Exaggerated or false claims of antisemitism can create a climate of fear in which legitimate discussion about the state of Israel and its actions are stifled.
On 27 September 2017, The Guardian published an article by its most senior columnist Jonathan Freedland under the title Labour’s denial of antisemitism in its ranks leaves the party in a dark place. Film director Ken Loach wrote a reply for its Comment is Free section, which the Guardian has refused to print. We print it in full below.The taint of antisemitism is toxic. Yet, with hints and innuendos, your columnist, Jonathan Freedland, tries to link me, Len McCluskey and Ken Livingstone to Labour’s ‘dark place’, for which it seems we are in part responsible. This is cynical journalism.
What is his evidence? Len and I were welcomed at the packed first meeting of ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’. Strangely, Freedland ignored this progressive new group, which has published its own response to his attacks on us. The founding document says: ‘we stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere and against wrongs and injustices to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere’. We support that.
But Freedland disputes our right to contribute. We are ‘not Jewish – a fact that might limit their authority to speak on the matter’. The matter in question is antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Many Jewish comrades say that they know the Labour Party to be a welcoming environment and have not experienced hostility as Jews. This chimes with my fifty years of involvement with the labour movement. But, for Freedland, this is a discussion to which only one group – Jews who share his political perspective – can contribute. It is exclusive – no place for solidarity or collective support. This goes against all traditions of the left where we stand alongside each other to oppose injustice.
People join left organisations to fight racism and fascism, intolerance and colonial oppression. Throughout history, it is the left that has led this fight. Racism including antisemitism is real enough and will emerge in all political parties. The Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) acknowledges this in relation to allegations about the Labour Party: ‘a very small number of cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism’. I trust their judgement.
This present campaign about antisemitism surfaced when Jeremy Corbyn became leader and drew on a number of cases that pre-dated his leadership. It has been led by his political opponents inside and outside the Labour Party, seeming in part to be aimed at undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters and therefore his leadership. JSG wrote ‘accusations of antisemitism are being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party’.
Corbyn has always opposed racism and defended human rights wherever they have been attacked, which includes the plight of the Palestinians. This will alarm apologists for Israeli occupation and expansion. Further, he stands on a socialist programme which has disturbed the right of the party.
There is a further, more serious allegation, that I gave ‘spurious legitimacy’ to Holocaust denial. In a BBC interview I was asked about a speech I had not heard and of which I knew nothing. My reply has been twisted to suggest that I think it is acceptable to question the reality of the Holocaust. I do not. The Holocaust is as real a historical event as the World War itself and not to be challenged. In Primo Levi’s words: ‘Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.’ The first terrible pictures I saw as a nine-year old are ingrained on my memory as they are for all my generation.
Like readers of this paper, I know the history of Holocaust denial, its place in far right politics and the role of people like David Irving. To imply that I would have anything in common with them is contemptible. The consequences of such a smear are obvious to all: let the poison escape and it will be picked up on social media and reputations may be tarnished for ever. A brief phone call would have clarified my position.
One thing Freedland has got right – the ages of Len McCluskey, Ken Livingstone and me (he wittily makes a rhyme of our names). Freedland is happy to embrace one prejudice – ageism.
Exaggerated or false claims of antisemitism can create a climate of fear in which legitimate discussion about the state of Israel and its actions are stifled. Antisemitism and debate about Israel should be separate issues. Once again it is the Palestinians who are marginalised or ignored. Freedland writes frequently about Israel, yet his concern for the Palestinians takes second place. So while we are clarifying our position, could he make clear whether, for example, he accepts:
- that land stolen from the Palestinians should be returned to them and all illegal settlements removed, as UN Resolutions demand.
- that Israel is breaking the Fourth Geneva Convention by transporting Palestinian children to Israeli prisons without access to lawyers or their families.
- and that the deliberate destruction of civilian life, hospitals and medical facilities in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge were war crimes.
And will he endorse the distinguished Israeli historian Ilan Pappe when he writes about the founding of Israel: ‘The ethnic cleansing of Palestine (is) a crime against humanity that Israel has wanted to deny and cause the world to forget’?
So many questions, so many injustices. Labour has much to do in developing an ethical foreign policy and social and economic justice at home. It now has principled leaders and a growing, enthusiastic membership. Let the party not throw away this great opportunity. We have a world to win.