Antisemitic anti-Zionism: the root of Labour’s crisis

Alan Johnson’s submission to the Labour Party’s Chakrabarti inquiry on antisemitism and other forms of racism, published by Fathom, quotes my work. Here are some extracts:

Antisemitism is the most protean of hatreds and it has shape-shifted again (Gidley 2011). …

The Community Security Trust (CST), the UK Jewish community’s monitoring organisation, recorded that around one-third of the antisemitic incidents in July and August 2014 involved Holocaust-related language or imagery. Indeed, 239 of the 1,168 antisemitic incidents reported to CST across 2014 ‘employed discourse based on the Nazi period, including swastikas and references to the Holocaust’ (2015a). ‘Reference to Hitler or the Holocaust’ noted the CST, was used to taunt or offend Jews, often in relation to events in Israel and Gaza’ (cited in Gidley 2015). …

The academic Ben Gidley analysed the mass demonstrations organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in London during Operation Protective Edge and concluded that while antisemitism was not a ‘predominant presence’ at these events – indeed, ‘the overwhelming majority of messages […] were not antisemitic’ – antisemitism was ‘nonetheless a feature’ of street protests, where ‘a continuum of expressions emphasising the Holocaust’ was found (2015).

Holocaust Inversion placards were untypical and always homemade in the summer of 2014, Examples read: ‘Rabid evil mass murderers Hitlers clone’, ‘Stop the Palestinian Holocaust now – Fascist Israel will not escape justice’. One large banner read ‘Genocide Apartheid Holocaust 2014’ and ‘Baby Killers’ alongside a Star of David. There was at least one home-printed Holocaust Inversion placard: ‘Bush and Blair are our Adolf Hitler’s and Gaza is our Auschwitz’. The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry found that ‘banners and placards equating Israel with Nazi Germany … were said to have been paraded without police interruption’ (2015:60). …

The meaning of this kind of discourse – in particular whether it should be considered antisemitic or merely offensive – is disputed by anti-racists.

One recent locus of that dispute was the contrasting submissions of two anti-racist academics, David Feldman and Ben Gidley, to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism enquiry into antisemitism in the UK during the Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014 (Feldman 2015; Gidley 2015). The final report of the Inquiry, published in 2015, noted that ‘there was some debate between those from whom we took expert testimony regarding the nuances of the definition of antisemitism when it comes to Nazi comparison’ (APPG 2015). In short, Ben Gidley defined examples of Holocaust Inversion as antisemitic discourse but David Feldman did not, arguing that ‘the fact that they are wrong and hurtful does not render them antisemitic’ (2015). …

The Inversion is obscene; it verges on the demonic in its cruelty, as it implicitly demands, as a matter of ethical obligation, no less – and this after the rupture in world history that was the Shoah – the destruction of the Jewish homeland on the grounds that it is as a unique evil in the world, on a par with the Nazi state that perpetrated the Shoah. The discourse is, as Israeli Elhanan Yakira puts it, implicitly ‘annihilationist’. Ben Gidley, in a more English understated style, claims that ‘[t]o single out Hitler and the Holocaust as the frame for understanding the actions of the Jewish state is not neutral.’ (2015).

It is impossible to adequately grasp any of this if we insist upon the presence of individual subjectivity, personal motivation and conscious intention. Instead, we should understand the significance of any single piece of discourse as dependent upon (a) its place in the entire discursive structure in which it is embedded and upon (b) the social and political conjuncture in which it is employed, which also shapes its meaning, emotional colouring and ‘affective dimension’ and (c) its real-world consequences (Gidley 2011, Hirsh 2007). …


All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, (London, 2015).

Feldman, David, A sub-report for the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, (2015).

Gidley, Ben, ‘The Politics of Defining Racism: The Case of Antisemitism in the University and College Union’, Dissent Blog, 26 May (2011).

Gidley, Ben, 50 days in the Summer: Gaza, Political Protest and Antisemitism in the UK. A sub-report for the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, (2015)

Hirsh, David, Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections. Working Paper. Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) Occasional Papers (New Haven, CT., 2007).


About bengidley

Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Science, History and Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. View all posts by bengidley

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