Preserve the right to criticise Israel

Submitted by SJW on 6 June, 2018 - 12:38 Author: Sean Matgamna
Jews in USA protest at Gaza killings

Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has recently said that “anti-Zionism” is the new antisemitism. “In the 19th and 20th centuries [Jews] were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, Israel”.

That is true, I think. But it needs explication if we are distinguish well between that anti- Zionism and reasonable criticism of Israel. And it’s been true for a very long time, for decades in fact. It is now the specifically “left” strand of antisemitism.

In one of the “traditional” antisemitisms “the Jews” figure as the arch-embodiment of money and money-power, of financial capital. In “left” antisemitism Israel is the archembodiment of imperialism and “white settler-state racism”.

Jews and others who think Israel has a right to exist are “pro-imperialist” and “racist”. The only thing that can be done about Israeli government misdeeds is to destroy the state.

In its “nice” version, that means, strip the Israeli Jews of self-determination and selfgovernment, and forcibly incorporate them into an Arab or Islamic ruled state in all of pre-1948 Palestine. Except that the “nice” version is the political equivalent of science fictions inconceivable in reality.

To eliminate Israel, the unreasonable Israeli Jews who won’t agree to that first have to be conquered. Many have to be killed or “persuaded” to move out. It is extremely improbable that those who had conquered them would offer equal citizenship to the disarmed survivors after depriving them of national rights.

The fiction’s function is to hide the realistic version — conquest, subjugation, disarmament, forcible removal of national rights — and reconcile good-willed and politicallyconfusable people to it.

The truth is that there are many antisemitisms. They are not arranged in a neat historical sequence, the newer strains displacing the old. Different antisemitisms exist side by side. The older ones don’t necessarily go away. An awful lot of older antisemitic attitudes and impulses probably feed into the anti-Zionist hysteria of the ostensible left. And not only of the left.

It is not true that all critics, or even all harsh critics, of Israel are antisemitic. It is true that all antisemites, bar the out-and-out crazies, now call themselves anti-Zionists. But saying what Dr Sacks says — anti- Zionism is present-day antisemitism — doesn’t get you very far.

The media “discussion” of left antisemitism is saturated with dishonesty and demagogy, and warped by it. The cry against left antisemitism is being used as a stick to beat the Corbyn Labour Party. [1] What is “anti-Zionism”? What degree of criticism of Israel is reasonable, before “criticism” becomes “anti-Zionist” antisemitism?

There is, I think, a clear and obvious point at which criticism goes over into antisemitism — when the conclusion is that Israel should be destroyed. When criticism, often justified criticism, is used to back up the “conclusion” (with which many of them start) that Israel is an illegitimate state that should be abolished — in practice, since Israel won’t agree to be abolished, conquered — that is anti-Zionist antisemitism. Advocates or supporters of the destruction of Israel, of Arab or Islamic war on Israel to destroy it, should not be tolerated in the labour movement.

Slogans such as “From the river to the sea” should not be tolerated. The preposterous equation of Israel with Nazi Germany, and of whomever is Israeli prime minister with Hitler, should not be tolerated. Special terms for Israel, such as “the Zionist entity”, which express the view that it should be conquered, should not be tolerated.

Harassment of Jewish people on campuses — where it has happened a lot over decades — or anywhere, about Israel’s real or alleged faults, should not be tolerated. [2] There are two difficulties with “legislating” against the things I’ve listed.

Envenomed criticism of Israel can go to the point of implying destruction without spelling it out.

The best example of that is in the criticisms of Israel made by Hal Draper, the Third Camp socialists and Marxist scholar. He regretted the formation of Israel, in 1948 and after, but politically he supported Israel’s right to exist and defend itself as long as its people wanted that.

At the time of the 1948 Israeli war of independence he counterposed to what was happening a piece of wild fantasy politics — the idea that Israel should lead the Arab peoples in a great war of liberation against the imperialist powers.

It was a sort of benign Jewish-chauvinist millenarianism.

Draper thereafter over decades published a number of articles in which he denounced aspects of Israeli policy and treatment of Arabs. Those articles now feed straight into the septic stream of destroy- Israel absolute anti-Zionist politics, and Draper’s overall policy on Israel’s right to exist and defend itself is more or less forgotten. That brings us to the second difficulty.

Should Draper have been silent and not criticised Israel? Of course he shouldn’t! There was and there is a very great deal to criticise or even condemn in Israel and in Israel’s policies. It is a basic duty to tell the truth about such things, always.

Historically, it has been the Arab states, at important turning points, that have refused to accept Israel’s right to exist, refused to recognise it, refused to make peace with it. In 1967, when, in a pre-emptive war against states openly preparing war with Israel, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, it adopted a policy of “land for peace”.

It would vacate the occupied territories in return for peace treaties with the Arab states recognising Israel’s right to exist.

