CHAMBERLAIN AFTER KRISTALLNACHT: “NO DOUBT THE JEWS AREN’T A LOVEABLE PEOPLE. I DON’T CARE ABOUT THEM MYSELF”
* Joel Braunold, Haaretz:
Watching the British Labour Party fail miserably to deal with anti-Semitism over recent days, took me back to my days on the National Executive Committee of the National Union of Students, an organization that has been a feeder to the front lines of left-wing national politics in Britain for decades. I recall the leaflet that the National Executive Committee handed out that claimed that the Holocaust killed thousands of trade unionists, disabled people, gays and communists. The pamphlet omitted one key group: Jews. Here we had dedicated anti-racists educating about the Holocaust while airbrushing out its Jewish victims.
The utter refusal of the hard left in Britain to accept that anti-Semitism can morph from the traditional eugenics into parts of modern-day anti-Zionist discourse stems from its rejection of Jews as a people.
* Professor Colin Shindler, Haaretz:
Few British Jews plan to vote Labour in the next general election: only 8.5 percent of Jews will do so according to the latest poll.
Fifty years ago, it was all very different. Then it was the Conservatives who primarily had a streak of snobbish English anti-Semitism running through their veins. As the Conservative prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, pointed out after Kristallnacht: “No doubt the Jews aren’t a loveable people. I don’t care about them myself...”
A comprehensive academic survey of the attitudes of British Jews towards Israel a few months ago indicated that an overwhelming 93% identified with Israel. Who then are the “Zios” if not practically every British Jew?
REMEMBERING THAT THE HOLOCAUST IS IMPORTANT
[Note by Tom Gross]
Following last week’s dispatch on anti-Semitism and the British Left, I attach two further articles on the subject, both written by people on the center-left, published in the Israeli paper Haaretz.
On a more positive note, the newly-elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, sent a clear signal to London’s population and to his own party, that he was distancing himself from his party leaders, by choosing, as his very first act as mayor, to attend a Holocaust memorial with the British chief rabbi.
It came on the same day that the last Labour mayor of London (Ken Livingstone) repeated his obnoxious lies about Hitler.
Khan is now considered to be western Europe’s most powerful Muslim politician, and in the past, he has associated with some very extreme Islamists.
(Incidentally, I have injured my hand, it is hard to type, and I may not be able to reply to all the email I get.)
* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.
“AN INQUIRY INTO ANTI-SEMITISM WILL ACHIEVE NOTHING”
Labour Party’s anti-Semitism struggle: Recognizing Jews are a people, not just a religion
By Joel Braunold
May 9, 2016
I left the U.K. Labour Party when I received my Green Card. I felt it was odd to continue to be part of a British political party when I had officially moved overseas for good. Yet, watching the party miserably fail to deal with anti-Semitism over the past ten days, and Ken Livingstone’s unending obsession with Hitler and the Jews, took me back to my days on the National Executive Committee of the National Union of Students, an organization that has been a feeder to the front lines of left-wing national politics in Britain for decades.
In 2008, I was elected as one of the 27 national executive members of the NUS. As Sam Lebens, a friend and mentor who served there two years before me, wrote in the Forward, the NUS was often a tense place for Jewish students, especially when they tried to get the majority to accept that anti-Semitism should be taken seriously.
During my own year on the NEC the first Gaza war, Operation Cast Lead, took place. We debated motions about whether NUS would march with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign or condemn the usage of anti-Semitic imagery at the rallies. At another point during that year, I had to confront the hard left on the National Executive Committee about a leaflet that was being handed out that claimed that the Holocaust killed thousands of trade unionists, disabled people, gays and communists. While these groups were indeed victims, the pamphlet omitted one key group: Jews. Here we had dedicated anti-racists educating about the Holocaust while airbrushing out its Jewish victims.
In-between votes on theses issues, I would engage those who were part of the hard left – those who saw themselves as belonging to the same leftist faction as Ken Livingstone – on how they could possibly justify their anti-racist credentials when they were doing things that were so offensive to the Jewish community.
It all came down to their inability to understand why Jews were anything more than a religious group.
They felt that assigning Jews a peoplehood status would be to agree with the eugenics of the Nazis that Jews were “different” or “other;” that only the far-right fascists could see Jews in this way, rather than as just normal white folk. By reducing the Jewish experience into a religious dogma, the hard-left concurred, they were doing Jews a favor.
