My submission to the Shami Chakrabarti inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party

Shami Chakrabarti

I am an active member of Palestine Solidarity Campaign and have met many Labour Party members and supporters and politicians including Jeremy Corbyn. I am a Labour Party voter (though not a member) and sometimes comment on a Labour Party Facebook group.

I have seen a number of anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic or anti-Muslim comments on Labour Party related Facebook groups. However, it doesn’t follow that these were “within the party” as Facebook is an international forum and many of those posting such comments live outside of Britain.

I am not aware of the Party’s ethics, rules and procedures for dealing with inappropriate language or conduct. I am, however, extremely concerned about the hastiness with which members have been suspended on grounds of alleged anti-Semitism. I am also extremely concerned by statements made by John McDonnell on the Andrew Marr Show. Mr McDonnell appeared to be expressing the view that any statement that Jewish people claimed was anti-Semitic should be recognised as such. This is highly problematic for several reasons. Firstly, Mr McDonnell fails to acknowledge that pro-Zionist Jews have a long record of using accusations of anti-Semitism to try to smear and silence those of us speaking up on behalf of Palestinian rights. Secondly, even when they are not doing so cynically many Jews and non-Jews (including those who are not Zionist but who are merely influenced by the Zionist narrative of Israel as “the state for the Jewish people”) confuse support for Palestinian rights or opposition and anger towards Israel or Zionism with anti-Semitism. Therefore, the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism which seeks to accommodate the feelings and expressed wishes of all Jewish people within the Labour Party would inevitably result in unjust accusations being made against supporters of Palestinian rights within the Labour Party.

I would like to respond to the suggestions being made by some people that the Labour Party should prohibit the use of the word “Zionism” by supporters of Palestinian rights who describe themselves as anti-Zionist or who express opposition to Zionism. This is a totally ridiculous suggestion. Zionism is the political ideology that believes in the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel/Palestine. From a pro-Zionist perspective the sufferings that the Palestinian people have had to endure since before the creation of the state of Israel right the way through to the present are seen, at best, as an unfortunate side-effect of this supposedly marvellous and glorious project. According to the Zionist narrative the Palestinians are designated as “Arabs” who could just as easily live anywhere else in the Middle East. This dehumanising narrative strips Palestinians of their individuality and personhood. It denies us the opportunity to recognise them as the complex and diverse human beings that they truly are — with the same hopes, longings and aspirations of human beings everywhere. It denies us the opportunity to recognise them as members of families and communities — often completely isolated from one another by the state of Israel and unable to meet up socially for family gatherings in the way that we take for granted. Most Zionists in the UK (both Jewish and non-Jewish) are not overtly racist and do not make overtly racist statements (though some do) but the Zionist narrative is nonetheless a racist narrative in that is attaches more importance to the feelings and sensibilities of one ethnic group than it does to the lives and basic human rights of an other. The illegal and immoral actions of the state of Israel and the international support and impunity that it enjoys are an expression of the ideology of Zionism. Those of us who describe ourselves as anti-Zionist or who express our opposition to Zionism are asserting our right to talk about these matters in an intelligent manner that acknowledges the role of ideology in creating, perpetuating and providing impunity for Israel’s on-going oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people. We are asserting our right to express our opposition to a narrative the denies them their individuality, their personhood, their history, their right to aspire to a better future, and that, all too often, hatefully seeks to blame them for their fate. We are asserting our right to forcefully assert that the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people cannot be traded away for the sake of a misguided ideology that, by its very nature, guarantees their on-going oppression and suffering. It will be a complete inversion of the truth if such views come to be designated as “racist.”

Thank you for your consideration of the above points and I wish you well in considering all of the evidence submitted in a fair minded manner and arriving and appropriate conclusions and recommendations.