Saturday, May 7, 2016

Weaponising the Anti-Semitism Slur.

Do you find this offensive?  Do you consider it anti-semitic?  Perhaps before you decide it would be helpful to know the origins of this map and text.  

It was posted by Norman Finkelstein on his blog on August 4, 2014. Dr. Finkelstein is an American author and activist, with a PhD in Political Science from Princeton University. He is Jewish.  Both his parents survived both the Warsaw Ghetto and internment in concentration camps - his father in Auschwitz, his mother in Majdanek. He is certainly not someone to whom one would normally apply the term "anti-semite".  

But it was this post that caused the resignation from the British Labour Party of Naz Shah, an MP of Pakistani origin, and stoked the allegations of left-wing anti-semitism.  Ms. Shah's 'crime' was to share Finkelstein's post on Facebook in August, 2014, adding the comment that it might "save them some pocket money".  The cries of anti-Semitism reverberated through the press and political establishment, with Conservative leader and Prime Minister David Cameron saying it was “extraordinary,” that she continued to hold the Labour whip, and accusing the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, of failing to get to grips with anti-semitisim in his party.  Corbyn and Shah crumbled under the assault, and Ms. Shah was suspended from the Labour Party.   

To me, rather than being anti-semitic, the post seems more to be a sardonic commentary on the Washington's  attitude towards Israel - about the way the US donates $3 billion annually for Israel's defence, and how its unyielding support for the Israeli government exacerbates conflict in the region affecting the price of oil and preventing any chance of peace and justice for the Palestinian people.   

Few people can withstand the public shaming that accompanies allegations of anti-semitism.   One who can, and has done before, is is the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who in defence of Naz Shah, in an impromptu interview, made the technically incorrect statement that "when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel.  He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."  Of course Israel did not exist in 1932, so the statement is incorrect.  And certainly Hitler was no Zionist.  But nonetheless there is some truth in Livingstone's claim since there was an agreement (the Havaara agreement) signed in 1933 between the Zionist Federation of Germany, the Anglo-Palestine Bank (under the directive of the Jewish Agency) and the economic authorities of Nazi Germany to help facilitate the emigration of German Jews to Palestine.  Presumably this was the policy that Livingstone was referring to.  

But again the press, the Conservative Party, the Blairite wing of the Labour party and many Israel supporters and representatives of Jewish groups, jumped all over this, accusing Livingstone of anti-semitism.  Again pressure was put on Jeremy Corbyn and again he meekly folded and suspended Livingstone from the Labour Party. 

Naz Sha's Facebook post appeared in 2014, so one has to ask the question of why these dubious allegations of anti-semitism in Labour's ranks have arisen at this time?  It surely could not have been a coincidence that local elections were due to be held across Britain a week or two after the affair exploded (in fact they were held yesterday, May 5th.).  And furthermore the key race for the mayor of London was between a Muslim of Pakistani origin (Sadiq Khan for Labour) and a British Jew (Zac Goldsmith for the Conservatives). Goldsmith has been accused of stirring up divisive ethnic tensions by claiming that Khan had shared the stage at some meetings with supporters of Islamic terrorism.  So allegations of anti-semitism in the Labour ranks might be expected to help the Conservative party.  But there is also a sizeable portion of the Labour Party, especially its MPs, who have never been comfortable with Corbyn assuming the leadership.  It has been claimed that this Blairite faction in the party, would be happy to see Labour taking a pounding in the local elections, setting the stage for a parliamentary coup against Corbyn.  This faction has been very uncomfortable with Corbyn's successful bid for the leadership last year, and ever since that time there have been murmurings about Corbyn's supposed anti-semitism.  This no doubt arises from Corbyn's stated support for the Palestinian cause.  Unlike Tony Blair and George Brown he has not fallen into line with the establishment position of one hundred percent support for Israel, no matter how egregious its behaviour.  

Is there anti-semitism on the left?  I don't know, but there is certainly anti-Zionism, which is not the same thing, although the government of Israel and its supporters would like to confound the two.  This can be seen in the struggle to hinder the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, the global campaign to put pressure on Israel to obtain for justice for the Palestinians.  For example under pressure from wealthy Jewish donors with political influence, the Board of Regents of the University of California has issued a statement linking anti-Zionism and anti-semitism.  Hillary Clinton has said  "We need to repudiate efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS is the latest front in this battle."  

But to follow the line of argument put forward by those who equate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism, any criticism of Israel is off-limits and beyond the pale.  We have seen too much of this bullying and intimidation of Israel's critics.   Remember Judge Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist of international repute, who issued a UN report condemning Israel (and Hamas) for war crimes in one of its attacks on Gaza.  He was so maligned and criticized within his own Jewish community that he later recanted and issued a new version of his report, much less critical of Israel.  

