Left-wing critics of Israel are rarely antisemitic

In the light of  a recent article by Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland on the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, Dr Alan Maddison looks at the argument made there that left-wing critics of Israel are usually motivated by antisemitism.

The evidence available shows overwhelmingly that this is not the case; left-wing critics of Israel are most often driven by values of human rights, social justice and equality.

JVL would add that it is arguable that, pushing the false narrative that antisemitism linked to criticism of Israeli policies is widespread on the left in the teeth of the evidence, has made a major contribution to the genuine feelings of insecurity experienced by Jews in Britain.

Without in any way denying that antisemitism obviously exists  on the left, as this article shows the prevalence is low, and the  problem of antisemitism in Britain today is, as it always has been, a problem located most firmly on the right and far right of the political spectrum.

Jonathan Freedland has just penned an article in the Guardian entitled “The sacking of Long-Bailey shows that, at last, Labour is serious about antisemitism”. (1)

 If you define antisemitism as a hatred or dislike of Jewish people simply because they are Jews, then that title is obviously inaccurate.

 Keir Starmer sacked RLB because she had re-tweeted an article from the Independent which included one sentence in which the actor Maxine Peake incorrectly claimed that the police who killed George Floyd had learned the ‘knee on neck” technique in Israel.

Starmer judged this to be antisemitic yet provides no evidence. He seems to be influenced by the opinion of people like Freedland, or organizations like the Board of Deputies of British Jews, that it was.

There has been much debate since about whether Peake’s comment could technically even be perceived as antisemitic, let alone be motivated by animosity towards Jews in general. Some say Peake’s error was a reasonable one given that it is well known that Israel has provided training to US police, and that there are frequent images shown of Israel’s security forces using this cruel restraint technique on Palestinians.

However, Freedland saw Peake’s comment as part of an obvious antisemitic conspiracy theory. He thought Starmer was right to sack RLB promptly for failing to see such ‘staring you in the face antisemitism’, even if restricted to one sentence in the article. He suggests that Peake used criticism of Israel as a proxy for her ‘hatred towards Jews’ as he thought many others often do. In fact Freedland has written elsewhere that he thinks criticism of Israel is usually antisemitic. (2)

But the evidence demonstates that Freedland is wrong.

 

Many may condemn Israeli policies but few will be antisemitic

A correlation between anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments was investigated in one of the largest and detailed surveys ever undertaken in Britain, published by L. Daniel Staetsky from the Institute of Jewish Policy Research in 2017. (3)

From this survey the frequency of agreements with various anti-Israel statements are illustrated below.

Probably influenced by media stories, conflating antisemitism and criticism of Israel, over the years  the majority of British Jews surveyed had found these statements to be definitely or probably antisemitic.

However, Staetsky’s extensive analysis revealed that only around 2% of non Jews endorsing these statements were likely to be ‘antisemitic’ in terms of holding negative views about Jews.

This means that for the range of statements in Table 1, between 80-90% of agreements were motivated by other views or values, not antisemitism.

More detail was provided from the same data-base in a subsequent publication by David Graham and Jonathan Boyd. (4) Their results for the apartheid statement are shown below.

From Figure 1 we can calculate that those British Jews who felt this particular apartheid statement was definitely or probably motivated by animosity towards them would be wrong 90% of the time.

That evidence should be more reassuring for British Jews than the grossly exaggerated claims of people like Freedland, yet is rarely communicated to them.

Graham and Boyd also reported that of those in agreement with the statement, ‘People should boycott Israeli goods and products’ 83% did not seem to be motivated by antisemitism .

Greater awareness of this could also reduce anxiety for many British Jews – especially as calls for a boycott are bound to increase if Netanyahu goes ahead with his plans to annex the occupied West Bank.

 

Labour supporters may criticise Israeli policies more often than right-wingers but fewer of them are antisemitic.

The political affiliation evidence may also surprise you because, contrary to the media noise, the prevalence of antisemitism reported in the initial Staetsky survey was found to be lower for left-wingers than right-wingers, and was especially high for the far right. (5)

In contrast, the endorsement of the apartheid and boycott statements was more frequent on the left than right. Such differences could clearly not be driven by any antisemitism.

