An existential threat?

David Landau writes: Are the Jewish People facing an existential threat? Yes, possibly.  But NOT from Jeremy Corbyn!  The threat comes from the growth of the far-right across Europe, especially the regimes in Hungary and Poland.  The Hungarian Government raises the banners of anti-Roma and Islamaphobia.  They have an anti-Semitic flag too, but substitute the name of Soros. In Poland they are banning references to Polish collaboration and involvement in the Holocaust.

Who embraces these regimes, regimes which could be a real existential threat to the Jewish People?  Our Government.  Donald Trump and, yes you guessed it, Benjamin Netanyahu. And who will take a stand against fascists and ultra-nationalists across Europe – Jeremy Corbyn!

I have to admit that I was astonished that the mainstream organs of the Jewish community have come out with this claim of an Existential Threat coming from Jeremy Corbyn.  I am a member of the Jewish Socialists’ Group and we have been opposed to much of what the Jewish Chronicle, the Board of Deputies etc have said about nearly everything.  But this was a step beyond what I imagined.  I could anticipate certain politicians making this claim.  I could imagine the far-right of the Zionist movement coming out with it.  But not this.

Why?  This goes beyond the real-politick that they are out to get Jeremy.  Of course, they are and have been for a couple of years now.  But the surprise is that they think that they can read the Jewish community to think that they can get away with such a claim.  Maybe, they have misread it and there will be a massive Jewish backlash saying ‘Not in our Name’.

But that does not seem to be happening.  I think we have to understand how raw the experience of the Holocaust remains and how this drives Zionism.   For many Jews there is an emotional and visceral relationship with Israel despite the fact that they live here.  Many of us have relations living there and even if we don’t, the survival of Israel appears to be bound up with our own survival because at the end of the day, if the anti-Semites return to smash us again we can always go to Israel where we will be protected.

So truly dangerous anti-Semitic regimes and movements get off the hook because they don’t criticise Israel and even praise Israel.  But Jeremy is hammered because he and his supporters question the legitimacy of the State of Israel – Whoa, that is the worst thing you can do, Israel is our rock, our escape route from the anti-Semites.

So we have to be very sensitive in the way we challenge this and yet stick to our principles on Palestine.  After all for the Palestinians experiences are very raw – for what is happening NOW!

The focus of this recent onslaught about existential threats is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism which gives examples of anti-Semitism involving Israel like saying that Zionism is a racist project.  Now I can understand how a Jew who regards herself as an anti-racist might be offended by such a claim in a different period.  But to make a fuss about it just now seems ironic, just when the Nation State Law has been passed, which is transparently racist.  And it follows the shooting, killing and wounding hundreds of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza demonstrating.

Maybe it is not ironic but deliberate.  Perhaps some in the Communal leadership feel that the Jeremy business might allow them to avoid talking about what is happening in Israel today.

Understanding McPherson

The Inquiry into the Death of Stephen Lawrence, chaired by Judge McPherson adopted a definition of a racist incident as ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.’  It is a strangely circular definition and appears to be entirely subjective.  It certainly could have been made clearer and has of course been made clearer as it has become part of legislation.  But its peculiar formulation has made it any easy target for mis-information by the tabloid press.  So week in and week out you hear how we live in a PC world where if you just point your finger at someone and say to the police “he is a racist”, the police can arrest him, the courts will convict him and he will be locked up and the key thrown away!  Err, no that is not what happens at all.

To understand the definition needs a bit of context about the Inquiry. The Inquiry was in two parts.  The first was a forensic examination of the police investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence.  The second part was the Inquiry Team travelling around the country to find out what was happening about racist crime.  They visited different communities and talked to many people.  Again and again they heard the same refrain – that when they reported a racist incident to the police or the council or a teacher in school, more often than not the authorities would say “We don’t think this was racist” and so there was no report of a racist incident.

What the definition sought to do was to make the authorities record it and to act upon it accordingly.  So if the victim, or the victim’s mum, or a witness who saw it happen and said it was racist then the incident had to be recorded and investigated as such.  Like any other crime, before you can arrest, try and convict somebody you have to have evidence.  In reality it is very difficult to get a conviction for incitement to racial or religious hatred, racially aggravated offences or similar legislation regarding homophobia and disability (the legislation is not quite the same and there is a campaign to equalise it up but that is another story).

The definition of racist incident was meant to include anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia.  That is not in contention.  But what McPherson and the Inquiry team could never have imagined is its application to this situation.

Margaret Hodge and her comrades can argue that a number, perhaps the majority of Jews find propositions such as ‘Zionism is a racist project’ or other propositions which question the legitimacy of the Israeli State, anti-Semitic.  They have reported this and failure to adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism with all its examples and so they want this be investigated by the police (not just the Labour Party internal processes) as a racist or series of racist incidents – unless they change their mind and adopt the IHRA definition and examples.  Hodge can also accuse Jeremy of racism under the definition because he is allowing things which the majority (or at least a lot) of Jews consider to be racist to happen under his watch.

Now if there was such an investigation around the failure to adopt the IHRA definition it would almost certainly fail to charge or convict anyone but the definition does appear to invite a recording of incidents and an investigation.

This is certainly not what was intended.  By the same argument a Robert Mugabe fan club could complain that calling him an evil dictator was racist because they perceived it to be and the police would have to record it as a racist incident and investigate the person who said it.  This application of the Hodge gambit would go down badly with the same tabloids who support her in her current endeavour.

Looking at this messy situation some are calling for the definition and the whole edifice of hate crime legislation to be abolished.  They, the anti-PC brigade, may try to say ‘we told you so’.  But I think that would be throwing the baby out with the bath water and some revision is needed.

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