Guardian contributor: diaspora Jews have a special obligation to criticize the settlements

Do non-Israeli Jews around the world have a special obligation to criticize West Bank settlements?

Yes, according to Joshua Simons, a former policy adviser to Jeremy Corbyn whose op-ed (Why Jews in Labour place little trust in Jeremy Corbyn) appeared in the Guardian on Sept. 11th.

To be fair, the bulk of his piece on antisemitism is spot-on.

In modern Britain, it is no longer true that intellectuals are ashamed of antisemitism. In the eyes of the leaders of the British far left, Israel’s occupation – for some, even Israel’s existence – offers a firm moral basis for antipathy towards Jews in Israel or, more ambitiously, towards Jews everywhere.

Simons also reports the following astonishing revelation – reportedly referring to Corbyn’s communications chief (and former Guardian associate editor) Seumas Milne:

After six months working as a policy adviser for Jeremy Corbyn, it was clear to me that the way Corbyn and those around him think about Jewish people is shaped by a frenetic anti-imperialism, focused on Israel and America. Without a hint of irony, one senior aide asked that I remove the greeting “Chag Kasher VeSameach” from Corbyn’s Passover message, for fear that Corbyn’s supporters might think the use of Hebrew “Zionist”.

He also notes how the narrative of Jews and privilege plays a role in fomenting antisemitic attitudes among the British Left.

Antisemitism among the British left continues to be about capitalism too. The familiar image endures of the Jew as the master of usury, the sedentary banker and financier, the archetypal neoliberal even. This persistent trope of Jews as the ultimate capitalists reinforces the view of those on the left who resent capitalism per se – rather than, say, unrestrained markets – and feel that Jews cannot be victims because they have money and they have Israel.

Orwell argued that antisemitism was driven by a fear that Jews were subverting the establishment. Today, antisemitism on the British left is driven by the sense that Jews are part of the establishment, not against it. That Jews are part of an elite of extractive capitalists. And, above all, that Jews are part of an imperialist elite that defends the projection of American and Israeli power.

However, despite his generally strong grasp of the nature of modern left antisemitism as it pertains to Israel, Simons evidently fails to understand the significance of his reference to the relationship between diaspora Jews and Israeli settlements.
There is one important difference between these two manifestations of antisemitism. Few on the British left, including Corbyn, will openly admit to believing in an association between Jews and money. By contrast, many will openly admit to feeling differently about Jewish people because they have a special association with Israel, no matter how critical they may be of Israel’s policies. That was exactly my experience. As a Jew, I had a special obligation to criticise Israel’s settlement policy, but when I did, it was never quite believed. 

The belief by Simons that non-Israeli Jews have a special obligation to criticize Israeli settlement policy rests on a premise that is antisemitic according to widely accepted understandings of what precisely constitutes anti-Jewish racism – that is, holding Jews around the world collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Though his analysis of antisemitism in the Labour Party is largely accurate, by suggesting that Jews (and only Jews) must pass a special ideological purity test regarding Israel and the Palestinians to be accepted into the progressive community, Simons is singling out Jews for different treatment and thus legitimizing a fundamental element of the very racism he’s ostensibly opposing.


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