Given the past reactions towards apartheid in South Africa, opposed by Labour and denied by the Conservatives, it is not surprising that endorsements of the apartheid and boycott statements were greater for Labour than Conservative supporters in this Staetsky survey.

The agreement levels are shown in Figure 2 along with associated antisemitism estimated from data in the initial Staetsky report.

So a British Jew may be more likely to hear a Labour supporter talking about Israel’s segregation and discrimination based on religion or ethnicity as being apartheid, but from this data it will not be motivated by antisemitism in a very large number – 94%– of cases.

Conservatives may talk about Israel’s apartheid policies less often but even then it will not be linked to antisemitism in 87% of cases.

When we see evidence for a greater incidence of antisemitism reported among Conservatives, the singling out of Labour for media attack is not justified on this basis. It seems more likely to do with silencing legitimate left-wing debate and comments about Israel’s racism towards Palestinians.

 

Far left critics of Israel do not usually dislike Jews either.

In a recent article in the Economist (6) the findings of the Staetsky study were found to be comparable with those of a YouGov study of similar design undertaken in the USA.

They reported for the UK that strong critics of Israel were more common on the far left than in the centre of politics, but the far left shared similarly low levels of antisemitism with the centre. There were more critics of Israel on the far right than centre, but antisemitism on the far right was three times greater.

The author of the Economist article concluded, “The data simply show that most left-wingers who criticise Israel do not dislike Jews as people”.

Such evidence may be why Jewish Voice for Peace announced that 40 Jewish organizations had called for an end to conflating antisemitism with anti-Israel sentiment. (7)  They referred to,

“…cynical and false accusations of antisemitism that dangerously conflate anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of occupation and apartheid.”

 

Conclusion

There has been a relentless programme of propaganda by those wishing to silence necessary debate on Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians. But the truth is that criticism of Israel on the left and far left is not antisemitic in over 90% of cases; instead it is driven by commendable values of human rights, social justice and equality.

Keir Starmer may just have been misguided by the likes of Freedland and the Board of Deputies, or he may be continuing the Labour right’s factional antisemitism campaign to destroy the left. His failure to criticise racism and antisemitism on the right of the Party with equal vigour is of great concern.

Whatever the true motivation behind Starmer’s judgment on Maxine Peake and RLB, in general there would be  more than a 90% probability that he had wrongly and publicly smeared the characters of yet another two innocent and principled people. Given the specifics of this case it is almost a certainty.


References

1. The sacking of Long-Bailey shows that, at last, Labour is serious about antisemitism, Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian 26 June 2020

2. Why Jonathan Freedland Isn’t Fit to be the New Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian, Blake Alcott, Counterpunch, February 2015

3. Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain, L Daniel Staetsky, Institute for Jewish Policy Research, September 2017

4. The apartheid contention and calls for a boycott Examining hostility towards Israel in Great Britain, David Graham and Jonathan Boyd, Institute of Jewish Policy Research, January 2019

5. Smoke Without Fire: The Myth of a ‘Labour Antisemitism Crisis’, by Jamie Stern-Weiner and Alan Maddison,  Jewish Voice for Labour, 26 November 2019

6. Drawing the line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel,The Economist, 12 October 2019

7. First-ever: 40+ Jewish groups worldwide oppose equating antisemitism with criticism of Israel, Rebecca Vikomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace, 17 July 2018

 

 

 

 

Comments (16)

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    This is very useful. It would have been more so if it could have been a bit longer and a bit clearer on the methodology of deciding whether people expressing views about, say, Israeli apartheid, were also deemed to be antisemitic or not. I think you have probably written another article about this, but this one would have been improved by more clarity on the a/s issue itself.

  • Andy Kennedy says:

    “Keir Starmer may just have been misguided by the likes of Freedland and the Board of Deputies, or he may be continuing the Labour right’s factional antisemitism campaign to destroy the left. ” Following the Steve Reed incident it’s now clear that Starmer’s motivation is not ridding the party of antisemites, but anyone from the left.

