The growing scourge of anti-Semitism isa dangerous threat to the unity of the Labour movement and to the security of a long-oppressed community. However, it is vital to separate the interests of Jewsworldwide with the demands of the right-wing militarist clique currently dominating the Israeli state. Here is a recent article of mine on the subject.

Anti-semitism is an age-old phenomenon, and once again it is in the air – but this time as a weapon of slander against the left, by the Tories, the billionaire media, the BBC, the Guardian, and above all the Blairite faction now dislodged from the Labour leadership but clinging on to control of the parliamentary LP. It isa disgusting lie – and it’s time we said so.

In the wake of the failure of past smear campaigns to brand Jeremy Corbyn as simultaneously a pacifist and a terrorist sympathiser and a Stalinist agent, somehow all at the same time, the current hysteria is only the latest and most bizarre tactic by the Tories and those same “New Labour” MPs who tried so hard to remove him in the past. It’s a new version of the fake “Zinioviev letter” in 1923, or of Churchill’s accusations in 1945 that Labour was going to establish a Gestapo police state.


It is the Tory party that is riddled with racism through and through, from the 1905 Aliens Act that blocked Jewish emigration from the East European pogroms, to the Right Club that was founded by a Tory MP in the 1930s to “expose the activities of organised Jewry”. And according to the book Whitehall And The Jews, 1933-1948, British immigration policy throughout that period “was designed to keep out large numbers of European Jews – perhaps ten times as many as it let in.”

We all know the Tories’ record of racism: Enoch Powell’s descriptions of “wide-grinning picaninnies” and blood-curdling warnings of “rivers of blood”; Boris Johnson’s repetition of the same vile word in his description of “picaninnies with their water-melon smiles”; the outright racist treatment of the Windrush generation that is still continuing today.

As for anti-semitism, it was the Daily Express which carried the infamous headline “JEWS DECLARE WAR ON GERMANY” and the Daily Mail which screamed “HURRAH FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS” in the 1930s.

And what about that great fighter against fascism Churchill?

Churchill praisedHitler: “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.”

Similarly, he told Mussolini: “If I had been an Italian, I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”

Even if we discount one particularly revolting anti-Semitic quote which he later disowned, Churchill did ascribe the wave of revolution sweeping Europe after the First World War to a Jewish conspiracy…

Daily Express article praising the Fascists

Daily Mail article attacking Labour leader Ed Miliband’s, father

“The part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistic Jews… With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews. Moreover, the principal inspiration and driving power comes from Jewish leaders … The same evil prominence was obtained by Jews in (Hungary and Germany, especially Bavaria)… Although in all these countries there are many non-Jews every whit as bad as the worst of the Jewish revolutionaries, the part played by the latter in proportion to their numbers in the population is astonishing… This movement among the Jews is not new… Karl Marx… Trotsky, Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States)… this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation…”

The prominence of Jewish activists in the revolutionary movement is for me a matter of pride. But OK, that was then; what about now?

It was the Mail, again, which made a thinly veiled anti-Semitic attack on Ed Miliband, calling his father “The man who hated Britain… refugee… Marxist…” (no one could mistake the innuendo), while the Sun published an unflattering picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich, something which again was universally recognised as another anti-Semitic jibe.

It’s time to fight back against the unscrupulous lies of the establishment and to defend with pride Labour’s – and specifically Jeremy Corbyn’s – consistent record of resistance to racism in all its forms.


I know something about anti-semitism. My grandparents were penniless refugees from pogroms in the Tsarist Russian empire, driven from their homes by riots, slaughter, arson. My paternal grandfather arrived together with his brother in Liverpool en route to America, and then had to toss a coin to decide which of them crossed the Atlantic; he lost, and had to eke out a living as a pauper pedlar. As for my maternal grandfather: once he’d arrived in Britain, he was killed in his ’20s in the fury of racist hatred, the victim of an anti-Semitic murder.

My father Sydney Silverman was a left Labour MP for 33 years until his death, and a courageous campaigner for socialism. My one disagreement with him is his conversion to Zionism during the years of Nazi rule. In 1940 he was elected chair of the British section of the World Jewish Congress. In this capacity he was among the first to warn the world about Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question” and to mount a desperate worldwide campaign to save European Jewry from genocide. Three days after my birth, he visited the newly liberated Buchenwald and Belsen Nazi concentration camps as a member of a parliamentary delegation. A fellow member committed suicide soon afterwards.

Sydney Silverman MP, 1895-1968

In my early teens, as well as a member of the Young Socialists I was also a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth organisation; an honoured previous member had been Mordechai Anielewicz, who had led the heroic doomed uprising in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. I joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 and have been a member all my life, with the exception of the long “New Labour” years. I have encountered occasional manifestations of anti-Semitism in my life, but only once from a left activist – and never within the Labour Party.


The Jews throughout the Russian empire and central Europe enjoyed a rich cultural and political life, speaking their language (Yiddish), building their own welfare and youth organisations, cultivating their unique kletzmer music, staging concerts, theatre dramas, publishing newspapers, and organising their own mass socialist party the Bund, an autonomous party allied to the social-democratic parties of Russia and Eastern Europe.

