ONE OF THE LABOUR PARTY’S best known members makes an uncomplimentary remark about Zionism and repeats it despite having given gross offence to every Jew in the land. The National Constitutional Committee (NCC) is denounced for its shameful failure to expel the offender – proof positive of rampant antisemitism in the Party. The culprit is sent back to the NEC for another round of disciplinary action. A cut and dried case, surely.
But if every Jew in the land has been deeply offended, how come five of them, loyal party members to a man and woman, including a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor as well as myself, have stepped up to the plate to defend Ken Livingstone? If antisemitism is the problem, how come the general secretary of the Party did not press that charge? If antisemitism is not the problem, then in what way can Livingstone’s comments have been judged to bring the Party into disrepute? This can only be the case if offending people who support a particular political ideology, Zionism, amounts to conduct unacceptable in a Labour Party member. Not so simple after all.
At the heart of this costly fiasco, which has seen many hundreds of staff hours dedicated to sifting through the past social media posts of party members suspected of sympathy with the Palestinians, is a disputed definition of antisemitism which seeks to equate criticism of Israel and its founding ideology, Zionism, with hatred of Jews.
When Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, many of the new intake of members shared his principled internationalist outlook. As socialists they were opposed to Israel’s denial of justice for Palestine. For establishment politicians and media gurus determined to derail the Corbyn project, pro-Israel lobbyists making allegations of antisemitism were a gift.
In a statement directly relevant to Livingstone’s case, Hugh Tomlinson, who drafted a legal opinion on the IHRA definition of antisemitism, stated: “ The fact that speech is offensive to a particular group is not, of itself, a proper ground for prohibition or sanction.”
A letter to the NCC from more than 30 Jewish Labour Party members denounced the “cynical and manipulative” use of the antisemitism allegations. They said: “It is harmful to Jewish people that false charges of antisemitism are so casually thrown around.”
There is nothing inherently antisemitic about opposing the state of Israel and the ideology that denies rights to another people. Labour needs to take note of non-Zionist, Jewish socialist traditions, that prioritise universalist, humanitarian principles and do not seek to uncouple antisemitism from the other forms of racism that socialists should be fighting.
Free Speech on Israel, Chingford and Woodford Green CLP.