“Mainly, what turned me into an anti-Zionist was just following events, and finding the pro-Israel narrative and its underlying Zionist claims unsustainable in the face of the evidence.”
Author and activist Mike Marqusee died on 13 January 2015 . Brought up in a Zionist New York family he moved to London in the 1970s where he joined the Labour Party and became a close friend and political ally of Jeremy Corbyn. He had by then rejected the Zionism of his family. A prolific author on a range of subjects, his powerful book If I am Not For Myself, published by Verso Books, describes the Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew. The extracts below are taken from the final chapter, which is titled Confessions of a “Self-Hating Jew”.
This is the Zionist modus operandi: character assassination, disinformation, denial, bullying, intimidation. These have for many years become the standard practices of many Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders, in both the USA and Britain, and no one on the left would deny its reality or shamefulness. Nor should anyone be scared off from indicting Israel for its crimes against Palestinians by charges of anti-semitism.
“Tsunami of anti-semitism”
In January 2006, the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, warned that the Jews were threatened with “a tsunami of anti-semitism.” Sacks complained that Israel was being blamed for all the world’s problems, and that the Jews were being blamed for Israel. It was rich coming from someone who takes umbrage at “inappropriate metaphors” and “exaggerated criticisms” of Israel, while regularly trumpeting the unbreachable bond between Israel and the Jews of Britain.
Reading the US press you’d be forgiven for thinking that Britain was awash with anti-semitism, not as dire as in France, but boding ill. So just how bad is it for Jews in Britain today? The most concrete, though certainly not the only measurement is given by the Community Security Trust (the main body concerned with the safety and security of Britain’s Jews), which reports that in 2006, there were 595 anti-semitic incidents in the UK, the highest since the CST began keeping records in 1984. Of these, 112 were violent incidents, of which four involved intention to do grievous bodily harm or worse. Some 20 per cent—134—took place during the 34 days of Israel’s war against Lebanon. During the whole year, 54 incidents included specific reference to Lebanon.
What the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies and other pro-Israel voices are really preoccupied with is what they call “left-wing anti-semitism,” something unmeasured and unmeasurable by any of the CST’s current methods. According to the Chief Rabbi, “Modern anti-semitism is coming simultaneously from three different directions”: its traditional home on the far right, “a radicalized Islamic youth inflamed by extremist rhetoric,” and “a left-wing anti-American cognitive elite with strong representation in the European media.” Now just what stereotype does that last category smack of?
The thesis of a specifically “left-wing anti-semitism” relies on a politics of insinuation, the attribution of hidden or unconscious agendas. The hallmark of the anti-semitic left is said to be not its criticism of Israel, but the severity of its criticism, and in particular its anti-Zionism, “its refusal to recognize Israel” and concomitant denial to Jews of the rights allegedly granted to others. In other words, left opposition to Israel is deemed anti-semitic to the extent that it diverges from what the pro-Israel camp defines as proportionate or acceptable criticism.
That in some quarters anti-semitism functions as the anti-imperialism of fools, especially in the Arab world, is undeniable. But conversely, there is a putative anti-anti-semitism in the West that functions as a camouflage for Israel.
Unrepresentative Jewish establishment
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has for more than a century enjoyed an unrivaled status as a representative of Jews in Britain (its US counterparts compete among themselves). During that time it has opposed Jewish participation in every broad anti-racist movement, from Cable Street in the thirties through the Anti-Nazi League of the mid-1970s to the GLC’s anti-racist programs in the 1980s and the campaign for immigrants’ rights today. In 2005, the Board joined the Chief Rabbi in condemning the democratic, lengthily debated decision of the Synod of the Church of England to withdraw its £2.5 million investment in Caterpillar, the US-based corporation that manufactures bulldozers used by Israeli forces to demolish Palestinian homes and farms. “The timing could not have been more inappropriate,” the Chief Rabbi complained, just when Israel found itself “facing two enemies, Iran and Hamas.” The Caterpillar disinvestment, Sacks threatened, would have “the most adverse repercussions on . . . Jewish–Christian relations in Britain.” The Church panicked and rescinded the decision.
For the most part the British media treat the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies as the authentic (and exclusive) representatives of Jews in Britain, despite the fact that neither is elected by or accountable to the Jewish community as a whole. The Chief Rabbi heads the Orthodox Synagogues, to which a minority of Jews are affiliated. He can make no claims on behalf of Reform, Masorti, Chasidic, Sephardic, Liberal, independent Orthodox or non-synagogue-affiliated Jews. Similarly, the Board of Deputies consists of representatives of a variety of Jewish bodies (synagogues, youth groups, charities, etcetera). It’s not inclusive nor is it accountable to the wider community in whose name it speaks.
The blame for the misidentification of Jews as a whole with Israel lies principally with the Jewish establishment, with the Zionists, with the Israeli spokespersons who justify every lawless, brutal act as a necessary part of the battle for Jewish survival. And with all those who’ve installed the cult of Israel at the centre of Judaism and Jewishness.
Let’s compare, for a moment, the presence of anti-semitism within the Palestinian or anti-war movements to the presence of other forms of racism (anti-Arab, anti-Muslim) within the opposing camp. In both the US and Britain, support for Israel (not to mention the Iraq and Afghanistan wars) is frequently accompanied by open ethnic hostility. Nor is this confined to an extremist fringe. In fact, it is a racism more legitimized by, more prominent within, more typical of their politics than the stupidities mentioned above are of ours. Racism arises from the premises of Zionism, whereas rejection of racism is at the heart of anti-Zionism. Compared to the deformations of anti-Zionism or Palestinian solidarity by anti-semitism, the essential formation of Zionism by racism (anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, white-supremacist) is commonplace and frequently undisguised. Where anti-semitism can be and is being challenged within the framework of anti-Zionism and of the democratic anti-racist left, anti-Arab racism is entirely compatible with and largely unchallenged within the Zionist milieu.
The same Jewish leaders who are quick to spot and denounce any hint of anti-semitism among critics of Israel have nothing critical to say about Israeli politicians who compare Palestinians to insects or rodents or dub all Israeli Arabs “fifth columnists.” They say nothing about the calls for ethnic cleansing of the Holy Land (transfer) that are visible on posters from one end of the Jewish state to the other. This institutional, state-empowered, life-destroying racism is ignored, while the wrong-headed but essentially impotent anti-semitism of Palestinians who express their outrage at the “yehudi” is wrenched out of context and offered up as an excuse for Israeli violence.
Given the wanton, persistent and cynical abuse of the anti-semitism charge—something nearly everyone active in Palestinian solidarity experiences at one time or another—it’s not surprising that people are wary of the boy crying wolf. But remember the story. Because the boy falsely and repeatedly cried wolf, when a real wolf actually turned up one grisly night, no one believed him. And the boy was eaten by the wolf.
- If I Am Not For Myself is published by Verso Books. Available at a discounted price here…
- A new book by Mike Marqusee, Definable Traces in the Atmosphere, was published posthumously in July 2018 by OR Books and is availabel here…
Tribute to Mike Marqusee: The life and work of infectious activist and inspiring writer. By Jeremy Corbyn…