By Moshé Machover, Israeli Occupation Archive — 19 Jan 2018
Introductory text based on Mondoweiss, 16 Jan 2018
This testimony is addressed to the Labour Party National Constitutional Committee in connection with its January 25, 2018 hearing called to consider false accusations of ‘antisemitism’ that have been made against Tony Greenstein by person or persons unknown.
Greenstein was suspended from Labour in 2016 when the remarks first came to light. He has maintained that the content was legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and not derogatory statements about Jews.
Moshé Machover, a British-Israeli activist, co-founder of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen) and member of the UK’s Labour Party, has prepared the following testimony in defense of Greenstein. (More on Moshé Machover immediately below the text.)
This testimony is addressed to the Labour Party National Constitutional Committee in connection with its hearing called to consider accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ that have been made against Tony Greenstein by person or persons unknown.
I am a dissident Israel citizen, born in Palestine in 1936. I have been living in London since 1968 and am naturalised British citizen. I am a member of the Labour Party, Queen’s Park branch (Hampstead & Kilburn Constituency).
I have known Tony Greenstein for over 40 years, as staunch socialist, active in defence of the rights of workers, in particular the unemployed, and against all racism, including anti-Semitism. In line with this, he is an uncompromising opponent of the Zionist project of colonisation and of Israel’s Zionist regime, which makes it a colonising settler state. He has devoted much scholarship and thorough research to the history of Zionism and the dialectic of its complex and paradoxical relationship with anti-Semitism. Having myself also done much reading on the subject, I find his statements on it well grounded in fact.
In what follows I address three related questions. In Section 2 I discuss the nature of Zionism. In Section 3 I discuss the conflation between opposition to Zionism and anti-Semitism. In Section 4 I deconstruct the deliberate mis-definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ and its weaponisation as a means of attacking left-wing critics of Israel.
2. What is Zionism
Zionism is a political movement that combines an ideology and a project. While – like most political movements – it comprises a variety of currents and shades of opinion, they all have a common core.
The core of Zionist ideology is the belief that the Jews of all countries constitute a single national entity rather than a mere religious denomination; and that this national entity has a right to self-determination, which it is entitled to exercise by reclaiming its historical (or god-given) homeland, which is pre-1948 Palestine (Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel).
Here, for example, is an authoritative formulation:
“Zionism is the national revival movement of the Jews. It holds that the Jews are a people and therefore have the right to self- determination in their own national home. It aims to secure and support a legally recognized national home for the Jews in their historical homeland, and to initiate and stimulate a revival of Jewish national life, culture and language.”1
However this claim begs a couple of questions. Do the totality of Jews constitute a nation in the modern secular sense, to which the right of national self-determination is applicable? This is at best extremely questionable, and has in fact been denied by many Jews, who assert cogently that Jewish identity is not national but primarily based on religion.
Thus, when Lucien Wolf, distinguished journalist and leading member of the Conjoint Foreign Committee of British Jews, was confronted with Chaim Weizmann’s effort to obtain what was to be known as the Balfour Declaration, he wrote a worried letter to James de Rothschild, dated August 31, 1916.
“Dear Mr. James de Rothschild,
“At the close of our conference with Dr. Weizmann on the 17th inst., you asked me to write you a letter defining my view.”
. . .
“I have thought over very carefully the various statements made to me by Dr. Weizmann, and, with the best will in the world, I am afraid I must say that there are vital and irreconcilable difference of principles and method between us.”
“The question of principle is raised by Dr. Weizmann’s assertion of a Jewish nationality. The assertion has to be read in the light of the authoritative essay on ‘Zionism and the Jewish Future’ recently published by Mr. Sacher, more especially those written by Dr. Weizmann himself and by Dr. Gaster. I understand from these essays that the Zionists do not merely propose to form and establish a Jewish nationality in Palestine, but that they claim all the Jews as forming at the present moment a separate and dispossessed nationality, for which it is necessary to find an organic political centre, because they are and must always be aliens in the lands in which they now dwell (Weizmann P. 6), and, more especially, because it is ‘an absolute self delusion’ to believe that any Jew can be at once ‘English by nationality and Jewish by faith’ (Gaster Pp. 92, 93). I have spent most of my life in com- bating these very doctrines, when presented to me in the form of anti-Semitism, and I can only regard them as the more dangerous when they come to me in the guise of Zionism. They constitute a capitulation to our enemies which has absolutely no justification in history, ethnology, or the facts of everyday life, and if they were admitted by the Jewish people as a whole, the result would only be that the terrible situation of our coreligionists in Russia and Romania would become the common lot of Jewry throughout the world.”2
And on May 24 1917, as negotiations that were to lead to the Balfour Declaration were at an advanced stage, Alexander and Claude Montefiore, presidents respectively of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and of the Anglo-Jewish Association, wrote a letter to the Times in the name of the Conjoint Committee of these two bodies, protesting against the fallacies and dangers of political Zionism. After declaring their adherence to Lucien Wolf’s position, the writers went on to say that the theories of political Zionism undermined the religious basis of Jewry to which the only alternative would be
“a secular Jewish nationality, recruited on some loose and obscure principle of race and of ethnographic peculiarity. But this would not be Jewish in any spiritual sense, and its establishment in Palestine would be a denial of all the ideals and hopes by which the survival of Jewish life in that country commends itself to the Jewish conscience and Jewish sympathy. On these grounds the Conjoint Committee of the Board of Deputies and the Anglo- Jewish Association deprecates earnestly the national proposals of the Zionists.”
“The second part in the Zionist programme which has aroused the misgivings of the Conjoint Committee is the proposal to invest the Jewish settlers [in Palestine] with certain special rights in excess of those enjoyed by the rest of the population. . . .”
“In all the countries in which Jews live the principle of equal rights for all religious denominations is vital to them. Were they to set an example in Palestine of disregarding this principle they would convict themselves of having appealed to it for purely selfish motives. In the countries in which they are still struggling for equal rights they would fi themselves hopelessly compromised. . . . The proposal is the more inadmissible because the Jews are and probably long will remain a minority of the population of Palestine, and might involve them in the bitterest feuds with their neighbours of other races and religions, which would severely retard their progress and find deplorable echoes throughout the Orient.”
The view – evidently held by these leaders of the British Jewish community – that Jewishness is religion-based rather than a national category relies on basic facts. Indeed, the only attribute shared by all Jews around the world is the religion, Judaism, practised by them or by their recent forebears. Further, a necessary and sufficient condition for a non-Jew to become Jewish is undergoing a religious conversion, giyyur. Thus Jews can belong to various nations: a Jew may be French, American, Italian, Scottish, etc. But Jewishness excludes other religious affiliations: a Jew cannot be Muslim, Hindu, or Roman Catholic.
Another fatal weakness of the justifications of Zionism as implementing an alleged right of Jewish national self-determination is that whatever group of people the right of national self-determination may apply to, it does not entitle them to pick and choose at will the territory over which they may exercise that right. Claims that the group’s alleged distant ancestors lived in the coveted territory many centuries ago, or that it was promised to them by a deity in whose existence many of them happen to believe, or that they have long wished to possess it, are simply not good enough. The right to self-determination certainly does not license any group to colonise a territory long inhabited by other people.
But the key fact about the Zionist project is precisely that it is a project of colonisation of Palestine, an inhabited land; and it is precisely this essential fact that is conveniently omitted by the definition of Zionism offered by its present-day propagandists. They avoid the word ‘colonisation’ like the proverbial plague; it has become too compromising.
Earlier Zionist leaders and ideologues had no such qualms. Thus, for example, Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940) – the political and spiritual progenitor of five Israeli prime ministers, including Binyamin Netanyahu3 – used in his seminal article ‘The iron wall’ (1923) the term ‘colonisation’ repeatedly and unselfconsciously to describe the Zionist project:
“Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel’. . . .”
“Colonisation can have only one aim, and Palestine Arabs cannot accept this aim. It lies in the very nature of things, and in this particular regard nature cannot be changed. . . .”
“Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regard- less of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power [i.e. Britain – MM] that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”4
Many years later, the Zionist historian Yigal Elam wrote:
“Zionism couldn’t appeal to the principle of self-determination and rely on it in Palestine. This principle worked clearly against it and in favour of the local Arab national movement. . . .”
“From the viewpoint of national theory, Zionism needed a fiction that was incompatible with the accepted concepts of national theory. . . . [It] needed a much broader conception than the simplistic one. In this other conception . . . referendum of the worlds Jews superseded referendum of the population of Palestine.”5
3. Anti-Zionism conflated with anti-Semitism
As we have seen, Zionism is a political ideology-cum-project. The State of Israel – a product of the Zionist project as well as an instrument for its continuation and extension – is, like any state, a political entity.
Israel has been in military occupation of the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip for over 50 years and is exercising harsh oppression over millions of Palestinian Arabs who have no civil or national rights. It has been avidly stealing their land and colonising it with illegal, exclusively Jewish settlements. Israel may not be worse in this respect than other states that ruled over other nations and colonised their land – for example, Britain in its former colonies, such as Kenya.6 But Israel is also no better than other colonising states, nor is there any reason to expect it to be any better: colonisation has its own logic, and generally involves harsh racist oppression and occasional atrocities, justified by the ‘need to keep order among the natives’. Israeli officially inspired and fomented racism is by now widely known and condemned.7
Opposition to Zionism and to the colonising regime and policies of Israel is therefore a legitimate political position. It only becomes illegitimate if it is motivated or accompanied by illegitimate motives or arguments, for example such as stem from generalised hatred or prejudice against Jews as Jews. But such illegitimate motives or arguments need to be proven before accusing an opponent of Zionism and Israel’s regime of ‘antisemitism’; they cannot simply be assumed or taken for granted. In the absence of proof, accusation or insinuation that anti-Zionist discourse and opposition to the Israeli regime are per se ‘anti-Semitic’ is a despicable calumny.
Nevertheless this kind of calumny has often been maliciously made; and latterly it is often directed against people on the left, including members of the Labour Party. I have been besmirched in this way by some Party officials – for which they have yet to apologise. And many others, including Tony Greenstein, are victims of similar character assassination.
Jews in the diaspora, including this country, are deeply divided in their attitude to Zionism and Israel. Many have made attachment to Israel part of their Jewish identity, as a supplement – and in some cases as a surrogate to their religion, They support Israel ‘right or wrong’ and tend to assume that hostility to Zionism must be motivated by anti-Semitism.
But an increasing number of Jews have a very different attitude: they are deeply offended by the actions of a state that claims to be the ‘nation- state of the Jewish people’, and professes to represent all Jews and act on their behalf. They abhor the implication that they, as Jews, are complicit in Israel’s crimes. Jewish opponents of Zionism include many secular Jews, as well as the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi ) community, whose long-standing and deep-seated hostility to Zionism is based on their religious faith.8
Opposition to Zionism has been increasing among younger Jews, especially those on the left, including the Labour Party. This is the firm impression I have formed through extensive contacts and it was indeed corroborated by events and general atmosphere at the Party conference in September 2017. This trend is not fully reflected in the various polls and surveys that purport to show much Jewish support for Israel. The reason is that these polls suffer from an inbuilt statistical bias. Since there is no database listing all Jews in Britain, the samples used by the polls miss out on the very large number of persons of Jewish background who are not affiliated to any synagogue or other official or semi-official Jewish organisation. And it is those not included in the sample space who tend to be less inclined to Zionism and attachment to Israel.
4. Deliberate mis-definition of ‘anti-Semitism’
Jewish opposition to Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land and oppression of the Palestinian people is part of a growing trend in progressive public opinion around the world. This is reflected in the rapid growth of the global campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), aiming to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to end its violations of international law.
Faced with this serious damage to its image, the Israeli government has taken steps to attack and discredit its critics by a variety of means, fair and foul. World-wide operations with this object are orchestrated by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Since 2015, this ministry is headed by cabinet member Gilad Erdan, who is also minister of internal security and information. Erdan himself is on record stating that his “achievements should be kept hush-hush”.9 The Guardian, reporting on his secret meeting in London in September 2017 with disgraced Tory minister Priti Patel (following her return from a ‘holiday’ in Israel), comments that “Erdan’s ministry was asked in 2015 to ‘guide, coordinate and integrate the activities of all the ministers and the government and of civil entities in Israel and abroad on the subject of the struggle against attempts to delegitimise Israel and the boycott movement’. . . . Erdan has been put in charge of large-scale efforts to target foreign individuals and organisation,” and his staff is “recruited from the Mossad foreign intelligence agency, the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, and the military intelligence directorate.”10
One of the main weapons in these “efforts to target foreign individuals and organisations” who criticise Israel, especially those who support BDS, is to accuse them of ‘antisemitism’. In this campaign, Erdan’s operatives in foreign countries harness local pro-Israel lobbies. An expose of how such an undercover operative, Shai Masot, worked in this country, and his attempts to meddle in the Labour Party, was provided in January 2017 by Al Jazeera in a fascinating four-part TV series, The Lobby.11
Since Tony Greenstein’s accusers are concealed behind a veil of anonymity, it is impossible to ascertain whether, or to what extent, their efforts (which involved formidable trawling for ‘incriminating’ material) received help, encouragement and guidance from Erdan’s operatives. But in light of the Al Jazeera revelations – which included illustration of false accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ – this supposition cannot be entirely ruled out. In order to dispel suspicions of this kind, the identity of the accusers must be made known and they must be subjected to cross examination, as natural justice demands.
A weapon regularly used in the false accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ is the set of 11 illustrative Examples appended to the so-called working definition of anti-Semitism proposed by a U.S.-based group calling itself “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance” (IHRA). To the best of my knowledge, the Labour Party has not adopted the illustrative Examples, but only the definition itself:
“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be ex- pressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
However, the accusations made against Tony Greenstein quote the illustrative Examples and make extensive use of them. While the definition itself is in my opinion unsatisfactory, it is the Examples that are deeply problematic. Most of them are concerned not with Jews as such but with Israel, and are deliberately designed to ring-fence Israel against robust criticism and conflate hostility to its Zionist regime with ‘anti-Semitism’. These Examples have indeed been harshly criticises by eminent legal authorities: Hugh Tomlinson QC,12 and retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley.13
Please consult these authoritative opinions and note their warning that applying the Examples may well conflict with the right to free speech. Here I will illustrate the absurdity of the Examples by examining two of them.
Example 7 of alleged ant-Semitism appended to the IHRA definition is:
“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor .”
Now, as Sir Stephen Sedley has pointed out, this begs several questions. Let me spell them out.
- What is the relationship between the first and second part of this example? How does the e.g. part of the statement have any connection with the first part? It is clearly possible to affirm that there exists a Jewish people and it has a right to self-determination, but at the same time to believe that its alleged implementation in the State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
- Do the totality of Jews around the world constitute a distinct nation, to which the right of self-determination would apply? As I have shown above, it is perfectly legitimate to assert that Jewishness is not a national but a religious category. And this has indeed been argued by eminent Jewish scholars. But the internationally recognised political right of self-determination applies to nations, not to religions.
- Does the Jewish community in this country constitute part of a non- British national minority, entitled to seek self-determination in another country?
- Does a group that is assumed to have the right of self-determination thereby also have right to colonise a territory inhabited by other people and displace these indigenous inhabitants? Surely not! But the Zionist project from its beginning, more than 100 years ago, did arrogate to itself such a ‘right’.
