Anti-semitism and the State of Israel

Let’s look at the article in the Guardian , which we reviewed in our last post, in more detail. The context is that Derek Hatton, a long-time maverick member of the Labour Party and agitator from within it, was readmitted to membership of the Party last week – only to be immediately suspended in connection with an “anti-Semitic tweet”. The web post dates from 6 years ago. (In this new ideology there is no place for time, for forgiveness).

Her neighbour, a woman in her 40s who didn’t want to give her name, concurred. She said that she voted Green and had never agreed with Derek Hatton but, as a supporter of the Palestinians, she couldn’t see what was wrong with his tweet. Had she read it? “A summary of it, yes.”

The original wasn’t long. It stated: “Jewish people with any sense of humanity need to start speaking out publicly against the ruthless murdering being carried out by Israel!”

Essentially, Hatton did what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines as a concrete example of antisemitism: “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”

His tweet rendered them guilty until proven innocent. If they didn’t condemn Israel, they had no humanity. And what happens in history when we strip a minority of its humanity?

Two points. Firstly note that the tweet is held to be guilty of anti-semitism because a body of Jewish people has defined some standard on which to judge these matters. The victims – and Jewish people certainly were victims in the Holocaust – are allowed to define the rules which determine guilt. Secondly we can notice the weakness and falsity of the argument. The post did not ‘condemn’ anyone. (‘Inflation’). The actual point made by Hatton is elided here. The point; and it is not unreasonable, is to ask or urge (they ‘need to’) Jewish people to condemn the actions of the State of Israel. Presumably Hatton was referring to some of the massacres committed against civilians by Israel in Gaza and Lebanon. (In the 2008 war against Lebanon by most figures Israel killed four times as many civilians as Hezbollah fighters). [1] Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. It sets itself up as the homeland for the Jewish people. This idea was enshrined in the Balfour declaration. [2]  Furthermore, the current head of the State of Israel claims to speak in the name of Jews. [3] This creates a situation when some Jewish people may want to dissociate themselves from its actions, or from some of them; some Jewish people feel they need to do exactly this and they do it. Hatton, while his language is crude, seems to be asking more Jewish people to do this. The approach of the Guardian author is in effect trying to prevent this – to make it a non-permitted element in a discourse. The method is to seek out and maximise the negative aspects of Hatton’s, admittedly crude, language and in doing so to bury the valid point which is raised. It seems to this writer that while anti-Semitism does exist on the British ‘left’ that, at the same time, this is being exploited by supporters of the State of Israel in order to try to shift the debate away from politics and onto the safe ground of anti-Semitism.

(Ironically a call for Jews in the Diaspora to speak out against Netanyahu – though not against the ‘murderous actions’ of Israel as per Hatton – is made in a (left-wing) Israeli newspaper. [3]. Would the Guardian author condemn this as being anti-Semitic?)

Update: this is an article (in the Guardian) which puts the matter much better than I could. The author seeks to show that while, unfortunately, much of contemporary criticism of Zionism is anti-semitic it is still possible and is not anti-semitic to have an ‘anti-Zionist’ position, that is, to be critical of the idea of a state based on exclusive rights for one ethnic group. To confirm that Israel as a state is based on ideas of race see this discussion of Israel’s founding documents on a government website. E.g. “In the Declaration of Independence, Israel’s founders proclaimed both the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel.” [4] To be fair the authors acknowledge: “Furthermore, the Declaration assures not only the rights and equality of the individual citizen, but also the collective, political, cultural, and religious rights of minority groups” But, they continue: “However, the attempt to reconcile the Jewish nature of the state with the political rights of the Arab minority faces serious challenges.” And indeed there are ‘challenges’; witness that a recent law seems in fact to have removed Arabic as an official language. [5]

Notes

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Lebanon_War

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration

3. https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-netanyahu-speaks-for-all-jews-1.5306070

4. https://knesset.gov.il/constitution/ConstMJewishState.htm

5. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/19/one-more-racist-law-reactions-as-israel-axes-arabic-as-official-language

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Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer