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Jews, Israel and Zionism: Accusing those who fight antisemitism of doing so in bad faith to defend Israel, or actually being in the service of Israel:
This is a common phenomenon nowadays. Most people will say they are against antisemitism, but some will simultaneously attack those who are actively engaged in fighting antisemitism.
It is of course hurtful to be accused of antisemitism, as of any kind of racism. The proper response however is to consider whether the accusation may be justified, before responding. We have seen examples of people who were willing to learn more about what constitutes antisemitic behaviour, acknowledge they had been – if unwittingly – antisemitic, apologize and mend their ways. The often automatic defence of claiming – usually wrongly – that the allegation of antisemitism is spurious, and then of discrediting the critic by saying they have some kind of ulterior motive – including being only concerned with defending Israel, or, worse, being paid for or in the service of Israel – can be seen as a form of antisemitism. This has been particularly common in the context of Labour Party and other left politics in recent years, and has been amplified by social media into considerable attacks on some prominent opponents of antisemitism.
This can stem from various motivations. Some people have progressed from strong support of the Palestinian cause to a strong suspicion that those who are fighting antisemitism in a worldwide context are mainly interested in defending Israeli policy; but some move from an ingrained suspicion of Jewish people into expressing support for the Palestinian cause to give cover to their antisemitism. Whatever the motivation, it is discriminatory against Jews to state, without very strong supporting evidence, that someone who is opposing antisemitism is not acting in good faith, and this applies even if the ‘someone’ is not themselves Jewish.
The first two examples below state in general terms that Israel or the ‘Zionist lobby’ employs false accusations of antisemitism against those who oppose Israeli policy. Eddie Leonard’s accusation that this occurs within the Labour Party is misleading. Complaints within Labour of antisemitism were not of criticism of Israeli policy and government, even of Zionism, per se, but of the use of antisemitic tropes and expressions when making those criticisms, as we are seeking to explain. The third example is aimed at an individual, Miriam Mirwitch, implying that she only criticises left-wing antisemites because she is ‘pro-Israel’. This is untrue and deeply unfair.
Sometimes, there is the further accusation that the campaigner against antisemitism is not just a supporter of Israel, but is actually in the pay of, or under the orders of Israel, or ‘the Israel lobby’. (We dealt with the issue of the ‘Israel lobby’ in Example 30, and in the Conspiracy section of this Gallery, Example 36, we also discuss how inflated ideas of the power of Israel enter into grand conspiracy theories.) These malicious accusations are usually made on the basis of no evidence at all. They have even occasionally been made against Socialists Against Antisemitism.
The following examples refer to the Jewish and (then) Labour MPs, Dame Louise Ellman and Ruth Smeeth, who both suffered from antisemitism themselves and strenuously opposed antisemitism in the Labour Party; here, they are accused respectively of being a Mossad agent and of being ‘bought and paid for’ by Israel/Netanyahu.
To fully explain these examples, we must describe the conflict in recent years over antisemitism in the Labour Party. There has been a great deal of denialism, which SAAs does not share, about the degree and significance of antisemitic incidents and attitudes within the Labour Party. This has included accusations that they were invented or inflated by the right wing of the party in concert with Tory interest, in order to bring down leader Jeremy Corbyn; as well as the suggestion that the ‘Israel lobby’ was similarly involved in using the antisemitism issue to discredit Labour and Corbyn (who is a strong supporter of the Palestinians) in order to promote the interests of the Israeli government. While these interests and political pressures undoubtedly exist, Jewish Labour MPs have found themselves in the cross-fire.
In the case of Louise Ellman, her Chairmanship of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) is brought up as an issue. LFI support the existence of Israel as a state but do not necessarily approve of its current government and policies. Much has been made of the Al Jazeera film ‘The Lobby’, which filmed, undercover, the former Chair of LFI, Joan Ryan, speaking with an Israeli embassy employee who told her that funding was available for young activists – not MPs – to visit Israel. No money was provided to Ryan personally or to LFI, and the trip never actually took place. https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/al-jazeera-the-lobby-labour-antisemitism-israel-conspiracy-theorists-1.486494 Of course many countries promote their own interests and fund visits. But it is completely incorrect to suggest that Ellman’s concern about antisemitism – including that directed specifically at her – was motivated by defence of Israeli interests, and there is no evidence at all of her – or indeed Joan Ryan – being ‘bought’.
In the case of Ruth Smeeth, the ‘incident with Marc Wadsworth’ referred to by Wear Red occurred at the launch of the Chakrabarti Report on Labour antisemitism, when Wadsworth launched an unprovoked verbal attack on Ruth Smeeth (who was in the audience), saying she was working ‘hand in hand’ with the Daily Telegraph and right-wing press in general. Smeeth understandably believed this to be an antisemitic accusation of disloyalty or conspiracy. She was later pictured as insincere, and of ‘crying antisemitism’ in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn (a friend of Wadsworth). We do not of course believe Smeeth’s reference to ‘vile conspiracy theories’ are nonsense. In any case, no factional considerations can possibly excuse accusing her of being a ‘Mossad agent’ deserving of a bullet in the head.