Antisemitism has been used to smear the left, while the right targets Jews

US President Donald Trump, pictured on 7 December 2019, recently signed an executive order that embraces a controversial new definition of antisemitism. Photo: AFP

JVL Introduction

Israel’s attempts to cover up its oppression of the Palestinians and deny their civil rights under occupation has just been condemned in a new Human Rights Watch report.

The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has gone further, berating Israel for its abuses towards all Palestinians under its rule without distinction, effectively acknowledging that Israel’s abuses of Palestinians are embedded in the Zionist ideology of the state, rather than specific to the occupation.

At the same time the offensive against critics of Israel is reaching new height with attempts to criminalise support for BDS and anti-Zionism increasingly defined as antisemitism (witness Trump last month).

“The centrists have let the antisemitism genie out of the bottle,” argues Jonathan Cook, “in order to damage the left.”

But they do not control it, and we now face the all-too-real revival of right-wing antisemitism. Jews in the west are likely to pay a heavy price…

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Mon 30 Dec 2019. Read the original here.

Antisemitism has been used to smear the left, while the right targets Jews

Israel may emerge stronger by playing politics with antisemitism, but not without severe repercussions for Western Jews

The year ended with two terrible setbacks for those seeking justice for the Palestinian people.

One was the defeat in the British election of Jeremy Corbyn – a European leader with a unique record of solidarity with Palestinians. He had suffered four years of constant media abuse, recasting his activism as evidence of antisemitism.

Antisemitism is a fearsomely difficult smear to overcome

The Labour Party’s electoral collapse was not directly attributable to the antisemitism smears. Rather, it was related chiefly to the party’s inability to formulate a convincing response to Brexit.

But the antisemitism allegations succeeded in stoking deep divisions within Corbyn’s party, making him look weak and, for the first time, evasive. Unfairly, it planted a seed of doubt, even among some supporters: if he was incapable of sorting out this particular mess in his party, how could he possibly run the country?

Any future political leader, in Britain or elsewhere, contemplating a pro-Palestinian position – or a radical economic programme opposed by the mainstream media – will have taken note. Antisemitism is a fearsomely difficult smear to overcome.

Defining antisemitism

The second setback was a new executive order issued by US President Donald Trump that embraces a controversial new definition of antisemitism. It seeks to conflate criticism of Israel, Palestinian activism and the upholding of international law with hatred of Jews.

The lesson of where this is intended to lead was underscored by Corbyn’s experience. Earlier, his party was forced to swallow this very same definition, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), in an attempt to placate his critics. Instead, he found that it gave them yet more ammunition with which to attack him.

Trump’s executive order is designed to chill speech on campuses, one of the few public spaces left in the US where Palestinian voices are still heard. It blatantly violates the First Amendment, which privileges free speech. The federal government is now aligned with 27 states where Israel lobbyists have managed to push through legislation penalising those who support Palestinian rights.

These moves have been replicated elsewhere. This month, the French parliament declared anti-Zionism – or opposition to Israel as a Jewish state that denies Palestinians equal rights – as equivalent to antisemitism.

And before it, the German parliament passed a resolution that deemed support for the growing international movement urging a boycott of Israel – modelled on moves to end apartheid in South Africa – as antisemitism. German MPs even compared the boycott movement’s slogans to Nazi propaganda.

Looming on the horizon are more such curbs on basic freedoms, all to assist Israel.

Shutting down criticism

Britain’s Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson, has promised to ban local authorities from supporting a boycott of Israel, while John Mann, his so-called antisemitism czar, is threatening to shut down online media outlets critical of Israel, again on the pretext of antisemitism. Those are the very same media that were supportive of Corbyn, Johnson’s political opponent.

The irony is that all these laws, orders and resolutions – made supposedly in the name of human rights – are stifling the real work of human rights organisations. In the absence of a peace process, they have been grappling with Israel’s ideological character in ways not seen before.