- Can an endeavour of colonisation – which Zionism is, and openly declared itself to be in its early days – avoid being racist towards the indigenous people of the colonised territory? I know of no example of non-racist colonisation; and the Israeli settler state definitely conforms to the general
Example 10 of alleged anti-Semitism appended to the IHRA definition is:
“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
Now, comparisons of this kind have in fact been made by Israeli scholars. As recent examples, let me refer you to two articles by Professor Daniel Blatman, a historian of Holocaust and Genocide in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,14 and to a report about a pronouncement made by Professor Ofer Cassif, who teaches Politics and Government at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.15
But look again at that Example 10. Let me concede for a moment that comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is an unjustified slur. But slur against what or whom? At worst, it could be a slur against a state, Israel; and as such it may well upset supporters of that state and those who still believe in it. But how can it possibly be a slur against the Jews, and hence ‘anti-Semitic’? Well, the only way in which it could bear such an interpretation is if we hold all Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
However, Example 11 of anti-Semitism appended to the IHRA definition reads:
“Holding all Jews as collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”
This is evidently correct: it is indeed clearly anti-Semitic to hold all Jews collectively responsible for the deeds of Israel. But if we accept that Example 11 is indeed a true example of anti-Semitism, as it clearly is, then the assertion that Example 10 is a true example of anti-Semitism is itself an anti-Semitic assertion!
Thus the set of 11 Examples taken together is self-contradictory and self- incriminating. They ought to be discarded; and most certainly they should have never been used so shamefully, to smear Tony Greenstein, a veteran campaigner against all racism.
Moshé Machover is an Israeli socialist anti-Zionist activist and co-founder of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen). He is currently living in London, England. He is emeritus professor of philosophy, King’s College, London University. His most recent book is Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution.
All IOA commentaries by Moshé Machover
- Zionism on the web: Zionism defined, https://tinyurl.com/rnz9u. For similar but briefer formulations, see e.g. Jonathan Freedland, Guardian, March 18 2016, https://tinyurl.com/hnz4tcs; Eylon Aslan-Levy, The Times of Israel, December 8 2013, https://tinyurl.com/kdauukn. ↩
- Photocopy of typewritten original in B. Destani (ed.) The Zionist Movement and the Foundation of Israel 1839-1972, 10-Volume Set: Political Diaries 1918-1965, Archive Editions, Cambridge, 2004; vol 1 p. 727. My emphasis. ↩
- The others are Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert. ↩
- ‘The iron wall’ (O Zheleznoi stene), published November 4 1923 in the Russian- language journal Rassvyet (Dawn); English translation https://tinyurl.com/m8dp3le. ↩
- Yigal Elam, ‘Hanahot hadashot leota tzionut’ (‘New assumptions for the same Zionism’), Ot, No. 2, Winter 1967; my translation (emphasis in original). ↩
- Marc Perry, ‘Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire’, Guardian, August 18 2016, https://tinyurl.com/zk4pazc. ↩
- See, for example, comment by the senior Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar, ‘Israeli defense minister’s comments highlight “plague of racism”’, Al Monitor, December 14 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8fvhp34. ↩
- A. Ravitzky, ‘Ultra-Orthodox & Anti-Zionist’, https://tinyurl.com/y6vamwt5. ↩
- Gilad Erdan’s Facebook (Hebrew) August 7 2016, https://tinyurl.com/y7977le6. ↩
- ‘What did Israel hope to gain from Priti Patel’s secret meetings?’, Guardian, November 8 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y9dwes52. ↩
- https://tinyurl.com/y9xnorf5. ↩
- ‘Opinion: In the matter of the adoption and potential application of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’, March 8 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yc67trg6. ↩
- Talk delivered at a meeting in the House of Lords, on March 27 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7rrgvj8. Revised version: ‘Defining Anti-Semitism’, London Review of Books, May 4 2017. ↩
- ‘The Israeli Lawmaker Heralding Genocide Against Palestinians’, Haaretz, May 23, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y9eavfvp; ‘Smotrich’s stage-by-stage plan’ (Hebrew), Haaretz, June 10 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y9ulabbb. ↩
- ‘Hebrew U professor: Israel today similar to Nazi Germany’, Jerusalem Post, June 23, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ybmjjee4. ↩