this book is a valuable, unique reference book– Moshé Machover
I’m not Jewish, and until I joined the Labour Party, I was for the most part unaware which of the people around me were Jewish. By contrast, I found out which of my new Labour Party associates were Jewish very quickly, mostly when they said things like “well I’m Jewish, and I don’t think that’s anti-Semitic,” when reading Labour Party accusations against their comrades. Looking back now, I feel as though a lot of my time in the Labour Party was spent being told by the other end of the Party how to do anti-Semitism, so you wouldn’t do it accidentally. It was utterly perplexing. Not being nasty or prejudicial towards Jewish people wasn’t anywhere near good enough.
In the introduction to Tony Greenstein’s new book, “Zionism During the Holocaust”, Moshé Machover explains this mysterious complexity:
It’s about “the point of intersection between anti-Semitism and Zionism.” Medieval anti-Semitism was religious. Modern anti-Semitism calls Jewish people an alien race … Zionism responds: ‘Yes, we Jews are a separate nation/race; we are aliens who do not belong here among the Gentiles; we must not assimilate but go to our god-promised homeland, which our ancestors, the Israelites, led by Joshua son of Nun, invaded and ethnically cleansed in days of old, as recounted in the Bible.”
That is why Zionists are often found to be arguing the same line as the far-right, the racists; like them, they have decided on behalf of all Jewish people, that Jewish people, wherever they were born, wherever they have built their lives, belong in Israel. That is why Ken Livingstone thought it necessary to say those words that were presented as so shocking – in a way, Hitler was in agreement with Zionism – but that is one of the things you definitely aren’t allowed to say.
And that’s the key to recognizing issues that have been weaponized, or deliberately obfuscated. If the very thing that would help to shed light on your confusion is taboo, then there’s something someone doesn’t want you to understand.
There are those who will say you shouldn’t read anything by Tony Greenstein, that he’s “extreme”, or “obsessive”. Well, as a writer and a publisher, I understand the value of what some people call obsession. It’s a talent that detectives, researchers and academics need, to keep them questioning and digging after everyone else has given up and said “whatever.”
Most of us, after many lectures from the right of the Party, worked out our own rules – don’t call anyone a “Zionist”; Don’t say “Israel” when you mean the Israeli state or army or police, don’t mention Palestine too often and whatever you do, don’t ever, in any context, mention the Rothschilds or Soros. You know, in all those talks about anti-Semitism, I can’t ever remember a single speaker from the Jewish Labour Movement saying “don’t be nasty to/about Jewish people”. That wasn’t it at all.
Zionists, imperialists and political manipulators of every stripe are quite happy to be nasty to people when it helps their cause. In his preface to his book, Greenstein writes “My obsession … originated with my discovery as a young child that American Zionist organisations had opposed the entry of Jewish refugees to the United States from Nazi-occupied Europe.”
That is pretty enormous when you think about it – actively hindering the escape of Jewish people because those desperate refugees weren’t heading where Zionists thought they should go. The key to understanding it is in the hands of left-wing thinkers, because the left understands that what’s sold to you as good for a state is not necessarily good for people.
In fact, the interests of a state, as presented by its establishment organizations, often harm people. Where Zionists are, and always were, batting for Israel, Jewish socialists are supporters of people – including Palestinians, who are “in the way” of the Israeli state. Greenstein’s intention is to demonstrate that “The Israeli State, its ideologues and echo chambers on the Right, in Parliament and in the Press, have consciously used the murder of millions of Jews at the hands of the Nazis to sanitise western racism and imperialism.”
Well, many of us know about the harms that other countries – the UK and the USA in particular, have perpetrated in order to “sanitise” their own inhumane, acquisitive projects, so we should not be that surprised.
So, you’re a socialist activist and you’ve had the lectures. Do you really need a 500-page guidebook to the history and nature of the problem? Well first, let me point out that Greenstein’s book is 500 pages long because it has a substantial index and lots of source notes. It’s a reference book – a well researched, carefully thought-through study. You put it on the shelf and read the bits you need, when you need them. You’re not obliged to read the whole thing in one go – although once you start, I think it’s quite likely you’ll be engrossed, and read it from start to finish.
