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Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsWe will continue exploring the border between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism during the sixth week of the course. We will now turn to explore actual examples of the way extreme anti-Zionism is expressed today in antisemitic terms and motifs. As part of the current-day penetration of more radical voices into the mainstream, previously marginal voices from the Far- left have gradually become more present and dominant in the center of this political sphere, becoming more visible as well as more influential. Thus the view of Israel and Zionism as the centers of Imperialism are also becoming more widespread.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 secondsLet's examine the way anti-Zionism is expressed by elements from the Far-left today by focusing on the case of Britain and on the British Labour Party, the major party of the British Left-wing, which was at the helm of the British government several times throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. In 2016 the Labour Party established a committee known as the Chakrabarti Inquiry, to investigate allegations of antisemitism and other forms of racism amongst its ranks. What events led to the establishment of this inquiry, and did the inquiry achieve its goals? The Chakrabarti inquiry was an inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the British Labour Party in 2016.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 secondsAnd the reason the inquiry was held by the party was because there had been a whole series of Labour Party members and activists, including quite senior people, who had allegedly made antisemitic remarks and some of them had been suspended from the party and some had even been kicked out. And this reached a head in April 2016, when a Labour member of Parliament Naz Shah, who's the MP for Bradford West, was revealed to have put various statements on Facebook in 2014 at the time of the conflict in Israel and Gaza which many people considered to be antisemitic.

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 secondsOne such statement was a map of Israel superimposed onto the United States of America with a title saying "Proposed solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Relocate Israel to the United States. And she had endorsed this idea and made a joke about it on Facebook and other comments as well. There was an online opinion poll run by a local newspaper about the conflict and Naz Shah had put a message on her Facebook encouraging her supporters to vote for the Palestinian side of the

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 secondsquestion and the comment she put was: "The Jews are rallying to the pole, so we have to vote to balance that out." These emerged in 2016 and after two days of prevarication, the party suspended her membership and launched an investigation into her comments. Then the very next day Ken Livingstone, who is one of the best-known politicians in this country, and a very senior figure in Labour Party politics for 30 years, went on to the BBC to defend Naz Shah and in so doing made some really quite outrageous comments about Hitler and about Zionism. He said that Hitler was supporting Zionism in the 1930s and only after that "he, in Livingston's words, went mad and ended up murdering six million Jews."

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 secondsAnd he also claimed, as Ken Anderson often claims, that there is some kind of conspiracy to use the smear of antisemitism as he sees it, to silence criticism of Israel. Ken Livingstone was then also suspended from the party and in order to really put a stop to this snowballing even more, the party announced an inquiry and it was going to be headed by Shami Chakrabarti, who had just recently resigned as the head of one of Britain's leading human rights organizations.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 secondsSo that was the immediate cause but really what had happened before then was that there had been a drip drip effects of lots and lots of labour party people allegedly making antisemitic comments and there was a whole question about antisemitism around the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn himself. The Labour Party has a long tradition of support from British Jews and has long upheld a lot of things that British Jews really care about, including support for Israel over many.

Skip to 4 minutes and 24 secondsBut in 2015 Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party and he comes from the hard left of British politics, from an anti-Zionist left, from a left which is extremely hostile to Israel and to Zionism, which really does not have much connections the Jewish community at all. And Jeremy Corbyn himself at the time that he was standing for the leader was accused of endorsing or sharing platforms with various unsavory people, some of whom were accused of Holocaust denial, others of making various antisemitic comments.

Skip to 4 minutes and 58 secondsCorbyn himself was on video in 2010 making a speech in which he called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends and he described Hamas as a movement for social justice and political justice, which, coming from someone on the left, is language that really means an ideological connection. Corbyn didn't answer these questions very well. In fact, he didn't really like being asked them. And so this whole question of antisemitism hung around the Labour Party. It came to a head in April 2016 with the suspensions of Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone. It made antisemitism a national, political story in Britain, a headline story for the first time in decades and to try and get control of the story, the party launched the inquiry.

Skip to 5 minutes and 46 secondsNow sad to say it didn't work, partly because the content of the inquiry report didn't really go deep enough into the problem. It addressed some of the symptoms. It talks about some of the language that people shouldn't use. For example, it recommended that it was not a good thing for Labour Party members to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, or to use the word "Zio" as an insult, which you think would be pretty obvious things for an anti-racist party. But it didn't really go into the question of why these things have become prevalent in parts of the left and whether it's connected to a really obsessive emotional hatred of Israel that exists in some parts of the left.

Skip to 6 minutes and 23 secondsAnd the other reason it failed is because the launch of the inquiry was effectively sabotaged by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who turned up in large numbers; cheered everything he said; booed the media who were there whenever they asked difficult questions. And one of his supporters actually insulted a Jewish Labour Member of Parliament called Ruth Smeeth who was in the room by claiming that she was somehow conspiring with the right-wing newspaper against Jeremy Corbyn. She then left the room in tears and that became the dominant motif of the launch of the inquiry itself.

Contemporary Far-left anti-Zionism in the UK

Dr. Dave Rich

Anti-Zionism can be found among elements of the Far-left across the globe. In order to better understand how it is expressed, let’s examine several occurrences that took place in the British Labour Party over the past two years.

In 2016 the Labour Party established a committee, known as the Chakrabarti Inquiry, to investigate allegations of antisemitism and other forms of racism amongst its ranks. What events led to the establishment of this inquiry and did the inquiry achieve its goals?


References

  • Hirsh, David, Contemporary Left Antisemitism (London: Routledge, 2018).

  • Hirsh, David, “How Raising the Issue of Antisemitism Puts You Outside the Community of the Progressive: The Livingstone Formulation,” in Eunice G. Pollack, ed., From Antisemitism to Anti-Zionism: Past & Present (Brighton, M.A.: Academic Studies Press, 2017), pp. 2 - 28.

  • Rich, Dave, “Antisemitism in the Radical Left and the British Labour Party,” Kantor Center Position Papers, January 2018.

  • Rich, Dave, The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism (London: Biteback Publishing, 2016).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

Yad Vashem

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