JVL introduction

Shaun Lawson, in this openDemocracy article, explains how the guidance notes to the IHRA definition of antisemitism prevent us saying things that need to be said

Shaun with his grandmother

Enough of these disgraceful slurs against Jeremy Corbyn

Shaun Lawson, openDemocracy
23 July 2018

Even the author of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism has spoken against it.


I’m Jewish. The grandson of a Holocaust survivor. My grandmother, who died only last year, was the one true hero of my life. Brought up in the village of Papa, Hungary, she, along with her parents and two sisters, was deported to Auschwitz in mid-1944. Her father — my great-grandfather, who she idolised — did not survive. Somehow, my grandmother, her mother and sisters all did: on a journey which took them to Frankfurt-am-Main, Zillerthal, Ravensbruck, and Mauthausen, encompassing unimaginable horror.

She was experimented on with malaria, the symptoms of which persisted until 1982, by Mengele himself. She watched an SS officer tear a new born baby from its mother’s arms and smash its head against a wall. On arrival at Ravensbruck, she saw a woman so desperate, so desolate, that she’d been reduced to eating human excrement. She wept in despair as a group of small boys, no more than 10 years old, were all told they would be gassed next day… and responded by praying that they would soon be reunited with their already fallen mothers and fathers. She was taken on death marches barefoot in freezing cold — when if anyone stopped to catch their breath, they were instantly shot.

Had it not been for the filthy mood of a drunk Himmler, who stood at the front of the Auschwitz lines and pointed some to the left, others to the right, but after slapping my great-grandmother and insulting her, bizarrely gestured rightwards in sheer anger, I would not be sat here typing this now. Nor would I be had the officer who, two days before she was liberated, pointed a revolver at my grandmother and told her to come with him — only for her to respond: “I am going nowhere. You will pay for your crimes” — killed her as he had killed her best friend at Mauthausen only days earlier: trampling her to death in front of my gran.

It took until 1990 for my grandmother — who upon her liberation, weighed just 20kg — to even begin speaking about her experiences. She, like the rest of her family (only one of whom still survives now) would carry the trauma with them for the rest of their lives. She only bathed, never showered; cut her own hair; made her own clothes; only ever had one light on; always shopped at 99p stores despite becoming independently wealthy; and her kitchen had enough food to last at least 2 years, enough drink for at least 5 years. However much she somehow rebuilt her life through the most astounding courage and strength — which included helping smuggle her mother and sisters over the Hungarian-Austrian border in 1956, from where they travelled to safety in the UK — she lived in perpetual fear of it happening again.

At the very core of our being, I think all Jews live with that fear. It’s no good telling us that something cannot happen when we all know that it has, many times over; when our family histories are dominated not just by the Holocaust, but an endless history of pogroms and persecution, hatred and horror. The number one cause of that history? Our lack of a homeland. This enabled scores of tyrants, charlatans and opportunists to keep the Jews out of mainstream society, then turn on us whenever anything went wrong, accusing us of ‘polluting’ the national bloodstream. And it also meant that as the situation across Europe deteriorated dramatically during the 1930s, there was next to no help from its governments; growing hostility from its peoples; and for so many, nowhere to turn.

That was the backdrop behind Israel coming into being. As my grandmother often said to me: “Shaun, we Jews had always been weak. The lesson of the Holocaust was that we had to be strong”. Europe had completely betrayed the Jewish people. Only one place offered salvation.

It’s surely because of Britain’s historic role in that — through both the Balfour Declaration, and partition agreed by the United Nations of British-mandated Palestine — that Britons of both left and right have remained so impassioned and opinionated about the subsequent tragic conflict. The Holocaust is part of my and millions of other families’ history; Israel-Palestine has its genesis, in many ways, in British history. And of course, the UK has a large, thriving Jewish community.

On which basis, when one of Britain’s two major political parties stands accused of institutionalised anti-Semitism, it is inevitably a huge story. Labour MPs throw their hands up in disgust; newspaper editorials condemn the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn; Jewish leaders do likewise. ‘What has happened to Labour?’, they cry. And is, as Margaret Hodge apparently claimed this week, Corbyn a “fucking anti-Semite and a racist”?

Well no. No, he’s not. Few figures in British public life have dedicated their whole careers to fighting against all forms of racism in the way Corbyn has. To the best of my knowledge, no other party has set up a full, comprehensive investigation into possible anti-Semitism within its ranks in the way Labour has either. Yet when Baroness Warsi states that Islamophobia is “very widespread” within the Conservative Party, and the Muslim Council of Britain calls for an inquiry, the response of both the government and almost all the media is… nothing. Narratives, apparently, are much more important than facts.

