antisemitism,  Book Review,  The Left

Review and interview with Dave Rich

Guest post by by Karl Pfeifer

Dave Rich, author of “The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism,” is the deputy director of communications at the Community Security Trust, a group that monitors anti-Semitic incidents and provides protection services.

I can only recommend his book, which reveals how people on the British Left have tried to make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how much of the Left stopped loving Israel, how some leftists moved from Anti-Apartheid to Anti-Zionism, how anti-racists banned Jews.

Nowadays leftist anti-Semites do not just deny antisemitism, they accuse Israel’s supporter of dishonesty and intimidation. David Hirsh named this phenomenon the Livingstone-Formulation, after Ken Livingstone wrote in 2006 that, “For far too long the accusation of anti-Semitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.”

This came after he had told a Jewish journalist that he was behaving like a “concentration camp guard.”

Will his suggestion to “understand and appreciate the central place that Israel now holds in global Jewish life and Jewish identity while also campaigning for Palestinian rights” be heeded by leftwing antisemites? As long as the extreme Left does not understand Zionism’s essence as a national liberation movement of European origin that offered a solution to the modern Jewish Question in a world of nationalities, they will look on the Israel-Palestinian conflict as one that must end by the liquidation of the Jewish and democratic state of Israel.

Dave Rich has published a crisply written, balanced and comprehensive work for anyone interested to repair the rift between Jews and the Left in Britain.

Is it not strange that an Austrian journalist who was asked frequently about antisemitism in Austria has to make an interview with a British expert on antisemitism in the UK?

Every country has its history and its pattern how antisemitism operates and it is different from one country to the next, the antisemitism in Austria how it worked over the centuries is different from in the UK. However, that does not mean that there is no antisemitism in the UK. Of course there is. It has a long history. In medieval times, there was a very potent and lethal form of antisemitism. Therefore, we have our own patterns in each country and each one carries its own dangers.

When after the Second World War the Labour leaders Attlee and Bevin made anti-Zionist and antisemitic declarations, they did it in the perceived interest of the British Empire. Now when people from the left of Labour make anti-Zionist and antisemitic declarations they make it because they reject the British Empire and colonialism. Is it the same or is it not?

That is an interesting observation because leftwing antisemitism has a lot to do with anticolonial politics and with a kind of reaction to the history of the empire and the history of colonialism. It is strange how the British Left looks at the world. The empire is seen as intrinsically a bad thing and all anticolonial movements are respected and praised as freedom fighters in the mythology of the left. Except for the Zionist insurgency against British colonial presence in Mandate Palestine in 1946 and 1947. Jonathan Spyer made the point to me, that Palestine was the only anti-colonial struggle where it was OK for people of the British Left to support the British troops. The anticolonial fighters even called them terrorists and the British troops the good guys. It was the complete opposite of how the left has seen every other anticolonial struggle.

How come David Hirsh, a real sweet person who could not harm a fly, is attacked in a London university by students who smear him on the blackboard as a “Zionist” and as a “bitter Jew”?

It was in the Student Union, but we do not know if it was a student. It could have been a student, an academic or some other staff, could have been any one. The university has given Hirsh good support. David himself stated, when you have a policy that not only extreme rightwing Zionism but every form of Zionism is intrinsically racism and all Zionists are racists, when racism is not welcome in student unions at universities what follows is that you want to get rid of Zionists. So that becomes personalized, you want to get rid of David Hirsh. This is what I wrote in my book. If you have Jewish students societies being banned in some students union in the 1970s 1980s, it seems logical that the people who do it think it is antiracist. In addition, the person who wrote this about David Hirsh I am sure imagines to have made an antiracist statement.

How do you see the relations between the Jewish community and Labour? Once most British Jews voted for Labour. Now the situation is changing.

Yes, it has been changing for a long time. Traditionally if you look after the Second World War, most Jews were Labour voters. That began to change by the 1980ies maybe even by the 1970s because the Jewish community was changing, was no longer an immigrant community. It was now predominantly a professional middle class community. At the same time, you have a rise of anti-Zionism on the left and you have a reduction of traditional antisemitism on the Right.

When you say Right, you mean the Tories?

The Tories forget the far Right. The kind of old English antisemitism started to break up…

In clubs?

That kind of thing and Margret Thatcher was a member of parliament for Finchley with a very strong Jewish constituency, she was supportive of the Jewish community in many ways in the 1980s as prime minister and her brand of entrepreneurial capitalism really appealed to many people in the Jewish community. By then you started to see a significant change in voting patterns.

When Tony Blair was leader of Labour and prime minister there was very strong support for him in the Jewish community. That started to reduce under Ed Miliband as Labour leader.

Nevertheless, after Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader there is a real collapse of Jewish support for Labour. Now the support for the Labour party is as low as it can be possibly low; any Jewish people who still vote Labour would always vote Labour regardless of who is the leader.

Recently under Tony Blair, there was strong support for the Labour party. That support would still be there if the Labour party went back to the kind of party, it was 15-20 years ago.

However, the question is whether the Labour party would ever go back, because not only the leader has been changed but the whole membership has changed as well.

This year we will have 100 years anniversary of the Balfour-Declaration. Do you believe that Corbyn will continue with his line that this Declaration was a huge mistake? Theresa May said there will be festivities, will Jeremy Corbyn be against them?

There will be definitely a protesting campaign against the Balfour-Declaration by all the regular pro-Palestinian campaign groups. If Jeremy Corbyn were not leader of the Labour party, he would be involved in those hundred percent. The fact that he is the leader of the Labour party has changed things for him. His line on Israel and Zionism has changed since he became leader of the party. He has compromised his position. He is seen as a man of firm principles, who never changes his mind. There are people in the pro-Palestinian movement in this country who are very disappointed with him. Because since he became leader of the party, he said for example that he is for two states. What he will say about the Balfour-Declaration I do not know. I am sure he will not say it was a good thing.

Nevertheless, he may not be involved in the protests against it as he would have been if he still were a backbencher.

How do you think Brexit would affect Jews in Britain?

It depends on what will happen with Brexit. It has already contributed to an atmosphere where there is the perception that racism and xenophobia is being expressed more publicly and the figures of hate crime suggest that is on increase and that will have an effect on the level of antisemitism.