Jews did not have a place in the traditional liberation campaigns of the NUS. Being Jewish was not the same as being black, LGBTQ, female or disabled. Jews were hated by fascists; the hard left just wanted them to assimilate. According to the hard left in the NUS, being particularist about your Jewish ethnic background was to buy into a racism that was forced upon you.
The hard left was simply incapable of learning the lessons of why Jews felt that the enlightenment did not go their way (read: the Dreyfus affair) and insisted on “flattening” what it means to be a Jew into a solely religious experience.
The utter refusal of the hard left in Britain to accept that anti-Semitism can morph from the traditional eugenics into parts of modern-day anti-Zionist discourse stems from its rejection of Jews as a people. It is an unfortunate fact that Judaism comes from a time before census surveys began separating the “religion” box from the “ethnicity” box. In their worldview, Jewish peoplehood is a categorical error.
The core problem will not be solved until the hard left in Britain recognizes that the Jewish people are more than just a religious community. But the hard left is finding it hard to see that modern anti-Semitism exists beyond the far right, and in fact extends into its own territory.
Therefore, their obsession with Israel – and their inability to distinguish anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism – is based in their rejection of the concept of the Jewish people. The nation state was never a construct that the hard left liked in the first place. When coupled with a people that the hard left denies exists outside a religious context, Zionism becomes for them the embodiment of everything they oppose. The Jewish state reminds them that a Utopian view where a leftist emancipation will heal all wounds fails the test of history, and that demography and territory is something that oppressed people do aspire to.
The personalities within Britain’s Labour Party who are being accused of having an anti-Semitism problem are of the same political bent as the hard left that I came into contact with during my time on the NEC of the NUS. It’s therefore clear that Labour’s anti-Semitism problem won’t go away until the hard-left elements within the party accept that Jews are more than a religious group. It won’t matter how many people are suspended from the party if its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, can’t bring himself to say “anti-Semitism” without qualifying it alongside other forms of racism.
Without recognizing the particular challenge of modern anti-Semitism, the new inquiry into anti-Semitism that the Labour Party has launched will – I fear – achieve nothing.
END OF AN ERA
End of an era: Is the British Jewish vote for Labour in terminal decline?
By Professor Colin Shindler
May 6, 2016
Many Labour Jews voted for Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London with a heavy heart. Khan’s past association with unsavory Islamists who were not shy about peppering their views with anti-Semitic tropes undoubtedly jarred. Yet during the election campaign Khan went out of his way to court the Jewish community and instantly denounced the view of his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, that “Hitler supported Zionism.” However, the feeling lingers – if he changed his views once, could he now do it again when in office?
Fifty years ago, it was all very different. Most British Jews felt that Labour was their natural home. The Conservatives, it was argued, had a streak of snobbish English anti-Semitism running through their veins. As the Conservative prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, pointed out after Kristallnacht: “No doubt the Jews aren’t a loveable people. I don’t care about them myself, but that is not sufficient to explain the pogrom.” In contrast, the British Left, together with the Jews, fought the local fascists in London’s East End in the 1930s.
Labour leader Harold Wilson was regarded as “a friend of Israel” and even sent his son to Kibbutz Yagur to learn Hebrew. The parliamentary Labour Party boasted of between 30 and 40 Jewish members of the House of Commons – a hugely disproportionate number, given the small number of Jews in Britain (around 400,000, less than 1% of the population). Gerald Kaufman, currently “Father of the House of Commons” (its most veteran member) and now a virulent critic of Israel, was Wilson’s intermediary with the Israel Embassy, admirer of Ben-Gurion and all-round uber-Zionist.
Wilson had been a follower of Aneurin Bevan, the acknowledged leader of the Labour Left (but never PM) in post-war Britain and the revered founder of the National Health Service. Bevan was a dyed-in-the-wool Zionist and threatened to resign from Atlee’s government because of British policy in Mandate Palestine in the 1940s. Bevan’s wife, Jennie Lee, a politician in her right and founder of Britain’s Open University, wrote after their visit to Israel in 1954:
“They gather in their own from every kind of area, none so humble, so diseased, so illiterate, so despised and downtrodden that they are not welcome. This is the kind of passion that socialist workers everywhere who have had their own experience of victimization and of exile through poverty, should particularly understand.”
