Updated: Jan 15
31 October 2020
Neil Faulkner argues that the Left should not give an inch on the question of solidarity with Palestine.
‘To see what is in front of your nose needs a constant struggle,’ George Orwell once said. So it is now.
It’s easy to lose one’s bearings at a time like this. When a lie is repeated a million times, when everyone around you seems to believe it, even commentators you otherwise trust, when the lie rumbles on for years and periodically resurges with renewed force, one is liable to become disoriented and uncertain.
Nazanin Zathari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian journalist and charity administrator incarcerated by the Iranian regime, is reported saying the following about her relationship with her interrogators:
They tried to induce me to say something that didn’t exist. They said they had top-secret evidence that I worked for the [British] Parliament and against Iran. I was sure that was not the case, but they repeated it so much that I doubted myself when I returned to the cell. I spent long hours in my cell wondering if the projects I had worked on had anything to do with Iran. Then I told myself I was 100% sure that my projects had nothing to do with Iran, but after each interrogation, I would review these cases over and over again.
Members of the Labour Party, and progressive people in Britain more generally, find themselves in a similar predicament. The barrage of falsehood is so relentless, they begin to doubt what they know. So, by way of mutual reassurance, let us reaffirm what we know.
The Labour Party is not the natural home of anti-semites or any other kind of racist. Despite a colossal investment of time and resources by the Tory-dominated media in unearthing anti-semites lurking inside the Party, the results have been paltry. This merely confirms what commonsense tells us: if you are racist, you are unlikely to join the Labour Party, and the vast majority of Labour Party members are not racist, let along specifically anti-semitic.
That is why Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely correct to say that any problem of anti-semitism in the Labour Party was ‘dramatically overstated for political reasons’. Of course, it was. No-one was talking about anti-semitism in the Tory Party, the Church of England, or the National Trust. No-one was suggesting an investigation of other large civil-society organisations which might contain their share of Britain’s closet anti-semites. That’s because the real target was the Labour Left.
As the lie gathered momentum, it evolved, as lies easily do, since, unlike the truth, which is grounded in reality, they are shape-changers. I’ve watched this with a degree of fascination. First, it was a hunt for genuinely anti-semitic posts on social media. But they were precious few. So then it was a search for anti-Israel posts that could perhaps be construed as anti-semitic. It was often a fine distinction; but that mattered less and less, for a rapid conflation was under way. Anti-semitism was being equated with anti-Zionism.
This now appears to have reached a new stage. I learn that an organisation called the Community Security Trust is currently searching social media for terms linked to ‘leftwing anti-semitism’ such as ‘Zionist’. Presumably, it will henceforward be reporting those of us who use the term ‘Zionist’ to the Labour Party authorities. (They will find some of what they are looking for here.)
This conflation suits the Tories, the Liberal-Democrats, the Labour Right, the pro-Zionist organisations, and the mainstream media. They are, and always have been, pro-Israel and anti-Palestine. What is happening is that solidarity with Palestine in the face of Zionist dispossession, repression, and racism is being delegitimised and marginalised on the grounds that it is ‘anti-semitic’.
No-one should make the least concession to this. As Orwell understood so well, there is a long history of great political lies being used against the Left.
In the middle of the Russian Revolution, in the summer of 1917, the Right accused Lenin, the Bolshevik Party leader, of being in the pay of the German Kaiser. The lie was embraced and repeated by much of the social-democratic/reformist Left. The effect – for a time – was to drive the Bolshevik Party underground.
The ‘Zinoviev Letter’, published in The Daily Mail four days before the British General Election of October 1924, called on the British Communist Party to engage in subversive activities and implied that the election of a Labour government would hasten the moment of revolution. The letter is widely believed to have contributed to Labour’s defeat in the election. It was a fake.
The Russian revolutionary movement was destroyed in the late 1920s. A monstrous totalitarian-bureaucratic dictatorship was erected on the wreckage. This dictatorship then projected the most grotesque lies across the world, using local communist parties as transmitters, in order to further the interests of the ruling Stalinist regime. Books were banned. Photos were doctored. The exiled Bolshevik leader Trotsky was accused of being in the pay of Hitler. Revolutionaries, like members of the POUM militia in Spain in 1936, were branded ‘fascists’.
It was this inversion of the meaning of words by Stalin’s global lie-machine that inspired Orwell’s last two works, Animal Farm and 1984.
‘There was truth and there was untruth,’ he wrote, ‘and if you clung to the truth against the whole world, you were not mad.’ On the contrary: ‘During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.’
So let us apply that principle now. A couple of years back, I was investigated for alleged ‘anti-semitism’ by the Labour Party. I had spoken at a meeting on the Exeter University campus organised by the Arabic and Middle Eastern Society, supported by the University of Exeter Friends of Palestine Society, Exeter Socialist Students, and Exeter Labour Students. Several months later, I received a ‘Notice of Investigation’ from the Labour Party.
I will quote only the most critical words of my response:
The Israeli state is based upon the forcible dispossession of the Palestinian people of their land, and upon ongoing discrimination against, and repression of, Palestinians living under Israeli control. Israel is based on ethnic-cleansing and operates a form of apartheid. These are simple statements of historical fact, and I would label these processes as ‘racist’. Because I am a consistent anti-racist, I stand with Jewish people against the anti-semitic attacks of the Right, and with the Palestinian people against the repression of the Israeli state.
That is still my position. It will not change. Socialists have an absolute moral responsibility to stand in defence of the truth and in solidarity with the oppressed.
Neil Faulkner is the author of A Radical History of the World and a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance.