Remember in one of my posts where I mentioned the Labour Party in the UK has a lot of crazy people in it, including a woman who claimed Hitler was the “greatest man in history”? Well it turns out Labour has had a very public controversy over apparently anti-Semitic remarks, with a lot of talk of Jeremy Corbyn taking action regarding MPs like Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone over their remarks. That a big deal has been made over comments that really are nothing more than dumb assumptions that can be debated just seems silly to me, and our response to it speaks more about how we handle people’s ideas than any problem of anti-Semitism in Labour.
But perhaps the most ridiculous part is how apparently being anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic are somehow mixed up. This of course, refers to comments made by Ken Livingstone, which read as follows:
“Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.
The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians.
As I’ve said, I’ve never heard anybody say anything anti-Semitic, but there’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this.“
Clearly this is a claim that can be debated, but I think people make much more of that remark than needed to be made. Besides, he raised one good point – that point about how the Israel Lobby tends to denounce critics of the state of Israel as being blatantly anti-Semitic. I’ve read about that happening before and it’s much the same as how in the UK the BBC tends to lump the EU and Europe together, thereby painting Eurosceptics as being against Europe and Europeans rather than just the EU.
Today, I spotted an article on the Telegraph on how a rabbi (Britain’s chief rabbi apparently) named Ephraim Mirvis claimed that Labour has a “severe” anti-Semitism, and just look at what he says later in the article:
“Zionism is a movement celebrated by people right across the political spectrum, all over the world, and requires no endorsement or otherwise of the particular policies of any Israeli Government at any time.
But to those people who have nevertheless sought to redefine Zionism, who vilify and delegitimise it, be under no illusions – you are deeply insulting not only the Jewish community but countless others who instinctively reject the politics of distortion and demonisation.”
First off, I don’t understand Zionism as something celebrated by people all over the world (including countries where Judaism isn’t a thing), but hated as the subject of lurid anti-Semitic conspiracy theories left and right. But secondly, criticizing Zionism is the same as insulting the Jewish community? That’s identity politics, plain and simple. Zionism is an ideology, an idea. To criticize an idea is not the same as insulting or being xenophobic towards an entire community or individual. The problem of identity politics stems from exactly the misunderstanding shown by Ephraim Mirvis.
To clarify: Zionism is an ideology that specifically advocates the repatriation of all the Jewish people to the historical (read: Biblical) “Holy Land”, and that this “Holy Land” consists not only of the territory we call Israel, but all of the land that was once ruled by the Isrealites (which, crucially, includes Palestine). It’s a nationalistic ideology mixed with heavy religious fervor, based on the idea of reclaiming the land that, supposedly, was given to them by “God” – in other words, “God gave us this land therefore it’s ours”. It doesn’t take a genius to see that there are entirely legitimate reasons to criticize the Zionist ideology, and none of it exclusively predicated on hatred of the Jewish people. In fact, there are critics who denounce Zionism because they think it is inherently racist. Not to mention, you don’t hear it in the media, but there are critics of Zionism who are Jewish. Those critics recognize Zionism as an ideology, one that need not be intertwined with any ethnic identity, and thus they understand that criticizing Zionism need not have anything to do with xenophobia towards Jews.
With the Labour debacle, I can’t help but think that the MPs who talk about Zionism and the MPs who have made apparently anti-Semitic remarks are being treated the same way – as anti-Semites. And that’s what you get with a political crowd that doesn’t bother to examine the remarks let alone debate them and prove that they’re demonstrably wrong. People don’t want to look behind the curtain, so to speak. That’s exactly how and why Stephen Fry was vilified by the Twitter mobs and the British press.