5 September 2018 — Dissident Voice
What is the point of memory if one fails to learn from the lessons it provides? Milan Kundera accurately observed that “the struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. ((Hidden Agendas, John Pilger.)) The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an organisation supposedly committed to not forgetting the infamous extermination of Jews by the Nazis during World War Two. That is not unreasonable. However, what if remembering one horrendous holocaust from the past is paid for by forgetting, or ignoring, holocausts of the present? What if remembering one horrendous holocaust from the past is used as an excuse to attack and criminalise protests against holocausts of the present?
The IHRA recently drafted a brand new definition of the expression “anti-Semitism”. The status of the organisation appears to have given it an authority to do this which is somehow deemed beyond reproach or question, as the British Labour Party recently voted to adopt the whole definition as its official position on the issue of anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition was drafted by a Jewish lawyer, Kenneth Stern. It would seem that Mr Stern didn’t quite realise the significance of what he had done, and has since distanced himself from the way his work has been used. However, the Labour Party’s decision was nothing short of catastrophic.
It’s highly relevant to consider what has long been used as a definition of anti-Semitism. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, for example, simply defines it as “hostility or opposition to Jews”.1 But even this definition is highly problematic, because the very same dictionary defines the word “Semite” as “A member of any of the peoples supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah (Gen. 10:21-31) including esp. the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians”.2 Clearly the expression anti-Semitism is derived from the word Semite, yet somewhere along the way hundreds of millions of Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians were simply wiped out of consideration, leaving behind only the Jews.
The new IHRA definition has now transformed the expression once again – and definitely not for the better. We have now moved from the questionable but quite straightforward “hostility or opposition to Jews”, to something that’s over five hundred words in length. Whilst much of the new definition is still basically describing hostility or opposition to Jews, there’s now some brand new and deeply sinister additions. We’re now told that the following are examples of anti-Semitism:
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
It would seem the Labour Party has now voted to adopt the entire five hundred-plus words IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. It’s very clear that the new definition has done something that’s seldom been achieved before. It’s now made it extremely difficult to criticise the political activities of Israel, a country whose actions against Palestinians (a Semitic people) are demonstrably racist, oppressive, and flagrantly in breach of international laws.
When the Labour Party accepted the IHRA definition it added a caveat that “this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians”. No doubt this was added as some sort of appeasement to the sizeable number of Labour members who have long supported and campaigned for justice for Palestinians, but how is “freedom of expression on Israel” going to square in practice with the new ban on campaigning against Israel’s institutional racism against Palestinians, given this is now an explicitly prohibited expression of anti-Semitism?
One of the most ironic situations to arise out of this new definition is that Hassidic Jews, the ultra-orthodox practitioners of Judaism, could now be deemed anti-Semitic, as they have always denied the right of Israel to exist, and have even supported the Palestinian cause, as can be clearly seen, for example, in this video clip. So we have deeply religious Jews who are now officially anti-Semitic. It’s beyond farce. You couldn’t make it up.
The gutless Labour Party caving in to pressure from the powerful pro-Israeli Zionist lobby is utterly contemptible, but it’s far from being the first time that Labour has sacrificed vital political ideology in the cynical cause of political expediency. As far back as 1926 a gutless Labour Party failed to support Britain’s first ever successful General Strike. The ruling Tory party of the day was crushed by the united action of British trade unions. But what did Labour do? It capitulated. The strike was called off. Not even the Tories, who knew they were beaten, could believe it. It was a real and golden opportunity for Britain to create a socialist state, and the Labour Party, together with the treacherous leaders of the Trades Union Congress, simply threw in the towel, and betrayed millions of British workers.
Then it happened again in 1997 when Tony Blair’s “New Labour” swept to power after almost twenty years of relentless Tory capitalism. The nation was sick to death of Tory austerity. It was yet another golden opportunity to rescue our desperate economy, but what did Labour do? Capitulate. It betrayed the millions of people who had trusted it to rid the nation of Toryism and delivered yet more capitalist austerity for the next twelve years, causing Margaret Thatcher to smugly remark that Tony Blair was the Tories’ greatest achievement.3
The latest capitulation of the Labour Party is an interesting thing. It is supposed to be about alleged anti-Semitism in the country generally, and within the party in particular. Now what’s interesting about this is that I’ve lived in Britain for forty years and I have never, ever come across any anti-Semitism – using the word here to mean prejudice against Jews. And I know what prejudice against Jews is, because when I was growing up in Rhodesia, during its institutionally racist days, prejudice against Jews was also very common, and normal. But here in the UK I have never, not once, encountered anti-Jewish prejudice. Islamophobia is not unusual here, and prejudice against Eastern Europeans is totally normal. Prejudice against women, black people, gays, and almost anyone who is obviously different, all completely normal although thankfully not very common – inexcusable, obviously, but not unusual and I have observed examples of each of them at various times; but I have never once seen an example in this country of prejudice against Jews. A small minority of people, such as myself and Jeremy Corbyn, frequently criticise the grotesque abuses of Palestinians by the Zionist regime ruling Occupied Palestine, but that is something entirely different. It’s a wholly deserved critique of a repulsive regime which is in practice indistinguishable from South Africa’s horrendous apartheid years. Prejudice against Zionists is not the same thing as prejudice against Jews. So in my view, the claim that there’s some sort of major problem of anti-Jewish prejudice in Britain is a complete fabrication, deliberately engineered as a device to eliminate criticism of Israel. Given that this is exactly what has come about it would seem the strategy has been a successful one.
The real victims in this sorry story are all the other Semitic people whose terrible suffering has long been ignored: the Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians and Phoenicians. These are the real victims of modern anti-Semitism, but their cause is almost completely ignored. In the past the British Labour Party has sometimes shown support for their endless agony, and criticised the shameful western-sponsored injustices they have to endure. But the latest capitulation of the Labour Party, sacrificing noble ideology to political expediency, is nothing short of disgusting, and hundreds of millions of non-Jewish Semitic people could now well ask, “Et tu Labour?”
- New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993 Edition), p. 88.
- “- p. 2772
- The Establishment, Owen Jones, p. 51.