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Labour should repudiate Emily Thornberry's embrace of Israel

December 24, 2017 at 11:05 am

UK’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, seen addressing the 2016 Labour Party conference on September 26, 2016 [Rwendland/Wikipedia]

One of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s few allies in the Parliamentary Labour Party has been Emily Thornberry. It was all the more disappointing, then, when she gave a terrible speech to Labour Friends of Israel last month.

As I wrote for The Electronic Intifada, the speech may as well have been written by LFI itself, so full of the Israel lobby group’s common propaganda themes as it was. She denounced the Palestinian-led BDS movement as “bigotry,” and other such nonsense.

The speech even threw in the old Zionist lie about Palestine being mostly devoid of civilization before the Zionist “pioneers” arrived to the “make the deserts bloom”.

This kinds of racist trope is a pretty common one in settler-colonial movements like Zionism. The white Afrikaners tended to propagate the myth that white people and black “Bantus” both settled in the regions that eventually became South Africa at roughly the same time. They tended to claim that this made whites “indigenous” to South Africa, and thus had an – at least – equal moral claim to the land.

They followed this up with typical racism about the supposed superiority of “Western Civilization” over “primitive” African cultures, which meant that whites were destined to rule over the black people. This racist ideology ultimately failed to win much support abroad. But it is too often now forgotten that, for long periods, western states – including the US and UK – were big supporters of the apartheid regime.

That Zionist settler-colonialism has managed to win more supporters abroad than Afrikaner settler-colonialism is partly a testament to its continuing ability to bamboozle a minority of the left in the west. This minority is fast diminishing, but it is still there nonetheless.

Even though in one sense the cause of Palestine is hegemonic on the left, the settler-colonial nature of Zionism is still too poorly understood by many. There is a sense in which some have been unwittingly fooled by a particular form of Israeli deception – the one which dictates that Zionism is the same thing as Judaism or Jewish identity in general.

As anti-racists on the left, we should be clear – this particular form of Israeli propaganda is not only incorrect in the facts, it is racist and anti-Semitic in conception.

As I have written before, Zionism is a fundamentally anti-Semitic ideology.

As the work of academics like Joseph Massad has long proved, Zionism has long had more than a flirtation with the worst anti-Semitic elements in the world – including the Nazi regime.

Some of Israel biggest allies in the world today are the worst anti-Semites, including Trump’s advisers and ex-adviser like Steve Bannon.

Bannon has been defended by Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, purely on the basis that he is a big supporter of Israel. It apparently doesn’t matter to Klein that Bannon not only runs Breitbart News – one of the biggest platforms for the racist and anti-Semitic “alt-right” – or that he allegedly did not want his children going to school with “whiny brat” Jews.

The point about Thornberry’s speech to LFI, as sad as it was, is that it was nothing new. These are all long-debunked propaganda themes.

The Israeli state has always used bad-faith accusations of anti-Semitism as a sort of ruse to convince people that its opponents have no valid argues, and are motivated by hatred of Jews.

This has meant that at times, Israel has had support on the left in the west. The main reason for this is that the social-democratic left, such as the UK’s Labour Party, has always been terrible on international issues. While Labour has in the past (such as in the post-war period) led the way on progressive domestic policies such as the National Health Service and the welfare state, it was not only weak on global issues of war and peace, but has at times actively run the British Empire.

It is in this ignoble tradition that Thornberry’s speech stood.

There are those on the British left – such as Paul Mason – that are today singing the siren song of imperialism to Labour’s very different leader Jeremy Corbyn. Their argument goes that Labour cannot win against both the interests of global capitalism and global imperialism at the same time, and that therefore, Corbyn should “compromise” by focusing his fight on the bankers, big business and tax avoiders.

They say he should jettison his long record of anti-imperialism by embracing war policies – like the NATO agenda and and Trident nuclear weapons. Less openly stated, but often implicit is that Corbyn should tone it down on Palestine.

While it is true that Corbyn  and the movement behind him may not be able to win, there is no choice but to try – on all fronts. Any jettisoning of popular international policies like being anti-war and pro-Palestinian rights would only lead to disillusionment in the popular movement which brought Corbyn to the leadership, and hence a long-term decline.

We should push back against these unprincipled and dishonest arguments in the other direction. Thornberry’s speech embracing Israeli racism was unacceptable and should be repudiated.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.