Existential threat? What?

A front page from the Jewish Chronicle, with the paper's logo ('The JC' in white on a blue background) in the top left corner, and underneath it the words "United We Stand", with the mastheads of the JC, Jewish Telegraph and Jewish News and the text of an article which is blurred, on the background of a black and white picture of a demonstration against Labour anti-Semitism in London.In the latest chapter of the Labour anti-Semitism row, three British Jewish newspapers have published a similar front page and editorial condemning the Labour leadership for refusing their demand to adopt an international definition of anti-Semitism that includes a clause that could be used to label any impolite criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. The three papers are the Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish News (whose website is part of the Times of Israel) and the Jewish Telegraph, and the leader threatens that if they do not adopt the IHRA definition in full at an emergency conference on 5th September they will “be seen by all decent people as an institutionally racist, antisemitic party”. The editorial in the JC claims that the papers have done this “because of the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government”.

This statement is something they should be pressed to explain. What on earth does it mean? An “existential threat to Jewish life” means that they fear Jews will no longer be able to live in the UK, or live freely, which means either a threat to Jewish life and limb or to the Jewish way of life. Nothing Corbyn or anyone around him has said or done suggests that they condone violent racism of any sort, that they propose any form of discrimination against Jews or that they support laws that would make normal Jewish customs (e.g. kosher slaughtering) illegal. We have seen various media commentators (e.g. Robert Peston) sanctimoniously condemn Corbyn and present this statement as both big news in itself and as proof in itself that Corbyn is wrong, but it contains an obvious falsehood that they should be questioning. It’s potentially libellous. It is so ludicrous that nobody would come out with this except a liar who does not mind that people know he is lying because his audience shares his purpose.

The JC alleges that Labour are reluctant to endorse the IHRA definition in full because “had the full IHRA definition with examples relating to Israel been approved, hundreds, if not thousands, of Labour and Momentum members would need to be expelled”. The fact is that it would not be Momentum members who would be the major target for expulsion but Muslims, who would be subject to an inquisition as to their opinions about Israel and to dirt-digging about any campaigning they had done if they became known as members of Labour, let alone sought to be selected as candidates in elections. They allege:

Under its adapted guidelines, a Labour Party member is free to claim Israel’s existence is a racist endeavour and compare Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany, unless “intent” — whatever that means — can be proved. “Dirty Jew” is wrong, “Zionist bitch” fair game?

In so doing, Labour makes a distinction between racial antisemitism targeting Jews (unacceptable) and political antisemitism targeting Israel (acceptable).

But it would go far beyond making rules against personal abuse which could be read as racist (like “Zionist bitch”); it allows Zionists to use “whataboutery”, drawing attention to the human rights abuses of Hamas or Arab rulers (or any other actor they might claim that Palestinian supporters could be campaigning against but aren’t) to not only deflect criticism of Israel but to brand it as anti-Semitic. This tactic is usually dismissed as a textbook logical fallacy; here it would enable them to shut down the debate and declare themselves the winners and have their opponents thrown out. The aim is to assure Israel that a future Labour government would not be able to recognise Palestine or to press for an end to the occupation and a solution that guarantees meaningful rights for Palestinians. Activism in support of Palestinian rights would be curtailed in places like universities as Labour-run student unions would be expected to enforce the doctrine that anti-Zionism was anti-Semitism; this is already starting to happen in some British universities, on the pretext of curbing ‘extremism’.

There is much on which I disagree with Jeremy Corbyn; he is not opposing the government’s dash to Brexit and is taking refuge in economic nationalism. However, the stance of the Labour ‘moderates’ who are taking the side of the Jewish leadership is not about anti-racism but about silencing dissent and using this as a pretext to bring down Corbyn, even though it will fatally damage Labour’s status as a “broad church” for both the moderate and activist Left and impair both the ethnic and the intellectual diversity of the party. The Jewish leadership must be pressed on what they mean by an ‘existential threat’ and their demands must be resisted, regardless of the outrage whipped up by their friends in the mainstream media.

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