The Labour Party, and the Jewish question

Lots of news about antisemitism in the Labour Party lately. From historical comments made when some politicians were young and impulsive, to personal attacks on Twitter. Some of the concerns seem to be very real, but others perhaps inflated in their importance, and their meaning slightly skewed.

I was a member of the Labour Party for a long time. During that time, I never heard one antisemitic statement, or a single word against anyone Jewish, based on their religion. I also didn’t hear anything bad said about or against people who were black or Asian, religious or atheist. In many ways, it was a party where political correctness found an early voice, and women were as active in the party (and as welcome) as men too.

There were people we didn’t like of course. Far Right supporters, old-school Tories, (any Tories in fact) wishy-washy Liberals, and even some of the Labour stalwarts of the day, including Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. Most of us were opposed to the House of Lords, many of us were in favour of a republic, with no Royal Family, and we didn’t have much time for people like Margaret Thatcher later on, that’s for sure. But I never heard a word mentioned about Jews, or someone even being called ‘Jewish’, in an insulting sense.

Very few of us approved of Israel. That country was dominated by right-wing politicians, interfering in other countries like Lebanon, and being tough on its own Palestinian population. Bullish, belligerent, unacceptable, fascist, Zionist, controlling, uncompromising. I did hear those words used to describe Israel, and I used some of them myself. (And still do) But it was never about the main religion of that country, Judaism. It was about the politics of a small nation, propped up by America, supported by international financiers, and constantly citing The Holocaust as a ‘reasonable excuse’ to behave in a fashion that was unacceptable to many of us on the Left of politics.

Even then, valid criticism of Israel was attacked as antisemitic. It was, and still is, a very easy ‘get out’. If somebody criticises that country, they are immediately labelled as an anti-semite, or a racist, and face censure and disgrace, in some circles. It would appear that Israel is supposed to have a ‘get out of jail free’ card for life, and no matter what they do, or how their armed forces behave, woe betide anyone who protests those actions, for you must also be against their religion, obviously.

But that accusation could not be further from the truth. No different to someone being critical of Irish or Italian politics, with no mention of the main religion of Catholicism in those countries. If I write or say something against Saudi Arabia, does that mean I am an anti-Muslim racist? Of course not. Jewish people really do have to get over this idea of equating attacks against Israel with antisemitism. It just isn’t true, and it doesn’t convince anyone. (Anyone sensible, anyway)

For clarity, I should add that it is a long time since I was in the Labour Party, and hold no brief for that party, or any of its politicians or party members.

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15 comments

  1. 2581john

    Hi Pete, interesting topic. Of course there is a problem with anti semitism in the Labour Party. Just as there are racists in the Tory party. It might not be at shadow cabinet NEC or PLP level but it is has to be present. There is an historic antipathy between Jews and Muslims and as 85% of British Muslim voters voted Labour in the 2017 election there must be jew hating voters among them. Labour is very careful to put Jewish candidates in Jewish or Christian areas with very low Muslim demographics (Liverpool, Doncaster, the Jewish ‘enclaves’ of north London for example) and its no surprise that it was a Khan and not a Kaufman who followed in Sadiq’s footsteps in Tooting with its 20% Muslim demographic. It will be interesting to see who replaces the old Labour Scottish mp in Tower Hamlets when he retires. The other TH mp is a Muslim. As 65% of Jewish voters are Tory, it would be disastrous for the Labour Party to alienate its grass roots Muslim voters by defending the Jewish minority. So they turn a blind eye to an inconvenient truth. The argument about Israel is a red herring. It is what is happening here that counts. I fear that the present day Labour Party is no longer the party of John Smith.

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    Liked by 1 person

    • beetleypete

      Thanks for your thoughts, Keith. For me, Israel is the question, and the only one that concerns me. But I take your points of course, and know exactly where you are coming from with that argument.
      Cheers mate, Pete.

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  2. By Hook Or By Book ~ Book Reviews, News, & Other Stuff

    I like you and everyone here do not agree with many of Israel’s policies, especially in regards to the Palestinians. I don’t understand how they can’t see what they’re doing what they themselves have been victims of for centuries. I’m half Jewish so I’m definitely not anti-Semitic. Yet I remember being accused of being a traitor by a conservative Jewish colleague of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. toritto

    Good points Pete. I too find Israeli policies abhorrent and fascistic. They are practicing apartheid right before our eyes. And it is right to criticize them. As for being Jewish, who cares? As a quiet atheist I find all religion to be hangovers of superstitious medieval nonsense. Besties. We’re too old to worry about it all. I am anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lara/Trace

    I do not hate. But I object that the Israel Empire is treating Palestine (whose people are also Jews) to genocide and horror. (It reminds me so much of what happened here in North American to First Nations. As if genocide can ever be justified) It’s obvious Israel is anti-Semitic. Their righteousness is phony.

    Liked by 1 person

    • beetleypete

      Thanks for your thoughts, Lara. I have long been opposed to Israeli policies, domestic and foreign. But it seems that as long as America exists, Israel will have carte blanche to do as it likes.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Eddy Winko

    I’ve heard a little bit about this on the news and I still cant work out what all the fuss is about, it seems to be out blown out of all proportion. Like you I have no time for the policies of Israel but I never for a moment hold anything against anyone based on religion. Sadly from what I know about the system over there the population as a whole is brainwashed by the government when they serve their national service. You might go in with liberal or left leaning thoughts but you tend to come out with a right wing view of the situation, and god help you if you say anything bad about the state.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. democratizemoney

    You say that in the Labor Party, when you were it, “it was a party where political correctness found an early voice.” As best I can determine, political correctness is avoiding or not using forms of expression that are exclusionary, insulting or marginalizing people who otherwise have been the discriminated against or disadvantaged in a society. What this, ‘found an early voice,’ tells me is that while it was not expressed, members could still hold beliefs that were exclusionary, insulting or marginalized those not like themselves. The problems with the political correctness movement is it assumed silence on the questions of: Who do you hate? Or, who do you feel is inferior to you? Or who do you think is absurd? Advocates of political correctness seemed to think that silence would change the feelings or thoughts. However, at least in my environment, I have seen parents teach their children to harbor these prejudiced notions without expressing them in the broader community. Hence, if one wants to achieve the goal of excluding, marginalizing or insulting others based on what people think, one needs to get into some means for changing the thoughts to mirror the objective—equality of all.
    I do apologize for getting hung-up on political correctness.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

    • beetleypete

      I can only agree, Theo. Political Correctness was one of the reasons I fell out with that party eventually. It morphed into ‘positive discrimination’, when female and black members were chosen above others better qualified so as to be seen to offer ‘wider representation’.
      And you are right that some members may have held beliefs that would have been unacceptable publicly, without expressing them. But if so, I never heard them, even in private. I used the term ‘early voice’, because at the time, The Labour Party was one of the few places where political correctness was to be found. But it was mainly to illustrate the general point that no members would have said (or did say) anything remotely antisemitic, whether they harboured that prejudice, or not.
      However, many of us were frequently very critical of Israel as a country.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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