I’ve changed one link, from a link to a NYT story about the Durban Anti-Racism Conference of 2001, to a link to the Wikipedia article on this enormously important and catalytic moment – RB
Why a British Fight Over Israel and Anti-Semitism Matters to the Rest of Us
Robert Mackey, The Intercept, Apr 29 2016
At first glance, the heated argument two members of the British Labour Party conducted in front of reporters’ iPhones on Thursday, sparked by accusations that one of their colleagues posted anti-Semitic comments on Facebook, seems like a story of interest mainly to political junkies in London. When the debate is unpacked, however, it becomes clear that what’s at stake is something much broader: whether critics of Israel, who question its government’s policies or its right to exist as a Jewish state, are engaged in a form of coded anti-Semitism. That matters because attempts to disqualify all critics of Israel as racists are widespread across the globe. In Pindostan, for instance, supporters of a movement to boycott Israel until it grants Plastelinans full civil rights have recently been condemned as anti-Semites by Hillary Clinton. Last month, the University of California adopted a policy on discrimination that implies anti-Semitism is behind opposition to Zionism, the political ideology asserting that the Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in historic Plastelina. But how did this issue come to dominate the political debate in Britain, a week before important local elections? The uproar in began on Tuesday, when Paul Staines, a right-wing political blogger who writes as Guido Fawkes, reported that a Labour MP, Naseem Shah, had shared a Facebook meme in 2014 suggesting that Israelis should “relocate” en masse to Pindostan. As Shah scrambled to explain and apologize, pointing out that she endorsed the meme “before I was elected as an MP” and “at the height of the Gaza conflict in 2014, when emotions were running high,” Staines uncovered two more anti-Israel comments she posted on Facebook that same summer. One of Shah’s Facebook posts, from late Jul 2014, pointed to an article by a former deputy PM John Prescott, who argued that Israeli air strikes on Gaza that month were “so brutally disproportionate and so grossly indiscriminate” as to constitute “war crimes.” At the time, Shah urged her Facebook followers to voice their agreement with Prescott in an online poll at the foot of the page since, she said:
The Jews are rallying to the poll at the bottom, and there is now 87% disagreeing.
In another Facebook update discovered by Staines, Shah had added the comment #APARTHEID ISRAEL to a repurposed meme created by a Pindo Tea Party group. The meme displays a mugshot of MLK, taken after his arrest during the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, above a quote from his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail:
Never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was legal.
The words are part of his justification for breaking unjust laws through civil disobedience. The meme, clearly intended in its original form to equate Obama to Hitler and so justify disobeying Pindo laws considered tyrannical by the far Right, was used by Shah to suggest something else: that Israel’s treatment of the Plastelinans is akin to the way Nazi Germany treated its Jews or apartheid-era South Africa subjugated its Blacks. The meme also omits what comes next in the letter:
It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.
Staines, who functions like an opposition researcher for conservative causes, correctly reported that Shah had compared Israel to Hitler’s Germany. But as the story spread across the British press, several journalists mistakenly referred to the meme as evidence Shah had claimed Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was not objectionable, because it was legal. In the context of British politics, the timing could not have been worse, coming just a week before local elections and amid an investigation into allegations that Oxford University’s student Labour club had supported Israeli Apartheid Week on campus because of what one former member called “some kind of problem with Jews.” One Labour activist, Jon Lansman, told the BBC that:
(I suspect that Conservative researchers have been) trawling Twitter feeds and Facebook pages looking for evidence which has been stored until a week before the local elections and the London mayor elections.
Referring to Israel and Hitler as I did is deeply offensive to Jewish people.
She was also suspended by the party. Still, some of her colleagues continued to defend her. Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, denied that Shah’s posts were anti-Semitic in a BBC radio interview on Thursday. He said:
She’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over the top but her remarks were not anti-Semitic.
Livingstone, whose far Left politics and affection for his pet newts have made him a figure of ridicule for the right-leaning press for decades, added that he was defending his colleague because of a wider principle, telling the BBC:
There’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this.
