The October delegate meeting will hear Paul Kelemen discussing Where does the Labour party adopting the IHRA definition on antisemitism leave the politics of anti-racism?

What has unfurled this vehement denunciation of the left for antisemitism? Only late last year, the largest survey on attitudes in Britain to Jews and Israel published by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (IJPR) concluded that a ‘relatively small group of the general population can justifiably be described as antisemitic’ and that ‘the very left-wing are, on the whole, no more antisemitic than the general population, but neither are they less antisemitic’. A still more recent YouGov survey showed that since Jeremy Corbyn has been the Labour party leader, antisemitism has declined among Labour voters.

Among Conservative voters, the decline over the same period to this question was much smaller and the overall levels of prejudice much higher: 31 percent in 2015, and 27 percent in 2017. Opinion polls give, at best, a rough assessment and opinions are fluid but the decline of antisemitism among Labour voters probably results from younger people, more at ease with multiculturalism, indentifying, in greater numbers, with Labour since Corbyn has become leader. Whatever the reason, it belies the ideological assault to drum into public consciousness that the party and its supporters released from the grip of New Labour’s rightwing agenda are descending into antisemitic bigotry

The frenzied campaign that purports to have detected a tidal wave of leftwing antisemitism has another objective. It is aimed at closing down debate on Israel’s continuing settlement expansion and military occupation aimed at preventing Palestinian self-determination by fragmenting the Palestinian population into ghettos, fenced off behind walls, barriers and army checkpoints and deprived of adequate land, water, housing, medical services and opportunities for work.

On 18th July of this year, in the midst of the media frenzy over Labour’s alleged anti-semitism, the New York Times reported that after over five decades of illegal occupation of the West Bank, ‘Israel has marked out hundreds of thousands of acres as public land, and it has allocated almost half of them for use. But only 400 of those acres 0.24% of the total allocated so far – have been earmarked for Palestinians… the other 99.76% of the land went to help Israeli settlements.’ The process of dispossession that is taking place in the West Bank replicates what occurred in the land area that now constitutes the state of Israel. On the eve of the 1948 war that led to the foundation of Israel, 93% of the land was in Palestinian ownership. Currently, Palestinians living in Israel, forming 20% of the population,

own just 3%. In addition, Israel has seized from the Palestinians: 10,000 shops, 25,000 family houses, 95% of olive groves and 50% of citrus groves.

The allocation of Palestinians resources to an incoming Jewish population, whether in Israel or in the West Bank, follows from the principle of building a ‘Jewish state’, the essence of which is to prioritise the needs of its Jewish population over those of the Palestinian inhabitants. The discrimination between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank is still more blatant. Since 1967, this has been a new frontier of colonisation where the two populations are governed by different laws and where the Israeli state promotes settlement expansion for its Jewish citizens while concentrating the Palestinians into ever smaller enclaves. The Israeli geographer, Oren Yiftachel, writing in 2006, pointed out that the Israeli state has built, since 1948, over 700 housing development areas for its Jewish population but not a single one for Palestinians under its rule. Israel, he argues, is an ‘ethnocracy’. Unlike the South African apartheid system, Israel does not operate the petty forms of separation in public spaces such as on buses, in restaurants and entertainment venues but it discriminates on grounds of ethnicity in the state’s allocation of resources, be that in land, state jobs, housing or regional development. In every sphere Palestinians are marginalised and have second class status.

Given these realities, why should left-wing criticism of the Israeli state elicit such controversy? In part this is the product of the Labour party’s historic support for the Zionist movement. This dates back to the 1920s, when the Zionist movement along other forms of European expansion into the unindustrialised world, was seen as a ‘civilising’ force and one that for many socialists seemed to have the added advantage of introducing trade unionism and co-operative agriculture. Few in the Labour party, in this period, objected to these labour organisations excluding Arabs in order to develop a separate Jewish economy. For the Zionist movement, nationalism trumped socialism. Its project was not to have Jews live alongside Arabs but to remove the indigenous people as European colonisation had earlier, for example in north America and Australia.

The Labour party’s historic support for the Zionist project was given added force by the Holocaust. Israel’s establishment was widely seen as Western civilisation’s atonement for the Nazi mass murder of Jews, though it was at the expense of the Palestinians who had paid no part in the genocide. But if Israel is meant to symbolise atonement for the worst crime of modern racism it can be rightly expected to represent the negation of racism. Instead, the Israeli state is based on ethno-nationalism, also propounded by the governing elites of Hungary and Poland, which define national belonging as rooted in ‘blood’ relations,

from which then derive political and economic privileges denied to those deemed to be of a different origin.

Ethno-nationalism is the main ideological seedbed of contemporary racism in all its forms and, yet, the bizarre consequence of adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism is to make more difficult calling for the Israeli state to be transformed into a multi-ethnic state, with equality for all its citizens. Without that, however, there is no prospect of realising lasting peace in the Middle East.

Paul Kelemen is the author of The British Left and Zionism,History of a Divorce (Manchester University Press, 2012)