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The 2018 annual conference of Britain's Labour Party proved that, however strong the criticism, and however embarrassing the scandal, there are many in England who will get on with their top priority: slandering and libelling one of the world's most outstanding countries, Israel. At the same time, they seem never to tire of singing the praises of the Palestinians, regardless of the savagery with which they govern their own people.
They also seem comfortable overlooking the Palestinians' repeated rejections of peace, and their glorifying and funding non-stop terrorism.
The oddity of this approach generally escapes the mainstream media or is amplified by them, and is proliferated across all sorts of social media such as Twitter, and anti-Zionist blogs, websites, and YouTube channels, where it often merges with Holocaust denial, on sites such as Facebook, neo-Nazi rants, Muslim anti-Zionist pages, and speeches by Muslim preachers who choose to live on the dark side of their faith.
The question, of course, is "Why Israel?" Are there not enough dictatorships and oppressive regimes in the world to keep any decent socialist busy on a hundred other fronts?
Not long after that Labour Party conference, your humble correspondent attended a smaller event in Newcastle upon Tyne on October 3, 2018, where a local Labour MP, Catherine McKinnell, addressed a packed hall to apologize for the blatant anti-Semitism in her party. It has to be said that McKinnell herself had nothing to apologize for. She is not Jewish, but she was among the hundreds of people protesting anti-Semitism in the Labour Party outside the Houses of Parliament on March 26 earlier this year. The protest brought home to many observers the simple truth that Jews were profoundly worried, if not afraid, to see a resurgence of anti-Jewish activity in the political party for which they had mainly voted all their lives.
There was one question for which McKinnell could not provide an answer. It began by referring to a news item from the day before, a story about a 24-year-old Iranian woman, Zaynab Sekanvand, who had just been executed two days after delivering a stillborn baby. Zaynab had been married at 15 to a husband who abused and beat her regularly, rejecting her wish to divorce, until one day she snapped and stabbed him to death. Arrested when 17, she was tried without legal representation or a medical report on her psychological state. She was then denied a retrial, even though the Iranian penal code itself stated that anyone who committed a crime when a minor must have a second court appearance. While in prison, she was married (probably through Iran's legal temporary marriage) to another prisoner, and became pregnant. Just before giving birth, she was traumatized when her cellmate, another woman, was taken out and hanged. Shortly after, Zaynab gave birth to a stillborn baby. Two days later, she herself was taken out and hanged.
This story led to more comments on the Iranian Shi'ite regime: that Iran executes per capita more prisoners than China, the world leader in that respect; that Iran has long backed and funded a range of terrorist groups, notably Hamas and Hezbollah; that Iran has been expanding its violent behaviour from Iraq to Yemen to Syria to Lebanon; and that Iran has long threatened to destroy the state of Israel. More than that, Iran has an abysmal human rights record regarding women, gays, ethnic and religious minorities, and political opponents.
The simple question was: Given all this, why are Labour members not speaking out about the need to boycott or overthrow such a regime, but instead focus all their venom on Israel, a country they demonize on wholly false grounds, especially considering the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism which Labour has technically adopted -- while reserving the right, however, to criticize Israel as an apartheid or Nazi state?
Mrs McKinnell, not surprisingly, had no answer.
Perhaps the most important aspect of that question lies in the sheer hypocrisy of the Labour Party's supporters. To its credit, Labour strongly opposes the use of execution, and supports women's rights, gay rights, ethnic minority rights and religious minority rights. Many of Labour's supporters, like many others, are appalled to see Iranian women stoned to death, gay men hanged on cranes, and Baha'is, Christians and others fiercely persecuted and hanged.
In Israel, by contrast, women, homosexuals, and all racial minorities, are treated well, especially Arabs. According to Thane Rosenbaum, distinguished fellow at New York University School of Law and legal analyst for CBS News Radio:
"Arabs serve on the Israeli Supreme Court and can live, work and eat anywhere they choose, vote freely in elections and are represented in parliament. The only nation in the Middle East where civil rights exist for racial minorities, homosexuals and women is Israel".
More could definitely be done, but for the most part, they have full citizenship rights and free access to virtually all the same opportunities and professions as everyone else in the country.
All religious communities are protected, all holy places are guaranteed freedom from molestation under law. Tel Aviv has been named more than once as the world's "gay capital."
Today, no one is executed for any reason in the Jewish state, not even Palestinian terrorists who have committed murder time and again, often in gruesome circumstances. Israel hosts the world centre and holiest shrines of the Baha'is, while Iran, by contrast, has demolished all their sacred sites and cemeteries. Israel has laws that protect and enforce these and all human rights. So, would Israel not be the country that the West would most admire? Whatever its faults, it is a utopia for human rights that many self-congratulatory moralists identify as their personal preserve. Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to uphold all the rights the Labour Party claims to hold precious. Yet, Israel is the only country in the world that the Labour Party reserves for its censure, while other countries are ignored, mildly rebuked or even cosied up to.
These double standards have never been properly exposed or tested in a public forum at which Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes could be forced to explain themselves.
This disjuncture is, in fact, only part of a wider one that allows many in Great Britain to condemn all things Western while lauding Muslim countries without reservation. They even back extremist Islamic terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which Corbyn called his "friends".
For all this sentimentalisation, it is "Islamophobia" that takes centre stage, with antisemitism paid mere lip service, if that.
In his recently published book, An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner delves deeply into these issues. Those who do not have time to read it in full can peruse a long and accurate summary by David Mikics. For the present, a few quotations from the English translation must suffice to show why many left-wing ideas about Islam and Muslims are central to obsession with Jews and Israel.
