This week we commemorate 80 years since the famous battle of Cable Street, in which the labour Zionist youth movement I grew up in, Habonim, stood shoulder to shoulder with anti-fascists and leftwing demonstrators to prevent the British Union of Fascists from marching into the Jewish East End.
Zionism, a belief in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination – is an ideology that has enjoyed a long and proud history of support from the British labour movement.
The labour movement saw in Zionism the manifestation of its own ideals, as persecuted and downtrodden Jews fought for their equality among the nations. In so doing, they were struggling against history and prejudice, and liberating themselves while building a progressive and egalitarian society.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. In 1936, Zionism was indeed a belief in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and a movement for them to have their own homeland again.
But the article veers away from this commemoration of a historical event in a bid to skew readers’ opinion of modern issues:
Today, leftwing antisemitism often conceals itself behind the mask of anti-Zionism, whereby the existence of the Jewish state is rejected, regardless of its borders. Within such a paradigm, Israel is the Jew among the nations, the epicentre of evil, and the ultimate global pariah. In this perverse view, it is the Jewish state – rather than the Jewish people – poisoning wells, spreading disease and craving the blood of gentile children.
He is trying to get you to believe that Zionism has not changed in the 80 years since the events on Cable Street, and in this he is trying very hard to mislead you.
Zionism, as practised by people like Mr Regev, is no longer a peaceful movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation, nor even a peaceful movement for the development and protection of that nation.
Many people, including a very large proportion of Jewish people themselves, believe a certain brand of Zionism has become perverted into an unreasonable ideology of aggression that is constantly in danger of perpetrating, on others, crimes that were committed against the Jews.
It is not anti-Semitic to make such claims. Anti-Semitism is hostility, prejudice or discrimination against Jews – because they are Jews. Certainly it is possible for anti-Semites to hide “behind the mask of anti-Zionism” but, as many Jews are themselves opposed to Zionism, Mr Regev’s argument cannot stand.
He wants you to think all anti-Zionists are anti-Semites, you see. No doubt he would dismiss Jewish anti-Zionists as “self-hating Jews” (the phrase the aggressive Zionists have devised for their more peaceful fellows), but this is a misnomer. Jewish anti-Zionists don’t hate themselves. There’s very little evidence, if any, to suggest they hate Zionists. They just do not approve of the methods of aggressive Zionism.
He is trying to suppress discussion of aggressive Zionism, using this argument. But attempts to ban mention of the concerns it raises only strengthen the arguments against him, and against other aggressive Zionists attempting to do so.
Mr Regev’s claim that anti-Zionists reject the existence of the Jewish state is risible. Israel is not a state in which only Jews live; more than a quarter of the population are from other ethnic groups.
No, concern for Jews might have been the prime reason for the creation of Israel but, as a nation state, it is a secular entity. It would be unreasonable to suggest that the decisions of the Israeli government are motivated entirely by religion because they very clearly are not.
Does anybody criticise the UK as “the Anglican state”? Of course not. Yet the Church of England is the religion recognised by this country’s government as its own and represented in Parliament, and the Queen is styled as “Defender of the Faith”.
Mr Regev’s claim that anti-Zionists reject Israel, “regardless of its borders”, is at least an admission of his nation’s constant aggression against Palestinians, including invasion and theft of their land.
When Israel was created, its borders were not the same as they are now. Constant aggression against Israel’s neighbours has changed the shape of the country but Mr Regev wants you to believe that this has nothing to do with the rise of sentiment against Zionists, who are understood to be the principle movers behind the policy.
No, he wants you to believe Israel – and the Zionists – are victims of anti-Semitism, even while they steal land that legitimately belongs to others and suppress those who would try to resist, and even though many Jews have declared their opposition to these activities.
Understand this, and it becomes clear that his claim that anti-Zionists see “the Jewish state” in the terms he describes is nonsense.
Zionism is not Judaism. Israel is not Judaism. Mark Regev is a propagandist trying to exploit and pervert the memory of a proud collaboration between Jews, the Irish, and many British groups.
Don’t let him get away with it.
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