Roger Silverman on the weaponisation of antisemitism

JVL Introduction

Roger Silverman spoke on the current purges at a lively fringe event at the recent Labour Party conference.

A lifelong socialist and antiracist, he has recently been threatened with “automatic exclusion” from the Party for actions that were perfectly legitimate at the time. (He penned a robust response which you can read here.)

In his talk he puts the current purge in wider political context, and draws on his family’s history of fighting antisemitism in British society fostered by the Tories and the right-wing press at the time

He is deeply cynical about the Labour Party’s chequered record and new-found urge to deal with “antisemitism”.

The entire campaign, he argues, “is a crude and hypocritical camouflage for a political attack on the left. Jews [like Roger – ed]) are collateral damage; they are especially dangerous to the witch-hunters because they undermine the hypocrisy of their campaign.”


The weaponisation of antisemitism

Like many of us here, I know something about antisemitism. So far as I know, I didn’t have any family members in Auschwitz, but my grandparents all fled pogroms in the Russian Empire. Together with his brother, my paternal grandfather somehow struggled across Europe from Romania, crossed the Channel and made it as far as Liverpool, where they ran out of money and had to spin a coin to decide which of them completed the journey across the Atlantic; my grandfather lost, and here I am. My mother’s father similarly reached Liverpool from the Ukraine. One night he boarded the ferry and mysteriously disappeared; later his body was found floating in the Mersey, the presumed victim of a racist murder.

More to the point, also from my family history, I know something about Labour’s record in this field. My father – a war resister conscripted during the First World War who spent more than two years in prison for refusing military orders, staged a hunger strike and defied the authorities on behalf of victimised fellow-prisoners – was later a Labour MP for 33 years who was twice expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party for defying the leadership.

In 1940 my father was chair of the British section of the World Jewish Congress, and in this capacity received early warnings of the impending holocaust. He fought desperately for the right of refuge and asylum for Europe’s Jews, but was blocked by the policies of the government, which included Labour’s right wing. The Home Secretary in the wartime coalition Herbert Morrison – Peter Mandelson’s grandfather – blocked entry to Britain by Jews fleeing the holocaust. According to the book Whitehall And The Jews, 1933-1948, British immigration policy throughout that period (including under the postwar Attlee government) “was designed to keep out large numbers of European Jews – perhaps ten times as many as it let in”. And the Foreign Secretary in the postwar Labour government Ernest Bevin ordered the sinking of the ships carrying concentration camp survivors who were fleeing the misery of displaced persons’ internment camps to seek a homeland in Palestine. Their motive was not to establish a Zionist state or to dispossess the Palestinians, but simply to find somewhere to live. So when Labour’s right wing claim to be friends of the Jews, let them be reminded of their antisemitic and literally murderous record of drowning them in the Mediterranean, just as migrants in the opposite direction are being drowned there today.

It is of course the Tory party that is riddled with racism through and through, from the 1905 Aliens Act that blocked Jewish immigration from the East European pogroms; to the Right Club that was founded by a Tory MP in the 1930s to “expose the activities of organised Jewry”; to Enoch Powell’s descriptions of “wide-grinning picaninnies” and blood-curdling warnings of “rivers of blood”; to Boris Johnson’s repetition of the same vile word in his description of “picaninnies with their water-melon smiles”; and of course the outright racist treatment of the Windrush generation that is still continuing today.

As for antisemitism, it was the Daily Express which carried the infamous headline in the 1930s “JEWS DECLARE WAR ON GERMANY”, and the Daily Mail which screamed “HURRAH FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS!”.

So what about that great fighter against fascism: Churchill? Listen to his praise for Hitler: “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.” Similarly, he assured Mussolini: “If I had been an Italian, I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”

Churchill explicitly ascribed the wave of revolution sweeping Europe after the First World War to a Jewish conspiracy. He described “the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistic Jews” and continued:

“With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews. Moreover, the principal inspiration and driving power comes from Jewish leaders … The same evil prominence was obtained by Jews in Hungary and Germany, especially Bavaria… Although in all these countries there are many non-Jews every whit as bad as the worst of the Jewish revolutionaries, the part played by the latter in proportion to their numbers in the population is astonishing…”

He ended by naming “Karl Marx, Trotsky, Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States)” and blamed the Jews for “this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization.”