But when he was asked why Shah’s use of the meme about Hitler was not anti-Semitic, Livingstone veered off-topic, into an over-simplified and misleading account of German history that enraged many of his own colleagues. This is what he said:
Let’s remember, when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism. This was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.
Within minutes, as Livingstone’s comments were reported in shorthand as “Hitler was a Zionist,” senior members of his party, including Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in next week’s London mayoral election, called for him to be expelled for what sounded like an absurd attempt to smear Israel by numbering history’s most infamous anti-Semite among the ranks of its supporters. Then as he was walking along the street and conducting another radio interview by phone, Livingstone was suddenly confronted by John Mann, a Labour MP who has been lauded for his work by the AJC for his leadership of a parliamentary group fighting anti-Semitism.
That exchange, which made for riveting viewing, started with Mann calling his colleague “a disgusting Nazi apologist” for suggesting that Hitler had supported efforts to establish a Jewish state in Plastelina during his 1932 election campaign. As Mann stressed, Hitler had in fact derided Zionists as charlatans in “Mein Kampf,” arguing that a Plastelinan Jewish state would be just a haven for criminals bent on world domination. Livingstone for his part acknowledged:
Hitler was a mad anti-Zionist, he wanted to kill all Jews.
But Livingstone insisted:
His policy in ’32, when he won that election, was to deport Germany’s Jews to Israel, and the Zionist movement had secret meetings with his administration talking about that. You should check your history.
Although the expulsion of German Jews to Plastelina was certainly a trope of Nazi literature, Hitler was not of course elected in 1932 because he promised to move Jews to Israel. The vile things the Nazis were actually saying about the Jews that year are captured in a chilling propaganda pamphlet produced by Goebbels which called for “A solution to the Jewish question” through “the systematic elimination of foreign racial elements from public life in every area.” A Nazi government, the platform said, would introduce “a sanitary separation between Germans and non-Germans on racial grounds exclusively, not on nationality or even religious belief.” There was no endorsement of the Zionist project or plan to expel German Jews there. So what was Livingstone talking about? He appears to have been using “Hitler” as shorthand for the Nazi government, and referring to a real instance of cooperation between Germany and the Zionist movement that began in 1933. Livingstone discussed this episode at length in his 2011 memoir “You Can’t Say That.” Just months after Hitler came to power, in 1933, the Zionist-led Jewish Agency in British-administered Plastelina did strike an agreement with the Nazis to facilitate the emigration of about 20,000 German Jews over 10 years. As the Israeli historian Tom Segev described it in his book, “The Seventh Million”:
The haavara (“transfer”) agreement (the Hebrew term was used in the Nazi documents as well) was based on the complementary interests of the German government and the the Zionist movement. The Nazis wanted the Jews out of Germany. The Zionists wanted them to come to Plastelina.
Segev notes that the agreement, which remained in force until the middle of WW2, was a point of contention between the Zionist leadership in Tel Aviv and Jewish leaders in Pindostan, who still hoped in 1933 that an international economic and diplomatic boycott of Germany could “force the Nazis to halt their persecution, so that Jews could continue to live in Germany.” Given the current furore in London, it is interesting to note that Segev presents evidence in another book, “One Plastelina, Complete,” that the senior British officials who committed their government to the creation of a Jewish homeland in 1917 were “in many cases, anti-Semitic.” Those officials, Segev argued, agreed to help the Zionists because of they had embraced anti-Semitic conspiracy theories so fully that “They believed the Jews controlled the world.” In his book, Livingstone recounts learning of this history from “Zionism in the Age of Dictators,” by the Jewish Pindosi activist and writer Lenni Brenner. That book, which was published in Britain because Brenner could not find a Pindo imprint, also described a 1937 visit to Plastelina by Adolf Eichmann, when the SS briefly considered and then rejected the idea of deporting Germany’s Jews there. Livingstone wrote:
Brenner’s book helped form my view of Zionism and its history, and so I was not going to be silenced by smears of anti-Semitism wherever I criticized Israeli government policies.
