Conceptual Vandalism, Historical Distortion: The Labour Antisemitism Crisis and the Limits of Class Instrumentalism
Jamie Stern-Weiner, ed., Antisemitism and the Labour Party (London: Verso, 2019), https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4508-antisemitism-and-the-labour-party. This article has greatly benefited from comments by Daniel Allington, Ben Gidley, Susie Jacobs, Frederick Harry Pitts, David Seymour, Marcel Stoetzler, and Jack Watkins.
Ibid., 201, 242. This article will primarily focus on the work of Stern-Weiner, Finn, Finkelstein, and Gilbert, as they provide the main theoretical thrust of the report. It will occasionally reference other contemporaneous works by these writers not featured here, including relevant essays written in the post-election period.
While the report does overlap at points with Greg Philo et al., Bad News for Labour (London: Pluto Press, 2019), particularly in the section on media coverage, there is a much broader range of arguments contesting claims of antisemitism within Labour featured here. For a critique of Bad News for Labour, which complements the analysis
in this article, see Daniel Allington, “Review: Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party, and Public Belief by
Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Anthony Lerman, and David Miller. London: Pluto Press, 2019. 272 pp.
£14.99,” Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism 3, no. 1 (2020): 127–133.
For a critique of such “truncated” forms of “traditional” Marxism from the perspective of contemporary “new readings
of Marx,” see Ingo Elbe, “Between Marx, Marxism, and Marxisms—Ways of Reading Marx’s Theory,” Viewpoint,
October 21, 2013, https://www.viewpointmag.com/2013/10/21/between-marx-marxism-and-marxisms-ways-ofreading-
The one exception, somewhat bizarrely, is a comment piece I co-wrote on antisemitic forms of anticapitalism, which
features three times (Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts, “To Combat Left Anti-Semitism, Corbynism Must Change
the Way it Sees the World,” New Statesman, March 27, 2018, https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2018/03/
combat-left-anti-semitism-corbynism-must-change-way-it-sees-world). An expanded version appears in Matt Bolton
and Frederick Harry Pitts, Corbynism: A Critical Approach (Bingley: Emerald, 2018). The present article will focus
on the role of Israel in this worldview rather than conspiratorial views of “international finance” and “globalism”
highlighted in these works.
See, for example, Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” in his Early Writings (London: Penguin, 1992); Theodor Adorno
and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford University Press, 2002); Robert Wistrich, Socialism and
the Jews (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982); Moishe Postone, “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism: Notes
on the German Reaction to ‘Holocaust,’” New German Critique 19, no. 1 (Winter 1980): 97–115; Enzo Traverso, The
Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate, 2nd ed. (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2018); Hans Kundnani, Utopia or
Auschwitz: Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust (London: Hurst and Co., 2009); Colin Shindler, Israel and
the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimization (London: Continuum, 2012); Robert Fine and Philip
Spencer, Antisemitism and the Left (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017); David Hirsh, Contemporary
Left Antisemitism (London: Routledge, 2017); Dave Rich, The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and
Anti-Semitism, 2nd ed. (London: Biteback, 2018).
James Bloodworth, “Why is No One Asking about Jeremy Corbyn’s Worrying Connections?,” The Guardian, August 13,
Harry Yorke, “Jeremy Corbyn Attended a Conference with Hamas Military Leader Jailed for Terror Attacks which Left
Dead,” Daily Telegraph, August 19, 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/08/19/exclusive-jeremy-
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 44.
Ibid., xii, 55.
Jamie Stern-Weiner, “We Need to Learn Lessons From Labour’s ‘Antisemitism Crisis,’” Jacobin, February 21, 2020,
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, xii.
Ibid., xi. Indeed, at the time of writing it had risen from the dead once more after Rebecca Long-Bailey, Corbyn’s
favoured candidate in the leadership election following his resignation, was sacked by new leader Keir Starmer. Long
Bailey had approvingly retweeted an article speculatively asserting that Israeli “secret services” had trained US police
in the restraint techniques leading to the death of George Floyd, thus shifting ultimate responsibility for American
police brutality to Israel. John McDonnell, formerly Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor, defended the unsubstantiated
theory as mere “criticism of the practices of the Israeli state” (see Eve Garrard, “What John McDonnell Still Does Not
Understand,” Fathom, July 2020, https://fathomjournal.org/fathom-opinion-john-mcdonnell-man-of-principle.
