Monthly Archives: May 2016

Why I don’t understand the Labour Party fuss

First, I am pleased with the Labour Party for taking accusations of anti-Semitism seriously and investigating them. I wish other parties were equally prepared to address accusations of racism.

However, if you look at the most recent fuss, I find it difficult to understand where the frothing comes from.

So, number one: Naz Shah tweeted an image of Israel overlaid on the US and suggested that the $3 billion (?) the US spends on Israel each year could be used to aid people in moving. OK — not a very clever joke, but I don’t see how it’s anti-Semitic.

Surely it’s (a) not meant literally, and (b) actually a commentary on the relationship the US has with Israel? More of an attack on the US than Israel. And I do understand that the words “transportation” and “solution” are likely to raise hackles in that context, but that still does not make the tweet anti-Semitic.

Number two: Naz Shah tweeted: “Everything Hitler did in Germany was legal” with #IsraeliApartheid as a hashtag. That’s been seen as “comparing Israel to Hitler”, but it isn’t — the full quote is:

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” 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.

And it’s by Martin Luther King.

Surely the point here is that something being legal is not a guarantee of its being right or moral? The squeals of outrage at putting Israel and Hitler in the same space may reflect a lack of tact, but that’s not anti-Semitic, it’s pointing out that some of the Israeli government’s policies in 2014 were not right or moral. Lots of people agree with that.

Number 3, and this is the only place I think the accusations of anti-Semitism are more defensible, is a comment she made before she was an MP on a tweet about whether Israel had committed war crimes where she referred to people who were saying it hadn’t as “the Jews”.  Talking about “the Jews” instead of “supporters of the Israeli government” was definitely blurring the lines, but that doesn’t seem to be what got her into trouble.

Let’s take Ken Livingston, because this is the bit I really don’t understand. He said “Hitler supported Zionism” before going “mad and killing six million Jews”. Again, the words could have been better chosen, and his definition of Zionism is that Hitler and the National Socialists made a 1933 agreement with some Zionist groups that supported Jews fleeing Germany and moving to Palestine. It’s a working definition of Zionism, and the fact that Hitler was not aiming for a successful and flourishing Jewish state is not really the point — Hitler and his colleagues did seek numerous ways to remove Jewish people from Germany before they settled upon mass extermination (which could reasonably be seen as going mad). There are a lot of perfectly respectable historians who make this argument — among them Christopher Browning and Martin Broszat. They’re called “Functionalists” (as opposed to the “Intentionalists” who believe that Hitler always intended to exterminate the Jews).

I am distressed that no one seems to be aware there are different arguments and that not everyone agrees with Dawidowitz (who is seem as the classic Intentionalist).

The Functionalist viewpoint is not anti-Semitic. The argument is that the Nazis stumbled into mass extermination, pushed by the failure of their plans to deport people, the reviving fortunes of the USSR in the war (which closed off the east as a possible area for re-settlement), the failure of the Nazis to defeat Britain and then bully France into giving over Madagascar for another settlement plan.

It has all sorts of significance for us now as we refuse to take refugees, giving the dispossessed and the vulnerable nowhere to go. Fortunately this time, Germany is leading Europe in being welcoming and civilised.

And finally, I thought this statement from the Jewish Socialist Group was very interesting.