By Gilad Atzmon
The relationship between Zionism and the Jews has been the source of confusion for many years. Both Zionists and the so called ‘anti’ have preached to us that ‘not all Jews are Zionists’ and ‘Judaism is not Zionism.’
But we are confused no more. Two weeks ago, the chief rabbi of Britain together with 68 other rabbis mounted pressure on the Labour party to change its ‘antisemitsm code.’ The British rabbis were upset because, although Labour generally adopted the IHRA's working definition of anti-Semitism, left out of Labour’s definition were four examples from the IHRA that restrict criticism of Israel* The Labour party seems to believe that it is kosher to criticise an ethnic cleansing state that deploys snipers against unarmed protestors. Chief Rabbi Mirvis couldn’t agree less. He told the BBC that it is "astonishing that the Labour Party presumes it is more qualified to define anti-Semitism than the Jewish community.” The clear message is that, at least from a rabbinical perspective, the distinction between Zionism and Judaism is nebulous to nonexistent.
Last Friday the so-called British Jewish ‘establishment’ went a dangerous step further. Britain’s three main Jewish newspapers were emblazoned with identical front pages. Under the headline “United We Stand”, they all claimed that a Jeremy Corbyn-led government would be an “existential threat to Jewish life” in the UK. The British Jewish leadership insists that Britain’s No.1 anti-racist is a Hitler type. I would like to believe that this is just the latest phase in Jewish humour. But the Jewish papers appeared damn serious. Stephen Pollard, Editor of the JC, said in a Sky interview, that while a teeny tiny minority of British Jews are fine with what is going on with the Labour party, “we are saying to the Jewish community, we’re united, the media is united behind you, the community is united.” It seems that the Jewish media establishment also sees the alleged ‘dichotomy’ between Jews and Zionists as a false dichotomy.
Since the British Jewish leadership seems to be united more than ever, we are left with no other option but to dig into the belly of the beast in order to grasp what seems an unprecedented outburst of collective Jewish Corbyn phobia.
I admit that, like the British Jewish leadership, I am upset by Corbyn and Labour’s attitude to the IHRA definition. My reasons though are very different. I would expect the Labour party to adhere to its universal values and reject the IHRA definition altogether. This is an anti universalist definition. It prefers one people over all the rest.
Racism and bigotry, I hope we all agree, are bad. But racism and bigotry are not that difficult to define. We are dealing with an expression of hatred or discrimination against X for being X (X might be Black, a Woman, a Jew, a Gay person, or a member of any other such group). This definition is universal and sufficient to tackle any form of racism including anti Jewish bigotry. In contrast, the IHRA's working definition of anti-Semitism suggests that Jews are actually not people like all other people. We have yet to see an international working definition of racism against Blacks or a working definition that addresses anti Muslim bigotry. The IHRA's working definition confirms that Jews, at least in their eyes, are somehow chosen. The fact that British institutions have adopted such an exclusivist definition may suggest that Britain is drifting away from its universal heritage. This is, obviously, an alarming news for everyone including Jews.
That the IHRA's working definition is treated as an ‘international’ definition and is pushed globally by different pro Israeli pressure groups also suggests that, at least in the eyes of leading Jewish bodies, Jews are once again hated globally. I do not believe that this is the case, but the Jews who buy into this tormenting line of thought should ask themselves how this is happening again just 70 years after the Holocaust. After all, this is exactly what Zionism and Israel vowed to prevent.
Zionism promised to make Jews people like all other people. Early Zionists thinkers diagnosed some very problematic traits in Jewish diaspora culture. The Labour Zionists were upset by what they saw as the ‘non-proletarian’ nature of Jewish diaspora society. They were disturbed by the proximity between Jews and capital. They were also troubled by a lack of proletarian spirit amongst their brethren. Some early Zionists including Herzl were worried about the concept of the ‘court Jew,’ the Jew who bought political influence through financial support of monarchs and royals. In that regard, early Zionism promised to take the Jews away - to relieve the Goyim of Jewish political lobbying and pressure groups.
If we examine the IHRA's working definition within a Zionist ideological framework we find that the definition may provide the most anti Zionist statement in Zionist history. The definition highlights the notion that Jews aren’t people like all other people but are in need of special and particular treatment. The definition treats the Zionist’s promise to make the Jews respected and loved as a complete failure, and it contemplates that antisemitsm is back. The IHRA’s definition also confirms that the Jewish State is not a state like all other states; no other state bothers to restrict criticism of its politics by others.
As things stand, the only genuine principled Zionist left in the world of politics is Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy, like the early Zionists, insists that Jews are indeed people like all other people. Jeremy believes that Israel is a state like all other states and is, accordingly, subject to criticism.
Jeremy’s blunt anti racism is at the core of the Jewish leadership’s feud with him. Jeremy preaches to the Brits a simple unifying message namely, ‘For The Many Not The Few.’ The Jewish leadership and their embarrassing IHRA definition seem to push the opposite -- For the few, not the many.
To support Gilad's legal costs
* Examples of antisemitsm’ rejected by the Labour Party:
1. Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country
2. Claiming that Israel's existence as a state is a racist endeavour
3. Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations
4. Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis