Workers Hammer No. 235
“Anti-Semitism” smear targets Corbyn
Imperialism, Zionism and anti-Jewish bigotry
This article first appeared in Workers Vanguard no 1091, 3 June 2016.
MAY 31 — In the run-up to the 5 May local and Welsh and Scottish assembly elections, the left-wing leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was subjected to a vicious smear campaign spearheaded by Labour’s right wing with the aid of the Tories and the capitalist press. Corbyn was elected as party leader last September based on talk of socialism, trade union rights and immigrant rights and is also a forthright defender of Palestinian rights. The get-Corbyn cabal, which reached all the way to Zionist New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, shrieked that the party under his leadership has become a haven for “leftist anti-Semites”. To hear Tory swine like Prime Minister David Cameron and then-mayor of London Boris Johnson sanctimoniously bemoaning racism in the Labour Party was truly sickening.
The right wingers of the Labour Party, successors to former prime minister Tony Blair, have been manoeuvring to oust him. Most recently they looked forward to removing him in the event of a Labour defeat in the elections. In the upshot, Labour pretty much held its own. Underlining the cynical character of the witch hunt, the “discovery” of ever more “anti-Semites” ceased even before the ballots had been counted, to be replaced by a new “scandal” that Corbyn’s Labour Party was supposedly rife with woman-haters. The latest smear was based on specious claims, quickly proven false, that many of the 35,000 signatories to a petition urging the BBC to remove Laura Kuenssberg as its political editor had made misogynist comments. Kuenssberg has consistently hounded Corbyn, seeing in him a representative of the working masses the establishment so loathes.
The supposed evidence of anti-Jewish bigotry ranged from the trivial to the stitched-up, much of it coming from the notorious right-wing bottom-feeding blogger who goes by the name “Guido Fawkes” and dating back to well before Corbyn became party leader last September. The witch hunters were joined by the successful Labour candidate for London mayor, Sadiq Khan, a Muslim who had himself been pilloried by the Tories for allegedly befriending “Muslim extremists”. Corbyn strenuously rejected charges that Labour was full of racists, but he did acquiesce to the suspension of a number of party members. Worse yet, his chief lieutenant John McDonnell volubly endorsed the crusade to hunt down “anti-Semites” in the party. Those suspended included Muslim MP Naz Shah, who was also forced to resign as McDonnell’s parliamentary private secretary, and sometime left-Labourite Ken Livingstone. These suspensions should be rescinded immediately.
Livingstone has much to answer for to the working class. As mayor of London he faithfully served the City bankers, he urged Tube workers to cross RMT picket lines and defended the role of the police in the cold-blooded execution of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005. As a Spartacist League placard at the London May Day rally read: “Ex-Mayor Livingstone: Pro-City, Pro-Police, Anti-Union, but NOT Anti-Jewish!” A second placard read: “No Vote to Blairite Stooge Sadiq Khan!”
To his credit, Livingstone rightly stated: “If you look at what this is all about, it’s not about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.... What this is all about is actually the struggle of the embittered old Blairite MPs to try to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn” (BBC News online, 30 April). Indeed, a spokesman for the Zionist Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) admitted as much when he ranted, “Save your pitch fork for Corbyn.”
As we documented in our article, “Britain: Banana monarchy” (Workers Hammer no 234, Spring 2016), since Corbyn’s election, the Tories, Blairites and the bourgeois media — especially the liberal Guardian — have waged an unrelenting class war aimed at removing him. Only days after Corbyn took over as Labour leader, the Sunday Times (20 September 2015) published a warning from an unnamed “senior serving general” that Corbyn would face a “mutiny” if he tried to act on his commitment to scrap the Trident submarine nuclear missile system or pull out of NATO. This coup threat was echoed two months later when the head of the armed forces, General Nicholas Houghton, in full military regalia, effectively declared on TV that Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear weapons made him unfit to be prime minister. Houghton was immediately backed up by Corbyn’s defence spokesman, the Blairite Maria Eagle. Barely a week has gone by without some overt attack on Corbyn by Blairite plotters. But as the outcome of the latest vendetta shows, every plot to remove him comes up against the stubborn fact that he is more popular than ever among the party membership, which has doubled in size since his campaign for party leader.
