One of the eleven examples of antisemitism in the IHRA is this: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”
With the IHRA adoption by Labour, some on the Labour left, has asserted their “right” to call Israel a “racist endeavour”.
Shortly after the Labour NEC vote a posters carrying the slogan “Israel is a racist endeavour” popped up around London.
At first appearance it seems not an unreasonable slogan: Israel’s government is doing a lot of racist things, passing racist laws and occupying another country.
But if any other country were to conduct an occupation or war of aggression (like the UK, or Saudi Arabia) or a dirty, colonial war (like Turkey), or to pass racist laws (like Hungary), the left would say something like “the government should stop doing that.” “End the occupation!” “Amend the constitution!” “Repeal the racist law!” “Independence for the oppressed people!”
But the “racist endeavour” slogan on the posters makes no such demand of Israel. The “demand”, if there is one, is: “Israel should cease to exist”. More than that, because Israel's very existence is racist, if you don't agree that Israel should cease to exist, then you are a racist, too.
But the overwhelming majority of the world's Jews have, or feel, some connection to Israel: if they don't have family there, they'll often know someone who does. That is a result of racism — that is, of the Holocaust and the worldwide slamming of doors in Jewish refugees' faces; and the post-World War Two ethnic cleansing of Jews from much of the Middle East, and the post-World War Two Stalinist purges of “Zionists”. With whatever misgivings (polls show that most British Jews feel some connection to Israel but disapprove of its actions), with whatever criticism or whatever complicated feelings or political opinions, the majority want Israel to continue to exist. Not all, by any means! But most.
So if the left chooses to make its battle-cry, not “justice for the Palestinians”, not “independence for Palestine now!”, but “Israel's existence is racist; Israel must cease to exist; if you disagree then you are a racist!” — what does that imply about the relationship of the left to the majority of the world's Jews?
You can't maintain this point of view without running up against this contradiction. And too many leftists are deciding to resolve the contradiction by regarding Jews with suspicion until they prove themselves to be “anti-Zionists”.
Another absurdity of the posture of the hardcore anti-Zionist left is this: from the point of view of the struggle for Palestinian freedom, the right of middle-aged Labour Party members to say vaguely offensive things about Jews on Facebook is a non-issue. But such is the epic self-regard of the “anti-Zionists” that they have elevated this non-issue to being the most central, most urgent political question of the day. The obsessive heat generated by their fight gives us an idea of where their priorities lie: with their right to spout invective about “the Zionists” more than with Palestinian rights.
Corbyn's stated position on this issue is good, so we should build on that, try to make some ground against hardcore anti-Zionism, and in the meantime direct our fire on the Israeli government. Or for that matter the US government, which is also very busy right now undermining Palestinian rights.
For the two nations we advocate two states. For an independent Palestine and equal rights for ethnic minorities within Israel. For workers' unity, for solidarity and direct links with those fighting for rights and democracy in Israel-Palestine.
I agree that we should be cautious about where such a statement *can* lead and often *does* lead, especially given the prevalence of conspiratorial antisemitism on the left. Uses of this slogan are often dumb and underpinned by an unthinking antisemitism which seems quite pervasive. But given the wider context (e.g. a factional battle in the Labour party) there's also a lot more to it than that. In terms of the statement "Israel is a racist endeavour", there are bad arguments in its favour, and good arguments in its favour, but these are flattened out in the IHRA example (and in this article), which effectively renders all foundational critiques of the Israeli state -- including those proposed by anti-Zionist Jews, anarchists and No Borders activists etc. -- as antisemitic, even when those critiques are applied equally (as they *sometimes* are on the left) against other colonial settler states like Australia, the US, Canada etc. And of course this is grist to the mill for those self-avowed liberals who understand racism only as an individual attitudinal defect confined to political extremists on the left and the right.
Personally I would argue that the migration of Jews to Palestine, and their aspiration for some form of national state in that territory, were legitimate and understandable in light of the Holocaust and other persecutions (i.e. what Deutscher referred to as a "raft state"); but at the same time, regretfully, a European-style "Orientalist" racism was hardwired into the Zionist enterprise from an early stage, one which has been institutionalized into the Israeli state and remains almost entirely in tact today. So is Israel a racist enterprise? Yes and no: it was, in key respects, a response to one form of racism and an expression of another. Is it any more of a racist enterprise than other European colonial settler states? No, but its racist structures were established more recently, and therefore remain in tact to a far greater (and more visible) degree, than other European colonialist endeavours; hence some (but by no means all) of the opprobrium which it attracts today.
There is an unacknowledged lion in your path here; there is never going to be a two state solution; there will either be an Israeli ethnostate, purged of its Palestinian minority during some future war, or a democratic secular state of Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all. Socialists must opt for the latter. The only people, with the exception of yourselves and the Palestinian Authority, who claim to advocate a two-state solution are fraudsters like Hillary Clinton. Israel is a racist state in the same sense as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US; colonial-settler states in which the indigenes have suffered dispossession. In these cases, as in Israel, we cannot undo all past historical crimes but it is in our power to fight for the maximum possible restorative justice. As, for instance, today's Australians are Australians and not British settlers, it would be absurd and also impossible to advocate "returning" them to a homeland which is no longer theirs, neither should we demand the same of Israelis; but Australian aborigines and Palestinians are entitled to full and effective citizenship rights regardless of colour or religion. I can see little in the "anti-semitism" furore currently ongoing in the UK than a psywar op conducted by Blairite revanchists, the Israeli embassy, and the gutter media, in this instance including the Guardian.All of them the sort of people you would be well advised to steer clear of.
I think the article dodges one of the central problems, which is that the raison d'être of Israel is to privilege a particular ethnic group - Jews - over all other ethnic groups. In other words your status in Israel is defined by your ethnicity, such that if you are a Jew, you are constitutionally privileged. So when you talk about two states, will one of them, Israel, continue for example to operate the Law of Return as a law reserved exclusively for Jews? And if all ethnic groups in both Israel and Palestine were granted identical rights (inc. a Law of Return applied to all), would this not imply that there is no need for two separate states, given that until only recently there was just one?