Condemnation of Israel has become fashionable amongst the left – not just condemnation of Israel’s policies or government, but of its legitimacy as a state and of Zionism, its ideological bedrock. As a Jew and a Zionist, who also happens to be a member of the Labour party, I am concerned greatly with the black-and-white attitude of many in the Labour movement to Israel, and the knock-on effect that this hostility is having for Jewish members like me.
Let me be clear: Israel is deserving of some of the criticism it is getting, and the Palestinian people are most certainly deserving of sympathy and support, living as they are in poverty either under occupation or in refugee camps elsewhere in the Middle East.
I have no truck with those who label any criticism of Israel as ‘anti-semitism’.
By the same token, however, I am seriously troubled by those who, when faced with what I would definitely regard as anti-semitism, pass it off as anti-Sharonism at best, or anti-Zionism at worst.
Thankfully, anti-semitism is deemed beyond the pale by the vast majority of people in the western world. But
anti-Zionism is somehow legitimate. On university campuses across the country, Jewish societies have faced motions calling for their disaffiliation from the student union because they are Zionist, and ‘Zionism is racism’.
Except, it is not. Zionism was and is the modern national movement of the Jewish people. Nothing more, nothing
less. It is not imperialism, as many suggest, justifying their position with a reference to Israel’s ‘aggressive grabbing of territory’ in wars.
These anti-Zionists conveniently overlook certain important facts. Firstly, the Jews originally accepted the UN’s 1947 partition plan, which gave them a much smaller Israel than would emerge after the 1948 War of Independence. It was the Arabs who rejected this plan and attacked Israel, attempting to ‘drive the Jews into the sea’.
Secondly, the acquisition of Gaza and the West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day War was again not by design, but occurred during the course of another battle for its very existence, which Israel won. It should not be forgotten that Israel offered to negotiate the return of these territories shortly after the end of that war but was answered by the Arab League at their meeting in Khartoum with the famous three nos: no to negotiation, no to recognition, and no to peace.
The double standards do not end there. Israel is called a ‘racist state’, but what of the disgraceful anti-semitism in the Arab world – Egyptian television series vindicating the notorious anti-semitic forgery from Tsarist Russia, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion;
or articles in Saudi government-run newspapers claiming that Jewish pastries are made with the blood of Muslim children? Add to these the countless number of anti-semitic cartoons in the Arab press featuring Nazi-style caricatures and suddenly the focus on Israel as a racist state appears either prejudicial or fantastically ill-judged.
In bygone times, Jews were resented, despised and persecuted wherever they settled. The horrors of the Holocaust taught them that even as assimilated citizens in ‘enlightened’ 20th-century Europe they would not be accepted as equals. Modern Zionism was seen by its founder, Theodore Herzl, as the antidote
to this discrimination. How ironic, then, that it has led to a new and socially acceptable anti-Jewish discrimination: among all the peoples of the world, Jews are not entitled to a state of their own.
Self-determination is a lauded liberal ideal, but Jewish self-determination, Zionism, is seen as imperialism or racism.
I cannot accept that this view should be acceptable within the Labour movement, with its commitment to equality and social justice. Israel, for all its flaws and mistakes, does not deserve to become a pariah state, as the Jews were once a pariah people.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.