Just a few years ago, it was the Mail, once again, which made a thinly veiled anti-Semitic attack on Ed Miliband, calling his father “the man who hated Britain… a refugee… a Marxist…” (no one could mistake the innuendo). And the Sun published an unflattering picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich – something which again was universally recognised as another covert antisemitic jibe. (If he’d been eating a cheese sandwich, somehow it wouldn’t have had quite the same impact.)

I have recently been warned of “auto-exclusion” from the Labour Party; but this is not the first time they’ve threatened me. In 2016 I was arbitrarily suspended, and eventually I was interviewed by some ignorant moron, probably not even a party hack. He questioned various political arguments I’d made on Facebook (not only on Zionism), but at one point he asked me what I meant by this comment: “You’ve described Zionism as a virulent form of racism.” I replied:

“Yes, this is a description many people would endorse. Israel denies a quarter of its population equal civil rights and occupies neighbouring territories inhabited by four million people… I put the growth of its support among Jews in the context of the holocaust and its aftermath, with the despicable treatment of survivors of the concentration camps who had nowhere to live. But Zionism has come to represent an oppressive regime, savage wars and the treatment of Arab Israelis as second-class citizens. I’m appalled that this opinion could be considered anti-Semitic. I’m proud of my own Jewish heritage and culture and traditions, and outraged that one political faction should brand those who disagree with it in this way. I don’t have to agree with Zionism, and there is no such requirement in the rules of the Labour Party.”

My inquisitor then asked: “You compared Zionism with the rise of black movements like those of Marcus Garvey, and talked of the mirage of a Jewish nation in a mythical historical homeland.” I replied:

“That’s just a simple historical explanation. At one time sections of the black population in the USA, suffering slavery, lynch laws and Jim Crow had similar hopes that a return to a supposed historical homeland in Africa might be their salvation. I should add that until the pogroms and the holocaust, Zionism was not much more than an obscure sect. The majority of Russian and European Jews were supporters of the Bund. Their response to the Zionists was: no, this is our home and we’re staying.”

I have an interesting addendum to this story. A couple of years later, I was browsing through the autobiography of the famous Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and found a reference to a quotation by someone who had been reading Herzl’s book on Zionism: “The book interested me very much… Up until then, I had no knowledge of such things. Somehow this book touched a chord in me and I took it all in…” Who was the author of these lines? Adolf Eichmann! He continued: “It fell in with our own desire for a political solution: the Zionists wanted a territory where the Jewish people could finally settle in peace. And that was pretty much what the Nazis wanted.” This quotation offers the best possible vindication of our position.

When it came to Corbyn, the smear of antisemitism was not the first dirty lie hurled against him. He was branded as somehow simultaneously both a pacifist and a terrorist sympathiser, a harmless allotment crank and at the same time a dangerous Stalinist spy… Where then does the antisemitism lie come from?

First, because Israel is of course a key element in imperialist control of the oil region. In the words of the first British governor of Jerusalem at the time of the Balfour Declaration, Israel could form for England “a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”. Secondly, because the Israeli state, alarmed at the risk that a major Western power could be led by a committed champion of Palestinian rights, conjured up this smear… and the British ruling class gratefully seized hold of it. It offered a perfect way to soil Corbyn’s reputation from a seemingly liberal, humane viewpoint.

Goebbels is known to have recommended the effectiveness of the big lie – the more monstrously outrageous, the better. This one is a new version of the fake “Zinoviev letter” in 1923: the absurd accusation that Labour was a puppet of the Communist International; or of Churchill’s hysterical outburst in 1945 that Labour was about to establish a Gestapo police state. But the master stroke was… to give added currency to the insult by holding back from hurling it themselves in their own name, which would throw a question mark over its validity, but to put it into the mouths of the Labour leaders themselves.

