ISRAEL AND ANTI-SEMITISM
1st February 2020
By Beny Shlevich - CC BY-SA 2.0
We know that Labour anti-Semitism generated acute anxiety, fear and anger among members of Britain’s Jewish community. But I wonder if it might have achieved something positive, too, by perhaps leading some thoughtful people to question their knee-jerk hostility to Israel. This may be particularly true if they could also now see how anti-Zionism had been blended with anti-Semitic tropes to heighten their antipathy to the Jewish state.
As someone who has seen Israel consistently libelled, traduced and misrepresented for many decades, I welcome the possibility of some re-assessment...
If you are one of those thoughtful people you may also wonder how a tiny UK Jewish community (it numbers only around 200,000) and a small Middle Eastern nation could have become such potent issues in a British General Election in 2019.
The answer is complex and begins with an anti-Israel narrative carefully crafted from half-truths, omissions, tweaked timelines and outright lies. But this fake narrative has been repeated so often that it has seeped into the collective bloodstream, infecting everyone. Or if not everyone, then very many people, most of whom were unaware that their compassion had been cynically exploited and manipulated by Israel’s enemies.
Members of the Jewish community had grown accustomed to the persistent, vituperative barrage of deliberate disinformation and hate spewed by the “professionals” such as Jeremy Corbyn, Jenny Tonge, George Galloway and Ken Livingstone. They had also ceased to be surprised by casual anti-Israel slurs from comedians and celebs who believed totally in a carefully-crafted but fake narrative.
But when Jeremy Corbyn, one of the “professional” Israel-haters, became leader of a mainstream British Political Party, dragging with him a rag-tag army of hard-line Marxists, Trots, Revolutionaries and Israel haters, the Jewish community became fearful.
And, as it turned out, their fears were well founded. Anti-Israel sentiment grew online and in the Party until it transmuted into anti-Jewish racism. The fall-out from that vile process is carefully chronicled in Forced Out, a book containing moving testimonies from Labour members and MPs recounting how zealous anti-Zionism morphed into anti-Jewish racism, and led to them being bullied and hounded out of their party. In That's Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic, author Steve Cohen covers similar ground in a more anecdotal way.
And it wasn’t just Labour activists and MPs who were bullied, harassed and abused. TV presenter Rachel Riley, who had barely identified as a Jew until 2016, put her blonde, telegenic head above the parapet to repudiate some of the vile lies, and came in for brutal abuse and even death threats. Comedian and writer David Baddiel, too. And when the Jewish BBC presenter Emma Barnett dared to pose a question about anti-Semitism to Jeremy Corbyn, she was bullied by Corbyn supporters, dismissed as “a Zionist lackey” and subjected to a barrage of vile anti-Semitic abuse…
Thus, anti-Zionism was the gateway, but with the Labour Party kindly providing oxygen and sunlight, anti-Jewish racism was able to flourish in the UK.
Many Labourites and Corbyn supporters, of course, were in deep denial about anti-Semitism. A frequently heard “defence” was that “to be critical of Israel is not anti-Semitic.” And, of course it’s not. However, reserving all your condemnation for Israel and racially abusing and threatening those who disagree with you, is anti-Semitic.
To fully understand how we reached this point, we need to examine the Israel-haters’ narrative and recognise that it is fake (or certainly fake-ish). However, its toxic blend of half-truths, omissions and lies have been repeated so often and for so many years that it is the basis for the extreme and vicious anti-Israel sentiment which segued into extreme and vicious anti-Jewish sentiment. Then, by summoning up the gently-sleeping genie of anti-Semitism, led to a pervasive (if less extreme) anti-Semitism (carefully disguised as anti-Zionism) which surfaced in the late 1980s, as well as leading to the overt anti-Jewish racism evident in today’s Labour Party.
The luvvies, liberals (small ‘L’), the Left and other “believers”, have drunk the Kool-Aid so they are all convinced that the carefully-crafted narrative is absolute truth. But for everyone else there are facts such as that there is just one Jewish nation and 56 Islamic nations. Sometimes called Moslem-majority nations, these include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Malaysia, Mauritania and Somalia. These 56 Islamic or Moslem majority nations have a land area exceeding 10 million square kilometres. Israel has a total land area of 22 thousand square kilometres which includes the disputed territory of the West Bank.