Israel’s account of what it was doing in the occupied territories was that it aimed to hold them until it could exchange the West Bank and Gaza for peace. It would have made such an exchange had peace with the surrounding Arab states been acceptable to the rulers of those states.

It took defeat for the Arab states in a sudden attack on Israel in October 1973 — which at one point looked as if it would engulf Israel — before Egypt and Jordan, alone of Arab states, would recognise and make peace with Israel. The half-century of occupation was not only the result of Israeli decisions and policies. The continued Israeli occupation and the settlements parallel the Arab states refusing to allow Palestinian refugees to integrate.

Now maybe Israeli has the strength to make a general peace and to help establish a Palestinian Arab state. It doesn’t do that. It is opposed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The continued expansion of Jewish settlement in Arab-majority territory is the opposite of that.

Moreover, Israel’s treatment of the Arabs, the habitual disproportion in its use of force against Arab civilians, or against armed opponents with vast disregard for killing civilians, deserves general condemnation, and condemnation in each specific case. The recent slaughter in Gaza is the latest example of that.

Hamas is certainly capable of doing its followers the favour of deliberately getting them killed — that is, despatched to paradise with its fleshy delights and rewards for “martyrs”. Israel should not be so obliging to them.

It is true that the criticism of Israel by some of the left is preconceived and hysterical, even hypocritical. People who treat the Arabs of Palestine as a ciphers for an “anti-imperialist” or Islamic drive to destroy Israel are not “pro-Palestinian”.

But you don’t have to ill-wish Israel or want its destruction to criticise such things as the Gaza killings with the bitterness and sharpness they merit.

Any socialist or halfway decent liberal who does not criticise Israel is seriously deficient in empathy, in a sense of right and wrong, in justice and in humanity.

Who is to decide which criticisms are justified and which preconceived? Which is a result of prior animosity to Israel or to Jews, and which of honest anger? Which is an accurate and necessary criticism, and which is antisemitic absolute anti-Zionism? The right to criticise Israel must be preserved and defended even where the line between some criticism and antisemitism is blurred.

Some things can be both just criticism and an expression of antisemitism. Jewish leaders, in criticising the Labour Party, have recently focused on the Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker cases.

Livingstone has a long record (see article in Solidarity 471) of involvement in anti-Zionist antisemitism. He even indirectly, politically, by way of the Labour Herald paper set up for him by the WRP, benefited from the payments made to the WRP in the 1980s by Libya and other states for (among other things) making antisemitic propaganda. Of course he should have been demonstratively, formally, ceremoniously expelled by the Labour Party.

Walker said some seemingly reasonable things. She had difficulty, she said, because no-one had defined antisemitism properly. There are other events in history besides what happened to Jews between 1941 and 1945 that could be defined as “holocausts”. Why aren’t they commemorated on Holocaust Remembrance Day? (Hecklers pointed out that to her that many of them are).

Antisemitism, of which there are many kinds, is comprehensive hostility to all or most Jews, for whatever reason. An underlying current on the left is that in so far as Jews are Zionists and pro-Israeli, antisemitism can be “politically right-on” and deserved.

The Walker-friendly assessment of what she said is that she is sincerely stupid. Maybe she is, but it seems to have been pretend, smart-ass stupidity. Yet what Walker said might be said “innocently”. Assessing it is a matter of time, person, context.

The present atmosphere and system of judgement in the Labour Party and in the press is not conducive to rational assessment. It is an undiscriminating heresyhunt.

Jeremy Corbyn, by his long record — he has been an MP since 1983 — is a sincere and honest and non-self-serving man of the left, one who never expected or sought government office, still less to be Labour Party leader and prime minister in waiting.

His political weakness has been to be almost entirely without political discernment — seemingly to believe in the existence of a left constituency where precise policies and politics don’t matter much.

He had his own politics, of course. Until 2015 he wrote a column in the Morning Star. I was agreeably surprised a couple of years ago to learn that he was for a two-states solution in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

I remember hearing him speak on platforms where the dominant political note was absolute anti-Zionism. The second time was on the vast protest march against Israeli bombing of Gaza in January 2009. The first was a meeting before a small demonstration as near to the Israeli embassy as you can get.

The atmosphere was summed up in posters equating the swastika and the star of David.

I’d gone there to join in the march, but because of the dominance of those placards decided to walk on the footpath instead.

The point is that Corbyn will probably be finding decisive action against left antisemitism difficult. In general that is not good, but insofar as his hesitation contributes to the preservation of the right to criticise Israel, that is a good thing.

* A typo in an earlier online version of this article, and in the printed paper, seriously distorted the intended meaning by, instead of:

Hamas is certainly capable of doing its followers the favour of deliberately getting them killed — that is, despatched to paradise with its fleshy delights and rewards for “martyrs”. Israel should not be so obliging to them...