Corbyn is hardly a revolutionary; he is firmly committed to a parliamentary path to what would effectively be a new version of the old Labourite “welfare state”. Nonetheless, Corbyn’s election as Labour leader came as a nasty shock to the bourgeois establishment, and especially the right wing of the Labour Party. His campaign set in motion a process to restore the party’s historic links to its working-class base, reversing the direction the Blairites had taken towards becoming an overtly capitalist party. As we wrote in “Britain: Banana monarchy”:
“Any move that weakens the grip of the Blairites within the party is in the interests of the working class in its struggles against the capitalist class. As the Spartacist League/Britain has stated from the beginning, we have a side in the class war raging in the Labour Party. Against the right-wing attempts to oust him, we say: Defend Jeremy Corbyn’s right to run the Labour Party, and in his way!”
Zionism: no friend of the Jewish people
August Bebel, a central leader of the pre-World War I German Social Democracy, pithily described anti-Jewish bigotry, which whipped up populist venom by singling out “Jewish bankers”, as the “socialism of fools”. But those who today promiscuously toss around unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism are sinister enemies of all who solidarise with the Palestinian people and of the left and workers movement as a whole. The campaign to neutralise and silence international solidarity with the besieged Palestinian people is orchestrated from the highest levels of the Israeli state, with support from its imperialist patrons in Britain, the US and Germany.
In 2011, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enacted a law that criminalised advocacy of a boycott of Israel. And at a 28 March conference in Jerusalem to plot strategy against the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz called for “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS “leaders”. Coming from a government that has killed some 200 Palestinians just since last October, and slaughtered more than 2300 during its July 2014 onslaught on Gaza, this is not idle chatter.
Within the Labour Party, there is considerable overlap between Labour Friends of Israel and the Blairite Progress grouping. In early April, Progress head Richard Angell issued an “action plan” involving the Jewish Labour Movement to deal with “antisemitism within [Labour’s] ranks” (mirror.co.uk, 5 April). The Jewish Labour Movement is affiliated not only to the Labour Party but also to the World Zionist Organization, which finances the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
This provides some context for the recent raft of “anti-Semitism” smears in Britain. In February, Alex Chalmers, a BICOM intern, slandered the Oxford University Labour Club for having “some kind of problem with Jews” after they voted to endorse Israeli Apartheid Week on campus. When Malia Bouattia, a Muslim woman of Algerian origin who supports the Palestinian cause, subsequently ran successfully for the presidency of the National Union of Students, she, too, was accused of being anti-Jewish. Vicki Kirby, a Labour candidate in Woking, was suspended for a 2011 tweet that Guido Fawkes dug up and doctored to make it look as if she promoted racist caricatures of Jews. As Jewish writer David Baddiel attested, Kirby had simply quoted some lines from his 2010 comedy film The Infidel.
Fawkes likewise “outed” Naz Shah for a 2014 Facebook post, before she became a Labour MP, that depicted a map of Israel superimposed on a map of the US. Ironically, those who maligned Shah for allegedly supporting the forced transfer of the Israeli Jewish population are the very people who apologise for an Israeli government filled with open proponents of the forced transfer of the Palestinian population from “Greater Israel”. It turned out that the map was originally posted by American Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein, who pointed to the obvious dark humour intended: “So, we have this joke: Why doesn’t Israel become the 51st state? Answer: Because then, it would only have two senators” (opendemocracy.net). The Zionists hate Finkelstein, the son of concentration camp survivors, not least for his indictments of how they cynically wield the Nazi genocide of the Jews as a bludgeon against those who speak out against Israeli atrocities.
Ken Livingstone was accused of being anti-Jewish because, in defending Shah, he had the chutzpah to say that when “Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism. This was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” Sundry critics tried to dismiss Livingstone’s statement by pointing out how his facts were mangled (Hitler never won an election, etc, etc). Despite his glib reduction of the Holocaust to a product of Hitler’s madness, his point about collaboration between Zionists and the Nazis is correct. Livingstone cited Lenni Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (1983), a book the Spartacist League/Britain drew on for the article “Zionist Big Lie targets Perdition” (Workers Hammer no 88, May 1987). The Zionists prevented that play, written by Jim Allen and directed by Ken Loach, from being staged in London because it was based on the true story of Zionist collaboration with the Nazis in facilitating the deportation to the death camps of more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944.