While Trump, Johnson and others were busy redefining antisemitism to aid Israel, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report this month revealing that Israel – a state claiming to represent all Jews – has used military orders for more than half a century to flout the most fundamental rights of Palestinians. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are denied “such basic freedoms as waving flags, peacefully protesting the occupation, joining all major political movements, and publishing political material”.

At the same time, the UN’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination broke new ground by berating Israel for its abuses towards all Palestinians under its rule without distinction, whether those under occupation or those with degraded citizenship inside Israel.

The panel of legal rights experts effectively acknowledged that Israel’s abuses of Palestinians were embedded in the Zionist ideology of the state, and were not specific to the occupation. It was a not-so-veiled way of declaring that a state structurally privileging Jews and systematically abusing Palestinians is a “racist endeavour” – wording now ludicrously decreed by the IHRA as evidence of antisemitism.

Egregious failures

In HRW’s latest report, Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson observed: “Israel’s efforts to justify depriving Palestinians of basic civil rights protections for more than half a century based on the exigencies of its forever military occupation just don’t fly anymore.”

But that is precisely what the new wave of laws and executive orders is designed to ensure. By silencing criticism of Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights, under the pretext that such criticism is veiled antisemitism, Western governments can pretend those abuses are not occurring.

In fact, there are two very different political constituencies backing the current crackdown on Palestinian solidarity – and for very different reasons. Neither is concerned with protecting Jews.

One faction includes Western centrist parties that were supposed to have been overseeing a quarter-century of peacemaking in the Middle East. They wish to obstruct any criticism that dares to hold them to account for their egregious failures – failures only too visible now that Israel is no longer prepared to pretend it is interested in peace, and seeks instead to annex Palestinian territory.

Not only did the centrists’ highly circumscribed, Israel-centric version of peace fail, as it was bound to, but it achieved the precise opposite of its proclaimed goal. Israel exploited Western passivity and indulgence to entrench and expand the occupation, as well as to intensify racist laws inside Israel.

That was epitomised in the 2018 passage by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of the nation-state law, which declares not just the state of Israel, but an undefined, expansive “Land of Israel” as the historical home of the entire Jewish people.

Exposing hypocrisy

Now, centrists are determined to crush those who wish to expose their hypocrisy and continuing alliance with an overtly racist state implacably opposed to self-determination for the Palestinian people.

So successfully have they weaponised antisemitism that human rights scholars last week accused the International Criminal Court in the Hague – the supposed upholder of international law – of endlessly dragging its feet to avoid conducting a proper war crimes investigation of Israel. ICC prosecutors appear to be fearful of coming under fire themselves.

The other faction behind the clampdown on criticism of Israel is the resurgent, racist right and far-right, who have been increasingly successful in vanquishing the discredited centrists of US and European politics.

They love Israel because it offers an alibi for their own white nationalism. In defending Israel from criticism – by characterising it as antisemitism – they seek a moral gloss for their own white supremacism.

If Jews are justified in laying claim to being the chosen people in Israel, why can’t whites make a similar claim for themselves in the US and Europe? If Israel treats Palestinians not as natives but as immigrants trespassing on Jewish land, why can’t Trump or Johnson similarly characterise non-whites as infiltrators or usurpers of white land?

The more the right whips up white nationalist, anti-immigrant fervour, they more it is able to undermine political solutions offered by its opponents on the centre and left.

Reckless miscalculation

Perhaps most astounding of all, much of the Jewish leadership in the US and Europe has been actively assisting the right in this political project, so blinded they are by their commitment to Israel as a Jewish state.

So where does this take Western politics? The centrists have let the antisemitism genie out of the bottle in order to damage the left, but it is the populist right that will now work to refine the weaponisation to further their own ends. They will stoke fear and hatred of minorities, including Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, all to Israel’s ideological benefit.

Jews in the West will pay a price too, however. Trump’s speeches have repeatedly imputed nefarious motives, greed and dual loyalties to American Jews. Nonetheless, faced with Israel’s staunch backing of Trump, conservative Jewish leaders in the US have preferred to stay largely silent about the president stoking nativist sentiment.