Outrageously, for instance, Ruth Smeeth has accused supporters of Corbyn of wanting a “Jew-free” Labour Party. But who is really purging the Labour Party of Jews? Actually, it is the witch-hunters who have claimed Jews as their first category of victims – as is shown by members of Jewish Voice for Labour, practically all of whom have been reviled, insulted, even manhandled and thrown out. To quote the JVL:

“As a population share, almost five times more Jewish than non-Jewish Labour members have faced complaints of antisemitism which have been investigated… JVL’s leaders are more than 200 times more likely to be targeted by the party for investigation than other Labour members, while ordinary JVL members are more than thirty times more likely to face persecution by the Labour right regime.”

And this is not surprising. Not, of course, because the witch-hunters are themselves antisemitic; maybe some are, others are not. The entire campaign is a crude and hypocritical camouflage for a political attack on the left. Jews are collateral damage; they are especially dangerous to the witch-hunters because they undermine the hypocrisy of their campaign.

However, the assumptions behind the form that the witch-hunt has taken are certainly discriminatory against Jews. For one thing, it is grossly offensive to dictate the political allegiances of Jews and no one else. Jews alone are forbidden to oppose the policies of the Israeli government; the witch-hunters brand as antisemitic any Jew who opposes Zionism. I’m racking my brains to think of an analogy: do they compel Scottish people to support independence, a separate Scottish state? It really is flagrant discrimination to impose on Jews alone a single political standpoint. I am strongly opposed to the policies of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Does that make me Islamophobic?

The IHRA itself includes in its definition of antisemitism the allegation that Jews owe prior allegiance to Israel; and yet that is precisely what is demanded of Jews by the witch-hunters: they are obliged to support the state of Israel. That is itself an antisemitic trope!

It’s a pathetic trick, and it is manifestly not working. But it’s a highly dangerous game. They are playing with fire. It is not that Starmer, Mandelson & Co themselves are personally antisemitic; but by playing this card they are stoking up antisemitism. Where antisemitism was previously pretty well dormant, this campaign risks stirring up prejudice and promoting genuine antisemitism. It is giving credibility to the old myth that there really is some kind of worldwide Jewish conspiracy; that Jews somehow have a secret fiendish power to control and manipulate events. The witch-hunt has given rise to a dangerous misconception: that Starmer & Co. are paid agents of the Israeli state. Yes, there are Zionists and even Israeli agents promoting the witch-hunt – that’s proved by documentary evidence – but that’s incidental; it exonerates the real arch-enemy.

Starmer, Blair and Mandelson are first and foremost agents not of the Israeli state, but of the British state; not of the Israeli but of the British ruling class. In a brilliant inversion of the original ploy, they are exploiting Jews as an insidious political weapon. And, just as the ruling class had always previously found antisemitism a fiendishly useful tool, now, in a peculiar inversion, a mirror image, they are trying to deploy popular revulsion against what they dishonestly masquerade as antisemitism to discredit the left. Our task is to train our sights on the real enemy: capitalism and its direct agents at the head of the Labour Party.

Comments (31)

  • Julia says:

    Brilliant and very informative article. Thank you

  • Margaret Turner says:

    Such wisdom, as ever, from Roger.

  • Bonny Ambrose says:

    Brilliant article. Thank you.

  • Doug says:

    At what point do you fight back and give as good as you get
    There was an LBC incident where a number of alleged cases were handed to Cressida Dick and I’m pretty sure nothing came of them
    Can you put a case together and give it to the police, do vexatious claims of anti semitism against Left wing Jewish Labour supporters constitute a hate crime
    Find a sympathetic Police and Crime Commissioner

  • Daniel Lukas Vulliamy says:

    Spit, fire. Spout, rain.
    Thanks, Roger.

  • Ian Kemp says:

    excellent Rodger Its a pity the so called journalists in the MSM and the likes of James O’Brian on LBC BBC do not read what Rodger as so superbly articulated.

  • Dr Paul says:

    Roger has described there the most insidious aspect of the whole business — that it will actually intensify anti-Semitism. Do those who push the Labour Party anti-Semitism business actually realise this? Or do they think it’s a risk worth taking when attacking the left?