Hitler’s ultimate aim was the extermination of all Jews, Zionist and non-Zionist alike. But in its first years, the Third Reich frequently accepted the proffered assistance of the Zionists in helping make Germany “Judenrein” (cleansed of Jews). As documented by Yeshiva University historian Lucy Dawidowicz in The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 (1975), only months after Hitler came to power, the Zionist Federation of Germany (ZVfD) “proposed that the ‘new German state’ recognize the Zionist movement as the most suitable Jewish group in the new Germany with which to deal” and “that since emigration would provide a solution to the Jewish question, it should therefore receive government assistance”. The ZVfD welcomed “the foundation of the new state, which has established the principle of race”. Two months later, the Jewish Agency signed the secret August 1933 Ha’avara (Transfer) agreement with the Hitler regime, which allowed wealthy German Jews to move to Palestine (and only to Palestine) with part of their capital in order to provide an outlet for German exports.
In turn, the Nazi state granted special status to the Zionist movement, which was far smaller than the non-Zionist Jewish organisations. In January 1935, Nazi chief Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo and second-in-command of the SS, told the Bavarian political police that “the activity of the Zionist-oriented youth organizations...lies in the interest of the National Socialist state’s leadership” because they were preparing Jews for emigration to Palestine (quoted in Dawidowicz). While active socialists and communists were thrown into Dachau, the Zionists were for some years the only non-Nazi political group allowed to function legally, the Zionist banner the only flag aside from the Nazi swastika to fly on German soil.
There was more to this than Zionist Realpolitik in the face of overwhelming Nazi repression, as latter-day apologists would have it. As the revolutionary workers movement grew towards the end of the 19th century, so did organised anti-Jewish bigotry. Overwhelmingly, the Jewish workers, and a significant layer of the Jewish intelligentsia, sought their salvation through the struggle, alongside their non-Jewish class brothers and sisters, for socialist revolution. It was to stanch this movement and to incite pogroms that the tsarist secret police propagated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a crude forgery that conjured up an international Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. But when rumours of a pogrom spread through St Petersburg at the height of the 1905 Revolution, the workers soviet mobilised some 12,000 armed workers to fight the reactionaries; likewise in Warsaw, integrated workers defence guards were set up to patrol Jewish areas and ward off pogromist mobs (see “Revolution, Counterrevolution and the Jewish Question”, Spartacist [English-language edition] no
49-50, Winter 1993-94).
In his 1958 essay “The Non-Jewish Jew”, Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher accounted for the disproportionate role of Jews in the socialist movement:
“They were a priori exceptional in that as Jews they dwelt on the borderlines of various civilizations, religions, and national cultures. They were born and brought up on the borderlines of various epochs. Their mind matured where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilized each other....
“Like Marx, Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky strove, together with their non-Jewish comrades, for the universal, as against the particularist, and for the internationalist, as against the nationalist, solutions to the problems of their time.”
Zionist founding father Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) despised the assimilationist and pro-socialist Jewish proletariat. Rather than fight anti-Jewish bigotry and repression, Herzl and his fellow Zionists used it as an excuse to separate Europe’s Jews from their compatriots and mould them into a nation with its own homeland, in Palestine. Ideologically nurtured in the cradle of German national “awakening”, Zionism embraced the reactionary ideals of Blut (blood) and Volk (nation). Born long after the bourgeois nation-state had outlived its historically progressive role in the era of capitalist consolidation, Zionism distinguished itself in being a particularly venal and racialist brand of nationalism. The Zionist leaders raised the battle cry, “A land without people for a people without land”, knowing full well that to make Palestine a land without people would require the expulsion of much of its Arab population.
The Zionist project could only be realised with the support of a powerful imperialist patron — be it tsarist Russia, the Kaiser’s (or Hitler’s) Germany, Britain or the US. The Zionists peddled their wares with the claim that they could neutralise Jewish support for the revolutionary socialist movement. As Winston Churchill later ranted, the Zionists could help in defeating the “sinister confederacy” of “International Jews” who conspired “for the overthrow of civilization” (“Zionism versus Bolshevism, A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People”, Illustrated Sunday Herald, 8 February 1920). While Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann looked to the British or US imperialists, the Revisionist right wing inspired by Vladimir Jabotinsky gravitated towards Mussolini’s Italy and even Hitler’s Germany. As late as 1941, a Revisionist splinter calling itself the National Military Organisation (NMO), better known as the Stern Gang, appealed to the Third Reich:
“Common interests could exist between the establishment of a New Order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO.”