  • Philip Ward says:

    I think it is fairly clear Keir Starmer knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t want RLB in the shadow cabinet and he found the earliest possible and feeblest excuse to get rid of her, possibly ruining the career of a fine actor in the process.

    He is also surely well-versed in the intricacies of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. If not, he didn’t get much of a political education during his tenure as a member or supporter of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency.

  • Janet Watson says:

    Another great fact-driven analysis. Thank you JVL for being the voice of reason.

  • Why do you conclude that Maxine Peak`s comment to long Bailey was “mistaken”? After having looked at what she said and having researched I cannot find ANY inaccuracy in her comment!!
    The “combat” or “defense” system used by Israeli security forces is called Krav Maga. Used first in the 1930`s by Jews to retaliate against Nazi persecution then taken to Israel where it is deployed today.
    The main Krav Maga head company is in Israel
    A scource called JINSA , a Jewish/American company provides much corroboration of American forces being trained in Krav Maga tecniques in Israel and in America.
    Knee on neck restraint IS a Krav Maga move. Perhaps, most interestingly JONATHON FADER, a leading Krav Maga Instructor has released a video of the correct usage of the knee on neck hold. This video was made just after Floyd`s death. Fader seems to show what the American Police did wrong.
    all my info is from primary scources none from anyone who might be hostile to Israeli interests
    So, Isrealis Do train American forces (they also train other countries) their combat system IS Krav Maga, Krav Maga DOES use knee on neck restraint. Perhaps the American officer used this restraint incorrectly, but tell, did Maxine Peak say anything actually inaccurate? If so I must be thick cos I can`t see what. What I can clearly see is that Long Bailey gets sacked for tweeting the truth. A truth that Mr Starmer does`nt like?

  • George Wilmers says:

    “Keir Starmer may just have been misguided by the likes of Freedland and the Board of Deputies”.

    It is highly implausible that a lawyer as sharp as Keir Starmer is unaware of the distinction between antisemitism and opposing the apartheid and colonial character of the current Israeli régime, given that a plethora of eminent jurists, many of them Jewish, have torn to shreds such a conflation. Starmer’s apparent dimwittedness in this respect is a mere affectation. Nor do I believe that it is plausible that the objectively racist way in which he dismisses and slanders those who defend the rights of Palestinians and others is the mark of a true bigot. Again his apparently dimwitted bigotry is almost certainly fake. Alas, despite his youthful reputation as a human rights lawyer, I fear that Starmer knows perfectly well what he is doing: and we on the left should be under no illusions whatsoever.

    However Keir Starmer would do well to remember that, whatever the short term advantages of cynical political calculations may be, it is difficult to hide such machinations from the judgement of history.

  • John R says:

    I am fairly sure that it wasn’t socialists, trade unionists or left-wing people generally who were regularly “blackballing” prospective Jewish members from their golf clubs and elite London clubs in the 1950s and 60s.

  • Aurangzeb Iqbal says:

    It is now coming to light according to Stephen Cook of the US Council on Foreign Relations that it was never the desire of the USA or Israel for there to be a two state solution who writes:

    “The tragedy in all this is the permanent dispossession of the Palestinians, who will no doubt be outraged at Washington’s washing its hands of the conflict, sealing their fate to live forever under the boot of the IDF or shoved into Bantustans. They would be justified in their anger. They have also misread core U.S. interests in the Middle East, which really are not concerned with the Palestinians, who, against all evidence, trusted the United States.”

    Yet, the land grab, killings and injustices continue unabated.

  • Tony Dennis says:

    As a footnote to this, it’s worth noting that the oh-so-liberal Guardian didn’t allow any on-line comments on the Freedland article.

  • ian duncan kemp says:

    Another very good article. Freedland in the Guardian and Cohen in Observer have been regular in their believe that any criticism of Israel could be considered antisemitic. The same goes for Hodge and many on the so called Labour right. The media also regularly conflates A/S with criticism of Israel as suspect. LBC’s James O’Brian will often conflate A/S with Labour left and shut down anyone who has alternative views.

