Jonathan G Campbell and Lesley D Klaff – Submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party

The Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry into Antisemitism and Other Forms of Racism


Jonathan G Campbell (Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies & Judaism, University of Bristol) and Lesley D Klaff (Senior Lecturer in Law, Sheffield Hallam University)

As academics with interests in the study of contemporary antisemitism, we would be grateful if the inquiry would take into account the following two interrelated points:

1. The Labour Party cannot honestly hold itself out as “an anti-racist party committed to combating and campaigning against all forms of racism, including antisemitism…..” as long as it denies the existence of left-wing antisemitism within the Party. Left-wing antisemitism takes the form of irrational, disproportionate, and stereotyped hostility to Israel, treating the country in effect as the ‘Jew among nations’. It involves an intellectual discourse which conceives of Israel in partial and distorted form and employs a conceptual framework that is both false and falsifying. This includes claims that Zionism is racism; that Israel’s creation involved the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of Palestine; that Israel is a settler-colonial state which is now committing genocide against the Palestinians; and that all Israeli defensive action is disproportionate or unnecessary. The discourse similarly draws on the belief in an all-powerful Israel lobby and on nasty and provocative comparisons of Israel with apartheid South Africa and/or the Nazis. Further, left-wing antisemitism is at the heart of a global social movement, the BDS movement, which aims to remove Israel from the world stage in complete disregard of the perfectly legitimate needs and wishes of the roughly six million Israeli Jews who live there. This desire to see Israel’s demise constitutes contemporary anti-Zionism. Such anti-Zionism was officially given a definition in 2002 by the Berlin Technical University’s Centre for Research on Antisemitism, which it drafted for the European Union Monitoring Centre for Research on Racism and Xenophobia. It defines anti-Zionism as “the portrayal of Israel as a state that is fundamentally negatively distinct from all others and which therefore has no right to exist.”

2. Contemporary anti-Zionism as described above is antisemitic. It applies double standards to the world’s only Jewish state in order to demonise and delegitimize it so as to justify its removal from the community of nations. It also often transfers classic antisemitic notions about alleged Jewish power and malice to the state of Israel alone of all countries in the world. This is inevitably painful for most British Jews, the overwhelming majority of whom have an affinity with Israel and the Zionist project, so much so that Israel and Zionism are a key aspect of contemporary Jewish identity in the UK, broadly comparable to the place of the Irish Republic in the identity of Irish Americans. Accordingly, the majority of British Jews assume a certain obligation to support Israel and to ensure its survival as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. This does not equate to unconditional or unstinting support for any particular Israeli government and its policies. Rather, it amounts to a sense of connection with, or an affiliation to, modern Israel, as well as a sense of the country’s importance against the background of historic Jewish ties to the land, the persecution of Jews over the ages, and the renewed opportunity since 1922 (with the creation of British Palestine as the Jewish National Home) and especially since 1948 (with the formation of the state of Israel) for Jewish self-determination and cultural flourishing. For these reasons, left-wing hostility to Israel engages Jews not only in conventional political terms but also seeks to undermine a perfectly respectable core aspect of their identity. Nor is the existence of a small group of Jews who are hostile to Israel and Zionism evidence for the proposition that an attachment to Israel is not an important aspect of contemporary Jewish identity, for such Jews are either marginal or non-normative or, paradoxically, the form that their attachment to Israel takes is in their hostility to Israel and Zionism.

These two points are vital to understanding antisemitism in the modern Labour Party, for the grossly inaccurate discourse about Israel that they entail seems endemic to large sections of the Party at present, especially since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. The general demonization of Israel that results inevitably creates a permissive environment in which outrageous statements about Israel or Israeli Jews – or indeed Diaspora Jews with links to Israel – can be made by individual Party members. It may well be appropriate to take disciplinary action against such members, but the real problem lies in the prior permissive environment and its anti-Israel discourse. Without tackling the latter head on, indeed, the Labour Party will not in our view be able to deal thoroughly or successfully with the problem of antisemitism that is currently in its midst.

Jonathan G Campbell, University of Bristol 10 June 2016
Lesley D Klaff, Sheffield Hallam University