June 15, 2016 by IJV
The Independent Jewish Voices Steering Group has made a submission to the Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism within the Labour party. The full submission can be viewed and downloaded here: IJV SG submission to Chakrabati Inquiry 10 Jun 16. Here is a summary:
- The battle against antisemitism is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as antisemitic.
- Any rules on antisemitic hate speech or action, and any reform of existing rules, must be based on informed awareness of the nature of the subject matter deemed to be so offensive. So the key question for the Inquiry is: When does an individual’s critical comment on Israel and/or Zionism constitute antisemitism?
- The Inquiry must provide the Labour Party with as clear guidance as possible on this question. This entails having a clear understanding of two issues: What is antisemitism today and how has confusion about its meaning become so widespread? What is meant today by the word ‘Zionism’, and by extension ‘anti-Zionism’? The IJV SG’s submission seeks to provide this.
- The post-Second World War consensus on what constitutes antisemitism has broken down and since the early 1980s Israel has been promoted as the central object of antisemitic hate. This is reflected in the fact that practically no discussion today about current antisemitism takes place without Israel and Zionism at its centre. The consequence of this is the emergence of a fundamental redefinition of antisemitism, commonly referred to as the ‘new antisemitism’, which sees anti-Zionism and antisemitism as one and the same and describes Israel as the ‘collective Jew among the nations’.
- By this definition, it is sufficient evidence of antisemitism for someone to hold any view ranging from criticism of the policies of the current Israeli government to denial that Israel has the right to exist as a state, without having to subscribe to any of those things which historians and social scientists have traditionally regarded as making up an antisemitic view. This a fundamentally flawed project but also unnecessary because definitions based on established understandings of antisemitism can quite adequately help in determining when a discourse on Israel and Zionism becomes antisemitic. This submission contains just such a definition, which is based on the work of Dr Brian Klug.
- In the early days of the Zionist movement it was possible to see both Zionism and anti-Zionism as each referring essentially to one thing. But Zionism rapidly became more complicated and developed conflicting strands. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Jews opposed it until after the Holocaust. Today, many hundreds of thousands of strictly orthodox Jews are anti-Zionist, together with significant numbers of progressive and secular Jews. Moreover, very many Jews are non-Zionist. Jews do not speak with one voice.
- To argue that anti-Zionism is antisemitism is therefore nonsensical, unless you accept the preposterous idea that all the Jews who opposed Zionism were antisemites.
- Today, Zionism follows the path of maximalist nationalism and settler colonialism, driven largely by right-wing politicians, rabbis and settlers pursuing an ethnoreligious, messianic and exclusionary agenda. (5-3.9) This maximalist Zionism is the only form of Zionism that has any political agency or power today. All the constructions of Zionism by those who propagate ‘new antisemitism’ theory are designed to spread the net of the ‘new antisemitism’ ever more widely in such a way as to outlaw recognition of this basic reality. To Palestinians it means the ongoing denial of their civil, political and human rights and the impossibility of achieving Palestinian national self-determination.
- The Labour Party should not heed any calls to protect Zionism from strong criticism, as if it were axiomatic that such discourse constituted bigotry against Jews.
- It is surely essential that the Labour Party make space for those who are victims of the Israeli government’s maximalist Zionist project and for those who wish to speak out on behalf of such victims. Likewise it must make space for the voices of Jews, Muslims and Blacks who have experienced, or are involved in the struggle against, antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-Black racism.
- There are undoubtedly instances when a discourse critical of Israel and Zionism displays clear antisemitic characteristics. An informed application of the definition of antisemitism in 14-2.16, taken together with the need to understand that questions of context as set out in 2.17-2.18 are fundamental, will help to identify when critical discourse on Israel and Zionism is clearly antisemitic. Giving any credence to the notion that anti-Zionism is the same as antisemitism, or to the ‘new antisemitism’ notion that Israel is ‘the Jew among the nations’ would be a mistake. Criticism of Israel is not inherently antisemitic.
- We therefore urge the Inquiry to use the definition of antisemitism and accompanying context guidelines (14-2.19) in its deliberations about recommendations and to recommend that they be adopted by the NCC of the Labour Party for the purposes of implementing its rules on expressions of antisemitism.
- It is impossible to take the politics out of antisemitism or Zionism. Members of the Labour Party have always had serious differences over controversial political issues. The only way to deal with them is through open and robust debate. We believe that by incorporating in its recommendations the understanding of what antisemitism is today and what Zionism and anti-Zionism mean today, as set out in this submission, the Chakrabarti Inquiry will be making a major contribution to creating an open space for uncensored debate on these matters in the Party.
- We also recommend that those found to have expressed antisemitic, racist or Islamophobic remarks and are disciplined should nevertheless be given the opportunity of seeing the error of their ways and learning a new way of behaving. This, after all, would be concomitant with the Labour Party’s historic mission to be at the forefront of education and dialogue in society on all matters relating to combating racism. However, dwelling obsessively on the controversy over whether critical discourse on Israel and Zionism is antisemitic can only be counterproductive when traditional antisemitism in Europe is resurgent, discrimination against Muslims in the UK is rife and much of the media lead in spreading anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner sentiment.