As is very much the case with this week’s furore: over Labour’s decision to put together its own code of conduct on anti-Semitism. ‘How dare Labour think it knows better than Britain’s Jews?’, is the general accusation. ‘How dare it think it knows better than the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)?’

But the reason for that is simple. Several examples below the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism (which in and of itself, Labour has fully endorsed) can and do have the effect of minimising, even suppressing, legitimate criticism of Israel. How do we know that? Because of what the author of that very working definition (adapted by the IHRA from the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)) himself set out to Congress last November.

Kenneth S. Stern is Executive Director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, and has spent his whole career combating hatred and anti-Semitism. Few people anywhere are better qualified to comment on this whole issue than he is. Yet to his dismay, as he explained to the House of Representatives, the definition has been abused on various US university campuses to “restrict academic freedom and punish political speech”, and had the effect of “chilling pro-Palestinian speech”.

Stern also paid particular heed to alarming developments in Britain.

“(The) “working definition” was recently adopted in the United Kingdom and applied to campus. An “Israel Apartheid Week” event was cancelled as violating the definition. A Holocaust survivor was required to change the title of a campus talk, and the university mandated it be recorded, after an Israeli diplomat complained that the title violated the definition. Perhaps most egregious, an off-campus group citing the definition called on a university to conduct an inquiry of a professor (who received her PhD from Columbia) for antisemitism, based on an article she had written years before. The university then conducted the inquiry. And while it ultimately found no basis to discipline the professor, the exercise itself was chilling and McCarthy-like”.

That has already been the impact of the definition: which in practice, has proven less legal than political. So, let’s examine the four examples below the definition which Labour have either slightly altered, or left out of their code of conduct.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

Only this week, Israel passed the highly controversial ‘nation-state law’: which states that Jews have a unique right to self-determination in Israel, and relegated the status of Arabic. That is to say: through law, Israel is now actively denying the right to self-determination of both Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. It is impossible to see how such a law is not, by its very nature, both racist and ethnonationalist.

There is, indeed, an ever-growing contradiction at the heart of Israel. It always insists it is a democracy — but the need for it to remain a specifically Jewish state is abundantly borne out by the history I set out above. The mounting problem is: it cannot be both. It turns away Syrian refugees despite being the nearest safe country of refuge. It illegally uproots Palestinians from their homes, resettled in by Jews. It keeps almost 2m Palestinians in an open-air prison camp: denying them nationhood, escape, or the remotest semblance of dignity. Appallingly frequently, it kills hideous numbers of often complete innocents too.

More than that: if you read this, by the brilliant Rula Jebreal, it is impossible to conclude that Israel affords its own Arab citizens the same equal rights as it does its Jewish citizens. Jebreal, like so many of her fellow Palestinians, finds herself subject to all manner of indignities just when travelling back to her home in Israel; and as she’d surely admit herself, she’s one of the lucky ones.

The Labour party has long supported both Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinians’ cause. But when Israel, in effect, denies the latter their right to self-determination, how can any Labour government hold its Israeli counterpart to account if it accepts the full implication of this IHRA example? It cannot.

Further: while ‘Zionism’ as originally understood simply meant support for a Jewish homeland, in recent decades, to many entirely non-racist people, it has come to mean something else. As Israel has continued to build illegal settlements and carry out ethnic cleansing in defiance of international law, not to mention blockade Gaza for what is now 11 years, to many, ‘Zionism’ has come to mean ‘racist expansion’. That is not a position I personally agree or even sympathise with; but I do understand it.

The IHRA example appears to delegitimise it; and worse, conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. That is utterly nonsensical. There is precisely zero that is anti-Semitic about opposing racist laws, racist policies, or the continued contravention of international norms. In any case, Labour’s code of conduct highlights that the term ‘Zionist’ should only ever be used “advisedly, carefully, and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse”.

Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

This example is, to say the least, extremely strange. When some focus their ire on the behaviour of the Trump administration, it is not because they are anti-American. When others focus on the growing Brexit shambles in the UK, it is not because they are anti-British. And when still others grieve over so many lost Palestinian lives and seek to hold the Israeli government to account, it is not because they are anti-Semitic. It’s because they are human: with empathy and compassion for those continuing to endure profound injustice.

