The decline and fall of Labour Zionism

Jewish Labour Movement (File photo)

Asa Winstanley

Middle East Monitor  /  February 21, 2020

Britain’s Labour leadership hustings held last week by the party’s internal pro-Israel lobby were a bizarre sight to behold. Organised jointly by the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, the event put all the candidates to replace Jeremy Corbyn as party leader through a grilling based almost entirely on their allegiance to Israeli racism.

The then four candidates (Emily Thornberry has since failed to make it onto the final ballot paper) practically fell over each other in competing to promise to expel greater numbers of the party’s membership than the other candidates over the supposed anti-Semitism crisis. Even more bizarrely, the moderator, TV journalist Robert Peston (evidently a committed Zionist himself), demanded that all four clarify whether or not they saw themselves as Zionists.

Which Labour Party “socialist society” other than the Jewish Labour Movement would demand allegiance to the official state ideology of a foreign power perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be inherently associated with that particular community? Would the Chinese for Labour group demand of the candidates that they sign up to the Thoughts of Xi Jinping?

Of course not. And in any case, there is no precise parallel. Under the false tenets of Zionism, Israel designates itself as a state belonging to all of the Jews in the world (and emphatically not of its non-Jewish, Palestinian Arab citizens) regardless of where they live, where they are from or what their attitude towards Zionism is.

This is an inherently racist ideology, one whose colonial logic has led to the continuous expulsion and re-expulsion of waves of Palestinians for decades now, especially since 1948. It was thus incredibly disheartening to see all four candidates respond by either stating that they are Zionists or support Zionism. Whoever Labour’s new leader is in Britain, she or he will be a dedicated anti-Palestinian racist.

Even aside from the fact that their actions are morally wrong, it’s clear that Labour’s newly renewed commitment to Zionist racism is a doomed strategy. They have picked the wrong horse in the decades-long internal race to dominate the Zionist movement.

In Israel itself, Labour Zionism continues its long decline. The Knesset election on 2 March will probably continue this trend. A new alliance between two supposedly left-wing Zionist parties, Labour and Meretz, looks set to win only nine seats in Israel’s parliament according to one recent poll. The two parties currently hold 10 seats.

Labour Zionism once dominated the Knesset. However, despite highly misleading claims that Labour and Meretz represent Israel’s “peace camp”, when the time comes for Israel to start dropping bombs on the heads of Palestinian children, both parties happily fall into line.

Indeed, frequently throughout Israeli history, the Labour Party has been the very same government that has launched just such murderous wars of aggression and annihilation against the Palestinian people. Meretz is no better; despite its lying “peace camp” image, it is still committed to the racist ideology of the state: Zionism.

As independent journalist Jonathan Cook recently put it in a great analysis of the forthcoming election: “Neither Meretz nor Labour has ever really represented a meaningful peace camp. Both have a record of enthusiastically supporting every recent offensive war Israel has started, though sections of Meretz have usually expressed second thoughts as the operations have dragged on and casualties mounted.”

Labour and Meretz both deserve the electoral oblivion towards which they seem to be sliding inexorably.

Until 1977, Labour Zionism was historically the hegemonic power within the Zionist movement. It founded the state of Israel, and Labour Zionist militias – with the help of their fascistic comrades in arms from the right-wing Revisionist Zionists – perpetrated the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. It was Labour Zionism that established the racist laws which systematically exclude Palestine’s indigenous people from equality with Jewish Israelis. Labour Zionism launched and waged wars of aggression against every single Arab state bordering Palestine.

It invaded the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, expelling and murdering yet more Palestinians in the process. Labour Zionism then established a military dictatorship for Palestinians in the West Bank (but not for the Jewish settlers they allowed to pour into that same territory) which persists until this day. Palestinians are denied even the most basic civil and political rights.

It was Labour Zionism which established the first illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank, within months of launching that war of aggression against the Palestinians. And yet Labour Zionism is in terminal decline. Why?

We need to ask ourselves why the increasingly right-wing Israeli electorate would vote for the “Likud lite” option represented by the Labour Zionists, when they can vote for the real thing.

More fundamentally, “left-wing” Zionism was always a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing as “left-wing” racism, and Zionism is a racist ideology.

I am not saying that people who claim to be left wing cannot be racist; far from it. But when left-wingers make racist statements or enact racist policies they are betraying their left-wing principles of human equality and liberation.

When Labour Zionists, on the other hand, make violent racist statements against Palestinians, and carry out violent and racist policies against them, they are acting precisely in accordance with their Zionist principles.

“Left-wing” Zionism was always a chimera destined for the dustbin of history. We should not be sad to see it go.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East