John Strawson: “I support the Palestinians – and I left Labour this week over anti-Semitism”

This piece, by John Strawson, is from Jewish News. 

This week I left the Labour Party due to the failure of the National Executive Committee to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and examples of anti-Semitism.

Despite the pleadings of the Jewish community, the Labour Party instead arrogantly adopted its definition which effectively licenses forms of anti-Semitism.

It created a test of anti-Semitic “intent,” not in the IHRA definition, which would be difficult to prove while allowing for comparisons to be made between the Israel and the Nazis.

Worse, if this were possible, it would allow members to claim that the creation of Israel itself was a racist endeavour.

For me this was crossing a line and transformed the party I had been a member for decades into an institutionally anti-Semitic organisation.

The Labour party leadership claims that the reason for the not adopting the full IHRA definition and examples is because it wants to ensure free speech on Israel and Palestine.

Yet the IHRA definition explicitly says that “criticism of Israel similar to that levered against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

As a staunch supporter of Palestinian self-determination and an opponent of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory after the 1967 war, I regularly criticise Israeli policy.

For a period of 11 years I was involved in a European project supporting Birzeit University’s Institute of Law.

I was a visiting professor teaching at the Institute and participating in conferences several times a year.

I was there during the worst of the second Intifada and I know something about how dreadful the humiliations and oppression of occupation are.

I agree with the International Court of Justice that the wall that has been built on Palestinian territory is illegal.

However, I can make all these criticisms without resorting to anti-Semitism or calling for the destruction of Israel.

In any event anti-Semitism hardly aids the cause of the Palestinians.

There is also another fundamental principle; the creation of the Israel was ethically correct.

The Marxist Isaac Deutscher called it a “historic necessity.”  As the United Nations partition plan recognised, Jews, have the right to self-determination.

The rationale for Israel was the profound anti-Semitism that ran through the sinews of Europe over centuries.

Those who support Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) often attack Israel as a racist state – something the Labour party definition would allow – but Israel is not a racist state, it is a refugee state.

In the last three years the Labour party has become the largest organisation circulating anti-Semitism.

It has been enabled by Jeremy Corbyn who has not only refused to fight it but has become complicit with it.

As he is my MP I have written to him several times. In his last letter to me dated April 24 2018, he wrote, “the evidence of my sincerity in dealing with this problem will be in the elimination of anti-Semitism in our movement.”

I now understand that what he actually meant was that anti-Semitism would be eliminated by a weaker definition.

This piece, by John Strawson, is from Jewish News. 

Also by John Strawson:

Zionism and Apartheid: The Analogy in the Politics of International Law – John Strawson – Engage Journal Issue 2 – May 2006

John Strawson on the University of Johannesburg’s boycott decision

Perry Anderson’s House of Zion: A Symposium | John Strawson

Why I am against the boycott, by John Strawson – 18 May 2005

One Response to “John Strawson: “I support the Palestinians – and I left Labour this week over anti-Semitism””

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Well said and done, John. If you read my comment to David’s article below, you will see that I face the same dilemma, though I haven’t yet taken that particular step of leaving the Party. There are minor aspects of your article that I might dispute (and probably have, over the decade and a half of Engage’s existence), but those fade into insignificance in the current crisis on the British Left. As I noted to another attendee of the meeting referenced in that comment (whom I suspect doesn’t accept the legitimacy of Israel’s existence), I frequently criticise Israeli government actions and policies, as I reserve the right to do for any and every democratically elected government in the world.
    I take it for granted that any and every non-democratically elected regime anywhere in the world is, by definition, open to criticism, especially if the citizens of such regimes are deprived of the right to do their own criticising.


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