We Must Never Allow Legitimate Criticism of Israel to be Defined as Anti-Semiti

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me”.

The haunting, wise and instructive quotation above from German Pastor Martin Niemoller has been very much on my mind recently. Pastor Niemoller knew exactly what he was talking about. His wise words were derived from intimate knowledge of the nature of the Nazi beast in Adolf Hitler’s Germany and were issued as an apologetic warning to all of humanity to never again stand idly by while brutality and violence is meted out against other members of the human race. No matter their religious beliefs, nationality, political affiliations or colour an act of brutality against one group of human beings is ultimately an attack on all human beings.

Niemoller was no pacifist. He was a U-Boat commander for the German Navy during World War One. He refused to carry out the armistice order to all U-Boat Commanders to hand their submarines to the British. He was stripped of his position and drummed out of the German Navy for insubordination.

Not many people will know that Niemoller initially welcomed the emergence of Hitler and the Third Reich. He, like millions of other Germans at the time, saw only the positive side of Hitler’s National Socialist Party promises. To promote and encourage Christianity and Christian beliefs for instance. A particular attraction to him after he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Christian preacher.

The promise of full employment. The promise to stand up for German interests. The promise to make Germany a great and proud nation again and lift it out of the 1920’s chaos of severe economic depression, hyperinflation and mass unemployment. The similarities with Trump and his Make America Great Again rhetoric are frightening.

Only after meeting with Hitler in January 1934 did Niemoller realise his horrible mistake after discovering his phone was tapped and the secret police apparatus was being expanded and used to root out dissent of any form and to silence potential dissidents. He rapidly realised Hitler was a tyrant who wished to establish a brutal dictatorship not a strong German democracy. Many would say now with the benefit of hindsight that he should have realised this fact much earlier but he was not the only German citizen conned and although hindsight is wonderful it is only available after the fact.

Pastor Niemoller became a strident opponent of Hitler and embarked on an exhaustive series of sermons denouncing the Nazi regime and attempting to expose its undemocratic core. He was repeatedly arrested between 1934 — 1937 before the Gestapo apprehended him in July 1937 and after 7 months in solitary confinement in a Berlin prison awaiting trial he was subjected to a further 7 years of hard labour in a concentration camp labelled a danger to the Nazi state.

There is much debate about when Niemoller first used his “First they came…” explanation of the rise of the Nazis but most believe it to be in 1946 after the conclusion of the Second World War and the defeat of Hitler and it is widely accepted he inserted different groups of people depending on his audience.

But the central and powerful point is that too many ordinary folk stood idly by and did nothing in the face of brutal treatment of others because they didn’t directly belong to or identify with that group.

The reason the Niemoller quotation occupies my mind so much right now is my mixture of rage and powerlessness in the face of the hurtful, disgraceful and ludicrous accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against three individuals I know. Jim Sheridan, no relation, is a former Labour MP for Paisley, Renfrewshire, near to where I live and he is currently a Renfrewshire Labour councillor.

Mary Bain Lockhart has been an active campaigner against poverty and inequality within the Labour and Cooperative movement all her life and currently sits on Fife Council as a Labour councillor. Jeremy Corbyn has been a Labour MP since 1983 and has twice been elected to lead the Labour party, 2015 and 2016.

All three of these individuals are Labour Party stalwarts. They belong to a party which is decidedly unionist and up until the election of Corbyn deserved to be called Red Tories. In fact, even since Corbyn’s election the performance and electoral tactics of Labour in Scotland, advocating votes for Tory candidates rather than the SNP, have merited the continued use of that tag.

But Jim Sheridan is a decent man. Before election to Parliament he was a trade union organiser. During my wife Gail’s industrial action against her employer, British Airways, Jim Sheridan was one of the striking flight crew’s biggest allies. He has been a consistent advocate of workers’ rights and an active opponent of racism all his political life. Yet currently he is suspended from the Labour Party and subject to an anti-Semitism investigation.

The 65-year-old was furious at the constant anti-Semitic accusations thrown at Jeremy Corbyn and in a pique of anger said: 

“For almost all my adult life I have had the utmost respect and empathy for the Jewish community and their historic suffering. 

“No longer due to what they and their Blairite plotters are doing to my party and the long suffering people of Britain who need a radical Labour government.”

Those words maybe clumsy but are they anti-Semitic? Absolutely not.

Mary Bain Lockhart and I campaigned vigorously across Scotland together in 2012/13 against the cruel and callous Tory Bedroom Tax which was specifically designed to punish both the poor and the disabled. We shared platforms at several public meetings and rallies. She was passionate in her condemnation of Tory cruelty and her commitment to a fairer and more equal society was plain to see.

Yet Mary is also currently suspended from the Labour Party and the subject of an anti-Semitism investigation. Responding to the remarkable, inflammatory and entirely unfair incidence of all three of the UK’S leading Jewish Newspapers publishing the exact same headline ‘United We Stand‘ and stating that a Corbyn led Labour Government would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country.”

Mary used her personal Facebook account to state:

“If the purpose is to generate opposition to anti-Semitism, it has backfired spectacularly”.

“If it is to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader, it is unlikely to succeed, and is a shameless piece of cynical opportunism”.

“And if it is a Mossad [the Israeli secret service] assisted campaign to prevent the election of a Labour Government pledged to recognise Palestine as a State, it is unacceptable interference in the democracy of Britain.”

Not only is that statement not anti-Semitic it is also politically astute and very mature.

