Let’s get this out of the way at the start. If you’re antisemitic you are hostile to Jews and Palestinians, indeed all Arabs, Babylonians and Phoenicians. So, technically, antisemitism and anti-Zionism are, as British lefties are now stridently insisting, not the same thing. But the term gained currency in the 19th Century, when the Jews were pretty much the only Semites to have hit the European popular radar, so it came to mean, and still means “anti-Jewish”, which makes the lefties, few of whom in any case are sticklers for etymology, wrong; for, no matter how many Jews in the world and even within Israel might repudiate Zionism, its opposite is the belief that Israel should be swept into the sea, and mostly not out of a cultural loyalty to the Diaspora and a pious loathing of the secular Israeli state, involving the humane evacuation and resettlement of Israelis before the tanks roll in. Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are, de facto, synonymous.
Anyway, if I went down that road I’d also have to insist that homophobia is a fear of things that are the same, that a bastion is not a stronghold but a gun-emplacement protruding from a castle wall, and that suburbs is a singular noun. Try to defy every wave on the rising tide of ignorance and you end up looking like a total Cnut (who, by the way, didn’t actually… Oh, forget it). So, for the current purpose, antisemitism will do.
If you’ve been awake for the last few months you will know that this phenomenon has become something of a problem for the Labour Party, as though it didn’t already have enough; but for any badgers who might be scraping the dust from their eyes by reading this blog, various people of no great importance in Labour were suspended or had their wrists slapped over comments that were anti-Jewish, and then Ken Livingstone, whose public profile is still rather higher than that of Jeremy Corbyn (currently Leader of the Opposition), mouthed off on the radio to the effect that Hitler was a Zionist “until he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”.
Well, at least nobody can call Ken a Holocaust-denier. But what on earth did he mean? Surely not that Zionism is a sane and rational position from which only the suddenly demented would depart? No. He meant that Hitler’s supposed flirtation with the idea of a Jewish homeland in 1932, before he lost the realpolitik plot, taints the whole idea by association with the most evil man in modern history. Never mind that that flirtation has anyway subsequently been debunked by a string of proper historians pouring scorn on the faux scholarship on which Ken based his remarks. It’s the anti-Zionism that matters.
And the big question that nobody, as far as I’m aware, has addressed (though I can’t read everything, and do correct me if I’ve missed something you’ve seen) is Why? Whence this enthusiasm on the hard Left for the enemies of Israel (the country and the world-wide nation)?
In one sense this is a bigger problem for what we might think of as Real Labour – not the Tory-lite, election-grabbing Blairites, but the mass of decent, thoughtful people who used to lead their local parties, and represent their communities in Parliament in the long haul for post-imperial social justice – than it is for Corbyn and his ilk. For it makes them question their roots, and wonder if they might unwittingly have been, all along, the acceptable face of something deeply unpleasant.
Such people are not antisemitic. Indeed it is one of their core beliefs that all the people who reside in Britain should be equal in the eyes of its law and the policies of its governments (the Remainers among them haven’t twigged that continued British membership of the EU will destroy their influence on this, as so much else, but that’s for another time). They also frankly admire, as any sensible person would, the Jewish contribution to Western culture. And for them, as for any paid-up member of our civil society, differences in cultural and racial and religious background are the source of genial conversation and mutual admiration, not pretexts for ghetto-isation and politically sponsored victim-hood, let alone for witch-hunting.
And yet sometimes they worry. Surely theirs is the party of the oppressed and the excluded? So why can the Jews, the most consistently persecuted people in history, not be relied upon to vote en masse for a Labour candidate, even when that candidate is Jewish? It doesn’t compute. The conundrum has a lot to do with the fact that they tend to think of voters as blocs of interest, rather than constantly shifting coalitions of opinion; which is odd, when you think about it, because Labour has excelled by responding to public opinion (think of Blair and devolution, Lords reform and the ludicrous hunting ban), whereas the Tories do well when people vote for their pockets. But it’s the same problem that Real Labour has with blacks and Asians, and indeed the whole industrial working class. Sometimes people vote for what’s good for them, not for who is traditionally on their side, and members of the same perceived interest bloc will perversely vote in different ways. It mystifies those old, well-meaning and often charming Real Labour stalwarts. But, alas, in the Jewish context, that attitude is what connects them with the Trotskyites and Stalinists (or “Tankies”) they so despise.
