According to the on-line dictionary, McCarthyism broadly means “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.” Initially used during the period in the United States from the mid to late 1950s against communists, as well as a campaign spreading fear of their influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents, it is a term that is also now used to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as to character assassinate political adversaries.
The author Albert Fried in his excellent documented account of the McCarthy era noted that accusations invariably based on inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person’s real or supposed leftist associations or beliefs, were often greatly exaggerated. Consequently, many people suffered loss of employment and/or destruction of their careers while others served time in prison. Most of these punishments came about through trial verdicts later overturned.
Over recent weeks, instances of alleged antisemitism by a handful of marginal ‘leftists’ such as the principled Jewish socialist, Tony Greenstein and the eccentric Gerry Downing, have been brought into the public domain mainly by the Jewish press as well as leading labour figures within the PLP, many of whom are clearly intent on exaggerating this metaphorical ‘storm in a teacup’ by suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn is somehow tolerant of antisemitism within his party. This is the ugliest form of political opportunism possible, the intention of which is to undermine Corbyn’s leadership in order that the narrow political ambitions of those smearing him will be the first in line to argue for his ousting.
Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, appears willing to say and do almost anything at the drop of a hat to undermine and discredit Corbyn. He has recently changed his position on Israel, clearly in a cynical attempt to appeal to the Jewish community for the £9.7 million worth of funds which dried up following the run-up to the General Election last May. However, it’s the Labour Friends of Israel rump within the PLP that seems to be behind most of the significant attacks which can best be described as a ‘purge’.
It is, however, the banning of pro-Palestinian activist Gill Kaffash which arguably best highlights the nature of the extent to which some within the party appear to be intent on purging ‘antisemitic’ activists as part of a wider power struggle. Kaffash’s ‘crime’ was to question the Holocaust narrative which she claimed:
“should be challenged because of its use to justify Israeli/Jewish exceptionalism. The Labour Party… has its sacred myths. Along with most of society it appears to believe that the Holocaust is an exception to normal historical study. It is concerned primarily with retaining the support and financial backing of Jews. It is the accusation of anti-Semitism which terrifies everyone, not the possible existence of real anti-Semitism….I have never felt or expressed hatred towards Jews in general, nor towards individual Jews. I feel anger towards certain Jews and groups of Jews because of the way they treat others including me, and do so as Jews.
Paul Eisen once told me that the most anti-Semitic thing I said is that Jews are just ordinary people like everyone else… I am guilty of not discriminating in favour of Jews. The proof of my anti-Semitism relies on guilt by association and circular reasoning: only anti-Semites question the Holocaust, you question the Holocaust so you must be anti-Semitic, you are anti-Semitic so questioning the Holocaust is anti-Semitic.”
All these shenanigans seemed to have prompted Jamie Palmer to write a broader historical and intellectual analysis of antisemitism within the European Left. Nowhere does Palmer mention the ideological and historical links between Zionism and Hitler fascism. In 1933, for example, the Zionist Federation of Germany sent a memorandum of support to the Nazis which said:
“On the foundation of the new [Nazi] state which has established the principle of race, we wish to fit our community into the total structure so that for us, too, in the sphere assigned to us, fruitful activity for the Fatherland is possible.”
Later that year, the World Zionist Organization congress defeated a resolution for action against Hitler by a vote of 240 to 43.
Leading Nazis like Joseph Goebbels wrote articles praising Zionism, and some Zionists received Nazi funds. A member of the Haganah, a Zionist militia in Palestine, delivered the following message to the German SS in 1937:
“Jewish nationalist circles…were very pleased with the radical German policy, since the strength of the Jewish population in Palestine would be so far increased thereby that in the foreseeable future the Jews could reckon upon numerical superiority over the Arabs”.
The Zionist movement went so far as to oppose changes in the immigration laws of the U.S. and Western Europe, which would have permitted more Jews to find refuge in these countries. In 1938, David Ben-Gurion, who was to become the first prime minister of Israel, wrote:
“If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael [greater Israel], then I would opt for the second alternative.”
This philosophy was put into practice. As the author Ralph Schoenman notes:
“Throughout the late thirties and forties, Jewish spokespersons in Europe cried out for help, for public campaigns, for organized resistance, for demonstrations to force the hand of allied governments–only to be met not merely by Zionist silence but by active Zionist sabotage of the meager efforts which were proposed or prepared in Great Britain and the United States.
The dirty secret of Zionist history is that Zionism was threatened by the Jews themselves. Defending the Jewish people from persecution meant organizing resistance to the regimes which menaced them. But these regimes embodied the imperial order which comprised the only social force willing or able to impose a settler colony on the Palestinian people. Hence, the Zionists needed the persecution of the Jews to persuade Jews to become colonizers afar, and they needed the persecutors to sponsor the enterprise.”
Rather then mention the racist and fascist ideology pertaining to Zionism, Palmer prefers to focus on the supposed irreconcilable nature of Jews/Zionism and the left. Palmer writes:
“Over the past few years, a palpable sense of alarm has been quietly growing amongst Jews on the European Left. At the heart of an often-fraught relationship lies the following dilemma: The vast majority of Jews are Zionist, and the vast majority of Left-wing opinion is not.”
Palmer doesn’t substantiate his contention that “the vast majority of Jews are Zionist.” In the United States a silent majority of the diaspora have never supported Zionism, while others less silent refuse to accept that the destructively nationalistic ideology of political Zionism represent them or their identity as Jews.
Unperturbed, Palmer continues:
“But the problem goes beyond the question of Israel itself. It also involves a general sense that the Left is unconcerned with Jewish interests and unwilling to take the matter of rising anti-Semitism seriously, preferring instead to dismiss it as a consequence of Israeli policies or a censorious attempt to close down discussion of the same. The horror with which many Jews greeted the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party was outstripped only by the realization that his supporters felt that his fondness for the company of anti-Semites was unworthy of their concern.”
The crude appeal to sectarianism that Palmer evokes, predicated on inconclusive or questionable evidence indicative of the perceived beliefs attributable to no more than a handful of marginal political figures, is the kind of exaggerated feature of the McCarthy witch hunts outlined above. While not suggesting that Corbyn is an antisemite by name, the inference of guilt by association is clear. Politically, the purpose of the misuse of antisemitism, is to quash all legitimate criticisms of the Israel state and its oppression of the Palestinian people. As is the case with the inappropriate and liberal use of a word like ‘fascism’, the result of the demonization of all those who question Zionist narratives, is to devalue antisemitism, thereby undermining any genuine attempts at dealing with it.
Ultimately, Labour’s Zionism problem is far bigger than any perceived problems the party has with antisemitism. Claims of this kind, no matter how absurdly politicised they happen to be, are poured over and scrutinized at length by the political hierarchy of the Labour Party machine. The same cannot be said in relation to addressing the parties Zionism problem. Israel’s ‘friends’ within the PLP continue to remain silent about the illegal ongoing dispossession of Palestinians from their land, the historical Zionist programme of ethnic cleansing and the fascist aspiration for Eretz Yisrael (Greater Israel) of which Cast Lead and Protective Edge are integral aspects.