Mary also said that Israel was a “racist state”. That is a view widely held by progressives and Democrats all across the world even prior to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, passing legislation in July stipulating that “only Jews have the right of self-determination” in Israel and stripping Arabic of its status as an official language alongside Hebrew.

Palestinians and any other non-Jewish people within Israel are thus legally reduced to no more than 2nd class citizens. That is why the United Nations, representing 193 countries across the world, has given Israel a 60-day deadline to respond to the commonly accepted interpretation of that legislation as ‘racist’ and ‘deeply discriminating’ against Palestinians and other non-Jews.

So Mary is far from alone in branding the Israeli state as ‘racist’. Is she an anti-Semite? Absolutely not. Far from it. She has sought equality and opposed racism and anti-Semitism of any form all her life.

Then there is Jeremy Corbyn himself. His crime in the eyes of the British Establishment and the ruling elites across the world is his consistent support for the oppressed and exploited and his determination to effect real change in wealth and power distribution.

On the issue of anti-Semitism, Corbyn’s hands are spotless. What irks Israel and their supporters so much is his support for an independent and viable Palestinian state. Something Israel is determined to prevent through the continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, erection of illegal Jewish settlements within Palestinian borders and the brutal, bloody and illegal assassination of Palestinian men, women and children who dare to protest in any shape or fashion against their continued subjugation and occupation by Israel.

In May this year, the UN voted to again assign international war crimes investigators to assess the response of Israel to legitimate protests against Israeli occupation of Palestine which resulted in 110 fatalities in the space of days, several of the victims being children.

The problem is Israel is effectively the biggest rogue nation on the planet and systematically and consistently flouts international laws in defiance of the United Nations. Often the basis of incursions into, invasions of and the imposition of damaging economic sanctions against nations not in tune with Western values, that is obedient to America, is that they have defied UN resolutions.

That was constantly referred to in relation to the need to invade Iraq in 2003. Yet up until 2010, the list of United Nations Security Council resolutions directly critical of Israel for violations of UN Security Council resolutions, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, international terrorism, or other violations of international law amounted to 79 and today is well over 100.

On Thursday last week a nasty, deceitful and cold Tory MP (as if there is any other kind…) used her appearance on the BBC Question Time programme to disgracefully brand Jeremy Corbyn an “anti-Semite” without being chided or warned about her libellous behaviour by the host David Dimblebly.

The fact he nor the BBC afterwards issued any form of disclaimer about such a shameful and unfounded attack against Corbyn speaks volumes about the biased and anti-Corbyn state of the pro-Israel Corporation which persists in falsely presenting the Israel/Palestine conflict completely out of context by promoting a narrative which ignores the fact one country is illegally occupying another and that Israel is the aggressor and rogue nation to the core.

Jeremy Corbyn has consistently in words and deeds opposed all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and injustice throughout his adult life as an elected trade union official, councillor and MP. While he was on the streets physically opposing the fascists and racists of the National Front and British National Party and supporting boycotts of apartheid South Africa Tories like Claire Perry were whipping up the kind of racial intolerance and immigrant hate that fascists feed from and calling for freedom fighter Nelson Mandela to be hanged.

It is not and can never become anti-Semitic to criticise the racist policies of Israel and their brutal treatment of Palestine and the Palestinian people. Jim Sheridan, Mary Bain Lockhart and Jeremy Corbyn are in a different political party to me and mistakenly oppose the right of Scotland to self-determination. That makes us opponents on the question of Scotland’s independence. But in the spirit of Pastor Niemoller I cannot stand idly by and see good people labelled as anti-Semites without speaking up in support of them.

We insult the memory of those 6 million Jews who suffered inhumane treatment and brutal deaths at the hands of the anti-Semite Nazis and the millions of others persecuted and discriminated against across Europe and the world if we allow the term to be reduced to a cheap political jibe used against those who oppose racism and anti-Semitism but who support the rights of Palestinians.

The mainstream media deliberately refuses to reflect it but the fact is many Jews see the anti-Semitism attacks on Corbyn and Labour Party representatives as what they are: 

“A number of left-wing Jewish groups have disputed the antisemitism claims. These include Jewish Voice for LabourJews for Justice for PalestiniansJewish Socialists’ GroupJewdas and Independent Jewish Voices; all of whom have said that accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party have a twofold purpose: firstly to conflate antisemitism with criticism of Israel in order to deter such criticism and secondly to undermine the Labour leadership since Corbyn was elected leader in 2015.

In April 2016, Richard Kuper, spokesperson for Jews for Justice for Palestinians, expressed the view that while “there is some antisemitism in and around the Labour party — as there is in the wider society in Britain” and “there is clearly also a coordinated, willed and malign campaign to exaggerate the nature and extent of antisemitism as a stick to beat the Labour party” under Corbyn. In the same month, Ian Saville, a Jewish Socialists’ Group and Labour Party member, said he is “disturbed” by the way antisemitism has “been taken up as a proxy with which to attack the left in the Labour Party.”

It is not anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas to support Palestinian rights and oppose Israel’s brutal oppression of those people and that nation. It is simply human.

We collectively have a duty to speak up for those wrongly accused of anti-Semitism. That horrible and unacceptable practice has to be properly identified and thoroughly opposed, verbally and physically, wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head. The Jewish Socialists’ Group defines anti-Semitism as:

“Prejudice, hostility and discrimination against Jews, as Jews and the use of negative stereotypes of Jews.”

Based on that definition and their individual and collective contributions to the fight against racism and for equality we can conclude that Jim Sheridan, Mary Bain Lockhart and Jeremy Corbyn are not anti-Semites.


By Tommy Sheridan
Source: Sputnik News

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