  • Dave Postles says:

    https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n20/adam-shatz/we-are-conquerors
    on Ben Gurion and his disdain for Jews from the Shoah.
    Israel effectively claims Jews worldwide as its citizens under the Law of Return.
    1924? legislation in US restricting Jewish immigration.
    BTW I am supporting you, just adding details.

  • Jimmy Cooper says:

    Roger. You have absolutely nailed it. The particular reference to the fake “Zinoviev Letter” struck a chord. The smear tactics worked with Corbyn and the ruling – class now have their man at the helm. Starmer is a “safe pair of hands”.
    The expulsion of socialists from the Labour Party is occupying all of our attention and energy. We must continue to fight the right, but I agree with Roger that the focus should be the fight against Capitalism and inequality

  • Stephen Branscombe says:

    Thank you Roger for an important history lesson.

  • John Coates says:

    I have learned a great deal this evening.
    Roger Silverman’s brilliant article should be widely distributed and read by all Labour activists.
    I understand why JVL and its members are feared and persecuted by Labour’s present right-wing leadership.

  • John Spencer says:

    A marvellous article, which hits the nail right on the head.

  • Gordon McKinley says:

    Splendid, accurate analysis by Mr Silverman. As an Associate JVL member, I am proud that this site publishes such clinical analysis of the reality ignored, there’s a surprise, by
    the MSM and the liberal press that fawn at Starmer and his Blairite chums.

    BIG G

  • Alexander Gavin says:

    Great article. I have thought for a while that as it is antisemitic and false to say that Jews are trying to rule or control the world we witness zionists or at least supporters of the current extreme right wing ruling political party in Israel sending out its actors to control the behaviour of foreign governments, that is, not to criticise Israeli actions. This behaviour of zionists sacrifices all Jews and leaves them open the charge of manipulating the rest of the world for their own benefit.

  • Graeme Atkinson says:

    Belting article, Roger. Really impressive.

  • Stephen Williams says:

    Seventy years ago, my parents were active in the campaign against capital punishment; your father was an inspiration then, just as you are now.

  • Darrall Cozens says:

    Roger is as insightful and eloquent as always. Remember 1974 and the Portuguese Revolution!

  • Tony. Loftus says:

    I’m going to put this to the witch-hunters in Ealing.
    A great analysis Roger.

  • Michael Elsmere says:

    Thank-you for such an informative and rational historical based rejection of Labour Party and capitalist present policies on antisemitism.

  • Rob Gardiner says:

    thanks. I can only echo others’ comments. I learnt a lot from reading Roger’s article.

  • Richard Delacour says:

    A fascinating read. 🤔

  • Teresa Grover says:

    I have read this extremely informative letter & thank the author for confirming several historical facts.
    I will reread it & save it & most definitely share it.
    Thankyou again for sharing it with everyone. Respectfully yours Teresa Grover.

  • Linda Gates says:

    Thank you Roger. Please keep educating us!

  • Dave says:

    Roger makes a crucial point that “Starmer, Blair and Mandelson are first and foremost agents not of the Israeli state, but of the British state” and that the enemy is capitalism and that “antisemitism [is] a fiendishly useful tool”.

    But his article also reminds us that we mustn’t forget that the exemption of the Israeli state from international sanctions, and Israel’s role in Western hegemony, is also part of the picture as well as general anti-left attacks.

  • John Bowley says:

    This is, of course, yet another superb article. Thank you, Roger Silverman. This piece is indeed of vastly higher quality than anything on the MSM.

    JVL certainly distributes all the best political writing.

    Here is something else:

    Jesus correctly advised against building on sand, an unreliable base and a metaphor for dodgy ground, The Labour Party right-wing establishment has built on sand by basing its power grab on the big lie of institutional antisemitism among its socialists, anti-racists and honest British Jewish comrades who dare to challenge the pervasive zionism which has been embraced by the Conservatives. The rotten Labour Party’s house built on sand is unlikely to last. The truth will eventually become widely known. Starmer & co are presently smug that the establishment media is maintaining the big lie. I guess that it will last until, by chance, such as the Conservatives becoming even more incompetent or suchlike, Starmer & co start emerging from being second placed to possibly electorally challenging. Then a media boss, such as Murdoch, will order the horror stories which are stocked up within the Sun etc to go on widespread general release. .

