourself in knots over avoiding the anti-Semitism label, which is routinely used to silence and destroy critics including yourself, you will never see a country called Palestine or a United States that is free from the manipulation by the Israel Lobby.