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There’s no shame in Zionism: we must reclaim the word from anti-Semites

The Labour Party has a long and proud tradition of supporting Zionism. The hard Left would do well to remember this



Photo: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Quick question: how many black African MPs sat in the South African parliament during the apartheid era?


"The Left have succeeded in persuading us that the term Zionist refers to West Bank settlers, Israeli imperialists and Palestinian-haters"

OK, that one was too easy, I accept. So here’s another, and this one only demands a simple Yes/No answer: were all South African citizens, irrespective of colour, guaranteed the right to vote under apartheid? Honestly, these are not trick questions.

Throughout the country, and particularly on our university campuses, it is being suggested that, in moral terms, nothing separates the appalling white supremacist apartheid regime of South Africa with the Israeli state. It was reported yesterday that the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had ordered his officials to complain that posters comparing the two regimes had been illegally placed in the London Underground.


It’s an old trick frequently used by the hard of thinking: think of a country or person you don’t like; think of another, entirely separate, country or person that everyone dislikes, then say that country or person A is the same as country or person B.

Perhaps the protesters and poster-putters-up are too young to remember when apartheid was actually a thing – a bit like those youngsters who celebrated the death of Baroness Thatcher, even though they were babes in arms when she was forced out of Downing Street. But being young is no excuse for ignorance of the facts, which are that Israel isn’t just a democracy – it’s a social democracy, where women enjoy equal rights, where there exists a flourishing LGBT community, where trade unions are well organised and strong and where the press is unfettered and critical of the government.

But there’s no need to take my word for it – why don’t you ask Arab citizens of Israel which Middle Eastern country they would rather live in? The answer given by 77 per cent in one recent survey was (drum roll, please) Israel.

My, those comparisons with apartheid South Africa just keep on coming, don’t they?

But while such lazy analysis can be easily dismissed as evidence that universities really aren’t giving their students enough coursework to keep them busy, the onslaught against Israel from the broader Left of British politics is real, aggressive and worrying.

Michael Dugher, the former Shadow Culture Secretary who was recently sacked by Jeremy Corbyn, made a speech to a Labour Friends of Israel meeting last year in which he declared: “I am proud to call myself a friend of Israel. I am proud to call myself a Zionist.”

Even I, a long-term member of Labour Friends of Israel, did a double-take when I read that last line; not because I felt Michael shouldn’t have said what he said, but because it was an act of political courage rarely seen on the national stage in this modern era of safety-first soundbite politics. A Zionist, you say? Well, I mean, I support Israel and everything, but isn’t that going just a bit too far…?

No, it’s not.


"Attempts to redefine Zionism were always dangerous and threatening to the progressive cause. Such moves would be exploited by genuine anti-Semites"

The Left (and some on the Right, but mostly the Left) have succeeded in persuading us that the term refers to West Bank settlers, Israeli imperialists and Palestinian-haters. If you’re a Zionist you’re a hair’s breadth away from a National Front thug, the far Left would have us believe. And here, as in so many areas of life, they are entirely wrong.

Zionism is no more than the movement to re-establish and then protect the state of Israel. A Zionist is someone who defends Israel’s right to exist. The Labour Party has a long and proud tradition of supporting Zionism, through luminaries such as Richard Crossman and Ian Mikardo up to the present generation. But attempts to redefine Zionism and corrupt its true meaning were always dangerous and threatening to the progressive cause, simply because – inevitably – such moves would be exploited by genuine anti-Semites.

Yet that hasn’t stopped many in the leadership of both the Labour Party and its student movement from associating with such individuals.

When Alex Chalmers, former co-chairman of Oxford university Labour Club, resigned his post, he said: “A large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.” This includes, he alleged, members of the club’s executive using the word “Zio” to describe Jewish members of the student faculty. We may assume that the term is used in its new, distorted, derogatory meaning, rather than its true one.

Are we really that surprised? Isn’t such behaviour already being passively approved by the national leadership of the Labour Party? Not only do we have a leader who can’t even bring himself to utter the word “Israel” when he’s attending a reception organised by Labour Friends of You Know Where. But we also have a leader who calls the terrorist, anti-semitic fanatics of Hamas his “friends”.

And just last week, on 17 February, Ken Livingstone declared on LBC Radio that in his decades in the Labour Party, he had never come across any anti-Jewish sentiment on the Left. It was radio so we don’t know if he was wearing a straight face. This is a man who, as Mayor of London, literally embraced Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a scholar who believes that “every Jew in the world is the enemy” and that Muslims should not be friends with Jews in general, and Israelis in particular, lest such relationships diminish their appetite for fighting.


So is it really that surprising that in the days following the revelation of obscene bigotry and what appears to be anti-semitism among Labour members at Oxford, not a single Labour front bencher uttered a word about it?

I hope the term “Zionist” can be retrieved from the lexicon of the hate-spreaders, the ignorant and the anti-semitic.

And I hope, one day, someone unashamed to describe themselves as such will take his or her place at the head of my party.

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