  • Ian Isaac says:

    As I see it I am not anti semitic, anti Jewish or any religious person.But if the State of Israel denies the right of of peoples within its boundaries to live with their own non Jewish religion then I am against the Israeli state, the same as I would be if they denied the reasonable demands for justice, equality and decent pay by the Trade Union and Labour movement in Isreal. Does that make me anti semitic.?

  • Neil Todd says:

    As the organiser of the Resist Event session on “McCarthyism in Starmer’s Labour” in which Roger spoke, I could not be more impressed by the excellence of his contribution. I am in general in complete agreement with his analysis, but we can debate the details of the history of when exactly did the establishment wing of the Labour Party and agents of the British state gleefully seize hold of the weapon of anti-Semitism that had been gifted them by agents of the Israeli state, and the relative roles that the various agents of the Israeli and British states played in the campaign to defeat the Corbyn project.

    The evidence is overwhelming that Israel via its Strategic Affairs Ministry in coordination with the network of Israel lobby groups played a very significant role in the instigation of the anti-Corbyn campaign as part of its wider “global war” against the BDF movement, at least two years prior to the right wing of the Labour Party joining the anti-Semitism smear campaign, and indeed prior to the election of Corbyn as leader in 2015. The main agents involved, e.g. the CAA, JLM and LAAS, where all founded well before the main body of the PLP cottoned-on to the opportunity on offer.

    For example, the immediate pretext for the Chicken Coup of June 2016 by the PLP was the outcome of the EU referendum, with evidence that it had been planned six month prior and linked to the Chilcot Enquiry. The Chicken Coup was, of course, defeated when Corbyn was re-elected. At the time of the Home Affairs Select Committee report in October 2016, the then Labour MP Chuka Umunna stated categorically that there was no evidence of wide-spread anti-Semitism in Labour. As Umunna himself
    put it on 16 October “Some have suggested that there is institutional antisemitism across the whole of the Labour Party – this is not a view I share, not least because I have not seen one incident of antisemitism in almost 20 years of activism within my local Labour Party in Lambeth”.

    It was only almost two years later in 2018, after the scare of the 2017 General Election near win, and at around the time that the Corbyn leadership capitulated on the adoption of bogus IHRA definition, that Umunna flip-flopped and contradicted himself by claiming that Labour had now become “Institutionally antisemitic”. From then on, weaponised anti-Semitism, along with Brexit opportunism as wedge issue to divide the left, became the twin cudgels employed by the right, and their allies in the main-stream media and establishment, which they ceaselessly hammered away with, finally achieving their goal in the 2019 General Election.

    This outcome could not have been achieved though, without the contribution of the Israel Lobby groups and their prior sponsorship by the Israeli state. On this point, I am unable to agree with Roger that their role was “incidental”. We don’t have to adopt an either/or position here. Our real enemies are both “capitalism and its direct agents at the head of the Labour Party” AND the poisonous ideology of Zionism and its direct agents.

  • Ian Iles says:

    “… but by playing this card they are stoking up antisemitism.”

    I would argue that that in itself makes them antisemitic.

  • Vera Maud Lustig says:

    “The IHRA itself includes in its definition of antisemitism the allegation that Jews owe prior allegiance to Israel; and yet that is precisely what is demanded of Jews by the witch-hunters: they are obliged to support the state of Israel. That is itself an antisemitic trope!”

    Excellent piece; the paragraph above particularly resonated with me.

  • DAVID SELZER says:

    Brilliant article, Roger. Thank you. Detailed, comprehensive, cogent, and utterly damning.

  • Trish O'Hara says:

    This is remarkable. Brilliant and has made me reflect deeply on my own assumption that starmer is being funded by Israel. Thank you Roger for teaching me again

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