When Israel is condemned for gross disproportionality in its military campaigns in the Gaza strip, these are not ‘double standards’. It is expected to comply with the norms of democratic states: minimising civilian casualties as far as is humanly possible. Instead, it behaves abnormally. Through its ally on the UN Security Council, the US, it attempts to block an independent, transparent investigation into what happened in Gaza on May 14. Why would any country do that if it had nothing to hide?

It considers a law which would ban the photographing or filming of IDF soldiers. It bans left wing groups which criticise the army from schools. It passes the racist nation-state law mentioned above. And when a soldier is captured on video killing a wounded Palestinian, he is released… after just nine months in jail. Palestinian children who throw stones, by contrast, face a mandatory minimum of four years’ imprisonment; while the 16-year-old girl who slapped two Israeli soldiers was given just one month less than the soldier: who was convicted of the manslaughter of one of her compatriots.

These are the real double standards: how Israel treats its Arab citizens and especially, the Palestinians; in comparison to its Jews. The example has the effect of quieting criticism of its conduct; in other words, of Israel not being held to the standards of other democracies at all. And it carries the potential for those who do hold it to those standards to be called ‘anti-Semitic’ for rightly calling out its government and military.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Note here the specific language. Not ‘suggesting equivalence between contemporary Israeli policy and that of the Nazis’; nor ‘suggesting that contemporary Israeli policy is identical to that of the Nazis’. Either formulation would be profoundly offensive and indeed, extremely anti-Semitic.

Instead, the wording simply speaks of ‘drawing comparisons’. This is bizarre. When someone suggests, with innocence and dismay, that ‘the abused have become the abusers’, that is not anti-Semitic. It is reality. That there are the most profound psychological reasons for Israel’s political and military conduct — embedded in the collective trauma and fears of its people — is not even a controversial statement. As it is for an individual or a family who have endured unimaginable trauma, so it can also be for a nation: above all, one founded against a backdrop of the murder of six million people for no other reason than that they were Jewish; especially when, ever since its inception, it has been surrounded by enemies bent on its destruction.

In fact, in 2000, the acclaimed BBC documentary, Five Steps to Tyranny, made precisely such a juxtaposition. Commenting on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, Louise Christian, the acclaimed human rights lawyer, noted (at 46:33 in this video):

“It’s one of the great ironies… in Israel, that the Israelis were people who originally came together out of a sense of common, shared nationhood and identity, because of the Holocaust they’d been subjected to, not just in Nazi Germany but in Europe generally… and that they should have come together, but have done so at the expense, as it’s perceived, of another people. And I think that illustrates the way in which human rights abuses may perpetuate themselves, and one abuse may create another abuse”.

In my own case, the trauma of my grandmother and her family was passed down to her children, and to my siblings and myself. My father grew up all too aware that something was horrendously wrong amid a home environment of absolute emotional emptiness; but my grandmother, whose emotions had been literally crushed out of her by the Nazis, but was desperate to protect her children, said nothing. Something very similar occurred throughout my and my siblings’ childhoods too. This is how trauma works its way down the generations. Much the same has undoubtedly been true of so many similar families and communities in Israel itself: for entirely understandable, human reasons.

Labour’s code of conduct references the Chakrabarti Report, which “warned of the need for all members to resist Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”. Certainly, such comparisons do nothing to advance serious, mature discussion of the enormously complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and only cause further anger and division; but in my experience, they’re most often expressed by people who are simply bewildered that the Palestinians are suffering such a plight at the hands of people whose families suffered so much themselves. They’re expressed, in other words, however ill-advisedly at times, mostly by human beings who care.

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

Of the examples underneath the IHRA working definition, this is the only one whose theoretical omission by Labour gives me room for pause. On the face of it, it’s a classic racist dog whistle: employed for centuries against the Jewish people, who found themselves systematically isolated, stigmatised and ostracised as an ‘other’. In many ways, it’s precisely this which led to the Holocaust itself.

Yet in point 14, the code of conduct expressly states: “It is also wrong to accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations”. In other words, the code covers this in almost the exact same way as the IHRA example does. There’s no case to answer here.

Labour’s full code of conduct on antisemitism can be viewed here. Read it, and ask yourself: ‘Is there anything in this which justifies the absurd lengths so many have gone to attack it?’

Chief among them, of course, have been Hodge. Rather than examine whether there’s any substance in her depiction of the Labour leader, predictably, many of her ‘moderate’ colleagues have instantly rallied behind her; while journalists have excoriated the leadership for disciplining her. But of course the leadership has, and it’s entirely right to — because calling Corbyn a racist or an anti-Semite is to spread a disgraceful, libellous trope with no basis in fact at all. Which to his eternal shame, Sajid Javid was only too quick to pick up on.