Ah, Trots and Tankies. Let’s include all the sub-movements of the two whose names include the word “Workers”, so that we can say Trots, Workers And Tankies, and use an irresistible acronym. I have old friends among them, all of whom left the Labour Party because it was too right-wing (not under Blair, by the way, but under Kinnock), though they might now have rejoined – I live abroad, so I’ve lost touch with the Internationalists. But I know that they all have Jewish mates – who doesn’t? Even Ken mentioned the “friend in Golders Green” – but also that the individual is of no account in their world-view of blocs of humanity working out the great dialectic. And here the Jews are the ultimate enemy.
If you were stuck in a stalled train with a bloke whose whole life revolved around football in, say, Shropshire, he might break the silence by saying “So, you a Wolves fan?” If you answered in the affirmative, joy would result. If you claimed allegiance to another team, a lively but amicable conversation could ensue. But if you replied that you had no interest whatever in football, a stony silence would be the best of all possible outcomes, the worst being getting your head kicked in. And that’s the problem TWATs have with Jews.
In the context of this current hoo-ha, those TWATs who know some history are keen to point out that it was Communists and Anarchists who organised the demonstration that stopped the antisemitic British Union of Fascists’ rally through the East End of London in 1936, and, in the judicious absence of any fascists, had a riot-battle around Cable Street with the merely order-keeping police instead. There’s a strong case that this was a flash-point that high-lighted British sympathy with British Jews, and stopped the Mussolini- and Hitler- sympathisers in their tracks. Fine. I’m glad they did it. But why did they do it, and why did they subsequently turn on the people they had defended?
In 1936 it seemed to the TWATs of the time, not unreasonably, that the whole pseudo-democratic, industrial-capitalist order of the Western world might be about to crumble, and either Fascism or Communism would take over. It was what the Spanish Civil War was all about. The Jews of Europe, a people without borders, oppressed to a greater or lesser extent by their rulers and with a common language of Yiddish (though Spanish Jews had their own – never mind), were perfectly poised to be in the forefront of the Internationalist revolution. And what did they do? Bugger all. They just tried to get on with their neighbours, lead decent lives, and not be seduced and divided by the oratory of demagogues. They were not interested in the game. They didn’t lift a finger to undermine the capitalist nation-states in which they lived; in fact, oh, easily dozens of them ran the banks that kept capitalism going. Then the fascists and the communists killed them by the million. But that’s what happens when you don’t engage with the dialectic. It served them right.
And then, in 1948, when there had still been a chance that they might have thrown their weight into the abolition of the nation-state, they had the effrontery to take the capitalist bribe and start a new one of their own, and secure its borders! This was an act of treason against History for which the TWATs will never forgive them.
So forget any plastic sympathy for Palestinians, which, noticeably, is not extended to the victims of, for example, Robert Mugabe or Vladimir Putin. This is anti-Zionism, antisemitism, Jew-hating, call it what you will, pure and evil, because the Jews are the enemies of the Revolution. That’s it. It did not surface in the Socialist foundation of the Labour Party, nor has it been a noticeable stripe in its colours until now, when the TWATs, God willing temporarily, have taken over. But it is not an aberration; it is part and parcel of International Socialism, and the majority in the British Labour movement who are disgusted by it must sort out their philosophy and their allegiance right speedily.
Oh, by the way, do raise a glass this Thursday, May 5th, for the birthday of the great Jew Karl Marx who, being that terrible thing, a brilliant individual, will of course be neglected by those who invoke his name in their own hateful causes.
Footnote: Hours after I posted this there appeared in The Times a piece by Daniel Finkelstein that also addresses the roots of Labour antisemitism, though from a different perspective. Good piece and well worth reading.