by Joe Thorne
Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, and the vast majority of our movement is not anti-Semitic, but it is a terrible reality that some anti-Semitism has been pulled along in its wake . Therefore, we have a duty to acknowledge and oppose this. In fact, if we do not, we renounce the right to say we are true fighters against the brutality in Gaza.
There have been countless placards equating the Star of David to the Nazi swastika. (Some of the people doing this may intend nothing bad by it; but its real meaning is still distasteful, the Star of David is a symbol of the Jewish people, not the state of Israel ). I have a Jewish friend who has been beaten, and many others have experienced violence, insults and spitting. On the demonstration of Saturday 10th January, to my disgust, I heard one shout of ‘death to all Jews’ – although the surrounding crowd immediately booed in response.
We should support the Gazans against Israel’s murderous assault, not because they are of any particular faith or background, but because they are people. For the same reason, we must condemn those who few who want to turn a movement against a massacre into a movement for a massacre, or even low-level thuggery. Assaults on Jewish people, Zionists or not, bring disrepute on our movement (just as the assaults by right wing Zionist activists on pro-Palestinian demonstrators have brought shame on the other side). Assaults and insults have nothing to do with liberating Palestine. All they do is harden the sense of isolation experienced by British Jews, and spur the conviction that they must defend themselves at home, and Israel abroad.
Only those who oppose anti-Semitism really support the Palestinians as real, living people, rather than the ‘Palestinians’ as an abstract idea with which to beat Israel, or Jews. Those who really support the Palestinians acknowledge and respect what is human in them; that is the same thing which is human in all of us. And those who see this cannot hate any ethnic group.
There are Israeli citizens who would go to prison rather than serve in the occupation forces of Israel, and others who have been shot by the Israeli army protesting with Palestinians. Some of the best propagandists on behalf of the Palestinian people are Jewish, including Avi Shlaim, Noam Chomsky, Uri Avnery, Adam Keller and Norman Finkelstein – although we may disagree with some of their views. There were many Jews – and at least one Jewish Israeli citizen – in the crowds besieging the embassy gates last weekend. There would have been more if our movement did not contain a real strain of anti-Jewish hatred.
It is real. It is not simply a myth dreamt up by Zionist propagandists, this strain is real. I have seen it, and though it is a minority trend, it is sickening. It is cowardice to ignore it.
There are grey areas. I do not personally think that everyone who waves a Hizbullah flag is necessarily anti-Semitic, because the people who hold these banners do not generally understand, or have not fully considered, the implications of what they are saying. They may take any number of different positions on what the politics of Hizbullah in fact are. When people chant ‘from the river, to the sea’, they could mean many things. Are they, like Hizb ut-Tahrir, in favour of the invading Arab armies crushing Israel? Or are they in favour of a one state settlement based on democratic rights for all? In fact, most people are probably not that sure. There is an ongoing contest for the grounds on which these ideas will be understood. As socialists, I argue we should contend in that.
Many people seem to feel a certain hesitation in speaking out against or confronting anti-Semitism (right there and then, when it is heard or seen), partly because that accusation has been over used by Israeli chauvinists and partly because they are almost shocked into silence. But we must have courage in our convictions. Jews, Israelis, all people, must be part of our movement, but there is no place for racism of any kind. We must offer our solidarity, physical if appropriate, to all Jewish people targeted because of their background; and should continue to argue for a movement based on the international unity of all those under attack by capitalism, nationalism, and war. In Isaac Babel’s words, we should struggle for “the international of good people”, not only in defence of Gaza, but in defence of us all.
On this basis, we must continue to involve ourselves in the movement against occupation and massacre in Gaza.
 Technically, Palestinians are ‘Semitic’ too: but ‘anti-Semitism’ is commonly understood to mean hatred of Jewish people, and I use that conventional understanding here.
 In any case, the comparison is wrong. In terms of scale, the Nazis killed hundreds of times as many more people. Furthermore, while Jewish Israelis are under the influence of the sort of nationalist chauvinism which is common to most wars, including those fought by this country, they are not, in general, tacitly or otherwise, in support of the extermination of an entire people. To be sure, in a very real way, the Palestinians are dehumanised by many Israelis; and on some level all nationalisms have features in common (including those of Britain, Russia, etc.). But Palestinians have not been dehumanised in an equivalent way to the Jews in Nazi Germany; there is no broad acceptance of a programme for extermination. These are real, and important differences. Slogans such as “Zionism = Nazism”, or similar, are hysterical, absurd, and prevent us reaching out to everyone who is fond of neither hysteria nor absurdity.