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Open letter from Jewish Voice for Peace

US Jews express concern over anti-semism allegations within the British Labour Party

WE are very concerned about the joint statement of the three Jewish newspapers in the UK that asserts false definitions of anti-semitism for political ends and falsely claims that a British government led by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party would somehow represent an “existential threat to Jewish life.”

Labour recognises that criticism of Israel is not the same as anti-semitism — and the claim that therefore the party would “be seen by all decent people as an institutionally racist, anti-semitic party” is simply wrong. 

We are “decent people” and we are American Jews. And as Jews, and as the board of one of the leading Jewish organisations in the US, we stand with those many Jews across Britain, the US and the rest of the world, and with our Palestinian allies, who all know that criticism of Israel is not the same as anti-semitism.

As Jews, we are all too aware that real anti-semitism is on the rise.

In our country it shows up in the neonazis marching through Charlottesville, in white supremacist hate groups rising across the country, in former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke who offered full-throated support to the president following Donald Trump’s inauguration.

We believe political leaders have a responsibility to condemn and to fight against the linked dangers of white supremacy, xenophobia, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia and anti-semitism — and they should be able to do so without fearing intimidation or personal attack. 

Criticism of Israel does not equal anti-semitism. The key component of the Jewish newspapers’ critique is the Labour Party’s decision not to include the phrase “Israel is a racist endeavour” as an example of a supposedly “anti-semitic” statement. 

It is particularly disturbing that this attempt to censor this particular subject coincides with the passage of Israel’s new “nationality law,” which legalises the apartheid position that in Israel only Jews have the right of self-determination and that Jewish-only settlements are “a national value.”

We believe the three Jewish papers’ claim that not including that phrase is anti-semitic is simply wrong.

We in the United States are all too familiar with the consequences of these kinds of false claims of anti-semitism. There are legislative efforts now under way in our Congress to conflate anti-semitism with anti-zionism and to use that conflated language to undermine free speech. 

We join with the American Civil Liberties Union and many others across our country in recognising that the definition of anti-semitism in the proposed Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018 is “likely to chill free speech of students on college campuses by incorrectly equating criticism of the Israeli government with anti-semitism.”

And as supporters of Palestinian rights and equality for all, we are similarly concerned with these attacks in the UK. The real threat of anti-semitism does not come from criticism of Israel. Rather, as noted by Rabbi Joseph Berman of Jewish Voice for Peace in the United States, “anti-semitism is being cynically exploited to target advocates of Palestinian human rights.” 

Attacks like this, whether in the United States or the United Kingdom and regardless of who raises these attacks, “dangerously divert attention from real anti-semitism.”

Calling criticism of Israel anti-semitic does not make it so. Criticism of Israel does not pose an existential threat to Jewish communities or anyone else.

Grace Lile, chair of board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Phyllis Bennis, member of board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Karen Ackerman, member of board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Scout Bratt, member of board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Eran Efrati, member of board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Beth Harris, member of board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Glen Hauer, secretary, board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Rabbi Linda Holtzman, vice-chair, board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Annie Kaufman, member of board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Seth Morrison, treasurer, board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

Jessie Spector, member of board of trustees, Jewish Voice for Peace

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