There are two main points which I wish to make in this submission: (1) concerning the impact on British Jews of current behaviour and discourse with respect to Zionism among parts of the Labour Party, especially its Left wing; (2) concerning the effect of this on the Labour Party itself.
You are, no doubt, fully aware of how widespread hostility to Israel is among parts of the Left, including parts of the Labour Party. One of the most cogent objections to this hostility, and to the actions it tends to produce, is that it’s unfairly selective – Israel is singled out for hostile mention and treatment (for example, by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign) where other countries whose human rights violations are much worse, are ignored or sometimes even fêted. I do not think this hostility, or even campaigns such as the BDS one, are always driven by antisemitism. But in the absence of some convincing explanation of why it is (supposedly) legitimate to focus hostility largely or entirely on Israel while practising a studied silence towards other and far worse malefactors, then the possibility of antisemitism providing the required explanation must be taken seriously. And there is such an absence – the purported explanations of the singular concern with Israel generally range from the vacuous (‘We have to start somewhere’) to the contemptible (‘It’s because Jews are really one of us, and so we have a special duty to criticise their misdeeds’ – this in a world in which extensively in the past, and increasingly in the present, Jews have very definitely not been regarded as ‘one of us’). Something rather more plausible is needed to rule out the possibility of antisemitism being the driving force behind the anti-Israel hostilities.
However unfairness, and the legitimate concern it generates, is not the only problem arising out of the feverish focus on Israel which can be found in various left-wing arenas. If we leave aside the issue of fairness, and concentrate purely on the consequences of this singular focus, on the effects it produces, other problems come into view. For a start, the main effects are not on Israel at all – the various expressions of enmity towards Israel by significant parts of Labour’s left wing have not made a lot of difference to that country, except, perhaps, to strengthen the view of many of its nationals and supporters that there really does need to be a country where Jews can’t be on the receiving end of discriminatory treatment just because they are Jews.
The main effects of the hostility have been, as we might expect, on Jews in this country. Most, though not all, Jews are Zionists, and most, but not all, Zionists are Jews. Zionism has been treated by parts of the Left as a vicious and sinister ideology, to be condemned and where possible eradicated, with supporters who are likewise to be condemned and excoriated. This treatment impacts most heavily on those who regard Jewish self-determination and self-defence as important matters. These people will be primarily (though I’m glad to say not exclusively) Jews. In this way, what looks like a foreign policy issue for the Labour Party is actually an issue in domestic policy too, and a serious one for a Party which says it prides itself on being anti-racist. Antisemitism is by no means the exclusive possession of the political Right; the Left also can fall prey to that oldest of prejudices, even when (and perhaps especially when) it feels at its most certain about its own moral rectitude. And the effect on Jews, particularly ones who have in the past supported Labour, is to increase their sense of isolation and alienation. The State of Israel, which many of them see as a life-raft state which allows Jews self-determination and is committed to their defence, is the object of constant hostility and denigration by important elements in one of our major political parties. It is not surprising if this has the effect of making Jews here feel less safe, less accepted, than they were, say, in the years after the Second World War.
As a consequence of this, the Jewish vote for Labour is likely to collapse, and we are already seeing this happen in certain parts of the country. Does the Labour Party really want to be a major factor in increasing the sense of isolation and insecurity already felt by a number of Jews in this country? And does the current leadership of this party really want to be known as the one which drove the Jews out of the party? Especially since the Jews are unlikely to go quietly, and there are other political forces which will be only too happy to point out the implications of this development, and who is responsible for it.
The Labour Party cannot, and should not, attempt to prevent its supporters from holding views hostile to Israel, by any means other than open argument and debate. What it can legitimately do is discourage, and if necessary prohibit, the use of words such as ‘zio’ as terms of contempt and condemnation, just as it wouldn’t tolerate the use of terms such as ‘paki’ to refer to members of a particular ethnicity. More importantly, it should take action where obviously anti-Semitic tropes such as the blood libel, or references to sinister powers pulling strings in the shadows, are being used, just as it would take action should its members, and particularly its various functionaries, refer to people of colour in terms of long-standing racist tropes against them. The Party should not be ready to regard Jews who complain about antisemitism as being dishonest and deceitful, as playing the antisemitism card; and it should actively discourage its members and supporters from doing this. It should be prepared to take decisive action where direct lies, such as the claim that Jews were the chief financiers of the African slave trade, or the claim Hitler was a supporter of Zionism, or the claim that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, are promulgated. A brief suspension from the Party, followed by a silent re-admission, of people who peddle these lies does not really count as decisive action.
In the absence of such measures, which in fact would be only the first steps towards a genuine intolerance of antisemitism in the Party, Labour will be one of the factors in the production of a rising tide of hostility towards Jews in this country. And it will be peculiarly culpable for this state of affairs, precisely because it has always presented itself as hostile to all forms of racism. At the moment it is not; it tolerates, and in some cases encourages, the resurgence of an anti-semitism which some of us thought would never again be permitted the oxygen of acceptance on the Left. We were wrong, of course.
A personal note: I have voted Labour all my life. As things currently stand, I will not be able to do so again.