  • Steve Cooke says:

    Alan Maddison writes: “Jonathan Freedland has just penned an article in the Guardian entitled ‘The sacking of Long-Bailey shows that, at last, Labour is serious about antisemitism’. If you define antisemitism as a hatred or dislike of Jewish people simply because they are Jews, then that title is obviously inaccurate.”

    The ‘hatred of Jews as Jews’ formulation attempts to purify antisemitism in order to avoid acknowledging it or doing something to address it.

    Very few people with antisemitic views will admit they are motivated by hatred or dislike of Jews. They will identify another issue as a just cause for their actions and claim that that issue – rather than the Jewishness of the people they target – is what motivates them and justifies their conduct. And they will likely believe what they are saying.

    By Dr Maddison’s logic, we would ask Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin if he hated Black Americans as Black Americans. He would say that he didn’t and we would therefore conclude that George Floyd’s brutal murder cannot have been motivated by racism. We would discover that many Democratic Football Lads Alliance activists have friends and colleagues who are Muslims and therefore conclude that they can’t be Islamophobic because they evidently don’t hate Muslims as Muslims.

  • DJ says:

    It’s clear who the main beneficiaries of this bogus left wing antisemitism narrative are. The British Establishment and the Israeli Lobby will manufacture all manner of misleading reports and analysis to discredit those who represent a threat to their interests. So we’ve had so called reports linking a rise in antisemitic “incidents” to Labour antisemitism. We’ve had claims that a Corbyn-led government would represent an existential threat to the Jewish community. Unfortunately the evidence-based survey referred to in this informative article appears to have been ignored by the mainstream media. This will not come as a surprise to supporters of this site. The same mainstream media then went on to report Jewish anxieties about Labour concocted by themselves. Quite shameful. The latest episode in this drama is more of the same. A sentence relating Israeli security forces dressed up as an antisemitic conspiracy. Keir Starmer knows this is nonsense but goes along with it because he thinks it serves his purpose. It enables him to get RLB out the shadow cabinet and earns him some brownie points with the establishment and their organs of relentless propogancda. Its all very sordid.

    .

  • DJ says:

    The latest instalment of the witch hunt facilitated by the infamous right mag The Daily Express in today’s edition. Check it out.

  • DJ says:

    The Israeli lobby using an ex LP MP to attack the left wing MPs.. Sound familiar?

  • Dr ALAN MADDISON says:

    Thanks for all the interesting comments.

    On Steve Cooke’s point, of course criticism of Israeli policies can be motivated by antisemitism as shown in my illustrations. The point is that such criticism in itself is not evidence for animosity towards Jews. Even the IHRA working definition acknowledges the need for further evidence of hatred towards Jews (their definition). Perpetrators’ claims to innocence may indeed be false, but for the vast majority of left-wingers criticising Israel, as we see in the article, any denial would be valid. Freedland made a public assumption of blatant antisemitism which was not justified, and which the available evidence and context suggest was almost certainly wrong.

    To Naomi Wayne’s point, apologies, yes I should have clarified that the ‘associated antisemitism’ in Staetsky’s survey was defined by agreement with 5 or more of a battery of 8 ‘antisemitic statements’, which involved 3.6% of his responders. There are two further observations I could have mentioned. Firstly only around 2% of those endorsing the anti-Israel statements in Table 1 were ‘antisemitic’, so clearly, as Staetsky concluded, not all ‘antisemites’ are ‘ anti-Israel’ and vice versa. Secondly, for those that were, we do not know whether it was an initial antisemitism that led to dislike of Israeli policies, or the other way around.

  • RC says:

    A yawning gap in this thread is the affection of many sorts of Zionist for antisemites. Herzl detected an ally in the loathsome Drumont and has had many Zionist successors – nowadays usually somewhat more implicit. Those who regard Jews as essentially alien in gentile-majority societies and those address this problem?e who claim that all Jews belong in Israel, which offers them ‘self-determination’ regardless of where they live – these two factions will always have a lot in common. Examples in Eastern Europe – including but not only Latvia and Poland – as well as Steve Bannon and Donald Trump – are two many to list.
    So why fail to address this issue?

Comments are now closed.