Let’s be very clear – many on the British far-left (and far too many Muslims unfortunately) don’t believe the state of Israel should exist. (See this on the ‘Stop the War’ website as an example.)
They think it is a racist state akin to apartheid South Africa and it needs to be destroyed. They believe the displacement of Palestinians as the state was created is an historic injustice that can only be righted by – one way or another – abolishing the Jewish state.
(The picture is me [left] as part of an NUS Executive delegation that visited Israel/Palestine in 1977 – also in the picture are Trevor Phillips and David Aaronovitch)
The idea of creating a Jewish state in Palestine – Zionism – was a minority one amongst Jews before WWII and the Holocaust. It was opposed by most of great powers, including Britain. It was also opposed by most left-wingers, but not all.
WWII and the Holocaust changed that forever. The need for a Jewish homeland was an overwhelmingly obvious consequence of the catastrophe that engulfed European Jews. Anyone who has visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Israel, as I have, would have to have a heart of stone not to see why the Jews wanted Israel so badly.
Was the way the Jewish state was set-up badly handled – yes. Were there injustices to some Palestinians – yes. Was the ‘right of return’ for Jews from anywhere in the world not ideal – yes. But two things need to be remembered.
First the world was in turmoil in 1945-48 and people were being displaced all over Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Nor was the international system well established and settled.
Second, how else could a Jewish homeland have been created that didn’t cause fresh problems – albeit on nothing like the scale of the Holocaust?
By the 1970s the left in Europe was firmly divided over Israel. The social democrats largely supported the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, as did the international order and the UN. The far-left equated Israel with apartheid in South Africa as a legacy of colonialism that had to be overturned.
The ‘acceptable’ position on the far-left was to support the (then) Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s position: a democratic, secular, Palestine in which Jews and Arabs could live together. In other words Israel had to be destroyed as a Jewish state, but nicely. This was seen as an ‘equitable’ solution.
Of course it rather glossed over a couple of uncomfortable truths in the way of this utopian scheme.
Firstly, Israel was, as the Israeli’s never tired of reminding anyone who’d listen, a “fact on the ground”. Millions had joined the Jewish state. It had a powerful armed forces. It would go nowhere without a fight and for its Jewish inhabitants they literally felt they had nowhere to go since the destruction of European Jewry.
Second, a lot of the supposed supporters of the PLO position didn’t believe in democracy, or secularism, or living peacefully with the Jews. They wanted to ‘drive Israel into the sea’. I am sure there were many sincere Arab nationalists who genuinely believed in the PLO position – I met many of them. I also think those of us on the left who supported it honestly believed a democratic, secular, Palestine was possible (yes, I was one too).
Scroll forward 30 years and most of the left – and the international community – had settled on the so-called “two states” solution: Israel within its pre-1967 borders and a new Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza (a position I now support).
This ‘two-states solution’ is the official position of the British Labour party. It is a position that apparently Jeremy Corbyn agrees with, although he seems to keep it very quiet. And with probably with good reason.
Any cursory glance at social media over the past week will show you just how many of Corbyn’s supporters want to see Israel overthrown and something like the old PLO solution imposed. Moreover they regard anyone who supports Israel’s right to exist as a ‘Zionist sympathizer’ and racist.
They regularly equate what has happened to the Palestinians to what happened to the European Jews, which is patently absurd. They see Israel as an imperialist outpost established and supported by the USA to further its interests. They see ‘Zionism’ as racism and have regularly attempted to launch boycotts, ‘no platform’ anyone they deem ‘Zionist’, etc.
In all this fervor they don’t even notice that many of their ‘allies’ in the Islamicist movement – Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah – revive Nazi tropes about the Jews and would cheerfully see Israel ‘wiped off the map’. They want an Islamic caliphate in Palestine, not secularism or democracy.
What amounts to “Holocaust 2.0” being promoted barely registers with the far-left. It is at best a ‘lesser evil’ to be dealt with later after defeating Israel and the USA. (This sort of thing has a long pedigree on the far-left, dating back at least to the ‘Congress of the Peoples of the East’ in 1920.)
It is not a great surprise therefore that what starts out as pro-Palestinian “anti-Zionism” can easily spill-over into anti-Semitic Jew hating. The rise of anti-Semitic attacks in Britain and France in recent years demonstrates we have a problem.
For Jeremy Corbyn this creates a problem: does he come out clearly for defending the right of Israel to exist, saying Zionism is not racism, and that a two-states solution is now the only viable one? Or does he, as he seems to have done in the past, implicitly support the (old) PLO and far-left position of overthrowing Israel to create a new, non-Zionist, ‘Palestine’?
In my view he won’t resolve Labour’s issue with ‘anti-Semitism’ until he states clearly that so-called ‘anti-Zionism’ is mostly a cover for ill-concealed anti-Semitism and anyone who calls for the destruction of Israel, however ‘nicely’, is in practice being anti-Semitic.
The Israeli state – and especially its right-wing politicians like Likud – have done itself no favors. The continued effective annexation of the West Bank and the promotion of Jewish settlements is a disgrace. So too are many of the unjustified abuses of Palestinian’s and oppositions groups within Israel. Israel rightly counters with examples such Hamas rockets from Gaza and terrorist attacks with Israel.
As someone once rightly said about Northern Ireland during the ‘troubles’, playing the “politics of the last atrocity” gets us nowhere. In the end the competing demands of Irish nationalists and Ulster Unionists had to reach some sort of messy compromise to bring the conflict to an end. The same will one day be true in Israel/Palestine. But that day won’t be hastened by those who deny utterly the rights of Jews to a state of their own.