Hodge has done magnificent work beating back the BNP in Barking. In that sense, she really ought to recognise a fellow committed anti-racist, rather than smear him. And when, in 2016, the Home Affairs Select Committee also noted certain issues with the IHRA’s examples, so proposed two clarifications, one wonders where her opprobrium was then. The answer is that there was nothing anti-Semitic about the Select Committee’s concerns; just as there is nothing anti-Semitic about Labour’s code of conduct.

Home Affairs Select CommitteeAs a bare minimum, it is also rather unfortunate that those Labour MPs attacking Corbyn now have essentially been against him right from the very outset of his leadership. Labour’s dramatic recovery at last year’s general election owed mostly to Corbyn’s personal popularity and appeal; its most progressive manifesto in at least 25 years, arguably longer; and the brilliant grassroots work of Momentum, whose utilisation of social media made an enormous difference.

But these same Labour ‘moderates’ wanted Corbyn out at various points during his leadership; wrongly believed he would take the party to electoral collapse; and even regularly attacked Momentum. Too many of them remain spectacularly oblivious to just how much of an irrelevance Labour had become before Corbyn became leader. It was viewed as standing for nothing, believing in nothing — and at least some of its MPs had become horribly distant automatons, held in increasing contempt by their constituents. So much so that after the 2015 general election, Labour were effectively bankrupt. Only Corbyn could’ve re-energised the whole party in such a way, massively expanded its membership, and brought in desperately needed funds.

Some of these MPs seem to want to have their cake and eat it. To benefit from Momentum’s remarkable work (without which, many would no longer hold their seats), represent a party which has now re-taken the lead in the opinion polls… but not be subject to the same democratic principles which govern it. The media speaks in dark terms of ‘Stalinist purges’ about constituency associations democratically choosing their candidate! The message seems to be that activists should be seen, but not heard; pay up, and shut up.

Hodge, at least, was not among the Labour MPs who, in April, disgracefully spent a week on a ‘fact finding mission’ in Saudi Arabia: which commits war crimes in Yemen on a daily basis, does indefensible arms deals with the UK, and whose role in Islamist terrorism was buried by the British government. Among the MPs on that trip was John Woodcock, who resigned from the Labour party earlier last week. Comically, this resulted in him being hailed as a man of principle: ‘Principle’ which involves avoiding a sexual harassment investigation, attacking individuals on Twitter several hours after an innocent misunderstanding had been resolved, and supporting Saudi war criminals.

What sort of ‘moderate’ wrongly accuses Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism, only to themselves kowtow to one of the worst regimes on the planet? A ‘moderate’ which the Labour party is much better off without.

Away from the discussions around the IHRA examples, there remains the more general issue. In April, Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, gave a powerful, moving speech on the horrific anti-Semitic abuse she has been subjected to throughout her life. Quite rightly, she highlighted the online environment: a “cesspit”, as another MP referred to it during her speech.

Any Labour member guilty of anti-Semitism must be immediately expelled. But listening to her speech does beg the question: just how much abuse which she and her colleagues have received has come from Labour members? Many Twitter accounts are not under someone’s actual name. The online environment was all but taken over by Russian bots ahead of the 2016 US Presidential election, the EU referendum… perhaps even the Scottish referendum in 2014.

This is not to downplay in any way the horrendous abuse which Berger and many of her Labour colleagues have experienced. As she herself said, one anti-Semitic Labour member is one too many. But if the vast majority of abuse is coming from outside the Labour membership, then beyond commissioning a comprehensive investigation (which he did) and a new code of conduct (as the NEC has), what on Earth is Corbyn supposed to do?

As Corbyn’s leadership prospects dramatically grew during the 2015 Labour election, extraordinary numbers of vile anti-Semitic tweets seemed to emerge more or less out of nowhere. Were these genuine Corbyn supporters? Or bots and operatives, seeking to cause the same havoc in UK politics as they’ve managed with alarming success in its American counterpart?

Many reading this might say: “Hang on. Doesn’t Putin want Corbyn to win? So why would he allow his operatives to smear him?” But that is entirely to misunderstand the Russian state’s modus operandi. What it wants, above all, is to foment chaos, divide and rule. That is why it also had bots and operatives supporting Bernie Sanders; to say nothing of helping organise protests following the US election, despite conducting a criminal campaign to help elect Donald Trump.

