Keir Starmer and Labour's antisemitism problem
Like so many liberal idealists, he can't see what so badly needs to be seen
The leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, was the guest of honour at this week’s annual Labour Friends of Israel lunch in London.
British Jews on the left were devastated by the antisemitism that exploded within the Labour Party under its previous hard-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn. They desperately want to believe that the moderate Starmer, a former head of the prosecution service in England and Wales, will make it safe for them to support Labour once again.
Starmer, who like the Democrats in America believes that his party embodies all decent values, was horrified by the baroque Jew-hatred that convulsed it under Corbyn.
Starmer is a decent man. He is also married to a Jewish woman. However, as someone who was originally a human-rights lawyer he is also deeply reluctant to acknowledge the moral corruption that has poisoned his “progressive” side of politics through the left’s universalist and anti-west agenda.
Like so many liberals in Britain, America and elsewhere, he selects aspects of an issue that conform to his idealistic viewpoint while blanking out those that undermine it.
This flaw bedevils his intention to deal with Labour antisemitism. Appalled by its most unambiguous characteristics, he blinds himself to its roots within the movement to which he is so deeply attached. As a result, he himself unwittingly perpetuates some of the toxic myths concerning the State of Israel that give Jew-hatred plausible cover.
This tendency is a characteristic not just of British liberals but also of many Jews who support Labour in Britain and the Democratic Party in America. It is perhaps the most conspicuous downside of the “progressive” mindset — the refusal to tolerate ideas or even facts that threaten to puncture its idealistic fantasies.
All this was on display in Starmer’s speech at the lunch. He repeated that “antisemitism is a stain on our party,” and pledged to “tear this poison out by its roots”. But then he revealed that he didn’t understand what those roots were.
First, he sanitised Labour’s own ambiguous history in relation to the land of Israel. “From our earliest days, even before the Balfour Declaration, we backed the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine,” he said.
But while the Labour leaders he mentioned — Harold Wilson, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — were indeed, among others, staunch friends of Israel, Starmer failed to mention the poisonous views of Ernest Bevin, a member of Britain’s war Cabinet in the 1940s and foreign secretary in the Labour government from 1945 to 1950.
In 1946, Bevin rejected proposals for the immediate admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe. Instead, “illegal” immigrants to Palestine were deported to detention camps in Cyprus while the Exodus, a ship bearing 4,500 such immigrants, was sent back to Germany.
Meanwhile, Bevin proposed allocating virtually the entire land to the Arabs — in direct contravention of Britain’s duty under the 1922 Mandate to settle the Jews throughout Palestine.
As Ian Hernon detailed in his book published last year, Antisemitism and the Left, there was always a deep antipathy towards Jews among a section of the left based on their anti-capitalist worldview.
Labour’s first parliamentary leader, Keir Hardie (after whom Starmer was named), asserted in the month that the party was established that “half a dozen financial houses, many of them Jewish, to whom politics is a counter in the game of buying and selling securities” had led Britain into war in South Africa.
And Bevin made remarks linking Jews to both finance and communism, complained about European Jews “pushing to the front of the queue” and during the 1947 fuel crisis quipped about “Israelites” being engaged in the black market.
Starmer trumpeted Labour’s decision to outlaw Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian jihad, its opposition to BDS and its work to “strengthen Britain’s bilateral ties with Israel, uphold the right for Israel to defend itself and promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process”.
But in his unshakeable enthusiasm for this “two-state solution,” he ignored what the Palestinians have themselves said and what their maps, insignia and educational materials reveal: that they view a Palestine state as a necessary stage in the destruction of Israel.
“We are pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and pro-peace,” said Starmer. But the only reason there is no peace and no Palestine is that the Palestinians have refused repeated offers of a state and have instead continued to murder as many Israelis as possible.
On the basis of his core delusion, Starmer went on to repeat the false claims about Israel peddled by those determined to delegitimise and destroy it.
“We fully oppose and condemn illegal settlements, annexation and the eviction of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian territories. We believe that international law should be adhered to,” he said.
However, there are no “occupied Palestinian territories” because there never were any territories belonging to the “Palestinians” — because there never was a people called “the Palestinians” who controlled any of the land.
The claim that Israeli “settlements” are illegal is based on a deeply politicised misreading of international law. Annexation of the disputed territories is not on the table.
As for “evictions “ of Palestinians, this presumably referred to the Arab residents of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem who were threatened with eviction in nothing more than a rent dispute — and who agreed to a compromise solution that was then vetoed by the Palestinian Authority. So the reference was out of context and deeply misleading.
Starmer denounced “anti-Zionist antisemitism,” which he said was “the antithesis of the Labour tradition” through its obsessional double standards and obscene analogies between Israel and the Nazis.
But he was identifying only its most egregious expressions. For anti-Zionist antisemitism is today based largely on supporting the Palestinian agenda.
And that is based on unambiguous antisemitism that pours out of the Palestinian Authority in an unstoppable torrent of grotesque claims and images drawn from medieval and Nazi Jew-hatred, depicting Jews as a demonic and murderous conspiracy to control the world.
Starmer made no mention of this. Yet inescapably, anyone who supports the Palestinian agenda will be supporting it. And since that agenda is the cause of causes for the left, anti-Zionist antisemitism is actually embedded in today’s Labour Party and wider progressive circles.
Which is why it’s telling that Starmer praised the new book by David Baddiel, Jews Don’t Count, for demonstrating “how racism against Jews is held to a different standard from other kinds of racism”.
Since Baddiel is a popular, left-wing Jewish comedian, his book has caught the attention of those who otherwise would merely roll their eyes at any mention of antisemitism.
However, Baddiel studiously avoids any mention of the part played in this bigotry by anti-Israel attitudes. Not only does he define antisemitism entirely in racial or ethnic terms and says he couldn’t care less about Israel, but he also writes this:
Israelis aren’t very Jewish anyway, as far as my relationship with Jewishness is concerned. They’re too macho, too ripped and aggressive and confident. As I say of them — or, to be precise, Lenny, a Jewish-American taxi-driver character I invented for my film, The Infidel, says of them — Jews without angst, without guilt. So not really Jews at all.
So even allowing for an attempt at irony, it appears that for Baddiel Israeli Jews don’t count.
It’s therefore no surprise that his book has been received so enthusiastically by both Starmer and the “progressive” world. For them, antisemitism is to be condemned — as long as that condemnation doesn’t undermine their core ideological fantasies.
The moral purity of the Palestinian cause is one such fantasy. Which is why, as Starmer has unwittingly demonstrated, antisemitism will continue to toxify “progressive” politics not just in the Labour Party but throughout Britain, America and the west.
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