“First, let me declare my credentials.
I’m Jewish. My grandparents were penniless refugees from pogroms in the Tsarist Russian empire. My maternal grandfather was the victim of an anti-Semitic murder in Britain. My father, a left Labour MP for 33 years, was a Zionist. In 1940 he was elected chair of the British section of the World Jewish Congress.
In this capacity he was among the first to warn the world about Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question” and to mount a worldwide campaign to save European Jewry from genocide. Three days after my birth, he visited the newly liberated Buchenwald and Belsen Nazi concentration camps as a member of a parliamentary delegation.
After the war he campaigned vigorously against the Labour Government’s military attacks on Jewish migrants to Palestine, largely concentration-camp survivors. In my early teens, as well as a member of the Young Socialists I was also a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth organisation, members of which had led the heroic Warsaw ghetto uprising.
I joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 and have been a member all my life, with the exception of the “New Labour” years. Of course I have encountered manifestations of anti-Semitism in my life, but only once from a left activist, and never within the Labour Party.
In the rich cultural and political life of the Jews throughout the Russian empire and central Europe, organised in the socialist Bund, Zionism was always a fringe sect. It was only under the shadow of the swastika that it developed as an expression of mass defiance and desperation. In that sense, Zionism was an outgrowth of the holocaust, and subsequently a tragic failure. Settlement in Palestine has not after all offered the Jews lasting security; Jews are no safer in Israel today than in Europe and America.
I support Israel’s right to exist. Generations have grown up there in the last seventy years, and they have no other home. What I condemn is Israel’s identity as a racially-designated state in which non-Jews face discrimination and which acts as a regional military occupation power. Last week’s massacre of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza was a monstrous crime, no different from the bloodbaths in Sharpeville in South Africa in 1960, or in Amritsar in 1919, when British troops mowed down more than 1,000 peaceful demonstrators.
When people make glib and facile comparisons with the Nazis, I don’t necessarily ascribe their views to anti-Semitism, but I do consider them grossly misplaced. There is a difference between brutal colonial military repression – a practice of all regional capitalist super-powers, including British imperialism – and deliberate systematic racist genocidal extermination.
In the wake of the failure of past smear campaigns to brand Jeremy Corbyn a terrorist sympathiser or a Stalinist agent, the current hysteria is only the latest and most bizarre tactic by the Tories, the press billionaires and those same “New Labour” MPs who tried so hard to remove Jeremy Corbyn in the past.
It’s a new version of the fake “Zinioviev letter”, or of Churchill’s accusations in 1945 that Labour was going to establish a Gestapo police state. It is the Tory party that is riddled with racism through and through, from the 1905 Aliens Act that blocked Jewish emigration from the East European pogroms to the Right Club that was founded to “expose the activities of organised Jewry”, through Enoch Powell to Boris Johnson. It was the Daily Express which carried the infamous headline “JEWS DECLARE WAR ON GERMANY” and the Daily Mail which screamed “HURRAH FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS” in the 1930s and mounted a thinly-veiled Jew-baiting campaign against Miliband less than three years ago.
It’s time to fight back against the unscrupulous lies of the establishment and to defend with pride Labour’s – and specifically Jeremy Corbyn’s – consistent record of resistance to racism in all its forms.