Are we really saying that Russia did collude with Trump, did interfere in the Brexit campaign, may have sought to interfere in the Scottish referendum, is conducting daily cyberwarfare against the West, is likely ramping up its threat ahead of the US mid-terms in November… but has somehow done nothing in UK domestic politics outside of the referendum? That would seem to me to be an extraordinary assertion: but either way, it warrants serious investigation.

In any case: take a trip to any of the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Spectator, or Guido Fawkes’ websites’ comments sections; or simply glance at the Twitter pages of those on the right or far right. All are packed with never-ending Islamophobic and, regularly, anti-Semitic abuse (the most common of which is a despicable, entirely fallacious trope about George Soros). Perhaps some of these commentators might be Russian operatives too; but many others will be Tory voters. Strangely, no demands have been made of Theresa May to somehow magic away all the horrible people on the internet. So why is precisely this being expected of Corbyn?

We live in a political age in which not only have facts ceased to matter, but narratives based almost entirely on myths and lies have gained such sway that they have decided important elections, and taken whole countries down entirely different, increasingly dark routes. “Labour overspent and caused the crash”. “Running a country is like running a household budget”. “Welfare is a lifestyle choice”. “We have to live within our means”. “Let’s take back control and give £350m to the NHS”. “Turkey is about to join the EU”. “We’ve had enough of experts”. “Hillary Clinton’s email server is a national security threat”. “Lock her up”. “No deal is better than a bad deal”. “Stop talking the country down”. “Enemies of the people”. “Corbyn and Labour are riddled with anti-Semitism”.

On and on it has gone. For many years now, the enormous bulk of the media has utterly failed to do its job of holding truth to power. Instead, it’s enabled the powerful — and the destruction of so many people’s lives — by spreading their lies. Any media which is not holding the exact same microscope to Islamophobia in the Conservative Party as it has with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is simply not doing its job.

Yet during last year’s election campaign, the British public discovered that Corbyn is not the dangerous, hate-filled ogre he’s been made out to be at all. Instead, he really is a very different kind of politician: never more comfortable than when meeting and speaking with ordinary people from all backgrounds. A man who really is in politics for the right reasons; who fights passionately against injustice, against war. Someone who wants to help as many people as he possibly can. And whose energy and vision draws so many new people into the political process. People who had been ignored for decades.

That’s not to argue that he’s without many obvious imperfections. Too often, he’s drearily ineffective at Prime Minister’s Questions; at times, he seems to obsess over foreign policy and fail to focus on the most important theme of any given moment; his historical views on Venezuela have been offensive and ridiculous; his failure to back the US/UK campaign to rescue the Yazidis in Iraq was unconscionable; and he’s an old-fashioned bureaucrat, whose party machinery doesn’t so much glide as clunk into action. But smearing him as an anti-Semite without a shred of evidence is outrageous nonsense. No wonder individuals like him are so rare in politics when this is the sort of slander they receive: even from their own colleagues.

In recent months, Twitter has been full of those announcing that they are leaving the Labour party in disgust. People who, one suspects, have read the headlines, heard the soundbites, but ignored the detail; and in many cases, have probably spent much of the last two years attacking Brexit voters for… reading the headlines, listening to the soundbites, and ignoring the detail.

In the case of Jewish members who are leaving, no doubt, that fear I mentioned earlier will be playing a part. If I thought Labour was in any way anti-Semitic, I’d be renouncing my support too. But the bottom line is: it’s not, and Corbyn categorically is not. Given that, I have to ask the following of anyone departing: “Do you seriously care more about the omission of a few problematic examples under the IHRA definition (which its own author has strongly critiqued), which has been fully endorsed in any case, than you do about the poor? The infirm? The disabled? The unemployed? Immigrants and refugees? Grenfell? Windrush? EU citizens at the mercy of a no-deal Brexit? Those forced onto zero hours contracts? Those who can never hope to buy a home, and who pay disgusting rent charges amid often squalid conditions with no protection at all? Those who have been led down the garden path by the most incompetent government in living memory? Do you care about any of them?”

Into the breach steps Maureen Lipman, an actress I once greatly admired. “Jeremy Corbyn has made me a Tory”, she cries… before, in a quite remarkable interview, first condemning him for meeting with “the wrong people” (in other words, ‘the wrong Jews’) at a Seder night; then, with stunning Islamophobia, exclaiming that “we have not committed thousands of appalling crimes… we’re not bombing or beheading”. Who are, Maureen? Muslims?

