Time to fight back against the lies: will Labour defend free speech in the party?


Source: Jewish Voice for Labour

The charge that Labour and specifically Jeremy Corbyn are soft on anti-Semitism is outrageous, the latest and most bizarre of a series of monstrous smears.

I would like to submit the following points to the NEC before it takes a decision on its definition of anti-Semitism. I have some credentials on this question. My grandparents were penniless refugees from pogroms in the Tsarist Russian empire, driven from their homes by riots, slaughter and arson. Soon afterwards, my maternal grandfather was the victim of an anti-Semitic murder in Liverpool.

My father Sydney Silverman was a left Labour MP for 33 years until his death, personally responsible for introducing the historic private member’s bill which abolished capital punishment. At the time of the holocaust, he was a Zionist. In 1940 he was elected chair of the British section of the World Jewish Congress, and in this capacity he was among the first to warn the world about Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question” and to mount a desperate worldwide campaign to save European Jewry from genocide. Three days after my birth, he visited the newly liberated Buchenwald and Belsen Nazi concentration camps as a member of a parliamentary delegation. He supported the establishment of a Jewish state as a homeland for displaced holocaust survivors, but he was later to fiercely oppose Israeli participation in the Suez war in 1956, and died in 1968 outraged at the Israeli occupation of the West Bank after the 1967 war.

In my early teens, as well as a member of the Young Socialists I was also a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth organization. I joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 and have been a member all my life, with the exception of the long “New Labour” years. I have encountered occasional manifestations of anti-Semitism in my life, but never within the Labour Party.

The charge that the Labour Party and specifically Jeremy Corbyn are soft on anti-Semitism is outrageous. It is the latest and most bizarre of a series of monstrous smears by the right-wing establishment. If we were to believe them, then Corbyn is somehow simultaneously a pacifist, a terrorist, a Stalinist and a Czech spy. Now this lifelong campaigner against racism is branded an anti-Semite too. One wonders when he has the time to tend his allotment.

I wouldn’t blame the Israeli diplomatic service for promoting such accusations; it is their job to use every means at their disposal to avoid the election of a British government sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. In this case the smear campaign has been taken up by the British establishment, and unfortunately endorsed by that wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, because of the failure of its earlier palpable slanders.

This campaign is even dirtier than the “Zinioviev letter” faked by MI5 to damage Labour in the general election of 1923, or than Churchill’s lie in 1945 that if Labour won the election, it would establish a Gestapo police state. It is of course the Tory party that is riddled with racism. It was a Tory government which introduced the 1905 Aliens Act that blocked Jewish emigration from the East European pogroms, and it was a Tory MP who founded the Right Club in the 1930s to “expose the activities of organised Jewry”. British immigration policy throughout the Nazi period was designed to keep out at least ten times as many Jews as it allowed in. During that period, it was the Daily Express which carried the infamous headline “JEWS DECLARE WAR ON GERMANY” and the Daily Mail which screamed “HURRAH FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS!”. Churchill personally made repeated racist comments against Jews.

Only three years ago, it was the Mail which made a thinly veiled anti-Semitic attack on Ed Miliband’s father, while the Sun published an unflattering picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich – another anti-Semitic jibe.

No party has done more to resist all forms of racism than Labour. It is significant that no other parties have come under any similar pressure to adopt any such charter as the IHRA document.

I believe that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is deeply flawed. It is clearly designed to protect the Israeli state from legitimate criticism. It is also inconsistent. For instance, it argues that it’s anti-Semitic to “deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”. In that case, how then can it also be anti-Semitic to “accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations”? Either Israel is a homeland for Jews worldwide, in which case it has a right to expect their loyalty, or Jews have an obligation to give prior loyalty to the country in which they live. The IHRA apparently wants it both ways.

I should add that I reject any comparison of such crimes as the current atrocities in Gaza to those of the Nazis as grossly disproportionate and provocative. By implication it mitigates the crimes of imperialism as a whole. Israel is not engaged in systematic genocide: it is not rounding up Palestinians, cramming them into concentration camps and gassing them by the thousands. It is practising the standard brutal murderous repression of all imperialist powers, regional or global. The hands of American imperialism in Latin America and South-East Asia, or of French imperialism in North Africa, or of Belgian imperialism in the Congo, or of the South African apartheid state at Sharpeville, are also dripping with blood. British imperialism also has on its hands the deaths of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators mown down in the Amritsar massacre, systematic torture and mutilation in Kenya’s Hola death camp, and the gunning down of peaceful demonstrators in Northern Ireland on Bloody Sunday. There is no need to invoke the Nazis: it’s quite enough to condemn Israel for behaving like the British.

I urge the NEC to stand by its current definition of anti-Semitism and to resist the caterwauling of proven racists to adopt a definition which would brand as anti-Semites legitimate critics of Israeli government policy. It is time to fight back against the establishment’s lies.

Roger Silverman West Ham Labour Party

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