A small outcry greeted the assertion by the veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell * that there are too many Jews in Tony Blair’s and George Bush’s entourages, and that those Jews make Britain’s and the USA’s policy on the Middle East. I found the responses to Dalyell encouraging, but also seriously off the point. The important and effective antisemites now are not those who talk like Hitlerites about Jewish influence and Jewish “cabals”. Such people can usually expect the response Dalyell got.
Their talk is too close to what the Nazis said to justify genocide. It begs too-obvious questions and implies preposterous answers to them. Do all Jews have the same politics? How can the presence of “the Jews”, or of people of Jewish faith or Jewish background, add up to “Jewish influence” or “Jewish conspiracy”, when the individuals involved often have different opinions and advocate different policies? How, where the neo-conservatives of Jewish origin who are close to George Bush are out of line with the thinking of most American Jews, the big majority of whom are liberal Democrats? Where, though there may be a number of Jews who share the same opinion on certain questions, they are not alone in such opinions, and Jews can be found defending the opposite view? Where some Jews helped create the movement against the US invasion of Iraq, while others fervently supported the war, or, in Bush’s camp, helped initiate it?
There is only one semi-coherent version of the idea that where there are Jews around, irrespective of whether they agree or fight with each other, then that is a Jewish influence. And that is the Nazi doctrine that Bolshevik Jews and Jewish international financiers, irrespective of all that divides them, are all nonetheless part of one Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. It is the only version that allows you to note the truth that there are bourgeois Jews and Bolshevik Jews, red Jews and Rothschilds.
That stuff doesn’t, I guess, have much of an open following now, though such bits of that old antisemitism as Dalyell spewed out should of course be stamped on. A number of writers in the Guardian did stamp on it. It was left to Paul Foot [of the SWP-UK] (Guardian, 14 May 2003) to defend Dalyell and put the most important present day antisemitism back in focus. Foot wrote: “Obviously [Dalyell] is wrong to complain about Jewish pressure on Blair and Bush when he means Zionist pressure. But that is a mistake that is constantly encouraged by the Zionists”. Foot advises Dalyell on how he should have expressed the same idea in widely acceptable words. Call them “Zionists”, not “Jews”, Tammy, and no-one can accuse you of being an antisemite without also having to take on the bulk of the “revolutionary left”. Learn how to do it in the modern fashion, comrade Dalyell. Of course you didn’t mean “Jews”, you meant “Zionists”, didn’t you?
Anti-Jewish feeling and ideas are usually now wrapped up in anti-Zionism. Not all “anti-Zionists” are antisemites, but these days antisemites are usually careful to present themselves as “anti-Zionists”. For that reason, it is light-shedding to find a prominent pseudo-left “anti-Zionist” recognising as his political kin someone who denounces Jews – and, Foot thinks, was at fault only in lacking the finesse to say Zionist when he meant Jew.
“Anti-Zionism” is the antisemitism of today. “Anti-Zionism”, that, is root-and-branch denunciation of Israel, involves comprehensively anti-Jewish attitudes – rampant or latent and implied – because it starts out from a stark refusal to recognise that the Jewish nation that had formed in Palestine by the mid 1930s had the right to exist, or the right to fight for its existence against those who would have destroyed it if they could.
In onslaughts the most important of which began in 1936, and in a series of wars, 1948, 1967, and 1973, Arab chauvinists tried to destroy the Jewish nation in Palestine. The “Zionists” had no right to defend themselves, still less to prevail! Arab pressure on the British overlords in pre-World-War-Two Palestine led to the closing of the doors to Palestine for Jews who otherwise faced death in Europe, and kept them closed all through the war and for three years after the war ended.
In his own way, Foot expresses the logic he himself sees in the “anti-Zionist” language he advises Dalyell to adopt. “There are lots of Jews in Britain who are bitterly opposed to the loathsome Israeli occupation of other people’s countries and the grotesque violence it involves”. Countries, plural? Which countries does Israel occupy other than the West Bank and Gaza? Foot does not mean the ex-Syrian Golan Heights, Israeli-occupied since 1967. He means pre-1967 Israel.
The attitude to Israel which Foot expresses, that it does not have the right to exist at all, begins with denial of equality to the Jews of Palestine and with demonising the Jewish nation there. From that denial comes grotesque anti-Jewish bias and misrepresentation in accounts of the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict and the origin of Israel. The Jewish nation had no right to exist; Jews who fled to Palestine from the Nazis had no right to do that; they never had the right to defend themselves, and they don’t have it now.
The overwhelming majority of Jews in the world, in whose post-Holocaust identity Israel is en-grafted, are guilty of racism and betrayal of Jewish internationalism when, however critical they may be of Israeli governments, they defend Israel’s right to exist.
Beginning with denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist, this “anti-Zionism” spreads out to also demonise most Jews in the world. The “Zionists” who are demonised by the “anti-Zionists” of Foot’s kind are always Jewish Zionists, not non-Jews who defend Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. (The exception is when they are those who can be denounced as renegades from pseudo-left orthodoxy on Israel and “Zionism” — like the non-Jewish supporters of Workers’ Liberty). “Anti-Zionism” is the most potent antisemitism in the modern world. It is especially and most venomously a property of the pseudo-left, as Dalyell’s statement and Paul Foot’s gloss on it shows clearly.
In fact Dalyell didn’t even get his facts right. Of the three “Jews” he named in Blair’s circle, two, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson, though both have some Jewish ancestry, do not identify themselves as Jews. The daft old duffer blundered into a racist, “tell-me-who-your-ancestors-were” definition of Jewishness. By the time Foot came to defend Tam Dalyell, his mistake had been pointed out. Foot didn’t notice. Just call them “Zionists” Tammy and you can’t go wrong.
This “anti-Zionism” is no help at all to the Palestinians. For over half a century the Arab chauvinist demand for the destruction of Israel has been the best helper the expansionist Jewish-chauvinist Israeli right has had. If the Arab states and the Palestinians had accepted the Israeli proposal of September 1967 to withdraw from the territories it had occupied in June that year in return for Arab recognition and normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states, then the colonialist horrors of the last decades on the West Bank could not have happened.
People like Foot, are not socialist internationalists but vicarious Arab chauvinists. They are no friends of the oppressed Palestinians, for whom the only just and possible settlement is an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
The main thing “socialists” like Foot and his mentor Tony Cliff have achieved is to infuse old left-wing anti-colonialism with virulent antisemitism, dressed up in the way Foot advises Dalyell to dress it up, as “anti-Zionism”.
* Vanity Fair magazine, June 2003.