By John Johnson- PNN/ Bethlehem/
Jonathan Arkush, leader of the Jewish Board of Deputies, has accused UK labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of holding ‘anti-Semitic views’ because of his criticism of Israel.
This follows a meeting on 24th April when Corbyn met with Jonathan Arkush and Jonathan Goldstein, leaders of the Jewish board of Deputies and Jewish leadership council to discuss accusations that Corbyn is not doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.
However, this meeting was really the latest part of a renewed campaign by the Zionist lobby to label any support for Palestine as anti-Semitic, to try to crush the growing BDS movement and left in general. Corbyn is a target because of his lifelong support for Palestine.
Among the demands at the meeting were that Labour adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), definition of anti-Semitism, which includes a section linking criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism:
“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”is, according to this, anti-Semitism.
Corbyn’s refusal to accept the definition has been slandered by pro-Israel press, claiming this shows he is not committed to fighting anti-Semitism. Arkush described it as “quite an easy thing for them to have said yes to”. According to him “de-legitimising the state of Israel is anti-Semitic”, even though Corbyn has always been involved in anti-racist activity and it is clear that he is opposed to anti-Semitism.
However, equating criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism would be a huge blow for the Pro-Palestine movement.
Pressure against Palestine support has already been an issue within the labour party. Stan Keable, Secretary of ‘Labour against the witch-hunt’, which rejects the IHRA definition and speaks out against unfair accusations against critics of Israel, was recently sacked from his council job for comments about Zionists collaboration with the Nazi regime, a historic fact.
It has also been an problem on university campuses, many of which are traditionally hotbeds of pro-Palestine activism. In 2017, the National Union of Students was pressured into adopting the IHRA definition: this has since been used to stifle support for Palestine.
Last year Malia Bouattia, former President of the NUS, faced accusations of anti-Semitism during her re-election campaign because of involvement in a play titled ‘Seven Jewish Children’. The play intended to criticize Israel and attacks on Gaza, not Jews as a whole. She also faced similar smears in 2016 because of tweets calling Birmingham a ‘Zionist outpost’ and criticizing ‘Zionist-led media outlets’. Again, these tweets clearly criticize Zionism, not all Jewish people.
The international movement for Palestine needs to be firm that Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. Since its origins, Israel has set out to erode the rights of Palestinians. In the 1948 Nakba, Israeli military forcefully removed 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, killing thousands.
In 1967, it occupied the West Bank and Gaza and since then has systematically built illegal settlements there. Its laws give fewer rights to Palestinians than Israelis, and it restricts their freedom of movement with military checkpoints that Israelis do not have to pass. In Gaza, it has consistently pursued a bombing campaign or ‘slow genocide’.
I saw this in Hebron, where Israeli soldiers enforce Jewish only streets to protect armed settlers living in the houses of evicted Palestinians. Where markets are covered by heavy mesh to block the rocks, rubbish and bottles of piss dropped on them by the settlers in the flats above. Military checkpoints prevent Palestinians from travelling freely in their own town and Palestinians can be shot in the street without provocation, media representation or legal justice.
Anti-Zionism is about speaking out against these abominations. It has nothing to do with hating Jews. Where there is sadly anti-Semitism in the pro-Palestinian movement, it is a reaction to oppression by a state that claims to represent world Jewry.
These claims ignore the many non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews. It denies voices to organizations like Jewdas, Jews for Justice for Palestine, Rabbis for Human rights, Breaking the silence and more who speak out against Israel’s murder, apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. It ignores Jews oppressed by Israel for belonging to the wrong branch of Judaism, having the wrong colour skin or the wrong political views.
Most of all, it paints Jews as a singular mass, who all support Zionism and are incapable of individual thought. This is in itself anti-Semitic, and leads some to blame all Jews for the actions of Israel.
Supporters of Palestine should challenge all forms of discrimination, including real anti-Semitism, which is hatred of Jews for being Jews. We should also not stop speaking out for Palestinians for fear of being called anti-Semitic. We should be firm that Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitic.
The BDS movement is growing and the international Zionist lobby is aware. We should take courage from this and see their fear as a sign of our growing strength. They are losing the ideological battle. False accusation of anti-Semitism is one of the only cards they have left. Don’t let them play it.