Not only that, but in her latest move into the spotlight, Lipman mysteriously failed to mention that she in fact abandoned Labour four years ago. And why? Because of its support for a Palestinian state. Think about that for a moment: she denounced the Labour party for its backing of Palestinian self-determination. Would she prefer them to rot forever instead?

“The Chuka Harman Burnham Hunt Balls brigade? I can’t, in all seriousness, go into a booth and put my mark on any one of them”. Fair enough, Maureen, neither could most of the country… but that’s precisely why Labour had to move leftwards afterwards. Yet you condemn that too.

“I won’t throw British Jews under the bus”, declares Danielle Blake with trademark self-righteousness. But sorry Danielle: you will. Because there’s plenty of poor Jews in the UK; and plenty of other Jews who’ve suffered just as much under this atrocious excuse for a government as anyone else. Why do you care so little about them? Why are you happy for their suffering to continue, or get even worse?

And on the subject of suffering: if, in the event of a Labour government, we’ll finally have a prime minister prepared to call out the Israeli government on its treatment of the Palestinians, that is very much a good thing. Over the last 20 years, their situation has grown profoundly worse; and the international community has, by and large, remained silent. Quiet, sweet nothings about supporting a two-state solution (which Israel has itself abandoned, and never been truly serious about since the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process) have achieved zero — while appallingly, the language around the conflict has continued to change in favour of Israel, in spite of the ever-bleaker reality.

Let’s return to that BBC documentary I mentioned earlier. With no bias, nothing other than a desire to calmly report the truth, its narrator, Sheena McDonald, set out the realities facing the Palestinian people (at 43:49 here):

“In Israel, the Palestinians often live in appalling conditions, not far from impressive housing developments built by Jewish settlers. As the gulf between the two groups widens, with restricted human rights for Palestinians, there’s ongoing violence. The Palestinians throw stones and sometimes open fire. The Israelis retaliate with live rounds and rockets, and the force of law.

“Until September 1999, Israel effectively legalised torture, under the term ‘moderate physical pressure’. This enabled the secret police, the Shin-Bet, to brutalise suspected Palestinian terrorists, using shackling, shaking, and isolation. A liberal, middle class nation stood by and tolerated this behaviour, for years…

“… The Israeli Army’s use of ‘moderate physical pressure’ has led to the jailing and torture of some 10,000 Palestinians over the last decade. They have their day in court, but only with the veneer of a fair trial”.

That documentary was broadcast 18 years ago. Try imagining the BBC ever broadcasting something similar now. The political climate is such that the producer might, ludicrously, find themselves accused of some form of ‘anti-Semitism’ by the Israeli government: purely for focusing on the Palestinians’ appalling plight.

Moreover, when Israel attacked Gaza in 2014, even Tory MPs were horrified at David Cameron’s failure to condemn its wildly disproportionate use of violence. And now, much of the media speaks of Palestinians ‘dying’ at protests; not being killed, at the hands of the Israeli military.

That is how language and political pressure are allowed to distort things. Both the media and successive British governments have been hugely culpable in that. I don’t delude myself for a moment that Corbyn could achieve anything of substance amid such a protracted conflict. But as a British Jew, I’ve long believed we’re well past time for my government to behave as ethically and morally as possible: ending arms deals, standing up to Trump, and condemning the Israeli government when it systematically flouts international law.

Perhaps above all, I am tired of the historic suffering of my people — including the hideous experiences of my family — being exploited for naked political purposes by people who, when push comes to shove, really couldn’t care less. That is the sort of thing Javid was guilty of in his tweet; and which the right-wing press is continually guilty of when it sensationalises, slurs, and entirely ignores the facts.

As he was taken to his death in Riga in 1941, the great Jewish historian, Simon Dubnow, had a clear, simple message. “Yidn, shreibt un ferschreibt” (“Jews, write and record”). That is what my grandmother did when she recorded over five hours of testimony for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Video Archive. Her experiences are on record for posterity.

Yet just as it is incumbent on all of us everywhere to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten; that each successive generation is taught its hideous lessons about mankind’s capacity for unimaginable cruelty, so it is also beholden on us to scrutinise fairly and report objectively about current events too. When it comes to the question of anti-Semitism and the Labour party, not for the first time, far too many have failed in that basic task.


Shaun Lawson is an academic editor specialising in politics and international relations. Twitter: @shaunjlawson