— quoted in Zionism in the Age of the Dictators
It was such “common interests” that led Herzl and his followers to find allies among the more reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie, who wanted to rid themselves of “their” Jews. Weizmann managed to secure the 1917 Balfour Declaration, with its vague promise of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The British imperialists aimed to establish a bulwark of support in the region, pitting Jews against Palestinians. They also hoped to undermine Jewish support for Bolshevism on the eve of the victorious October Revolution in Russia, then Britain’s ally in World War I.
In this latter aim they failed. In the course of the Russian Revolution and the civil war against imperialist and domestic counterrevolutionary forces, which carried out pogroms against Jews and reds wherever they went, the dispossessed Jewish masses flocked to the Bolshevik banner. The Jewish nationalist and pro-Zionist socialist groups in Russia and the Ukraine became empty shells. As the Third All-Russia Conference of the Jewish Communist Sections declared in 1920:
“The Jewish workers and the poorest of the Jewish people understand quite well that only the communist order will put an end to all pogroms, will root out all nationalist prejudices, will erase all national restrictions and install over the whole face of the earth a genuine brotherhood of peoples.”
— News of Central Bureau of the Jewish Sections (October 1920)
The Bolshevik Revolution and the early Soviet state under Lenin and Trotsky were a beacon to workers and the oppressed everywhere, including the Arab masses subjugated by British imperialism in the Near East, who suffered under the barbarity of capitalist “civilisation”. The overthrow of capitalism and the institution of a planned collectivised economy opened the road to the liberation and development of all the many Soviet peoples. Even after the reactionary and nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy usurped political power from the working class, it was the proletarian class character of the Soviet Union that allowed it to save well over two million Jews fleeing the Nazi murder machine and to smash Hitler’s Third Reich. In contrast, the imperialist “democracies” turned back all but a handful of Jewish refugees. Many of the Jewish refugees who were allowed into Britain were detained as so-called enemy aliens during World War II and thousands were deported. Most notorious was the ship Dunera, which was packed with 2000 mostly Jewish refugees along with 450 Italian and German prisoners for the two-month voyage to Australia.
For a socialist federation of the Near East!
Young activists who solidarise with the cause of the Palestinian people in the face of Israeli state terror would do well to consider the words of the Jewish Communists in 1920. Revolutionary proletarian internationalism is the only road to the national and social emancipation of the Palestinian people. This may seem far-fetched in an age when the opportunist “far left” sneers at the Marxist goal of an egalitarian international communist order and even class struggle seems a thing of the past. However, if the past decade has demonstrated nothing else, it is that catastrophic crises are endemic to the capitalist profit system. The same holds true of the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, as the current strike wave in France and years of protests and strikes in Greece demonstrate, notwithstanding the stranglehold of the reformist, pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracies.
The capitalist state of Israel is no exception to this Marxist understanding. While Israeli society has moved steadily to the right in recent decades, the historic interests of the Israeli Jewish working class run counter to those of their capitalist rulers and exploiters. So long as the national rather than the class axis prevails, the Palestinians will lose out to the overwhelming military superiority of the Zionist state. It is only the working class of Israel that has the capacity and historic interest to shatter the Zionist state from within. In fighting for the creation of revolutionary internationalist workers parties in the Near East we struggle to win the Israeli Jewish workers away from their Zionist rulers, to recognise that their class allies are the working people of the Arab countries and to champion the national rights of the Palestinians. Likewise we seek to break the Arab toiling masses from Arab nationalism and Islamic reaction (see “Defend the Palestinian People!” Workers Vanguard no 1089, 6 May).
The 2011 Egyptian protests did find an echo in the mass protests in Israel that summer, showing the potential to undermine the garrison mentality drummed into Israeli Jewish workers by the Zionist rulers, who tell them that they are surrounded by a “sea” of hostile Arabs. However, the uprising in Egypt did not present a challenge to capitalist rule by the proletariat; rather, it was dominated by bourgeois nationalists and Islamists. For their part, the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) in Egypt, associated with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), simply capitulated to these forces. From pushing illusions in the army to backing the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood and, ultimately, the coup that brought the military to power, at every stage the RS helped to ensure that the Egyptian proletariat would remain tied to its class enemies.
