People love solving problems, sometimes too much. Sometimes they create the problems just to solve them.
At the moment in the Labour party is straining to show that it does not tolerate anti-Semitism, but to do so it is targeting for suspension anyone who targets Israel for criticism as this has become accepted now – by some – as a form of anti-Semitism. This moving of the definition of anti-Semitism is not a new thing. It was a hot topic of debate earlier in the century when Jews were persecuted in World War 2. At that time the central question was whether Jews were a religion or a race. If they were a religion, then it would be legitimate to criticise their beliefs and practices, but if it were a race then it would be unfair to attack someone just because of something they were born with. Despite the fact that there are racially very diverse Jews: black Jews, Indian Jews, even Chinese Jews the dogma has become established that criticism of Judaism was equivalent to racism. The fact is, it is not racism, just as hostility to Islam – Islamophobia – is also not racism.
More recently, the argument has been made that if people single out for criticism the state of Israel, then the only reason they are picking on “the Jewish state” must be because they are anti-Semites. While this argument may seem plausible, there may be many other reasons for this. One of them could be that the person has a personal desire to see Israel be a better example to the world because they are a Jew and get frustrated by Israeli behaviour. This may well be the case for the key labour figures being suspended who are both Jewish and anti-Zionist campaigners.
The identification of anti-Zionist with anti-Semite is indeed a new distortion of reality, similar to the way anti-Semitism was identified with racism. It has been pushed for quite a while. I wrote an official position paper for MCB on the subject over 15 years ago refuting this equation. But the best refutation can perhaps be made by the founder of Zionism Theodor Hertzl who said:
“The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”
(The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl. Vol. 1, edited by Raphael Patai, translated by Harry Zohn, page 83-84)
Indeed there are many ardent Christian Zionists, who love the idea of kicking out the Jews and sending them all to Israel. That is after all what Zionism is all about: separation and segregation of the Jewish people. The Ghetto is seen as a sacred idea in Judaism where Jews can keep themselves pure – a ‘Pakistan’ / a pure land – and, from the perspective of those hostile to Jews, seeking to send them away, it is also seen a purification of their own countries. This desire for separation and isolation is a dangerous one, albeit to some extent it is a natural one. We fear contamination from others, moral, cultural and sometimes there are racial contamination fears too. This is the undeniable reality of Jews who identify themselves as a race – despite the absurdity – and for the Jewish state which therefore has as its raison d’être preserving racial purity.
Just as ISIS, the so-called “Islamic State”, and all it proclaimed became a problem for Muslims all around the world, the Jewish problem is the state of Israel and all that it represents. It is the identification of Jews as a race and therefore as a racist nation. Those opposed to it are often the most fervent anti-racists. Many of them are Jews and see Judaism as something that could and should be far better presented in the world. Some are devout Jews such as the Neturei Karta and the True Torah Jews.
The false equation of anti-Zionist with anti-Semite needs to be resisted just as much if not more than any assertion that Muslims are terrorists. There have been many examples throughout history where very diverse communities live together, mix together, work together, marry one another and all get on without losing their religious and cultural identities. This open society is not for all perhaps, at least not for all of the time, sometimes we feel the need to retreat into our safe spaces. This need, however should not erect permanent or impermeable barriers between us. We must allow people to be safe but always insist that they must have a way out, without that, safety becomes tyranny. The channels of communication must stay open because when they close then ignorance is imposed, and from ignorance we get fear, and from fear, hatred, and from hatred, violence.