The further left that was travelled, the more sympathetic to the Zionist experiment. Labour politicians such as Tony Benn were enthralled at the prospect of building socialism in Israel. They were deeply aware that the Allies may have won the war, but the Jews had certainly lost it. The survivors had crawled out of the camps and were constructing something unique in a promised land.
Today’s Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and indeed Livingstone himself, were members of the succeeding generation. A “New Left” that had not experienced the Shoah or lived through the rise of Israel came of age during the post-war period of decolonization. They understood the nascent Palestinian national movement in the context of other national liberation movements – and this mindset was in place before Israel’s settlement drive after the Six-Day War. The establishment of West Bank settlements merely exacerbated this outlook. The New Left was often indifferent to the right of the Jews to national self-determination. For them, Zionism was wrong, not different.
Such a view of Israel has moved from the political periphery in the 1960s to the center of the Labour Party in 2016. Corbyn has not been a mediator in the past in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, but a facilitator of Palestinian hasbara. Like Sadiq Khan, he has shared platforms with reactionaries and looked the other way when anti-Zionism has tipped over into anti-Semitism.
One feature that has gone largely unnoticed in this current controversy has been the willingness of many Jewish liberals to now publicly attack the Labour Party. This would have been unthinkable a short time ago.
While many on the Jewish Right would say “I told you so,” it is clear that there have been profound changes in the Labour Party during the last five years. For example, the pejorative term “Zios” is a recent introduction. Yet the comprehensive academic survey of the attitudes of British Jews towards Israel a few months ago indicated that an overwhelming 93% identified in some fashion with Israel. Who then are the “Zios” if not practically every British Jew?
The Britain of 2016 is very much an operating multi-cultural society. Many of the post-war and newer immigrants identify with an anti-colonial ethos. Moreover, just as a majority of British Jews look to Israel, a majority of British Muslims identify with the Palestinians. The Muslim population of the UK is seven or eight times as large as the Jewish population and thus far more electorally significant. It’s no surprise that all political parties, especially during election campaigns, take note of this.
The trade unions (a faction of the party with significant voting power) parachuted Ed Miliband into the Labour leadership in 2010 over the wishes of both local constituencies and the parliamentary party (who preferred his brother David). His disastrous tenure was marked by a new system of party membership which enabled an influx of hundreds of thousands. Many were young people who wished to rid Labour of the men in blue suits and return the party to its traditional values on behalf of working people. For others, this was a subtle form of entryism such that many members of the far Left found a new home. The unlikely figure of Jeremy Corbyn on Labour’s most peripheral Left was carried on a wave of messianic fervor to the leadership.
Operation Protective Edge in 2014 was a turning point. The large number of Palestinian civilian casualties blotted out any rational explanation of the conflict. It was accentuated by instant and blanket media coverage in Britain and became a cause célèbre on the Left. The election of Corbyn last year was a psychological green light to what had been bubbling up below to overflow publicly. Social media acted as a loudspeaker. Ken Livingstone’s outburst, reminiscent of the mutterings of the white working-class far-right, was the spark that ignited the fire – and persuaded many Jewish Labour supporters to think twice about voting for Sadiq Khan.
While undoubtedly Jews have moved to the Right as a result of a growing affluence, and the philo-Semitism of Margaret Thatcher’s long tenure, there is also a widening schism between Labour-voting Jews and the party. Anti-Semitism is a live issue now for British Jews and Jeremy Corbyn is seen as an albatross around Labour’s neck. Some two-thirds of Jewish Labour voters have deserted Labour since Tony Blair’s period in office. A Survation poll for the Jewish Chronicle which was conducted this week indicates that only 8.5 percent of British Jews would vote Labour if a general election was held tomorrow.
Accusations of anti-Semitism and covert racism are an ideological dagger pointed at Labour’s heart, and it shouldn’t be a problem only for British Jews. While some members are being suspended and an inquiry has been established, will this be successful? Is it a political environment that is the problem or simply the opinions of a few individual members?
Perhaps the victor in this controversy is the depth of ignorance about the Israel-Palestine conflict among party members and an indifference to inappropriate and racist language – when it’s targeted at Jews. Education doesn’t only start with the young, but also with the ignorant.