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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Henry McDonald, “Irish Anti-Semitism” and the Zionist Roadshow

“One of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all [and that Jewish critics of Israel] have a basic complex...of guilt about Jewish survival.”
Abba Eban, Israeli Labour Party, in the Knesset, 31 July 1972

“If our job is to seize a densely packed refugee camp or take over the Nablus casbah, and if this job is given to an officer to carry out without casualties on both sides, we must before all else analyze and bring together the lessons of past battles, even--shocking though this might appear--to analyze how the German army operated in the Warsaw ghetto."
IDF officer, quoted in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, April 2002

Brian Kelly

Unlike Henry McDonald, I consider the charge of anti-semitism serious enough that it should not be tossed about lightly, as a mere smear tactic. At various times over the past half millennium-nearly always at the instigation of government and Church authorities-anti-Jewish bigotry has won a wide following in “civilized”, Christian Europe, with devastating, almost unfathomable consequences for those on the receiving end. Any socialist, republican, anti-imperialist or human being worth their salt would recognize in those who stood up to fascism in the streets of the Warsaw ghetto or were incinerated in the death camps across Europe a link in the long chain of resistance to oppression. And as I have written in The Blanket previously, nowhere in the world today does the spirit of the Warsaw resistance sparkle so brightly as in the streets of Ramallah and Hebron, Jenin and Bethlehem. That so few Israeli Jews recognize in the Palestinian resistance the best of their own traditions is symptomatic of the collective amnesia that the imposition of Zionism as the exclusive expression of Jewish culture has required.

McDonald reluctantly concedes, after a long tirade against Palestinian “anti-semitism” and a calculated, malicious sneer at the “Irish groupies who flock to the West Bank and Gaza in the hope of becoming the Florence Nightingales of Third World Liberation,” that there are “dark chauvinistic forces in Israel dedicated to the so-called war of civilization”. That is, in my view, a massive understatement. One would be hard-pressed to identify in today’s world a regime where the racialist logic and the dehumanization so central to the Nazi genocide is as vividly reproduced as in the inhuman, bone-crushing approach of the IDF and its commanders in the Sharon government. The increasingly open, official advocacy of “transfer” as a solution to the Palestinian problem should send a chill up the spine of anyone familiar with the evolution of Nazi policy. The irony of an army which claims to represent the legacy of Jewish survival sifting through SS handbooks for strategic advice is an affront to the memory of those who perished, and demands an explanation.

In a fundamental sense, the analogy between Hitler’s final solution and the predicament of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza today is inappropriate and overdrawn: the Nazis attempted to carry out, and very nearly accomplished, the systematic extermination of European Jewry. While the rhetoric of a number of prominent Israeli officials since the founding of the state in 1948 and their activity over the past two years suggests that there are high-ranking Zionists who contemplate-perhaps even favour-a solution to the Palestinian problem along similar lines, at present there a range of brutal, if less extreme solutions that they consider both effective and more palatable.

McDonald warns, in the final paragraph of his recent article that “those who [sympathize with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza] should try to assemble all the facts” before spouting off against Israeli oppression, thereby avoiding the kind of simplistic formulations that “foreigners “ (presumably Irish Americans) put forward for resolving the squabble on our own doorstep. But his own projection of naiveté and historically-rooted Irish anti-semitism as the sources for widespread sympathy for the Palestinians in this country is dishonest, malicious and unoriginal. It is but a local variant of an ongoing campaign among conservatives and “friends of Israel” across Europe to discredit anyone who speaks up against Israeli oppression as an anti-semite. The left should have none of it.

Coinciding with renewed public outrage over Israeli brutality against Palestinians there appeared a flurry of newspaper editorials across western Europe and the United States charging critics of Israel-and specifically left-wing anti-Zionists-with being the instigators of a new wave of anti-semitism. Britain’s chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks several months ago equated criticism of Israel with “calling into question the Jewish people’s right to exist collectively.” A prominent Italian liberal, in a book described by the European Observatory on Racism as “explicitly anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-immigrant,” denounced Palestinian sympathizers as “anti-semites who would sell their own mothers to a harem to see Jews once again in the gas chambers.” The pro-Israeli propagandist Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times warned, absurdly, that “the anti-semitism coming out of Europe today suggests that deep down some Europeans want [Ariel Sharon] to commit a massacre against Palestinians…so that they can finally get the guilt of the Holocaust off their backs,” and Sharon himself accused those demanding an investigation of war crimes in Jenin of committing anti-semitic “blood libel.”