If you are a lefty activist, if you are a socialist internationalist, or if you wish to involve yourself in politics without being caught out by the anti-Israeli-government-equals-anti-Semitism trick, get yourself a copy. It does not just explore and explain the Israel-Palestine problem, it lays out, with gripping clarity, many of the features of the weaponization and trickery found in the major political battles of our time.
The book sets out the events and developments that led to where we are now country by country, as well as discussing specific examples of political thinking and manoeuvres. One example that anyone supporting anti-fascist work should definitely read comes under “The Origins of Anti-Semitism in Germany”, in which Greenstein explains that fascism, because it has no coherent ideology of its own, needs an enemy. It demonstrates why the mythic character, the ‘wandering Jew’ was used by Nazis as a dramatic opposite to ‘the people’ their movement claimed to be ‘for’. Like any dodgy ideology, fascism needs conspiracy theories and other PR tricks to hold it together.
The strategy that most needs to be understood by non-Jewish readers, particularly when trying to work out the battles going on around the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, is the forced teaming of Jewish people, whether or not they are Jewish by religion as well as by birth, with Israel – a strategy most often used by politicians for the good of states rather than people. For UK readers, the Balfour Declaration is perhaps the best-known example of the tactic. I learned from Greenstein that it was the only Jewish member of Lloyd George’s cabinet who called out the Declaration as anti-Semitic, writing: “It is no more true to say that a Jewish Englishman and a Jewish Moor are of the same nation than it is to say that a Christian Englishman and a Christian Frenchman are of the same nation.”
And there we have the conflict in a nutshell – where Jewish socialists tell you that conflating Jewish people with Israel is anti-Semitic, a Zionist will tell you that denying the centrality of Israel to Jewish lives is anti-Semitic.
When I joined in the Corbyn movement in the UK Labour Party, I got to know Leah Levane, a member of my (at the time very lefty) CLP, and one of the founders of Jewish Voice for Labour, an organization supporting pro-Corbyn Jewish activists who, as international socialists, would wish to defend Palestinian people from the crimes of the Israeli state. I left the Labour Party when the Starmer administration chose to expel Leah in the middle of the 2021 conference where she was our elected CLP delegate. This year, they expelled another JVL officer, Naomi Wimbourne Idrissi when, mandated by a membership vote, she took her seat on Labour’s NEC. Both women are Jewish. Both are vocal advocates of socialist internationalism.
In 2017, Moshé Machover, a Jewish academic and socialist activist, was expelled from the Labour Party when, according to the Party’s head of disputes, an article he published “appeared to meet the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism”. Sir Geoffrey Bindman KC, a human rights lawyer, dismissed the accusation as “personally offensive and politically dangerous”. Machover won his struggle with the Disputes Department eventually, but members were left wondering why the Party was regularly seen trying to expel Jewish people for anti-Semitism. What was it that made the Party view Machover’s work as anti-Semitic? Well, here’s a clue…
If you have Greenstein’s book on your shelf, you will be better armed to explain such mysteries, not to mention better armed to defend yourself if they come after you. “Above all,” writes Greenstein, “this book is intended to ensure that an end is put to Israel’s weaponization of the memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust as a justification for its war crimes against the Palestinians.”
Greenstein says he’s often asked why he’s so concerned about Palestine in particular (an attitude that’s often attributed to anti-Semitism). He quotes Hannah Arendt in reply. “I am more concerned about the wrongs done by my own people.”
Similarly, those of us on the left who are not Jewish get asked why we’re so “obsessed” with Labour’s anti-Semitism claims and accusations. Our reply is twofold: firstly, that anyone would be curious as to why an organization would repeatedly accuse Jewish people of anti-Semitism and secondly, this was the controversy that did the most to break the Corbyn movement; the aim seemed to be to slander and disempower the rising tide of anti-austerity socialist activism that gave hope to so many. We need to understand the force that, at least for a while, destroyed our hope.
Take Moshé Machover’s advice. Get yourself a copy of Greenstein’s book, and make sure you understand that force, where it came from and how it’s used.
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