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Is antisemitism a trick? A closer look at that Shulamit Aloni meme

The video of Israeli politician Shulamit Aloni describing allegations of antisemitism as a ‘trick’ used to silence critics of Israel is often cited in exchanges about Jew-hatred in the Labour Party. But does it shed any light on the matter?

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In the 2002 interview, the former government minister was asked by Amy Goodman: “Often when there is dissent expressed in the United States against policies of the Israeli government, people here are called antisemitic. What is your response to that as an Israeli Jew?”

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Aloni replied “Well, it’s a trick, we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticising Israel, then we bring up the Holocaust. When in this country [the US] people are criticising Israel, then they are antisemitic.” (See the whole interview here.)

She said there was an “Israel, my country right or wrong” attitude and “they’re not ready to hear criticism”. Antisemitism, the Holocaust and “the suffering of the Jewish people” were used to “justify everything we do to the Palestinians”, claimed Aloni.

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But were Shulamit Aloni’s remarks a confession, revealing tactics to which she had been privy when in government? Was she spilling the beans on a dastardly strategy used by all Zionists, as some people dismissive of concerns about left antisemitism have portrayed her comments?

Not really. Aloni was speaking of Israel as ‘we’ in a collective sense the same way that British citizens often say ‘we’ about the UK even when describing events in which they’ve played no part — e.g. “We have alienated the EU with our approach to Brexit negotiations”.

Aloni served in the Yitzhak Rabin-led government that agreed the Oslo accords with the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1993. These allowed limited self-governance in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a process intended to achieve a long-term resolution to the conflict.

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But Rabin was assassinated in 1995, Aloni retired from government in 1996 and, by the time of the DemocracyNow interview in 2002, the peace process had collapsed, the Second Intifada was underway and a rightwing Likud government led by hardliner Ariel Sharon was in office.

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Shulamit Aloni, a human rights campaigner who had led the left Zionist party Meretz, was not confessing to having made false allegations of antisemitism, as many people have since claimed. Rather, she was making an accusation against the government of Ariel Sharon.

Governments throwing in red herrings to deflect criticism and disarm their political opponents is hardly something unique to Israel. Wherever accusations are made — about almost anything — some will be unwarranted, whether that’s due to bad faith or genuine misunderstanding.

But it certainly doesn’t follow from that that concerns about antisemitism in the UK Labour Party today are “just a trick”. As NEC member Jon Lansman revealed in a recent interview, Labour’s antisemitism disciplinary cases are “very rarely to do with Israel-Palestine”.

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Anyone who challenges antisemitic comments soon finds they are accused of trying to stifle criticism of Israel even when there’s been no reference to it. All the examples below were posted by Labour members who also claimed they were just being critical of Israel or Zionism.

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And in many other cases where the Israel-Palestine issue has been mentioned, it is clearly just a pretext to introduce conspiracy theories about supposed Jewish power and influence, devious plotting and nefarious agendas. Classic antisemitism but with contemporary references.

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The cynicism in this debate comes from those who use the Shulamit Aloni quote as if it were a confession of mendacity on behalf of all Jewish people who complain about antisemitism.

Accounts of antisemitic incidents should be treated seriously, not dismissed as acts of subterfuge by a foreign state. Most Jewish Labour members may identify with Israel, but they don’t raise these concerns because they’ve been given instructions by its government.

Written by

#FunkMaverick, electronic muso and Labour Party, Unite the union, People’s Assembly and antiracist activist.

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