The argument revolves around a number of linked notions. Led by Europe, the international left turned against Jews and Zionism after 1967, based on the claim that Jews had capitalized on their suffering during and after the Holocaust to gain privileges as the West's favoured people on that account alone. For the left, a new variety of worthy oppressed people came into being, first the Palestinians, then Muslims in general. This sympathy for all Muslims who had supposedly been victims of Western colonialism -- rather than as the invaders and colonisers of the great Christian Byzantine Empire, North Africa and the Middle East, Greece, Hungary and the Balkans as well as Spain -- moved into high gear. More and more politicians and so-called intellectuals began to support radical Islam, and deemed it a road to cheap oil and the promise of no terrorism at a time when many thought the West, as a former coloniser, was more powerful than, in their minds, it deserved to be.
Even Muslim terrorism came to be lauded as an antidote to European and American privilege.
Israel became the supposed centre of Western intolerance and outdated colonisation – even though Jews have lived in the area for nearly 4,000 years. In the minds of many, and following the anti-Semitic Islamic narrative, the Jews became the new Nazis, and the Palestinians became the new Jews. In reality, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have largely governed their own people since 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Accords. The Palestinians, however, continue to go through inconceivable suffering due to the atrocious governance by their own often corrupt and manipulative leaders. They continue to blame Israel and the Jews -- preferable, apparently, to blaming themselves.
Although following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, there were roughly the same number of refugees -- approximately 800,000 Jews from Arab lands, and 800,000 or quite possibly fewer than 300,000 Arabs from land then governed by the British (now mainly Israel) -- the Palestinians are the only refugees in history who have been deemed entitled to their own UN agency and the freedom to pass their refugee status and resentment down through generations, rather than to be resettled, as other refugees have been under the legal stipulations of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Let us look at how Bruckner expresses some of these points. Bruckner, an opponent of political correctness, sets out the links between the political left and radical Muslims, an alliance that has reinforced existing antisemitism in Europe.
In 1994, Chris Harman, the leader of the [British] Socialist Workers' Party... published a long article entitled, "The Prophet and the Proletariat". In it, he advocated an alliance between left-wing activists and radical Muslim groups -- that he thought would be wrong to describe as retrograde. On the contrary, he maintained, we should return these lost sheep of Islam to the fold of the left, and mobilize them in the service of the only cause that matters – the destruction of capitalism. (p. 39)
The left has lost everything – the working class, the USSR, China, Cambodia, the Third World – with the exception of Islam, the new International of the outcasts... Islam becomes the last great narrative to which they can cling and which replaces communism, decolonization, and pan-Arabism. In the category of the good revolutionary subject, the Mujahideen, the Fedayeen, the Jihadists, and the martyrs of Hamas or al-Qaeda replace the proletarian, the guerrillero, the wretched of the Earth, the Palestinian. (p. 43)
In a more classic left-wing register, Jean Baudrillard saw in the mullahs' inspection of the revolution a proof of vitality. In his view, Iran presented itself as:
The sole active destabilizer of the two great powers' terrorism and strategic monopoly. [...] Whether it is at the price of medieval "barbarity", so be it, it doesn't matter. [...] (p. 45)
The future will remember that in the twenty-first century, a large part of the Western intelligentsia made common cause with fundamentalist totalitarianism, just as their elders had communed with Nazism and communism. (pp. 55-56)
... this "theft of the Holocaust" ... and the desire on the part of some Muslims to be more Jewish [i.e. more oppressed] than the Jews are contemporary with the rejection of the Hebrew state in the Middle East: "The hatred for Israel is the most powerful aphrodisiac in the Arab world", the late king of Morocco, Hassan II, is supposed to have said. (p. 71)
By raising the word "Islamophobia" to the level of anti-Semitism, people can finally brandish their certificates of malediction as titles of nobility. Victimization is the pain-orientated version of privilege. If it suffices to call oneself oppressed in order to be in the right, everyone will fight to occupy that slot. Every conqueror likes to be seen as a martyr. No-one admires the Shoah more than the revisionists, to the point of wanting to steal it from those who suffered from it. (p. 77)
The new racism... culminates in the anti-Zionism about which [it was said] that it was "an unhoped-for windfall because it gives you the permission and even the right to be an anti-Semite in the name of democracy! Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism justified, finally made available to everyone. It is the permission to be democratically anti-Semitic. What if the Jews themselves were Nazis? That would be marvellous. It would no longer be necessary to feel sorry for them: they would have deserved their fate!"
In the name of the fight against colonialism, the first duty of an anti-racist is to be an anti-Zionist. (p. 84)
In his comments and judicious use of quotations, Bruckner lays bare the monstrous grievances and immoderate allegiances that underlie the antisemitism and anti-Zionism of the European Left and the British Labour Party. These include Jeremy Corbyn's calling Hamas and Hezbollah his "friends" and supporting other extremists; his appearances on Iran's Press TV; repeated support for the absurd claim that Israel has committed a "genocide" of the Palestinian people; calls to replace Holocaust Memorial Day with a World Genocide Day; Jewish Voice for Labour's contempt for the Israeli army and vast claims that the Palestinians are the most oppressed of all people. Who can be more oppressed than the Palestinians? Well, how about the Tibetans, Yazidis, Middle Eastern and South Asian Christians, Jews, Baha'is and so on? But by Labour's false logic, it is the Palestinians that should be the most deserving of support -- meaning that only Israel (not North Korea, Iran, China, Sudan or Syria, among others) must be condemned time and again as ostensibly the most evil nation in the world.
Denis MacEoin PhD is a former academic in Arabic, Persian, and Islamic Studies. He is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at New York's Gatestone Institute, and lives in the United Kingdom.