Labour, anti-Zionism and the past

Moshé MachoverThe controversy over supposed anti-Semitism on the left of the Labour party continues, with the Times publishing an article (paywalled) the other day proclaiming that Jeremy Corbyn had been called upon to throw out members of a group called “Labour Party Marxists” who distributed a leaflet quoting the Nazi police chief Reynhard Heydrich as saying, in 1935, that the Nazis had no interest in “attacking Jewish people”. The leaflet includes a transcript of a speech by one Moshé Machover, who during this writing has been expelled from the party; he is a Jewish socialist, mathematician and philosopher who was born in Tel Aviv but emigrated to the UK in the 1960s and took British citizenship; he is currently a professor of philosophy at the University of London and his son Daniel is a human rights lawyer. The full quote, “intended to establish that in 1935, when he made his statement, support for Zionism was indeed official Nazi policy”, can be found on Bob Pitt’s Medium blog and is sourced from Francis Nicosia of the University of Vermont.

There are a few other things we know about Reinhard Heydrich, of course: he was involved in organising Kristallnacht, the 1938 Nazi pogrom against the German Jewish population in which their synagogues and businesses were destroyed, many of them were attacked resulting in at least 91 deaths, 30,000 men were taken to concentration camps and the community was then expected to pay for the damage. He was involved in the false flag operation which served as the pretext for the invasion of Poland, organised the death squads (Einsatzgruppen) which travelled into Poland in the wake of the German invasion, and was involved at a senior level in other aspects of the Holocaust. The fact that he made a few sympathetic noises about Zionism in 1935 hardly proves that the Nazis were committed to Zionism for any other purpose than ridding Europe of its Jewish population, but their later actions make their professed intentions in 1935, if Heydrich was even speaking truthfully, irrelevant.

The promotion of the idea that the Nazis initially supported Zionism lends weight to the idea that the Nazis’ “hands were forced” to genocide from a position of supporting deportation of the Jews to Palestine, Madagascar or anywhere but Europe. This is rather reminiscent of Holocaust deniers’ claims that Jews in Nazi concentration camps died of diseases like typhus rather than by gassing or shooting (David Irving, for example, once told a daughter of a Holocaust victim that this is how her mother most likely died, as did Anne Frank) for which they blame the Allies for cutting off supplies of food and medicine rather than the Nazis for rounding up Jews and sending them to concentration camps in the first place. Why does anyone, least of all a socialist, want to deny that the Nazis hated the Jews enough to massacre between five and six million of them when the facts as known now, and indeed known since the end of the war they started, are that they did?

Much as when Zionists repeat the history of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war or the 1948 Partition war to justify the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, my objection is that these details of the past become less and less relevant as time goes on. How the state of Israel or its occupation of Palestine came to be has long since ceased to be relevant, particularly since all the neighbouring Arab countries signed peace agreements with Israel. The issue now is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and oppression of its people and those of Gaza, and yes, the collaboration of the Arab states (particularly Egypt) in that oppression. Why would anyone be discussing purported Nazi support for Zionism in 1935 at a Labour party conference in 2017 when, apart from anything else, there may be another general election to fight in a matter of months or even weeks and arguing these things, which belong in an academic conference if anywhere, is a distraction when Labour have a fighting chance to get a prime minister who stands for real social change rather than “more of the same with a more friendly face” elected. The previous election showed that it will not be a landslide.

What there should be a debate about is the issue of free speech around Israel, specifically the phenomenon of people being expelled from the party for condemning Israel for its oppression of Palestinians (although it has to be said: Labour Party members have never enjoyed free speech and have always been subject to summary expulsion at the whim of some party official, which is why I refuse to join — you can’t expect Leninist discipline in service of a capitalist party). It is not racist to hate an oppressor, or to express a desire to see said oppressor destroyed, or to suggest that the oppressor’s ‘security’ forces, which are already known for kidnappings and murders beyond their borders, are responsible for other happenings beyond their borders (if the claims are ridiculous, all it takes is to say so, but Labour would not expel a party member for suggesting such things about the CIA or MI6, so the same should be true for Mossad). But that is about the present; at this critical time in Labour’s history, they should not be wasting time chewing over the past.

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