McDonald’s latest instalment is merely a shoddy attempt to foist the same rubbish on the Irish left. But like so much of his writing, it is a confused attempt to cobble together bits of half-digested observation to uphold the revisionist “big lie” about the inate savagery/backwardness/intolerance of the Irish. As evidence of contemporary Irish anti-semitism he informs us that callers to a recent talk show expressed overwhelming sympathy for the Palestinians and little for Israeli victims of a suicide bombing, but does not present us with a transcript of the discussion, or even with a single direct quote to support his assertion: presumably it is enough that they voiced overwhelming sympathy for the Palestinians living under occupation. Perhaps it is true that individual callers held anti-Jewish views. I don’t doubt that there is some of that out there, as there is in Britain, in France, virtually anywhere. But it is more likely that callers are fed up with the one-sided coverage they are subjected to in the press and have made an informed choice that Israeli occupation and not Arab bloodlust lies at the root of the problem. To the extent that that is true, they see things more clearly than McDonald does-consider for example his cursory acknowledgment of the IDF’s “ham-fisted approach to civil disturbances in Palestinian towns and villages”. Civil disturbances? The IDF comes in to put down “civil disturbances”? Called in by whom? This is apologetics, sloppy apologetics, nothing less.

“The debate in Ireland…is coloured by an historic anti-semitism embedded in the Irish psyche,” McDonald asserts, citing a new, important study by Bryan Fanning (not Fleming, Henry) on Racism and Social Change in the Republic of Ireland. Fanning has shown that the most reactionary elements in the Irish establishment-namely the Catholic Church and the southern state authorities-were steeped in anti-semitism and did their best to bar Jewish migration into the South. There are a number of things to say about this. First, it is somewhat unsurprising that an insular, right-wing, clerically-dominated establishment that sympathized with fascism abroad would pursue such a policy at home. Second, in that respect they were little different from their counterparts in Britain or, for that matter, the United States, where quotas against “excessive” Jewish immigration were also established. Third, their policy with regard to Jewish refuges would have met with the hearty approval of the architects of the Israeli state, whose priority was not the rescue of European Jewry but the establishment of a Zionist homeland: they lobbied these governments to keep the quotas in place. But finally, and most importantly, how in the world does the despicable record of the most right wing elements in Irish life support McDonald’s assertion that anti-semitism is deeply embedded on the “Irish far left”?

If it is true, as McDonald and his continental counterparts assert, that there has been a palpable rise in anti-semitism in recent months, then the left belongs in the front lines of an urgent and forceful response. As Seamus Milne argued recently, “the fate of the Jewish people and the left have been closely intertwined” throughout the history of capitalism. It was radical democrats in the years after the French Revolution who insisted on granting Jews full rights as equal citizens--rights denied them under the old order. And over a long period since, it has been the left which has taken on fascists and anti-semites when they attempt to move in from the margins and win a mass audience. Socialists and communists paid a high price for such efforts in Hitler’s Germany, being murdered and sent off to the concentration camps alongside Jews and others. It was the left in Britain which defended the Jewish East End of London against fascists in the 1930s, and again from the 1970s through to the present socialists and activists in the Anti-Nazi League have been key to thwarting attempts by the BNP and others to win a following.

Reports from across Europe confirm a growth in anti-semitism: there has been an increase in physical attacks on Jews in Britain and France, and a number of synagogues have been attacked in recent months. But these are part of a general intensification of racism, much more often directed at immigrants and asylum seekers, and especially Arabs and Muslims. The thrust of the charge from Zionists, that public criticism of Israel has fuelled such attacks, is ludicrous, and serves to deflect attention from the real source of the violence. All the evidence, Milne writes, “is that it is the far right, the traditional fount of anti-semitic poison, which has been overwhelmingly responsible for attacks on both Muslim and Jewish targets in Europe.”