In Britain, the reformists of the SWP prate that the liberal BDS movement is “the potentially most serious challenge to Israel’s position and to the continuance of its long-term policy of piecemeal and de facto annexation of the whole of Palestine” (Socialist Review, July/August 2013). The BDS campaign is based on the bankrupt assumption that the Israeli state can be pressured by its “democratic” imperialist paymasters to halt the oppression of the Palestinian people. The notion that the (admittedly well-funded and powerful) “Zionist lobby” is responsible for imperialist support to Israel is ludicrous. It is in pursuit of its own geopolitical interests that US imperialism pumps some $3 billion a year in military aid to its Israeli gendarme.
According to the Palestine Solidarity Committee, the boycott strategy “exerts moral pressure on the British Government by giving expression to the desire to move towards a more ethical foreign policy”. “Democratic” Britain, as much as, if not more than, any other country, bears the burden of historical responsibility for making the Near East the slaughterhouse that it is today. At the start of World War I, Britain sought to encourage an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, then Britain’s enemy, by promising that the Arabs would be granted freedom at the war’s end. Two years later, the British imperialists and their French allies, in the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, carved up the Near East for themselves. This was followed by the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration. Thirty years later, the Clement Attlee Labour government presided over the bloody partition of Palestine (and the far bloodier partition of India). Divide-and-rule — that is the “morality” of British imperialism.
While defending BDS activists when they come under attack by the state, we oppose this strategy, which looks to the supposed “humanitarian” instincts of capitalist governments, campus administrations and corporate giants to pressure Israel. Ongoing economic sanctions serve mainly to weaken and undermine the workers and oppressed of the targeted country, not its capitalist rulers. Particularly odious are academic and cultural boycotts, which equate Israeli scholars and artists — such as the integrated West-Eastern Divan Orchestra set up by Palestinian scholar Edward Said and Jewish musician Daniel Barenboim — with the chauvinist Zionist rulers. In contrast, Marxists assert the need for international working-class solidarity with the Palestinians. A standing boycott by British and US dock workers, for example, refusing to handle military shipments to Israel, would strike a powerful blow against Zionist state terror.
Marxists reject the notion widely held on the left that an oppressor nation forfeits its right to self-determination. This is a species of nationalist moralism, which ends up mirroring the lie that equates Zionism with the Jewish people. As we explained in “Birth of the Zionist State: A Marxist Analysis” (Workers Vanguard no 45, 24 May 1974):
“Out of the destruction of European Jewry by Hitler (without whose aid the Zionists would have gone the way of the Shakers and other utopian sects) and at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs, a settler colony was transformed into a nation....
“This Hebrew nation came into existence through force and violence, through the suppression, forced expulsion and genocide of other peoples. Communists must oppose this brutal national oppression. Yet once this historical fact is accomplished, we must certainly recognize that nation’s right to self-determination, unless we prefer the alternative, namely national genocide.”
We defend the Palestinian people against the Zionist state down the line, even when that means taking a military side with Islamic fundamentalists like Hamas in Gaza. But we recognise the right of the Israeli Jews as well as the Palestinians to national self-determination. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at bottom a situation of interpenetrated peoples. Both peoples lay claim to the same small sliver of land. Under capitalism, the exercise of national self-determination by one side necessarily comes at the expense of the other. There can and will be no just resolution to the conflicting national rights of the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish peoples short of the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East, requiring the overthrow of all the bourgeois states of the region through proletarian revolutions.
For revolutionaries in Britain, solidarity with the oppressed in the neocolonial countries must start with opposing our “own” ruling class and fighting to bring down British imperialism through socialist revolution at home. Leftist youth who seek effective solidarity with the Palestinian people against Zionist terror need to study the lessons of the Bolshevik Revolution, the greatest victory for the working class and the oppressed to date. Based on those lessons, the Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League, fights to cohere a revolutionary workers party as part of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International. It is only through the worldwide victory of the socialist proletariat that all manner of exploitation, oppression and imperialist barbarity will be overcome.