I WAS recently invited to participate in a private seminar focused — so the discreet telephonic invitation assured me — on antisemitism in the Labour Party. My views on this subject are well known.
I believe that anti-Jewish prejudice was present in the Labour Party — and in the wide Labour movement — at the time of the very conception of the party more than 100 years ago and that, therefore, it predated any consideration of Zionism and the re-establishment of a Jewish state.
Apart from quoting and re-quoting numerous pieces of hard evidence to support my argument, I failed to see that I could tell the seminar anything that other participants could not already have known.
But that was not how the dynamics of the meeting evolved as the polite discussion progressed.
We were drawn — inevitably — to a consideration of antisemitism in other political parties. And — equally inevitably — to a debate about whether, when all is said and done, antisemitism is any more deeply entrenched in Labour’s ranks than in, say, the Tory Party or even in the wider political “establishment”.
I for one felt we were duty-bound to ask this question, not least in the light of an extraordinary statement made recently, on her return from Israel, by Labour’s principal parliamentary spokesman on foreign policy, Emily Thornberry.
You will doubtless recall that Thornberry stood in for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the Balfour centenary dinner on November 2 that Corbyn had refused to attend and that I would have refused to attend (though admittedly for different reasons) had I been invited.
She then lost no time in flying off to visit Israel and the Palestinian “territories” and while there she unburdened herself of a number of opinions.
These included the observation that “the policy that the [current] British government has towards Israel is entirely in line with Labour Party policy, even to the extent of the recognition of Palestine . . . it is our policy that it should happen sooner rather than later. That’s the only difference, in that the government says Palestine should be recognised but we won’t say when the date is.”
Several seminar participants recoiled in horror at such an assertion. I did not. I happen to believe that Thornberry was more or less correct.
Let me explain why.
Thornberry’s sojourn in the Holy Land followed hard upon the heels of what we must now refer to as the Priti Patel Affair.
Last August, Patel — then Secretary of State for International Development — vacationed privately in Israel.
While there, and without even so much as informing the British Foreign Office, she met a number of Israeli politicians, including prime minister Netanyahu.
She apparently discussed ways in which some of Britain’s international aid budget (for the spending of which she was responsible) might be channelled to a field hospital established by the IDF in the Golan to treat casualties of the Syrian civil war.
According to some reports, she actually visited this facility. Most, if not all, of this was known to the British Foreign Office at — or shortly after — the time. But the details did not become public knowledge until November 3. Why?
Because the Foreign Office chose to sit on the information until an opportune moment arose. And an opportune moment appears to have arisen on November 3 — the day after the Balfour centenary dinner.
My own sources tell me that the Foreign Office “mandarins” felt the need, at that point, to reassure the Arab and Muslim worlds that in spite of all the banqueting, British policy so far as Israel/Palestine was concerned had not changed.
Priti Patel is an unashamed Zionist. Her dismissal (for that is what it really amounted to, even though she technically resigned on the pretext of having broken the arcane ministerial code) was therefore engineered so as to give this reassurance.
If Corbyn were to become prime minister, we have it on the authority of Emily Thornberry (who would presumably become foreign secretary) that, apart from the fact that “Palestine” would be “immediately” recognised, nothing much would change in terms of Anglo-Israeli relations. Again, I am inclined to believe her.
The Foreign Office mandarins would continue to dictate a policy that has as its cornerstone the damning of the Jewish state with — at most — faint praise.
And the mandarins would do this safe in the knowledge that beyond the ranks of the Labour ministers and MPs there would loiter an army of more or less unashamed antisemitic anti-Zionists, baying for Israel’s blood.