Hamas is certainly capable of doing Israel the favour of deliberately getting people killed — that is, despatched to paradise with its fleshy delights and rewards for “martyrs”. Israel should not be so obliging to them.


Submitted by Jason Schulman on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 03:28

Increasingly the dominant trend on the U.S. left is what I'd call immediate binationalism -- the idea that "the two-state solution is dead" and that the only possible way forward for Palestinian liberation to to push for a binational state of all historic Palestine (NOT the old PLO idea of Jews having religious but no national rights). And when US socialists chant "from the river to the sea..." that's what they mean. I've asked.

You may argue that this is utopian -- at this point I'm not sure if the two-state program as promoted by, say, Gush Shalom is any less utopian -- but I wouldn't call it "political antisemitism." Your thoughts, comrades?

Submitted by Jim Denham (not verified) on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 10:38

In reply to by Jason Schulman

The problem with people who proclaim "the two state solution is dead" is that ther words can be interpreted in at least two ways – one benign if naive (Israel must voluntarily give up its statehood and turn itself into some kind of bi-national state in which Jews and Palestinians will live together in happy harmony), the other definitely *not* benign (Israel must be destroyed). The fact that a lot of leftists, "anti-zionists" and avowed pro-Palestian campaigners appear not to recognise the need to be very precise and clear about what they are, and are not, saying, and the fact that many of them seem quite happy to share platforms with people whose “anti- zionism” has definitely crossed the line into antisemitism, makes me very doubtful about the honesty of some of these people. Unfortunately, they're only too typical of the kind of “well-meaning” liberals in and around the PSC (in Britain) who claim they’re not antisemites, but seem quite willing to associate with people who are.

Finally, even if we accept the claim that these people simply means Israel reforming itself out of existance , or the widely-touted argument that socialists are in favour of the “withering away” of all states…how come these arguments are virtually never used about other nation-states, including those (like the USA, Australia and Argentina) that – unlike Israel – were created by means of genocide?

Submitted by Jams O'Donnell on Sun, 10/06/2018 - 18:25

This is just an apology for fascism. They only acceptable solution to the problem of zionism and Palestinian rights is a one state solution with equal rights for all, and with no religious basis, either Judaism, Islam, Christianity or anything else. This toadying to the Israeli government's orchestrated campaign to equate anti-zionism with anti-semitism is an enabler for continued state-sponsored murder and ethnic cleansing. People publishing this sort of state-sponsored propaganda should be ashamed to call yourselves 'leftists'.

Try taking your lead from Jewish anti-zionists such as Phillip Weiss - "Mondoweiss" instead of the Israeli government.

PS I'll be surprised if this entry is still here in a couple of hours.

Submitted by Barry Finger on Wed, 13/06/2018 - 15:17

“You may argue that this is utopian -- at this point I'm not sure if the two-state program as promoted by, say, Gush Shalom is any less utopian -- but I wouldn't call it "political antisemitism." Your thoughts, comrades?”

I don’t think that I’m one of the comrades Jason was addressing. But I’ll put my two cents in anyway in the hope that others might feel obliged to respond.

The short answer is this: what is the context in which this slogan is raised? For instance, there is nothing objectionable or racist in the abstract with the slogan “all lives matter.” In many situations this is a democratic and fully humanistic outcry.

But when used as a response to “#Black Lives Matter” something else is introduced: the suggestion that blacks have no special grievances, that the insistence of pervasive racism in policing is an excuse to avoid the “real issue” of rampant criminality in the black community.

So too with the one-state solution. In the abstract, it is fully compatible with our democratic aspirations. In the concrete, it denies the reality of how Israel came to being as an ingathering of the most traumatized and victimized remnants of the worldwide Jewish community.

And I’m not speaking here solely or even mainly of the offspring of concentration camp survivors and holocaust escapees. This story is well told. I’m also talking about the descendants of Mizrahi Jews, communities and civilizations who predated the Arab and Muslim conquests by centuries and were ethnically cleansed far more thoroughly than the Palestinians were by the Israeli rulers. Those with money or credentials fled to the West; the poor – those who lost everything -- became Israel’s “rightwing” working class.

The demand for a one-state solution in all of Palestine (Jordan too?) is one of many rightful and just remedies for Palestinian grievances. But it is also betrays an abject blindness to the equally valid trauma of ethnically cleansed Israelis, who scour the Arab world for evidence of the very toleration and trust – the social and political equality -- they never experienced as constituents of that world. For them it is a return to the vulnerability of the status quo ante.

It also suggests that that anything less than a one-state solution is a concession to a fundamentally criminal and illegitimate state, just as "BLM is said by racists to be a means of deflecting from the issue of black lawlessness. In this sense, while not anti-semitism, this slogan may be a not-too distant relative.

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