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, xi.
Home Affairs Select Committee, Antisemitism in the UK (2016), paragraph 11, https://publications.parliament.uk/
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 17.
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, “Working Definition of Antisemitism,” https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/working-definition-antisemitism (emphasis added). Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 197.
L. Daniel Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain: A Study of Attitudes towards Jews and Israel (London: Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 2017); Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 7–8, 28, 83–84, 40–47, 157, 196–197.
Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, 24. For an insightful analysis of the Labour antisemitism crisis that builds upon this distinction, see Ben Gidley, Brendan McGeever, and David Feldman, “Labour and Antisemitism: A Crisis Misunderstood,” Political Quarterly 91, no. 2 (May-June 2020): 413–421.
Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, 44.
Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, 46.
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 38.
Sarah Brown, “Book Review: Antisemitism and the Labour Party,” Fathom, March 2020, https://fathomjournal.org/book-review-antisemitism-and-the-labour-party.
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 42–25.
Ibid., 248 n4.
For the history of this tendency, see Traverso, The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate; and Shindler, Israel and the European Left.
On this point, see Postone, “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism,” 104–106.
For recent examples of work in this tradition, see Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism,” Public Culture 18, no. 1 (Winter 2006): 93–110; Werner Bonefeld, Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy (New York, London: Bloomsbury, 2014), ch. 9; Lars Rensmann, The Politics of Unreason: The Frankfurt School and the Origins of Modern Antisemitism (Albany, NY: SUNY, 2017); Marcel Stoetzler, “Capitalism, the Nation and Societal Corrosion: Notes on ‘Left-Wing Antisemitism,” Journal of Social Justice 9 (2019): 1–45.
For an account of Adorno and Horkheimer’s shift in position, see Fine and Spencer, Antisemitism and the Left, 53–63.
See Allington, “Review: Bad News for Labour,” 130.
Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, 29.
Daniel Allington and David Hirsh, “The AzAs (Antizionist Antisemitism) Scale: Measuring Antisemitism as Expressed in Relation to Israel and Its Supporters,” Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism 2, no. 2 (2019): 43–51.
Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, 31.
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 17–18.
In characteristic fashion, Gilbert provides no evidence for this claim. Given the JPR found “elevated levels” of anti-Israel sentiment amongst the “fairly” left-wing, it is likely that “socially liberal voters” were more, not less, likely to agree claims of antisemitism against Corbyn based on his views on Israel were “smears” propagated by the powerful.
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 150.
Ibid., 161, 165.
Jeremy Gilbert, “An Inevitable Division: The Politics and Consequences of the Labour Split,” Open Democracy,
February 20, 2019, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/inevitable-division-politics-and-consequences-
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 82–83.
Jade Azim, ‘The real battle for Labour’s soul? Lansmanites vs cranks,’ LabourList, 8 August 2018 [Available at: https://
Justin Cohen, “Corbyn ‘Suspected Hand of Israel’ in Egypt Bombing during Press TV Interview,” Jewish News, July 29,
Eleni Courea, “Assad Defender Backs MP Chris Williamson over Antisemitism Dispute,” The Times, August 17,
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 12, 19–20, 84, 173–176. Mark Gardner, “Bristol University Says It Is ‘Academic Freedom’
to Wrongly Accuse Us of Spreading Islamophobia,” Jewish Chronicle, September 12, 2019, https://www.thejc.com/
comment/comment/cst-oped-david-miller-bristol-university-1.488505. During the writing of this article, Miller
resigned from the Labour Party after an party investigation was launched into his conduct, blaming the “influence”
of “the Zionist movement . . . on the British left and British politics more widely” (Lee Harpin, “Ahead of a Probe into
his Conduct, Bristol Professor Resigns from Labour Blaming ‘the Zionist Movement,’” Jewish Chronicle, June 15, 2020,
Jessica Elgot, “Gove Criticised for Refusing to Condemn Hungary’s Viktor Orbán,” The Guardian, September 16, 2018,
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 115–120.
For an account of the battle over the Israeli boycott within the UCU, see David Hirsh, Contemporary Left Antisemitism
(London: Routledge, 2017), ch. 4.
For the history of antisemitism within the Stop the War Coalition, see Rich, The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn,
Israel and Anti-Semitism, ch. 5. For a remarkably prescient 2011 warning of how the “story of extremism and the
British left will, someday soon, become a big one for our media,” see Rob Marchant, “Our Tolerance of Extremism
will Do for Us,” LabourList, July 4, 2011, https://labourlist.org/2011/07/our-tolerance-of-extremism-will-do-for-us/.