Israel supporters have been completely silent about widespread anti-Arab racism, and it is telling of McDonald’s piece that it includes no denunciation of the anti-Arab filth so prevalent in public discourse today. In the US it is far more common to hear talk about “towelheads” and ”sand niggers” than it is to hear even the mildest public criticism of the Israeli state. The rise of LePen in France and of the far-right in Italy, Austria and the Netherlands has made racism respectable in mainstream politics across Europe, and traditional social democratic parties have been falling over each other to prove their anti-immigrant credentials. In this context it is hardly surprising that racist thugs feel safe to crawl out and assault immigrants and other vulnerable minorities, or that Jews have also been targeted.

Despite clear evidence that the far right is behind these attacks, the recent campaign-now joined by McDonald-focuses not on the right but on the “pro-Palestinian left.” Zionists have in fact welcomed support for their efforts from some of the worst bigots. A full text translation of Italian journalist Oriana Fallacci’s Anger and Pride, which described Muslims as “vile creatures who urinate in baptisteries” and “multiply like rats” was posted to pro-Israeli web sites within days of publication. Prominent American Zionist Martin Peretz, who has led the charge on “left” anti-semitism, complained that television coverage of the conflict in the Middle East has failed to “explain that the Arab national character tends towards violence and incitement…” In the U.S. the American Israeli Political Action Committee gave a standing ovation to right-wing Congressman Tom Delay when he said recently that he supported Israeli annexation of the West Bank, even though he had trumpeted Christianity as the “only viable, reasonable and definitive answer” to life’s key questions only a few days earlier.

“Passionate support for Israel combines readily with fervent anti-semitism” among the Christian right, Noam Chomsky has written, tracing the relationship back to the early 1980s, when right wing American Christians set up the Temple Mount Fund to “donate tens of millions of dollars to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.” More than twenty years ago prominent Israel supporters in the U. S. concluded that “right-wing reactionaries are the natural allies of Zionism and not the liberals,” and have in the years since carefully cultivated a close relationship between what one American Jewish writer calls “an ironic combination of overt Jew-haters and pro-Israeli Jews.”

This latest campaign by Israel supporters is a despicable reminder of how cynically Zionists have deployed the tragedy of the Holocaust to deflect criticism of Israel. When Palestinian students and their supporters in San Francisco demonstrated opposite a pro-Israel rally in May of last year, university administrators threatened to suspend and jail Palestine solidarity activists on charges of anti-semitism. After initially claiming to have video evidence, the administration was forced to retreat after the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) produced their own video (available at showing Zionists heaping racist insults at them-Arab students were called “animals,” sand niggers,” camel jockeys,” and “terrorists.” This didn’t stop the media from running articles entitled “The Shame of the pro-Palestinian Left,” even after GUPS issued a statement saying it stood “firmly against anti-semitism and all other forms of racism.”

For more than thirty years, every attempt to win solidarity for Palestinians has come up against a concerted effort on the part of Israel supporters to discredit anti-Zionists as anti-semites. Jews in and outside of Israel who have stood up have been denounced as “self-hating” Jews, and Zionists have been adamant in insisting that Zionism and Judaism are synonymous, suggesting that one can’t be a “real” Jew and critical of Israel at the same time. The left-with a proud record of standing up to racism and anti-semitism-has nothing to apologize for. Henry McDonald would have us believe that the hundreds of working class people in Belfast and throughout this country who have donated generously anytime Palestinian solidarity activists have taken to the streets are deluded, or worse, latent anti-semites. But in reality it is the defenders of Sharon and Bush and the assortment of right-wing bigots who hover around them who give space for the real anti-semites to win a hearing. To the extent that Israel succeeds in its oppression of Palestine the forces of militarism and bigotry are strengthened; a concerted campaign to stop Sharon, involving Jews, Arabs and solidarity activists from around the world can put the bigots on the run, sow the seeds of real unity, and bring real meaning to the anti-fascist slogan “Never Again!”


Brian Kelly is a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party in Belfast.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
- Hamilton Wright Mabie

Index: Current Articles

19 December 2002


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Victory 2016 plus 40 - Remember to Read the Small Print

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The Men of No Property
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Relatives of Republican Prisoners
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Dirty Politics
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Henry McDonald, “Irish Anti-Semitism” and the Zionist Roadshow
Brian Kelly


Arrests in London of Turkish Hunger Strike supporters


15 December 2002


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The Beast is Back
Henry McDonald


Christmas in the "Holy Land"
Margaret Quinn


The Theocractic Threat to Secular Freedom

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