Antisemitic anti-Zionism: the root of Labour’s crisis
Professor Alan Johnson is Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), founder and editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region, and a registered Labour Party supporter (Unite).
Everything depends on the Labour Party understanding what it is dealing with: almost never old-fashioned Jew hatred, almost always modern antisemitic anti-Zionism – a programme to abolish Israel, a movement to boycott Israel and discourse to demonise Israel. To combat it, the party needs to understand the historical roots, ideological tributaries, contemporary modes and forms of expressions of antisemitic anti-Zionism.
Antisemitism is the most protean of hatreds and it has shape-shifted again (Gidley 2011). Labour does not have a neo-Nazi problem. It does, however, have a problem with a modern anti-Zionism of a particularly excessive, obsessive, and demonising kind, which has co-mingled with an older set of classical antisemitic tropes, images and assumptions to create antisemitic anti-Zionism (Wistrich 1984, 1991, 2004, 2009, 2012; Johnson 2015a, 2016). Antisemitic anti-Zionism bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism out of shape until both become receptacles for those tropes, images and ideas.
In short, that which the demonological Jew once was in older forms of antisemitism, demonological Israel now is in contemporary anti-Semitic anti-Zionism: uniquely malevolent, full of blood lust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricksy, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on (Johnson 2015b, Hirsh 2007, 2013b).
Antisemitism’s core motif is that the Jews, collectively and in their essence, are not just Other but also malign. However, the content of this perceived malignity changes with the times and with the needs of the anti-Semites. ‘God-killers,’ ‘aliens,’ ‘cosmopolitans,’ ‘sub-humans’ and now ‘Zionists’ have all served as code words to mark the Jew for destruction.