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Against the witch-hunt

Originally published: Morning Star Online on December 2020 (more by Morning Star Online)  |

THE assault on free speech within Britain’s Labour Party speaks like a ghost from my past. I was banned from public speaking in apartheid South Africa almost 60 years ago. My crime, aged 23, was advocating votes for all. The apartheid government accused those like me of undermining the safety of whites.

When all avenues of peaceful change were blocked, we had no option but to turn to armed struggle. We argued that there was no equivalence between the state violence of the oppressor and the resistance of the oppressed. International solidarity helped bring about the demise of the apartheid system.

We empathise with those in the Labour Party today, who are being victimised by a double agenda: for their socialism and for defending Palestinian rights. It is astonishing and deplorable that a witch hunt is underway within those ranks–as elsewhere.

I was invited to address a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) event in Vienna over a year ago which the city council quickly banned. A couple of months ago I was involved in a planned event with Palestinian freedom fighter Leila Khaled, at San Francisco State University, which was blocked.

Then attempts to have our discussion broadcast via Zoom, Facebook and Youtube were obstructed. The voice that opponents of free speech were desperate to gag was Khaled–the Palestinian narrative being the primary target.

Those who attack human rights, whether in advanced capitalist countries or feudal tyrannies, simultaneously attack Palestinian rights. They follow violent precedents and consequences.

Repressing freedom of speech in South Africa paved the way for the emergence of a terrorist state.

Ruthless suppression was instrumentalised in Europe’s colonies and by U.S. imperialism on the back of slavery and genocide–and in the colonisation and dismantling of Palestine. The context was the project to counter the national-liberation upsurge of the 20th century.

The Apartheid regime’s use of anti-communism as a blanket device to smash opposition, along with Joe McCarthy’s witch hunting, is mirrored in manipulating “anti-semitism” as a shield to protect Israel. It is an umbrella formula to delegitimise the Palestinian cause and BDS campaign.

Upholding Palestinian rights has been reflected in United Nations resolutions and statements by Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu, Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky and, back in time, Jewish scholars such as Eric Fromm and Martin Buber.

Apartheid alleged that the South African struggle was about sweeping whites into the sea and handing the country to Russia. This echoes the claim that giving in on human and national rights of the dispossessed Palestinians means the extinction of the Jewish people.

Those linking freedom of expression and Palestinian solidarity articulate the same goals as we did in South Africa’s struggle–the objective is about changing a system, not destroying a people.

Criticising Zionism, an exclusivist ethnic-based political doctrine, is not anti-semitic. It is the valid criticism of a reactionary political theory. Zionism, not the Judaic religion; Israel, not the Jewish people is the focus of criticism.

The anti-communism of apartheid South Africa and charges of anti-semitism against Israel’s critics are terms of Machiavellian elasticity stretched by charlatans to stifle opposition. This is the new taboo. The untouchable holy cow shamelessly peddled in Western countries that preach freedom of expression.

Those who fall prey, who are deceived by the confusion sown, should note the lesson of the boy who cried wolf. When the real monster of anti-semitism strikes, the most steadfast of opponents, have been on the left of the political spectrum.

False allegations of anti-semitism weaken the fight against the real demon. This is exactly the pitfall of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) treatise conflating criticism of Israel with hate speech.

It is biased and fatally flawed: a dubious, non-internationally represented Eurocentric document, devised by a hand-picked cabal of sophists seeking to be referee and player at the same time. With a veiled attempt at “objectivity,” Israel is given umbrella-like cover, impunity for its crimes and a cudgel to beat its opponents.

In 1948 when Menahem Begin visited New York to raise funds for his party–later to become Sharon and Netanyahu’s ruling Likud–Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt labelled him a “fascist.” After cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians that year, an Israeli cabinet minister, Aharon Cizling, declared “now we too have behaved like Nazis and my whole being is shaken.”

In terms of the IHRA’s guidelines they would be labelled anti-semitic. Jeremy Corbyn’s “crime,” stating that accusations of anti-semitism within the Labour Party have been exaggerated, is miniscule by comparison.

Manufacturing mountains out of mole hills characterises the sophistry of medieval inquisitors, hitching Labour to the Blairite anti-socialist bandwagon. Unopposed, this witch hunt will escalate, attacking popular protest wherever humanity opposes injustice.

We say to the deceit of Labour Party leaders, Starmer and Angela Rayner, who misappropriate a sacred trade-union principle: yes, “an injury to one is an injury to all”–but in your denialism you ignore the millions of Palestinians facing the bullets and bombs of Israeli aggression.

The recent statement of prominent Palestinian and Arab figures with regard to the IHRA’s false strictures eloquently attests to how the issue of anti-semitism should be formulated.

They declare:

Anti-semitism must be debunked and combated. Regardless of pretence, no expression of hatred for Jews as Jews should be tolerated anywhere in the world.

The left and human-rights movement, including Black Lives Matter and formations such as the African National Congress of South Africa, should join those Palestinian and Arab voices in formulating genuinely international guidelines regarding defence of free speech and in combatting the scourge of anti-semitism and all forms of racism.

This article is based on an address to a London online Free Speech Rally, December 12, 2020.

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