There is also a big omission (a huge omission, actually) and that is The Partition Plan, which would have given more than two-thirds of Palestine to the Palestinian Arabs for an Islamic State. But they didn’t want more than two-thirds. They wanted it all, so they rejected partition.
On the subject of disputed territory, you may recall that Israel returned Egyptian Sinai in 1982 and returned Gaza, which it acquired in 1967, in 2005. On both these occasions, land was returned in response to Arab insistence that Israel’s “occupation” was an obstacle to peace. Israel returned it. Did peace ensue? Er, no.
Mentioning the West Bank should also remind us that way back in 1948, the Arab nations who were opposed to Jews having any part of Palestine did not object to a land-grab by Jordan, which grabbed the West Bank and East Jerusalem in1948. Nor did they object to Egypt grabbing the Gaza Strip in 1948, which it held until 1967.
As Israel only acquired the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, we are forced to conclude that before 1967 it was merely Israel’s existence which led Arab nations (and fervent Arabists) to hate Israel and call for it to be obliterated. Certainly, a clue to this mind-set lies in the Palestinian Charter which calls for an Islamic State (number 57) in Palestine requiring the dissolution or obliteration of the single Jewish nation.
But the Arabs and their allies spotted that a Prime Directive calling for the obliteration of Israel didn’t play well, especially as the Left then supported Israel. So, the Arabs needed to give the world a reason to hate Israel… And they achieved that with the Palestinian issue over which Israel is most frequently libelled, traduced and misrepresented.
Palestine is the ‘live rail’ of social-media and social discourse, so I approach it with caution. But the lies peddled in the widely-accepted narrative cannot go unchallenged. The Big Lie is that Israel “stole” the land, making the Palestinian Arabs refugees. I repeat, that narrative is a toxic brew of half-truths, timeline tweaks, omissions and lies, but it contains just enough truth to be plausible, especially if planted in ground made fertile by centuries of antisemitism. The allegation of theft conveniently ignores the fact that Jews have had a continuous presence in “Palestine” from Biblical times. Indeed, “Palestine” was formerly Judea, a bit of a clue to its rulers and principle occupants.
Before anyone howls in rage over the Palestinians, let me acknowledge that their plight is a tragedy profoundly deserving of our sympathy and empathy. However, the widely- disseminated (and widely-accepted) version of their story which claims Israel is solely (or mainly) to blame for their plight belongs to that web of lies designed to demonise Israel.
The Jewish version of the narrative also contains elements of propaganda so I am dismissing that, too. Fortunately there are objective contemporaneous accounts contained in records of talks, amnesties and pacts plus historical documents which help us arrive at an objective truth about the Palestinian refugee crisis.
One undeniable fact is that the Arab nations which launched a concerted attack on Israel as Israel declared Independence in May 1948, did not expect the new Jewish nation to survive. Inconveniently for them, Israel did survive and some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs who had “left” for a variety of reasons, found themselves in refugee camps on Israel’s borders.
There are conflicting accounts of how Israel responded to this refugee crisis in the months following independence. But one thing is clear: shocked by their failure to destroy Israel militarily, the Arab and Palestinian leaders of the day were perfectly prepared to use 700,000 refugees as political pawns and to leave them sitting in camps as long as necessary to transform the refugee crisis into a valuable weapon in the war against Israel.
In this “humanitarian” endeavour they were ably assisted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Having come into existence to “aid” the Palestinians, the refugee crisis became UNRWA’s principal raison d’être. A cynical person might suggest that UNRWA had a vested interest in perpetuating the Refugee crisis rather than trying to solve it. That is especially relevant because at roughly the same time, 800,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries. But rather than “weaponising” their plight for PR purposes, Israel absorbed them.
So, yes, there was – and is – a Palestinian refugee crisis. But it was at least partly created by Arab nations and UNRWA. And once created, the crisis was cynically, ruthlessly and quite deliberately perpetuated by Arab and Palestinian leaders to be deployed as a potent political, PR and propaganda weapon it could use to demonise Israel.
Jan Shure was deputy editor at the Jewish Observer & Middle East Review and then held senior editorial roles at the Jewish Chronicle. In 2010, she left journalism to become a web entrepreneur.