Susan M. George
Nonprofit executive and proud left-wing Zionist who sings and acts sometimes

Labour Antisemitism, California’s Cautionary Tale

By SpiralKid
By SpiralKid

I awoke this morning to hopeful and heartening news. Though still not certain, it appears that the UK Labour Party will adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and guidelines of antisemitism. Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke stirringly in defense of it when he said:

I want to say to you very clearly today. That the IHRA definition of antisemitism is something that we should support unanimously, unequivocally, and immediately.”

The concern expressed by members in Labour that certain segments of the IHRA definition suppress criticism of Israel or interfere with their support of the Palestinian people is often expressed on the left side of the political spectrum in the United States as well.

I ask you. In what other form of racism, hatred, or bigotry do we say this? The answer is none. Especially in the United States, the First Amendment protects even hate speech. And this is as it should be. Free speech is a cherished freedom in our country and though it is a messy and perilous path at times, it is a worthy one. The freedom to speak cuts in all directions.

However, defining what constitutes actual hate speech is not censorship and these two must not be conflated. We need to be able to recognize hate speech and choose to use it or not, especially in left politics where we pride ourselves on being anti-racist, anti-hate, anti-bigotry. And if we do use it, condemnations should be expected. As Gordon Brown also recently said:

I believe our party is the party of conscience. But our conscience means that we cannot stand up simply for some of the rights of some of the people, some of the time. We have got to stand up with one voice unanimously for all the rights of all the people of this country facing repression all of the time.

The most recent discoveries of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Zionist and antisemitic words appear to have been the final straw for many. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former UK Chief Rabbi said:

When people hear the kind of language that’s been coming out of Labour, that’s been brought to the surface among Jeremy Corbyn’s earlier speeches, they cannot but feel an existential fear.

Anti-Zionism is frequently a convenient cover for antisemitism. Here in California activists on the left utter regular slurs against Zionism and Zionists.

If anyone wants to criticize Israel’s laws, policies, and/or elected leaders—even passionately so—it is completely possible to do without being antisemitic. But, when you lump Zionism or Zionists all together as racists, genocidal, evil, or equate them with Nazis or the KKK, you have failed that test miserably.

What follows below are only a few examples direct from California activists, leaders, or candidates in their own words. Because these are all intelligent people who know how to research issues and policy, I must conclude that they are willfully ignorant when it comes to what Zionism is, and that the majority of Jews not only in Israel but in the world support the right to self-determination of the Jewish people in their indigenous homeland. So when you speak of “Zionists” in this manner, you are in fact speaking about the majority of Jews.

“I fully concur that Zionism is racism and the proof is in the pudding as we witness in Israel’s apartheid laws and practices against Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Zionism is about Jewish supremacy, the way ISIS is about Islamic supremacy, the way the KKK is about Christian White supremacy.” -Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of CAIR Los Angeles, June 15, 2018

“When you post Zionist propaganda glorifying and supporting genocide, don’t request civil discourse. No civility to Nazis and no civility to Zionists.” –Mark Lane, Activist and Campaign Manager, May 16, 2018

“What’s most obvious to me in all of this is Zionists and their supporters justify the murder of women and children and actually think it’s okay. Like an Islamic fundamentalist or Klansman would justify their hate and killing of someone.” -Maria Estrada, Candidate for Assembly Member, District 63, July 9, 2018

“There is no room for anti-Palestinian racists in the progressive caucus. And for people who support genocide. So no, we should most certainly not give a pulpit to haters.” -Margarita Lacabe, Elected Member, Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, May 24, 2018

And before those on the right begin to gloat and hate on Democrats or the left, I say to you clean up your own house. The racism, bigotry and antisemitism on the right is deeply dangerous, growing and emboldened by the Trump administration.

This is an issue not only in California but in the United States as a whole where Democrats, Republicans, and all concerned parties and people can stand together to say any form of hatred, racism, or bigotry—including antisemitism–is unacceptable.

About the Author
Susan George is the Executive Director of Progressive Zionists of California (PZC), a California 501c4 nonprofit. She has served as an elected assembly district delegate to the California Democratic Party for two terms and was an elected Democratic National Convention delegate in 2016 and 2020. Susan lives and works in San Francisco with her partner Matthew.