The recent remarks of the first ever and former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone supposedly in support of another British Labour politician, Naz Shah, who had shared a social media post depicting a map of Israel transferred to the United States has ignited a debate on the extent of anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party.
In defence of Shah, Livingstone felt compelled to remind people that certain Zionists in 1930’s Nazi Germany came into an agreement with elements in the Nazi regime to transfer German Jews to Palestine. And indeed there is nothing remotely mutually exclusive about being both anti-Semitic and pro-Zionist. But, why he needed to drag this minor episode of European Zionist history, the Haavara agreement, into the mix in a supposed defence of Shah is bewildering.
More bewildering when one considers the fact that British imperialism was the most consequential partner to the Zionist colonial settler project in Palestine in the inter-war period. In 1917 when the British government issued the Balfour Declaration there were between probably 70,000 Jews in Palestine as opposed to at least 700,000 Palestinians. The British Empire’s policy was to establish a “national home for the Jewish people” and use its “best endeavours to facilitate” this achievement.
From the very beginning prominent members of the British Labour party fully endorsed this imperialist-colonial project in Palestine. The first ever Labour prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, wrote a book called “A Socialist in Palestine”, wherein he wrote that Palestinian demands for self-determination were deprived of “complete validity” because the biblical stories he was reared on as a child rendered, “Palestine and the Jew can never be separated.”[i] Furthermore, Palestinian Arabs were incapable of developing the resources of their country and as such there is an “alluring call”[ii] for “hundreds of thousands of Jews” [iii] to colonise Palestine. Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, another prominent Labour (and former Liberal) politician in the inter-war period argued that democracy in Palestine is only viable when the “Jews are in a majority”[iv] and once the “higher civilisation” of immigrant Jewish settlers “is numerous and wise enough to make democracy safe for all” they would then be able to “range up beside the other self-governing dominions”[v] of the British empire.
In parliament in the early 1920’s Wedgewood claimed Zionist were ‘teaching’ native Arabs how to claim for higher wages from their elite and this is why there was opposition to Britain’s Zionist project.[vi]
When Palestinians revolted up between 1936-1939 it was prominent members of the British Labour Party which claimed that this uprising was inspired by Mussolini’s Italian fascist. In partnership with the British Empire, the new Zionist militias Great Britain had trained crushed the uprising with full support of the Labour Party. Absurdly, as Palestinians were being violently oppressed by British imperialism and its Zionist protégé, many left-wing Britons travelled to Spain to fight in its civil war on the side of republicans! Imagine, what people would have thought of a group of Americans in the midst of the invasion and war on Iraq in 2003 deciding to go on a revolutionary lark to Mexico while their own government is destroying Iraq?
The 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine was carried out under British Labour Party’s watch. Ken Livingstone’s hero, the late Labour politician, Tony Benn sold nuclear material to the Zionist regime when he was a government minister in the 1960s.
The Haavara agreement lasted from 1933 until the start of the second world war, but the British Labour endorsement of Zionist colonialism began before the 1920’s and has continued to this day. So why is Ken Livingstone and his ilk keen to drag out Zionist collusion with elements in the Nazi regime yet never broach the subject of the British Labour party’s actual facilitation of the Zionist colonial project in the same period?
It wasn’t the Nazis who issued the Balfour Declaration – it was Great Britain. Nazis didn’t have 20,000 soldiers in Palestine in the 1930s, the British did. It wasn’t Nazi Stormtroopers that proudly walked round with smashed Palestinian brains in their tobacco tins, it was Tommy. It wasn’t the Nazis that denied and crushed the Palestinian request for representative democracy in the 1930s, it was Great Britain. When Palestine was ethnically cleansed it happened under British Labour party watch, not Nazis. These are facts Livingstone and his wing of the British Labour Party could do well to note if they are to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism because let’s face it, the only truth Zionists have (or most likely, appropriated) is that some in the anti-Zionist movement are nothing but anti-Semites. A truth Ken Livingstone has provided credence to over the last week.
[i] Ramsay MacDonald, “A Socialist in Palestine”, Jewish Socialist Labour Confederation – Poale Zion, 1922, pg.18
[ii] Ibid. pg.17
[iii] ibid. pg.19
[iv] Josiah Wedgwood, “The Seventh Dominion”, The Labour Publishing Company Limited, London, 1928, pg. 4
[v] Ibid. pg. 33
[vi] Commons Debates, Fifth Series, Vol. 143, Column 307, 14th June 1921