Corbyn and Israel: Concept and Reality


Yitzhak Laor is an Israeli poet, journalist and author of The Myths of Liberal Zionism. In this article, he comments on European refusal to acknowledge Israel as a colonial power and on allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.    

The concept of Israel has become a hidden cornerstone within political consensus in Western European states. This is not unrelated to the disappearing differences between the traditional Left and Right. Within the current political climate, not only Germany but also all other western states are ‘friends of Israel’. This amicable relationship with Israel means that an imaginary differentiation is assumed between the State of Israel and its constitution, its laws of citizenship, its inbuilt discrimination of non-Jews, as well as its occupied territories.

This ‘friendship’ means a “condemnation of the Israeli government’s settlement policy” spoken quietly like a murmured prayer. It means, of course, a “condemnation of terror”. The Western European consensus officially supports the Palestinian authority in its aspirations to statehood. However because of Israel’s continued domination of the occupied territories, Gaza and the West Bank are undergoing a dynamic process of deepening colonization. This triggers an inevitable resistance and further, merciless oppression.

The real Israeli state has turned into something very distant and different from the concept of Israel which Western Europe accepts as a political point of discussion; or as an institution with which it makes business and exchanges military and security measures. Hence the complete denial – through underreporting, ignorance and misrepresentation – of the extreme changes Israel has undergone over the last years. 

The almost 50 years of a lawless military dictatorship in the occupied territories means hundreds of thousands of prisoners kept in prisons that are always overflowing, and governed by court martials that have nothing to do with the law: all are “terrorists”, including children. These situations, which mock both human rights, the right to freedom and the right to a fair trial, do not appear in mainstream European media. Western Europe consistently ignores the Israelis’ continually expanding licence to kill Palestinians. In only the past seven months, Palestinians have been shot on the street, a majority of them high school children. Had these children been Jews, the police, despite them being armed with a knife or suspected of it, would simply have neutralized them.  Nor was this addressed when the Israeli General Yair Golan made comparisons between the current Israeli anti-democratic discourse and European discourse in the 1930s. He even mentioned Germany. Yes, General Yair Golan, the vice Chief of Israeli staff made this statement.

Although the rest of Europe ignores Israeli colonialism, Britain is an exception. I suppose that the reason for this is the Western European guilty conscience towards the Jews and Israel as Jewish history’s primary representative. This is an – albeit weak – explanation for how Britain and the rest of the EU member-states might differ in their approach to Israel. The British people and British Left politics never collaborated with the Nazis; they never denounced their Jewish neighbours. However, Nazi history is unrelated to current sympathy towards Israel or even to the West’s refusal to see the atrocities that take place in Israel and its colonies.

Britain however is also an exception, inasmuch as it the only Western European country where the conflict between left and right still has concrete political meaning, where this conflict is real and taking place in the centre of the political arena. In Western Europe, the demise of the Left has been replaced by a new political and ideological consensus. Here, Israel plays a major role, but only as a concept and as an image. In Europe one cannot be a democrat, a liberal, an honourable gentleman or gentlewoman without favouring Israel, despite what Israel and its agents might say to the contrary.

Britain is different. As the only genuine alternative on the Left and with parts of Labour being very critical of Israel, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is vulnerable, even though some marginal statements made by its members have been embarrassing or even foolish. Britain has not yet been soaked in that culture of “Judeo-philia” which has increased in strength in Germany, France or Holland, countries where anti-Semitism flourished in the past.

But there is another political factor that is extremely important. Israel as a representation, as a set of images, was a tool of neo-colonialism during the “War of Terror” which seemed to unite the West. Israel still plays a major role because, “they know how to treat the bastards”, “they have no restraints and rightly so”, “they treat their natives as natives deserve to be treated”. The colonial past, which was never really buried in the West, finds its secret bank account, its Panama, or Jersey, in Israel, as an image and as an innovator.  The conflict between the West and Islam is a hit in Israel. Israelis love it. There are those in Europe, not to mention the USA, who live through that conflict, who invest heavily in it. This does not happen in the British Labour Party however, not under Jeremy Corbyn in any case. The results of the elections in London point towards a real difference between Britain and Western Europe. Labour, with its multi-ethnic grassroots, and the multi-religious communities in British cities, are under attack. As Western Europe has proven, there is no better way to shut the minorities up than to say “Your solidarity with Palestinians proves that you are a terrorist/anti-Semite”.

Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t need my help, but I need his, given the gloomy future my country faces.

- Read more: On Israel and Anti-Semitism: A Reading List