Sunday, 1 May 2016

Labour and the Jewish Question

This article has been published in Taki's Magazine

While I was in China this week, on my way back from the Great Wall, I met a mordant Palestinian-American who voiced strong opinions on China, a place he disliked, and other things. I had a cup of coffee with him, he had a hard drink and told me why he refuses to recognise the existence of Israel.

He said that in 1948 his father as a boy of six was tied to a tree by Jewish soldiers and forced to witness the murder of several uncles and cousins. His father was spared because he was below the age of twelve. The man I spoke to told me he hated Jews with a vengeance and was happy to describe himself as a racist. He hated his adopted country, America, for supporting Israel. He had it in for England too, for having the idea of a Jewish homeland in the first place, though I mentioned the King David Hotel murders. 

He may have been embroidering his story or it may have been embellished in the telling over the years since 1948. The estate might not have been so big, though he seemed well set up and of independent means. He may have been lying. I have heard that Palestinian Arabs often tell inaccurate stories about the 1948 War. Or he might have been telling the truth (the Jewish forces in 1948 did commit war crimes). In any case, his refusal to
recognise Israel's right to exist is surely understandable. 

This is all very topical because this weekend everyone in England is discussing when dislike of Israel becomes anti-Semitism. This question bores me very much, because it is about silencing debate, but I throw in this story for the record.

A lot of British politicians in the Labour Party are being accused of anti-Semitism, which is fun, as they love accusing others of racism. But some of what is being said is nonsense. 

I am irked by attempts to say people who dislike the Jewish state's policies therefore dislike Jews. I'm irked by all attempts to silence discussions by accusations of racism, sexism or homophobia. 

One British Labour MP (a Muslim) has been suspended from his party because he called Israel a terrorist state and likened it to ISIS. This remark was in appalling taste but should not be considered a thought crime.

Israel, in my opinion, has a right to exist. Her existence is recognised by Egypt and Jordan and her moral right to exist became, in my opinion, unquestionable when the Arab states expelled their Jews in 1948, who then took refuge in Israel. However, if you think Israel has no right to exist you are not necessarily an anti-Semite. (Or rather anti-Jewish, but I begin to feel that it is almost too late for the pedantic point that Arabs are Semites.) 

Had the Arab states succeeded completely in their aims in their wars against Israel in 1967 and 1973 Israel would have ceased to exist. This does not, in my opinion, mean that people who backed the Arab states in those wars were necessarily racist. To say that they were is to say that the Arab point of view from 1948 until the Camp David Accords in 1978 was racist. Which is an arguable point of view, but not one that everyone must accept.

On the other hand, while dislike of Israel's actions and policies is absolutely permissible, there is a real and very worrying resurgence of antisemitism in England and in Western Europe (in Eastern Europe it never went away). One reason for hostility to Israel is that Mr Netanyahu and his predecessors have done many things that are objectionable. A bigger reason is anti-imperialism, post-colonial guilt and European self-hatred. Other reasons, probably less significant so far, are that many Muslims in Western Europe do not like Jews and that those Muslims have votes. 

Perversely, a widespread fear of Muslims is somehow projected into hostility to Israel. It's Stockholm syndrome. Instead of people protesting against ISIS or Turkey or migrants or against the Islamisation of Europe, people protest against Israel. 

Muslim antisemitism in England is a big problem and will probably get worse. Sadly, Adam LeBor has said that when in the 1990s he wrote his book 'A Heart Turned East' about Muslim communities in Bosnia, France, Germany, Albania, Turkey and Bulgaria in only one place did he encounter anti-Semitism: Bradford. I suspect that he would find it now among Muslims in Sweden and Holland, to judge by news stories.

I rejoice that this problem is being examined centre-stage, although it is only in the headlines as a way to attack the British Labour Party's far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn's old ally Ken Livingstone, a vile man but no racist or apologist for Hitler, is suspended from Labour for saying Hitler was at one time in favour of the Jewish state (because he wanted to expel Jews to Palestine in the early 1930s). No-one talks about antisemitism among Muslim Britons.

I hope people will think hard about what is happening to Europe, the causes and what solutions can be found, but silencing debate is not the way to do it. Let's have as much free speech as possible.


  1. The Right is taking advantage of a basic contradiction in the Left's policy on Palestine. The Left always roots for the underdog; the oppressed, against the powerful.

    And generally that would mean pro-Jewish. But in this case, Jews are the powerful, oppressing Arabs, so the sympathies are transferred. But the problem is, the Arabs aren't particularly ecumenical, and sometimes say nasty things, especially about the Jews. And they oppress their women overmuch.

    So it's a bit like a vegetarian rescuing a fox from the hunt, who then goes and kills a shed full of chickens.

  2. I agree with it all. You're right about anti-semitism in Sweden, where the mayor of Malmo recently announced that he would give Jews more police protection against attacks by Muslims if they disowned Israel, but not otherwise. Things are even worse in Norway, where Jews feel so threatened that most of the small Jewish community is preparing to emigrate or has gone already. At least Norway and Denmark now have moderately sensible governments, compared with Sweden.

  3. The problem is basically the straightforward one of seeming to accept as reasonable refusals of Israeli existence and the practical consequences of such a position - especially given that the 1948 events occurred very much within the context of a refusal of Jewish existence. The Jewish state is very much associated with Jewish ethnicity. Although non-ethnic religious affiliation also occurs, conversion is not easy and still relatively rare.

    To my mind, one cannot simply get around the association of denying ethnicity and passively advocating genocide simply by insisting that one is talking about the Jewish state and not the Jewish people - especially when true antisemites use similar arguments. You see the problem. It is reasonable to want and expect Israel to pursue policies that truly served the Israeli population over the long term will not making of Israel a threat to international peace and security. It is not reasonable to want it - and by rather direct association its people - blotted from the map.

    When one shifts from discussion of specific problems and actions of identifiable individuals to blanket pronouncements on the culpability of entire peoples, discussion pretty much comes to a full stop.

    Anyway, that’s how I see it.


  4. Interesting as ever, but I can't agree with the notion that Israel, a state founded on thuggery and theft, has a "right" to exist. Actually I despair ot all semitic/peoples whose histories seem to oscillate between self-pity and grotesque cruelty. The world was a better place when there were gods on Olympus rather than a god in heaven and so I hope the koreans keep to their animist style faith. Best, Andy

  5. I completely agree that rage against Israel is, for many people, a sublimation of the fear of islamism. This is why the Free Palestine movement has gained such traction.