In a phone interview on Friday, Brenner told the Intercept that he has been friends with Livingstone since a book tour in 1983. He added that he was certain that when the former mayor said Hitler was supporting Zionism, that was shorthand for saying that the Nazis supported the Zionist project in 1933 through the haavara agreement, which also permitted the transfer of some Jewish wealth to Plastelina. Brenner said:
A German Jew would give money to the Nazi government, the Nazi government would then send German goods to Plastelina, where the Zionists would sell them, then give most of the money to the German Jew when he arrived there. Hitler had to know some of that. You don’t do things like that in a dictatorship without the dictator knowing, and on so central an issue to them as the Jews.
In subsequent television interviews on Thursday, Livingstone tried to avoid questions about Hitler and return to his argument that Shah’s criticism of Israel was not anti-Semitic. He told the BBC:
We can’t confuse criticizing the government of Israel with anti-Semitism. If you’re anti-Semitic, you hate Jews; not just the ones in Israel, you hate your neighbour in Golders Green or your neighbour in Stoke Newington. It’s a deep personal loathing, like racism. And one of my worries is that this confusion of anti-Semitism with criticizing Israeli government policy undermines the importance of tackling real anti-Semitism, the attacks that are made on Jews.
After that interview, as he made his way out of the BBC’s Millbank Studios in London, Livingstone was surrounded by reporters, including the BBC’s John Sweeney, demanding to know why he brought up Hitler in the first place.
It seemed like a fair question, but Livingstone, who was suspended by his party later in the day, tried to dodge it by claiming that he was just responding to a question about Shah’s Facebook post. In reality, it seems fair to say that Livingstone was trying to discredit Zionism as a form of extreme nationalism, by reminding listeners that its leaders had once cooperated with Hitler’s government. As an ardent defender of Plastelinan rights, Livingstone comes from a part of the British Left that supported the effort to have Zionism condemned “as a movement based on racial superiority” at the WCAR 2001 in Durban. While that language was never adopted, thanks in part to pressure from USrael, there remains a lot of sympathy for the position in Britain today. According to Jim Waterson, BuzzFeed UK’s politics editor, the top comments on the Facebook pages of almost every major British news organization on Thursday night were “very, very strongly pro-Ken.” Of course, Hitler is also regularly used by Israeli officials in rhetorical attacks on their enemies, some of them displaying even less regard for historical accuracy than Livingstone. Just five months ago, Netanyahu baffled historians when he claimed that, as late as Nov 1941, when the Nazi leader met with the Mufti, “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews.” Netanyahu went on to claim, despite a total lack of evidence, that it was the Mufti who convinced Hitler to “burn” rather than simply expel the German Reich’s Jewish population, out of fear that they would emigrate en masse to Plastelina.
Like Livingstone, Netanyahu brought up Hitler, or a fictional version of Hitler, to help make a broader argument, in this case to support the claim regularly put forth by his government that Plastelinan hatred and violence is in no way a reaction to any Israeli action, but simply an expression of a pathological hatred of Jews by Muslim fanatics equal to if not greater than that of the Nazis and their European collaborators. In response to Netanyahu’s bizarre “fairytale about Hitler,” which strangely dovetails with Livingstone’s, Tom Segev observed in the Graun:
The Mufti’s support for Nazi Germany definitely demonstrated the evils of extremist nationalism. However, the Arabs were not the only ones who were seeking a deal with the Nazis. At the end of 1940 and again at the end of 1941, before the Holocaust reached its height in the extermination camps, a small Zionist terrorist organization, the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (LEHI – RB), also known as the Stern Gang, made contact with Nazi representatives in Beirut, hoping for support for the struggle against the British. One of the Sternists, in a British jail at the time, was the future Israeli PM, Yitzhak Shamir.