Also, believe it or not, Hillary Clinton, back in the days when she was First Lady believed in justice for Palestinians. In 1998 she said that she supported a Palestinian state.  Then, the following year, she kissed Suha Arafat after the Palestinian leader’s wife accused Israel of using “poison gas” against Palestinian children.  But then she ran for Senator in the state of New York, and soon realized that political power and influence lay with the supporters of Israel and not those of the Palestinians.  She was taught a very sharp, severe lesson and ever since has been a major champion of Israel, through thick and thin.  

Another person who the pro-Israel faction tried to bring into line was Norman Finkelstein, with whom we started this discussion.  Dr. Finkelstein has had more than his share of vilification from fellow Jews, not least for his book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, in which he claims that the Holocaust is used as an "ideological weapon" to enable the State of Israel, "one of the world's most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, [to] cast itself as a victim state" thereby providing Israel with "immunity to criticism".   

His career has been ruined by his political opponents.  He was a Professor at De Paul University from 2001 to 2007, but fell out of favour with the university after a public spat with Alan Dershowitz, over the latter's book The Case for Israel. Finkelstein was placed on administrative leave after being denied tenure.  Matthew Abraham author of Out of Bounds: Academic Freedom and the Question of Palestine, described the Finkelstein tenure case as "one of the most significant academic freedom cases in the last fifty years", claiming the case demonstrated "the substantial pressure outside parties can place on a mid-tier religious institution when the perspectives advanced by a controversial scholar threaten dominant interests."

When Dr. Finkelstein went to Israel in 2008, he was detained in Ben Gurion airport for twenty-four hours and then put on a plane back to Amsterdam, whence he had arrived.  He was subsequently banned from entering Israel for ten years.  

Israeli cabinet minister Naftali Bennett has claimed of Binyamin Netanyahu that "The prime minister is not a private person, but the leader of the Jewish state and the whole Jewish world."  Of course this is an absurd claim.  Netanyahu is a political leader - prime minister of the State of Israel.  He is not a religious or spiritual leader.  He has no claim to be leader of Jews in other countries - if so we have a serious problem of divided loyalties.  But I think it is this attitude that helps blur the line between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism.  Suppose the claim were true, in some part.  Then could Bennett or Netanyahu object if those who condemn Israel for its illegal occupation and for its inhumane treatment of the Palestinians, likewise condemn all Jews as responsible?   If Israel represents all Jews, then all Jews are responsible.  It makes no sense, and I suspect that Israel's leaders know it makes no sense.  But they are not concerned with justice or reasonable behaviour, only ways to stifle criticism of their illegal and immoral actions.   

PS.  Zadiq Khan  won the London mayoral election and Labour didn't do too badly over all, except in Scotland where the SNP swept the field. So the smear tactics don't seem to have been too effective.  In fact Zac Goldsmith is now facing criticism for the campaign he ran, and for his dog-whistle attempts to stir up Islamophobia.


  1. The issue seems to be the way Jews exploit the Holocaust and clamour to define any opposition to Israeli policies as anti-Semitism. Outrageous statements by Muslims have helped make this strategy successful.

  2. The following article by distinguished Jewish scholar (Oxford professor and author of The Iron Wall) Avi Shlaim and Gwyn Daniel discusses much of what I was writing about. It eloquently dissects Israel's use of the anti-semitism trope to deflect criticism. It is worth reading. WR


  4. I remember just not comprehending the almost existential despair of my Jewish room mate reacting to the 1967 war - before Israel walked over the Arabs and annexed Palestinian territory. I also remember feeling hope talking with an Israeli graduate student colleague in the early 70's about the obvious solution, i.e. s Palestinian state with a corridor to the sea, foreshadowing what we read in Haaretz. And here we are 45 years later, the body politic no wiser about this rats' nest of tribalism and imperialist interference - with a rogue client state. I cannot imagine a happy outcome - but, then again, I could not imagine a resolution to apartheid which did not involve a massacre of S. African whites.

  5. Who knows? The government of Netanyahu has just moved even further to the right, sacking Yalon and appointing Lieberman as defence minister. It is now well to the right of the IDF. There is an interesting article on this in yesterday's NY Times. The internal contradictions within Israeli society seem to be growing. How stable is it? The BDS movement seems to gaining strength, especially in US, including among many young Jewish Americans. The Israeli government is seriously concerned and seems to be pulling out all of the stops to combat it. But I think these efforts will be counterproductive since they reveal to all the way the Lobby functions.