Antisemitism vs. Speaking out against Israel – Labour Article
Last week, in a surprise turn of events, Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked after being accused of supporting antisemitic remarks. She retweeted an interview with actress and activist Maxine Peak, who in her interview with ‘The Independent’ made unfounded claims surrounding links between US Police and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
The interview in question touted the idea that the Israeli Defence Force were responsible for teaching the kneeling hold used in the murder of George Floyd to American Police forces. There is little evidence to support this idea, prompting Starmer to label it a conspiracy theory.
This is not the first time the party has had to broach the issue of rife antisemitism. This high-profile case forces us to ask: why do Labour and antisemitism appear to be linked?
Under the leadership of Corbyn, who has a history of opposing the Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories, there was nearly a total divorce between Jewish Communities and Labour. Of course, it was not Mr Corbyn alone, but the multitude of incidents that occurred under his leadership of the party. Starmer has made repeated claims that restoring relations with the Jewish Community is a top priority.
He is not wrong; however, I believe his sacking of Long-Bailey was an overzealous attempt at a quick fix with the Jewish community. We must be allowed to criticise governments. However, as long as the conversation does not fall under hate speech regarding the nature of the religion, it cannot be deemed a sackable offence.
To be clear, Israel cannot be blamed for police brutality in the US. Race issues in the US and the militarisation of American society is traceable to their founding constitution and the history of slavery and systemic racism. However, there are proven links between the Israeli Defence Force and the US Police.
The Jewish lobbyist movement ‘Deadly Exchange’ has campaigned for years to end this relationship and I agree with their stance. US-Israeli relations have perpetuated the dangerous concept of militarising the police. The future that this points to will be inhospitable for all of us.
Nonetheless, Long-Bailey did retweet an interview with factually incorrect claims about Israel’s involvement. As such, she should have been made to issue a formal apology about spreading misinformation. For me, her actions do not warrant her being sacked. The statement she retweeted, whilst factually incorrect, says nothing about the character or values of the Jewish people. Therefore, antisemitism should not be the label we use.
The regularity with which Labour is associated with antisemitism is troubling. Yet, it may be a by-product of the causes the party stands for. The issue of Israel and Palestine is one held as vitally important by many Labour supporters; therefore, it is not uncommon for members of the left to criticise the actions of the Israeli state. This in itself is not antisemitic. The issue arises when these political positions are infiltrated by the ignorance of individuals who have not been educated on Jewish history.
Some members of the Labour party have fallen ill to portraying racist views as rational beliefs. For example, Christine Shawcroft (ex-Chair of the Labour Party Disputes Sub-committee) defended a Labour council member who claimed the holocaust was a ‘hoax designed to incite debate about Zionism’. Individuals like this are part of the minority who hold genuinely antisemitic convictions and use the tragic conflict in the Middle East as a cover for their ignorance.
Simon Schama is a renowned historian and is himself Jewish. Writing about the danger of reducing education about antisemitism and the Holocaust, Schama said “this horrible prejudice which goes from words to actual killing goes back so long and is so deep-rooted … that education is very important.”
In order to confront the issue of antisemitism in our society, we must learn and educate ourselves and each other. Any attempt to treat antisemitism as a plague to be eradicated solely by expelling individuals will fail; there is a systemic issue behind these individual cases. This being said, an open dialogue about the actions of Israel is, now more than ever, of the utmost importance.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Henry Mckeever
Point of Information
Keir Starmer did the right thing; antisemitism needs to be eradicated – a Conservative response
In essence, I do agree with the point that there should be a space to criticise the Israeli government without being accused of antisemitism. However, this is quite beside the point. Long-Bailey was sacked for sharing an article that does incite hate, or at least suspicion, of the Jewish people; not for making legitimate criticisms of the Israeli regime.
I say that the article in question was antisemitic because it feeds into the idea that the Jews control the world through a set of conspiracies; that they are the root course of all of the bad that happens in the world; that they must, therefore, be opposed. This is deeply antisemitic. The article that Long-Bailey shared was suggesting that blame for the death of George Floyd can be attributed ultimately to the Israeli state; that Jews, effectively, are responsible for this murder.
While I am sure that Sir Starmer had other motives, the sacking of Long-Bailey was the responsible thing to do. The article was factually baseless and only fed hate and division. It did nothing to enrichen the debate and it distracted from the important discussion about police brutality in the US.
The sacking of such a high profile member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet will send a strong message to the antisemites in the Labour Party that their time is up. Labour is no longer a safe space for them. And, more importantly, it will send a message to the UK’s Jewish community that Labour is listening to them, and will work hard to regain their trust.
So, I say, well done Keir.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, George Myers
Unfortunately, antisemitism is much more far-reaching than Labour – a Liberal response
For such a sensitive issue, I really much admire Henry’s approach here. Unlike Rebecca Long-Bailey who acted too quickly, he has taken his time, done his research, and made some sensible observations.
I think the first thing that needs to be noted is that this is not a solely Labour problem. Antisemitism is growing again and not just in the Labour party. Pre-election, the Conservative party had to investigate three members running to be Members of Parliament for antisemitism. George Soros, a Hungarian, Jewish millionaire, has been demonised by the far-right in America. He has had some truly horrible conspiracy theories attached to his name by Roger Stone and Alex Jones. I am glad Henry did raise this issue, but felt it needed further exposure.
With growing claims that the Holocaust was a hoax, it is truly worrying to see that antisemitism is rising. I am glad that Keir Starmer reacted the way he did. However, part of me feels he only did this to remove Corbyn’s last major ties with the cabinet.
Also, I agree with Henry’s suggestion that criticism of Israel is needed. Whether or not you want to draw ties between US and Israeli police, the way they act towards Palestinians is sickening. Israel has, and always will, receive huge support from America; this is understandable. However, with Trump’s new proposals for the West Bank, these are worrying times and the region’s growing tensions should be of grave concern.
Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson
I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.
I am currently in my second year of reading Politics at the University of Exeter. My first interaction with politics was at the tender age of four years old.