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September 12, 2016 3:58 am

Former Corbyn Aide Gets It Right on Antisemitism, But Very Wrong on Settlements

avatar by Adam Levick

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A community in Judea/Samaria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A community in Judea/Samaria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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 yesterday.

To be fair, the bulk of Simons’ 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’s 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.

Simons’ belief 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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  • actually Simons’ guilt over settlements is unjustified. Jews have every moral, historical, and international law right to go and live in Judea-Samaria, an area that was unjustly off limits to Jews during the 19 years of Jordanian occupation of those areas.

    The political bodies and governments that deny Jews the right to dwell in Judea-Samaria are practicing anti-Jewish racism and advocating anti-Jewish apartheid. PM Netanyahu was justified in speaking of the PA’s call for ethnic cleansing of Jews from Judea-Samaria. He could have used stronger language by speaking of anti-Jewish apartheid and anti-Jewish racism, not only among Arabs but among Western govts.

  • richard sherwin

    For Dahl, Corbyn, et al.

    1978, Encounter Magazine.


    Nobody loves Jews.
    Southerners call us niggers
    turned-inside-out, and
    Blacks call us the oppressor-
    and Capitalists
    call us commies, and the Reds
    call us zionist-
    capitalists, and Christians
    call us the earthy
    (euphemism for sex-mad
    rapists…damned, of course)
    and what the Arabs call us, well,
    they’ve mastered unprintables.

    Nobody loves us.
    If God hadn’t chosen us
    no one would have. Some-
    how we don’t exactly bring
    the sweetest out of people.
    I’d almost suspect
    the world was right if I thought
    its words eternal.

    Oops! arrogantly
    I forgot the master charge:
    arrogance of a
    parasite whose servile smile
    hides Count Dracula behind.
    Ah, well. If the world
    prefers to live B-Movies
    how dispute its taste?

    What can one do with pagans
    who never met a real Lord?

  • Only one half antisemite Josh!

  • Lia

    And then there’s us: the Christian Gentiles who wish the Jews and Israel well, because we see them being a light unto the nations.


    Mr. Levick totally misconstrues Mr. Simons’ point, that as a Jew he felt that criticizing Israel’s settlement policy was his special responsibility. He’s not saying what Mr. Levick contends he is, that as a Jew he should be held responsible for Israeli policy. Rather, he feels that Diaspora Jews, of our own volition, must criticize the Jewish State, for those policies we see as dishonorable to Jewish values. Agree with him, or disagree; but don’t put words in his mouth.

    • Thanks for your reply, but I’m not sure how I mischaracterized what Simons said: He said “As a Jew, I had a special obligation to criticise Israel’s settlement policy…”.

      Even if you think that the settlements are inherently unjust and the biggest impediment to peace, non-Israeli Jews do not have a “special obligation” to criticize them. To argue otherwise necessarily embraces the antisemitic demand that diaspora Jews (who aren’t Israeli citizens) are collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel. (See the EUMC Working Definition here. Simons, at the very least, is legitimizing this antisemitic logic used throughout the ages which claims that Jews as a people are morally responsible for the real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jew. Simons is British, not Israeli, and he has no more obligation to denounce Israel than any other British citizen.

  • Sherlock Holmes

    In the wider picture capitalists think Jews are communists; communists think Jews are capitalists; the rich Gentiles look down on ‘poor Jews’; poor Gentiles see only ‘rich Jews’. . .. . Of course Jews come in a wide variety.