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 17, 57–59, 115–120, 121–130.
Tom Powell, ‘Posters Claiming ‘Israel is a Racist Endeavour’ Appear at London Bus Stops and are being Investigated
by Police,” Evening Standard, September 5, 2018, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/outrage-as-postersclaiming-
israel-is-a-racist-endeavour-spring-up-at-london-bus-stops-a3928681.html; Daniel Sugarman, “Academic
Tells University Event Jewish Students’ Campus Fears are ‘Propaganda,’” Jewish Chronicle, November 20, 2018, https://
Dan Sabbagh, “Labour Adopts IHRA Antisemitism Definition in Full,” The Guardian, September 4, 2018, https://
Cf. Jürgen Habermas, “The European Nation State. Its Achievements and Its Limitations. On the Past and Future of
Sovereignty and Citizenship,” Ratio Juris, February 9, 1996, 125–137.
Cf. Colin Shindler, Israel and the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimization (London: Continuum, 2012).
It should be noted that the argument works the other way round, too—there are no grounds for denying Palestinian
“people” or “nationhood” if Jewish peoplehood is accepted. Like all nationalisms, both are historically constituted
forms, rather than eternal essences, and as such there are no grounds for legitimating one against the other.
Moreover, as Fred Halliday noted nearly forty years ago, the fantasy of a bi-national socialist state has never had
more than minimal support in either Israel or the Palestinian territories, and in that sense constitutes a far more
‘imperialist’ and anti-democratic project than a two-state solution (see his “Revolutionary Realism and the Struggle for Palestine,” MERIP Reports 96 [May 1981]: 3–12).
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 128.
See Lyn Julius, Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight (Elstree: Vallentine Mitchell, 2018).
For a superb recent attempt to undo decades of distorted history of Israel and Zionism within the left, see Susie Linfield, The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2019).
According to figures compiled by the Jewish Virtual Library, over 116,000 people have died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1920 (“Vital Statistics: Total Casualties, Arab-Israeli Conflict,” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/total-casualties-arab-israeli-conflict). By comparison, since 2011 it is estimated that anywhere between 380,000 and 585,000 people have died during the war in Syria (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “Nearly 585,000 People have been Killed since the Beginning of the Syrian Revolution,” January 4, 2020, https://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=152189.
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 14.
Corbyn’s description of Hamas as “an organisation that is dedicated . . . to bringing about peace and social justice and political justice for the whole region” is discussed in Hirsh, Contemporary Left Antisemitism, 43–44.
Edward Said, “On Palestinian Identity: A Conversation with Salman Rushdie,” New Left Review 160 (November/December 1986): 63–80. For a recent rendition of this argument, see Houria Bouteldja, Whites, Jews and Us (Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2017), in which Zionism is explicitly presented as the dividing line between the forces of oppression-in-general and “revolutionary love.” For an excellent critical review of Bouteldja from the left, focusing particularly on antisemitism, see Ivan Segre, “A Native with a Pale Face,” LA Review of Books, November 2018, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-native-with-a-pale-face/.
David Hirsh has described this phenomenon as the forcible “exile” of Jews from the “community of the good” (Contemporary Left Antisemitism, 3 and passim).
See, for example, the interrogation about Israel and Zionism Labour staffer Joshua Simons allegedly found himself subject to when Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s chief strategist, discovered he was Jewish (James Lyons, “Corbyn Insider Fuels Anti-Semitism Row,” The Sunday Times, August 7, 2016, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/corbyn-insider-fuels-anti-semitism-row-ks89d6j65).
Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, 14.
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 4.
Stephen Miller, Margaret Harris, Colin Shindler, The Attitudes of British Jews Towards Israel (London: Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Social Sciences, City University, 2015).
Werner Bonefeld, “Nationalism and Anti-Semitism in an Anti-Globalization Perspective,” in Human Dignity: Social Autonomy and the Critique of Capitalism, ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis (Oxford: Routledge, 2017), 153.
UK Parliament, Early Day Motions, EDM no. 1360: “Never Again for Anyone Initiative,” https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/42381.
