Anti-Zionism is NOT antisemitism

By Jeremy Dewar

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon is the latest Labour MP to be targeted by the Jewish Chronicle and Labour Friends of Israel and tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism. There are of course local and European elections coming up, so we should expect the witch-hunters inside the party to be throwing up fresh accusations.

Journalist Iggy Ostanin has published a video recording of the Leeds MP addressing a Labour Party meeting in the summer of 2014, with these words:

“The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people. The enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists, and Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people.”

It is of course the second sentence that was picked up by Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement and Joan Ryan, who is still the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, though she is no longer a friend of Labour, having deserted the party for the dustbin that is Change UK.

But it is indicative of the brass neck of the accusers that Labour Party members can be accused of antisemitism, even when they say that Jewish people are not to blame for atrocities carried out by the Israeli Defence Force. The context of Burgon’s remarks was the summer of 2014, when the IDF launched land, air and drone attacks on defenceless Gazan civilians for seven weeks, during which 2,250 Palestinians were slaughtered and 10,000 seriously injured, including 3,000 children.

Katz doesn’t mention any of this. He simply complains that, since a majority of Jewish people are Zionists, “insulting a core part of their identity” is “shameful”. But Zionism is a political ideology and the state of Israel is, according to its leaders, carrying out its agenda. If political activists and parties are not allowed to criticise other activists, parties and nation states on the grounds that a group of people might feel hurt because they identify with the ideals that those states claim to embody… then frankly we are lost.

If I claim to identify with “British values” of tolerance, democracy and the rule of law, should I expect an apology from anyone who condemns the British invasion of Iraq? Of course it is laughable when the “rights” of Zionists and supporters of Israel are transferred to other states and their self-image.

But the attack on Burgon is not an isolated incident. It follows on from:
• Marc Wadsworth, expelled for calling out Ruth Smeeth MP for working “hand-in-hand” with the right wing press, because Smeeth is Jewish and even to suggest that a Jewish person have some relationship the press is an antisemitic trope.
• Jackie Walker, expelled for asking for a definition of antisemitism that she could “work with” and suggesting that African victims of the slave trade could be remembered like Jewish victims of the Holocaust are.
• Chris Williamson MP, suspended for telling a Momentum meeting that Labour “have given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic” on the accusations of Labour and the left being riddled with antisemitism, even though he stressed that the “scourge of antisemitism” needed to be “addressed”.

The pattern is to cry “wolf!” when any left wing MP or activist criticises the Zionist government of Israel, questions the motives of those who are making these accusations or defends someone who has been accused of antisemitism.

Of course in a party of over 500,000 there will be individuals who post antisemitic conspiracy theories on Facebook and trolls who send vile posts to Jewish MPs like Luciana Berger. Red Flag stands in complete solidarity with all victims of such attacks. Likewise any identification of Israel and its actions against the Palestinians with the Jewish people, or with individuals because they are Jewish, must be called out and condemned. If these perpetrators can be identified they should be expelled from the party as the racists they plainly are.

But this regime – in its totality – closely resembles McCarthyism, the US witch-hunt of communists in the 1950s, it also does a grave and dangerous disservice to the fight against real antisemitism, which is on the rise in the US, mainland Europe and here in Britain. It forms a basic ideological plank – not of the far left – but of the far right.


Red Flag is a socialist organisation campaigning within Labour for a democratically planned and owned economy. We campaign for grassroots democracy in the labour movement, militant defence of the oppressed and an anticapitalist programme for the Labour Party. Against Brexit, for free movement. Anticapitalist and internationalist.

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