We didn’t have to wait for the results of the independent inquiry into charges of anti-Semitism promised by the head of Britain’s Labour Party to see the scale of the problem. On Monday, the Telegraph reported that what it describes as the party’s “compliance unit” had already been overwhelmed by the problem of dealing with charges of anti-Semitism because it lacked the resources to look into so many cases. Nevertheless, the paper reported that Labour had already suspended 50 party members for anti-Semitism and as many as 20 in the last two weeks. But the problem isn’t going to be solved by a bigger inquiry or the sort of meaningless mea culpas that we’ve heard from some Labour figures.
The answer to what lies behind the string of disgusting comments that Labour is trying to rationalize and/or punish is the straight line that runs from the anti-Zionist agitation that is mainstream opinion among European and British left-wing elites to anti-Semitism. The same can be said of similar efforts to demonize and isolate Israel in the United States. What starts with agitation on college campuses will, if left unchecked, ultimately lead to politicians engaging in anti-Semitic invective.
As Tom Wilson wrote here yesterday in a cogent summary of the events of the past week, part of the problem is Labour’s growing dependence on radicalized Muslim communities as key elements of its base. But the willingness to pander to groups that retain anti-Jewish attitudes brought with them from the Middle East only provides part of the explanation. The odd alliance between leftists and Islamists is rooted in the way many intellectuals link imperialism, colonialism (the original sins of modern Europe in the eyes of the elite), and Zionism. That fallacious analogy in which the national liberation movement of the Jewish people is damned as an offshoot of Western colonialism has created a slippery slope on which the left has found itself scrambling to avoid being seen as encouraging hate while embracing positions that lead inevitably to prejudice.
Nothing could have illustrated this more plainly than what happened the day before the news of the Labour suspensions broke. Though Corbyn denounced anti-Semitism in a May Day speech on Monday, on Sunday Labour’s spokesman insisted that the party head would not disavow his contacts with both the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups. The statement represented Corbyn’s connection to anti-Israel terrorists as merely meeting with people that he disagrees in the course of his advocacy for Palestinian rights; the truth is that he has done a lot more than that. Prior to being Labour’s leader he had embraced Hamas and encouraged dialogue with the group that runs Gaza as a terrorist state. He has also spoken of the equally radical and violent Hezbollah group as his “friends.”
To be fair to Corbyn, in this respect, he is hardly alone on the left. The willingness to treat the Jewish state’s terrorist foes as freedom fighters while demonizing Israelis is merely the logical conclusion for those who regard Israel’s creation as illegitimate and who oppose its right of self-defense.
Is it possible to hold such views while still treating Jews with respect and condemning religious prejudice? That’s what many anti-Israel activists claim, but they are all either deceiving themselves or lying.
Let’s be crystal clear about this. Those who seek to deny to the Jewish people what they would not think of refusing any other people on earth — the right to a state and to live in peace and security on at least a part of their ancient homeland — is an act of bias. The term for acts of bias against Jews is anti-Semitism.
There is simply no analogy to the anti-Zionist insistence that Jews have no rights to any part of the land of Israel or the territory of the former British Mandate for Palestine and any other territorial controversies elsewhere on the globe. Not everyone supports the rights of Catalans, Basques, or Kurds to their own separate nations. But no one seeks to force them out of their homes or considers their national movements inherently illegitimate. Only Zionism is treated in this manner. Only the movement to give Jews the same rights accorded other peoples is passionately opposed around the globe in this way.
The fervor of the anti-Zionists always winds up in anti-Semitic slanders because the source of the passion that drives this effort stems from traditional hatred of Jews. The problem isn’t just that a lot of British left-wing politicians have loose tongues and no self-control when it comes to venting on social media. Nor is it a matter of Jews misinterpreting criticism of Israel’s government as anti-Semitism, as many on the left disingenuously claim. If you think Jews are uniquely unworthy of the same rights as others you are not only practicing a form of prejudice; you are inevitably going to wind up saying vile things that demonstrates this bias.
It is to be hoped that the spectacle of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem will further discredit Corbyn and cause both his party members and the rest of the British people to draw the right conclusions from his faction’s flirtation with anti-Zionism. We should encourage such a development both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe where such attitudes have also worked their way back into the mainstream seven decades after the Holocaust. But it would be foolish to think that the widespread opposition to Israel’s right to exist in Europe is not a function of the legacy of centuries of anti-Semitic hate that festered on the continent.
All of this should give pause to the growing numbers of Americans who are either supporting anti-Zionism in academia or treating it as a legitimate expression of opinion rather than hate. What we learned in Britain in the last week is that you can’t create a firewall against religious hatred while simultaneously nurturing a movement that is rooted in bias against Jews. If you tolerate or rationalize groups that single out Israel and Jewish rights for opposition — whether it is called BDS or some other euphemism for Jew-hatred — you are inevitably going to wind up excusing anti-Semitic hate.