The left and antisemitism (1990)

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Socialist Organiser editorial, 24 May 1990

One small incident at the Labour Party Socialists conference last weekend said a lot about current attitudes on the left about anti­semitism, Jews, and Zionism.

Speaking in a workshop on Europe, Ros Young pointed to the new rise of anti-semitism. It must be fought, she said; and especially so because it will give grist to the mill of Zionism and lead to more Jews going to Palestine where they will oppress our ''black comrades'', the Palestinian Arabs.

The next speaker asked that the discussion be brought back to what the workshop was sup­ posed to be about - attitudes to European integration, the Euro-parliament, the Social Charter and so on. Of course, he said, no-one could disagree with what Ros Young had said. He was genuinely astounded when some of us indicated that we did disagree.

A whole series of assump­tions was implicit in what Ros Young said.

# That persecution of Jews should be opposed primarily because of assumed and hypothetical side-effects on the Palestinian Arabs, and only secondarily because of the actual and immediate effect on Jews.

# That oppression of Jews must be opposed not so much in itself as because it may lead to Jews oppressing others.

# That Jews moving to Israel automatically means more oppression of the Palestinian Arabs.

# That any statement in favour of Jews in Europe must be "balanced" by a condemnation of Jews in Palestine.

# That Jews are to be considered "white" and therefore in less urgent need of support against persecution than "black" Palestinian Arabs (however dark the skin of many Jews!)

Those assumptions can pass among a wide range of the left as things with which "no-one would disagree". And that is a serious problem if the left is to be effective in leading the fight against resurgent anti-semitism. To begin tackling that problem, Socialist Organiser is circulating the following statement.


We are living through an alarming resurgence of anti-semitism. In France, in the USSR, in Poland, in East and West Germany, elesewhere in Eastern Europe, in South Africa, in Britain and in the USA, anti-semitism has begun to crawl out of the gutters to which it was consigned with the defeat of Nazism, and to strut, swagger and brawl along the broad highway.

Jews have been assaulted physically, scapegoated once again in the voice of Hitler and Streicher; Jewish cemeteries desecrated, synagogues attacked. It is as if we have slipped and stumbled backwards by 60 years of history.

Now as it always was in the past, the left must be at the forefront of defending Jewish rights.

In Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the new rampant anti-semitism often follows the Stalinist formulas of the last four decades and chooses to label itself ''anti-Zionism''. It is necessary therefore for those on the left who condemn Israel's treatment of the Palestinian Arabs, and support the Palestinian Arabs, to define clearly where we stand.

We support the Palestinian Arab uprising in the West Bank and Gaza, and endorse its demand for self-determination in an independent Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel. We em­phatically solidarise with those fighting in Israel for full and equal rights for the Arab minority within Israel.

The Israeli Jews, Zionist, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist alike, also have rights. We support the right of the Israeli Jews to self­ determination - that is, to have their own state for as long as they want to have it. We assert that non-Israeli Jewish Zionists, on whom modern history has stamped identifica­tion with Israel as a central part of their own identity, have the right not to be persecuted and harried by "anti-Zionists". We must find a way to support the just demands and strug­gles of the.Palestinian Arabs without becoming indistinguishable from the ''anti-Zionist'' anti­-semites, or we will deserve to be branded as ourselves anti-semites.

We defend the right of Zionists to live freely, express their views, organise, construct their communities. We reject any move to suppress them, any assertion that Zionism must be distinguished from all other nationalisms and ranked rather with racism and fascism.

200 years after the French Revolution first decreed equality for the Jews, the defence of the rights of Jews, of those who are branded the universal outsiders and scapegoats, is still a touchstone of democracy.

Editorial, Socialist Organiser 449, 24 May 1990