That is a reckless miscalculation. The mock battle of fighting a supposed left-wing antisemitism has already diverted attention and energy away from the struggle against an all-too-real revival of right-wing antisemitism.

Israel may emerge stronger by playing politics with antisemitism, but Western Jews may as a result find themselves more exposed to hatred than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at:


Comments (6)

  • Glyn Secker says:

    For obvious reasons one of the political lobbies with potentially the most power to oppose the international resurgence of the extreme and often neo-fascist right is that of the Jewish establishments. It is therefore extraordinary that these establishments, in an almost universal blind defence of Israel, with its far right allegiances, give a pass to the development of the very forces which just 80 years ago produced the extermination camps. The depth of this monumental fault produces the absurd logic that Jewish organisations which call out this folly are necessarily defined as antisemitic. A real life Alice in Wonderland as horror movie.

  • Richard Hayward says:

    Another excellent analysis by Jonathan Cook.

    But : “… his [Corbyn’s] party was forced to swallow this very same definition [IHRA]”

    There was no forcing. It was a terribly mistaken (cowardly?) choice of abandoned principle – with predictable results. No candidate for the Labour leadership is brave enough to face down the gross exaggerations, smears and lies.

  • TM says:

    Another excellent article from Jonathan. I am yet to come across a potential Leader of the LP who mentions Palestinian Rights and Israeli abuses. It seems they are falling over each other to prove themselves the toughest in combating ‘antsemitism’ in the LP reaching a zenith with Thornberry. No mention has been made of the appalling role that the PLP played in undermining Jeremy Corbyn. No mention has been made of the disgraceful accusations by some PLP members that have brought the Party into Disrepute. ‘We are a Broad Church’ they say. But nothing about the thoroughly nasty slurs poured on our current Leader’s head. Qui tacet consentire videtur, as Thomas Moore said. My gratitude to those who did in fact speak up but were drowned by the Media.

  • Les says:

    So… the question is… is there a single Labour leadership candidate who will stand up to this incredible and ludicrously successful Israeli interference with our rights to freedom of speech ? And how do we find out ?

  • michael ryan says:

    I don’t think there is a candidate who is willing (and able) to state, clearly and coherently that they are against the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians while at the same time declaring unequivocally, their rejection of anti Semitism. So who should I support?
    It is so fundamental to Labour Party values how can our Party possibly adopt any other position?

  • Allan Howard says:

    I have to say – somewhat belatedly in this thread – that I really AM getting sick and tired of Richard Hayward – or RH – repeatedly referring to Jeremy and others in the LP as cowards. I can assure you that he along with a number of OTHER personas, monitors and posts comments all day long every single day on skwawkbox, and in ‘his’ case, has been doing so for about eighteen months. He is a propagandist, but he holds back when he posts on this website but, at the same time, cautiously tests how far he can push his narrative – ie his/their propaganda agenda. So, for example, in this instance, he puts ‘cowardly’ in brackets, along with a question mark, but more recently saw his chance to be explicit re the disinvitation to Glyn to speak at a Holocaust Remembrance Day event.

    RH is well aware of the pressure/blackmail heaped upon Jeremy and the LP by the Blairites/’moderates’ in the party working hand-in-glove with the corporate MSM and the semi-corporate BBC and the Jewish newspapers and the JLM and CAA and LAA et al to sign up to the IHRA definition and the examples. And the ‘pressure’ was relentless, and continued on an almost daily basis for several months. Yes, he attacks the perpetrators of the A/S smear campaign for the purpose of giving himself credibility AND for the purpose of ingratiating himself with the left, but his main objective is to inculcate readers – ie the left and JC supporters – with the idea and belief that Jeremy is a coward, and THAT is why he repeats it again and again and again on skwawkbox, Repetition being a form of brain-washing and a well known propaganda technique of course.

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