By KD Tait
HUNDREDS of Labour Party members attended a rally called by Jewish Voice for Labour and others outside the party’s headquarters, to call on the NEC to oppose adopting the full IHRA definition of antisemitism, including all the examples, which would ban members from opposing the racist character of the Zionist settler state.
Demonstrators heard speeches from Jewish and Palestinian activists who denounced the artificial smear campaign which has been waged against Jeremy Corbyn – a lifelong anti-racist – as well as against anti-Zionist Jews. Speakers pointed out that the IHRA examples, which conflate antisemitism with criticism of Israel, will hinder not help, the fight against genuine antisemitism, i.e. hostility towards Jews as Jews.
The high turnout at short notice on a weekday morning shows the strength of feeling amongst grassroots members who are fed up of being denounced as antisemites for opposing Israel’s racist apartheid laws, and expressing solidarity with the Palestinians’ legitimate demands for the right to return and live as equal citizens in their homeland.
One of the contentious “examples of contemporary antisemitism” (which are not part of the official definition and were not adopted by IHRA member states) provided is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Socialists do not deny the right of Israeli Jews to self-determination, but we do deny Zionists the right to exercise that self-determination at the expense of the Palestinians. Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians, whose land and homes were expropriated by the Israeli state and redistributed to settlers. Another 300,000 were driven out during the 1967 “Seven Day War”. The refugees and their descendants were barred from returning.
The Zionist project is predicated on the establishment of a Jewish state on the former territory of the Palestinians; this has been codified in the recent nation state bill passed by the Israeli parliament which asserts that only Jews have the right to national self-determination in Israel. The Jewish character of the Zionist settler-state is artificially maintained through apartheid laws discriminating against Palestinian Arabs, the occupation of the West Bank, and a state of siege imposed on the giant open concentration camp in the Gaza Strip.
The one voice notably missing in this whole charade is that of the Palestinians, hundreds of whom have been killed in the past few months by Israeli occupation troops; nearly two million remain besieged in the Gaza Strip, unable to travel, rebuild their homes or work. Without reliable access to healthcare, electricity or clean water, they now face a renewed international onslaught by Israel’s new best friend Donald Trump who has scrapped all United States funding for the main UN relief programme for Palestinian refugees, and moved the embassy to Jerusalem.
A coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations have issued a “call on the British Labour party, trade unions, city councils, universities and civil society at large to reject the IHRA’s false, anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism.”
“[A]ny use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on antisemitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of [Israeli] settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.”
And pointing out,
“We recognise the severe pressure being placed on public bodies in the UK, and globally, to adopt this politicised and fraudulent definition of antisemitism. We would assert that those in the UK have a particular moral, political and arguably legal obligation to atone for historic and current British crimes against the Palestinian people and complicity in maintaining Israel’s regime of oppression.”
Let’s be clear what this is about. Since Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, the Israeli state has killed far more Palestinian civilians than there have been complaints of antisemitism against Labour Party members. Every instance of genuine racism in Labour is one too many, but we should not take lessons from the cynical opportunists on the backbenches, let alone the likes of former Labour MP Frank Field or the Iraq war criminal Gordon Brown.
Nevertheless, Labour’s NEC looks likely to adopt the definition in full, with a caveat that criticism of Israel is not necessarily antisemitic. Yet having defended the original Code of Conduct, and opposed adopting the IHRA definition for several months, a capitulation now will represent a severe blow to Corbyn’s leadership and mark a triumph for the right who will use this with-hunters’ charter to persecute those who stand against Israel’s crimes.
We must be clear that concessions to the Zionists and Labour right will not end the attacks on Labour from those inside and outside the party. Margaret Hodge MP, who called Corbyn a “fucking racist and antisemite”, has said it will make no difference if the NEC adopts the full definition, because Corbyn is the problem and has to go. The Jewish Leadership Council wrote a letter to General Secretary Jennie Formby promising to continue accusing Labour of being antisemitic until it commits to a “deep cultural change” towards “Zionism and Israel”.
These statements reveal what this McCarthyite witch-hunt is really about: a political hit job on the Labour leader in an attempt to decapitate the movement that is on the threshold of taking power with a left wing programme, led by a lifelong supporter of Palestinian rights. It is clear that trying to appease our opponents who have weaponised the issue of antisemitism will not work: they are not honest “colleagues” trying to reach common ground, they are a hardened faction committed to demoralising the left, removing its leadership, and regaining control of the party for the ruling class.
The strategy is clear: with the help of the bosses’ media and the Israeli embassy, the opponents of the left will wage an unrelenting smear campaign, force Corbyn into concession after concession, undermining his credibility until he is forced out by the trade unions and “left” MPs or the members are too demoralised to defend him against a new leadership challenge.
The campaign to defend Corbyn’s leadership, which represents a step forward in the struggle of the working class to build a party that stands for their interests against the capitalists, has been undermined by the actions of those who should be helping to rally our movement. John McDonnell has played the role of conciliator, working to shield Margaret Hodge, who if she was an ordinary member would have been slung out bag and baggage, and calling for the NEC to adopt the IHRA examples.
When Jonathan Sacks, a former Chief Rabbi and close friend of Margaret Thatcher, said “…we have an anti-Semite as the leader of the Labour Party and her majesty’s opposition. That is why Jews feel so threatened by Mr Corbyn and those who support him.” John McDonnell responded that his remarks “brutally honest” but mistaken and invited him to talk to Jeremy.
Jon Lansman, the proprietor of Momentum, by suppressing the organisation’s internal democracy has prevented it from mobilising the grassroots in defence of the limited gains we have made against the right.
There can only be one winner in this battle. Either the progressive and internationalist part of Labour’s membership organise to defeat this attack and go on to democratise the party and adopt a socialist programme that commits to breaking with the ruling class and the imperialist system – or Corbyn will eventually be ousted, the membership expropriated and the working class subjected to a renewed onslaught of austerity, racism and war at home and abroad.