Sunday, 1 May 2016

Three pieces of advice to help British leftwingers kick racism out of their anti-Israel rhetoric

Too often I see those in solidarity with Palestinians lose the plot and allow opponents to grab the agenda and deflect attention from where the suffering really exists.

That's exactly what's been happening in Britain this week as a row over antisemitism in the Labour Party has dominated the news.

My initial reaction to Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone was sympathetic. The whole thing felt hyped up, out of all proportion and part of the ongoing attempts to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party. See Asa Winstanley's article at Electronic Intifada for a compelling account of this.

But after days of news coverage about Zionism and antisemitism, none of which has shed the slightest light on the plight of the Palestinians, my sympathy with how some left wingers express their views on Israel has worn very thin. Their verbal antics have allowed distraction and deflection to triumph as an exaggerated crisis about antisemitism in Britain rules the airwaves.

I don't believe the Labour Party in Britain has a "problem with Jews". Antisemitism in Labour is not "endemic", or "toxic", or "institutional". Or at least no more than it is in the Conservative Party.

But I do believe some comments expressed by some Labour members in support of Palestinians have been crass, ignorant, and yes, antisemitic.

The right wing opponents of Corbyn, and those who can't stand his pro-Palestinian sympathies, are undoubtedly making the most of every stupid social media post and comment they can dig up.

It does feel like a witch-hunt has been unleashed with Labour politicians now lining up, like a parody of a scene from Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible', to say how antisemitism must be "rooted out of the Party".

If the Palestinian people are ever to get the attention and respect they deserve then those who claim to support their cause need to clean up their act, learn some history, avoid own-goals and stay focused on achieving a just peace in Israel/Palestine.
Self-made bear traps

There's a way to talk about Israel that's honest and defensible even though it won't avoid you escaping every accusation of antisemitism. And then there's a way to talk that leads you into a massive bear trap of your own making.

Language and history are incredibly important when it comes to Israel/Palestine and being sloppy with either gets you into a heap of trouble that ought to be avoidable.

So let me offer three pieces of advice to help British left wingers kick racism out of their anti-Israel rhetoric.

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