The Nazi genocide of the Roma and Sinti may constitute an exception to this distinction. There remains a dispute within the literature as to whether the Nazis intended to wipe out the Roma and Sinti in their entirety in precisely the same way as the Jews. Nevertheless it is clear that the Nazis’ treatment of the Nomadic Roma and Sinti at least was closer to that of the Jews than any other group. Indeed, the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial Centre in Israel describes those groups’ fates as “tantamount” to that of the Jews, negating the supposed point of Corbyn’s EDM from the outset (“Non-Jewish Victims of Persecution in Germany,” Yad Vashem, https://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/nazi-germany-1933-39/non-jewish-victims.html). My thanks to Susie Jacobs for raising this point.
Norman Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry (London: Verso, 2000), 13; Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 125.
Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry, 46–47.
Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, 36.
Sarah Marsh, “Corbyn Apologises over Event where Israel was Compared to Nazis,” The Guardian, August 1, 2018,
“Hajo Meyer: CIA en Mossad hebben 9/11 Twin Towers opgeblazen,” YouTube, September 10, 2011, https://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=t14A9__Vd4w; James Vaughan, “Here’s Why It Matters that Labour’s Governing Body has
Moved Away from the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism,” The Conversation, August 3, 2018, https://theconversation.
Andrew Gilligan and Anna Gizowska, “Warsaw Ghetto Vandal to Speak at Momentum’s Corbyn Festival,” The Sunday
Times, September 9, 2018, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/warsaw-ghetto-vandal-to-speak-at-momentumscorbyn-
festival-0rr8m7wqb. The Sunday Times described Jasiewicz’s graffiti as having “desecrated” the Ghetto. It
should be noted that the wall she graffitied is not the remaining fragment of the original historic Ghetto wall, but
rather a modern wall, regularly used by graffiti artists, within the area that had been the Ghetto. To that extent the
act of graffiti itself, as opposed to the content of the graffiti, should not be characterised as a “desecration.” My
thanks to Ben Gidley for clarifying this point.
Jewdas, “Some More In Depth Thoughts on the Warsaw Ghetto Graffiti Broygus or ‘Rabbi Geoffry’s Rosh Hashanah
Drash,’” Facebook, September 10, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=87620810923531
Ewa Jasiewicz, “Ewa Jasiewicz Replies,” Labour Briefing, September 15, 2018, https://labourbriefing.org/
For a short summary of the radical disparity between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza, see Bob From Brockley, “Gaza/
Warsaw Ghetto,” BobfromBrockley, July 24, 2014, http://brockley.blogspot.com/2014/07/gazawarsaw-ghetto.html.
“Solidarity with Ewa Jasiewicz. . . . Free Gaza and Palestine. Liberate all ghettos. These words aren’t antisemitic.
They’re anti-racist. I suspect that stories like this will be pushed hard in the coming months, as part of the informal
silencing effects of IHRA adoption.” Ash Sarkar (@ayocaeser), Tweet, September 9, 2018, https://twitter.com/
Stern-Weiner, Antisemitism, 103, 265.
Ibid., 103, 107, 102–104.
“I find that ranking of suffering morally abhorrent. . . . In fact, the ‘Holocaust uniqueness’ agenda has been mobilised
for flatly political purposes: if Jews are ‘unique’ victims, then Israel cannot be held to normal standards.” Jamie Stern-
Weiner (@jsternweiner), Tweet, August 19, 2018, https://twitter.com/jsternweiner/status/1031158429870641152.
By focusing on the subjective question of “suffering” rather than the objective distinctions between projects of
genocidal violence and other forms of oppression, Stern-Weiner again deprives the concept of genocide of its
Postone was critiquing that part of the left—epitomized by Corbynism—which fixates on Israel while ignoring
the democratic revolution in Syria, if not outright supporting the Assadist counter-revolution in the name of
“anti-imperialism.” “Moishe Postone on the Left and Syria: ‘You’d think that after the beginnings of a democratic
uprising put down w/ incredible brutality by Assad, that that would ring a bell. Large parts of the Left have lost their
theoretical acumen, political analysis, and their moral compass.’” Joey Ayoub (@joeyayoub), Tweet, March 22, 2018,
https://twitter.com/joeyayoub/status/976891551346552832. For more on the “Western left’s” failure on Syria, see
Yassin Al Haj Saleh, “Syria and the Left,” New Politics, Winter 2015, https://newpol.org/issue_post/syria-and-left/.
On Corbynism and Syria in particular, see Bolton and Pitts, Corbynism, 109–114.
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