‘Anti-Zionism feeds antisemitism. To fight racism, Labour must recognise this’

Louise Ellman

At the heart of the shocking growth of antisemitism in the Labour party after 2015 rested a myth – widely adopted by elements of the far-left – that the State of Israel is somehow symbolic of, and central to, all the world’s ills. 

It’s a myth which, unsurprisingly, echoes traditional antisemitic tropes about the pernicious and malign influence of Jews.

And it is one which, LFI’s new publication, Antisemitic anti-Zionism: The Character and Origins of an Ideology, suggests, we need to expose and tackle if we’re to maintain the huge progress Keir has achieved since 2020 in ridding our party of the scourge of anti-Jewish racism. 

As one of our contributors, Izabella Tabarovsky, details, the central tenets of antizionism were constructed and spread way beyond the confines of the Iron Curtain by the Soviet Union’s propaganda machine. 

Over time, this worldview – which drew on ideas peddled by a loose far-right, antisemitic Russian nationalist movement which emerged in the 1950s – came to infect and warp the thinking of the hard left in many western democracies. Its consequences are still felt by Jews three decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Indeed, as recent research from the US-based Anti-Defamation League exemplifies, there is a “substantive correlation … between belief in anti-Jewish tropes and anti-Israel sentiment”. 

So how does Labour, as it prepares to shift from the politics of opposition to the responsibilities of government, continue to fulfil Keir’s mission of eliminating antisemitism from our party?

There are five overlapping and interrelated steps upon which I believe we should focus.

First, prejudice thrives amid ignorance. The British Jewish community’s sense of security will remain shaken for many years, perhaps indefinitely, after the shocking experience of the Labour party descending into antisemitism. Yet many Labour members may forget how quickly and easily our party slid into the hard left abyss. This horrendous part of Labour party history must never be forgotten. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Second, recognise that antizionism has no place in the Labour tradition. Labour – which endorsed the notion of a Jewish homeland even before the Balfour Declaration – has a long and proud history of support for Zionism. It is one which stretches back through time and across the party’s wings and factions.

Third, too often, we see an obsessive and disproportionate focus on the Jewish state combined with a level of ferocious, denunciatory criticism which is clearly designed to demonise and delegitimise Israel and its people. Israeli governments should not escape criticism for their faults, but Israel should not be held to standards not expected or demanded of other democratic states.

The debate within the party about the Middle East must therefore be fair, proportionate and balanced. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a tragedy, with terror on the streets of Tel Aviv and increasing violence across the West Bank serving as a painful reminder. We must continue to promote a negotiated two-state solution. We must be pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and pro-peace. Our place must always be by the side of peacemakers and progressives among both peoples.

A debate framed and conducted in this manner is the best guardian against a resurgence of antizionism. It is also the best route for a future Labour government to be a trusted, credible and respected international player in the struggle for peace, reconciliation and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Fourth, we must be constantly vigilant against those who seek to diminish or excuse antisemitism and shelter behind the lie that those who call it out are simply trying to silence criticism of Israel or weaponise the issue for political ends. This is offensive, untrue and, as the American Jewish Committee’s hate glossary argues, antisemitic. 

Finally, as another of our contributors, Dr David Hirsh, argues, we must be wary of those “who only denounce the antisemitism in the political communities that they already despise”. Those who peddle hateful language and lies about Israel – who compare it to an apartheid state or draw shameful analogies between its actions and those of Nazi Germany – cannot claim to be opponents of antisemitism simple because they’ve attacked anti-Jewish racism on the populist right.

Under Keir’s leadership, the battle against antisemitism is being fought and won. To ensure that this victory is both complete and lasting, we must recognise the absolute centrality of anti-Zionism in feeding this latest variant of the world’s oldest hatred.

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