1945, Buchenwald survivors arrive in Haifa to be arrested by the British

In the early years of the twentieth century there were many idealistic young people who emigrated to Palestine to build a new life free from ghetto misery and deprivation. Among these early Jewish settlers were many communist militants who successfully fought the Zionists and united Arab and Jewish workers in common struggle. One of these was a hero of the twentieth century Leopold Trepper, who later organised the clandestine Russian spy ring the Red Orchestra right under Hitler’s nose in Nazi Germany. He was eventually arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, and later, like so many others, rewarded by Stalin with ten years in a Soviet labour camp. In the 1920s Trepper (at that time he too was a member of Hashomer Hatzair) emigrated from Poland to Palestine and founded a joint Arab/Jewish trade union Ichad (Unity).

Zionism was originally little more than a fringe sect. It was only under the shadow of the swastika that it gained support as an expression of mass despair, a forlorn quest for a mirage promising escape from generations of age-old persecution. Israel was founded after the holocaust by victims fleeing the holocaust and the concentration camps. In that sense, Zionism was an outgrowth of the holocaust. It has subsequently proved a deadly trap and a tragic failure. Settlement in Palestine has not after all offered the Jews lasting security; Jews are no safer in Israel today than in Europe and America.


Still, it is necessary to understand how this phenomenon materialised. The Bund had been wiped out in the gas chambers, and for the survivors the prospects of rebuilding a thriving Jewish culture in Europe seemed hopeless.

I don’t agree with my father’s stance at that time but I understand it. He was later to fiercely oppose the Israeli participation in the Suez war in 1956, and died in 1968 outraged at the Israeli occupation of the West Bank after the 1967 war. But after the 2nd world war, he made an impassioned plea on behalf of the survivors of the concentration camps. There were 250,000 former concentration camp inmates still rotting in displaced person’s camps, many of them threatening mass suicide after years of incarceration. Just like today’s migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Jews desperately seeking escape from the threat of annihilation boarded refugee boats illegally crossing to Palestine. Both during and after the war, they came under direct military attack from British warships. It is estimated that out of a total of 142 voyages, over half were intercepted by British patrols; more than 1,600 were drowned at sea; about 50,000 ended up in internment camps; and only a few thousand actually entered Palestine.

Jewish refugees arriving in Palestine

To understand the plight of the holocaust survivors and the appeal of Palestine, listen to this explanation by a camp survivor, quoted in a speech my father made in 1946 …

Jewish refugees being arrested in London 1939

“There are thousands more like me and my story is the story of my entire generation as Jews… I am 28, and I have never eaten bread I have earned with my own hands. This shirt I wear was given me by the Red Cross; this coat I wear came from the partisans; this sweater— from my sisters in Palestine. My uncle in the United States sent me a dollar bill and J bought these boots I wear. During the war I was in the Ghetto. Later on I joined the partisans and I was called ‘the Jew’… As the war was over I returned to my town. Of 7,000 Jews, two small children remained… (Pulling out a battered photograph from his pocket)… “This is all that remains of my family. One went to the war, was taken prisoner and killed by the Germans, all the rest were slaughtered by Poles. I do not even know their graves… Here is a photograph of my mother and father. Both were killed by the SS… This is a photo of my school class. All who went to Palestine — six of them — survived. All who remained in Poland — 33 — are dead… My sisters in Palestine write, ‘We want to see you’. This is my story and it is the story of thousands, thousands more.”


It was British imperialism which had created the false diversion of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Just as it later cultivated Wahabism and fanatical Islamic fundamentalism to divide and rule in the Arab world, with all the deadly consequences we see today, it also created the monster of Zionism. With the Balfour Declaration in 1917 during the First World War when the Ottoman Empire had crumbled, it had deliberately cultivated Zionism as a cunning strategic weapon to protect the oilfields against the Arab revolution. It could see the benefits of establishing a Jewish state as an outpost, to exploit Palestine’s strategic location and protect its control at that time of Egypt, the Suez canal and the route to India by creating, in the words of the first British military governor of Jerusalem, “a loyal Jewish Ulster”.

That phrase explains it all. In the Middle East as in all the territories administered by the British Empire, a calculated policy of “divide-and-rule” was set in motion to promote communal conflict. We still see the bloody consequences of this heritage of “British civilisation” in ethnic conflicts in all these regions today – in Northern Ireland, the Indian sub-continent, Sri Lanka, Cyprus, Palestine… In the Middle East, Israel was later politically exploited by US imperialism to establish a dependent client-state enclave within the oil-rich Middle East as a bulwark against the Arab revolution.

The constant wars, the occupation of the West Bank, the blockade on Gaza, the colonial resettlements, and the current ongoing massacre of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza are monstrous crimes. But they are not unique. When people make glib and facile comparisons with the Nazis, I don’t necessarily ascribe their views to anti-Semitism, but I do consider them provocative and grossly misplaced. There is a difference between brutal colonial military repression – a practice of all regional capitalist super-powers, including British imperialism – and deliberate systematic racist genocidal extermination.

The current atrocities in Gaza are every bit as horrific as the bloodbath in Sharpeville in South Africa in 1960, or in Amritsar in 1919, when British troops mowed down more than 1,000 peaceful demonstrators; and the barbaric treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is almost as monstrous as the tortures and mutilations committed by the British in the Kenya death camps. There is no need to invoke the Nazis: it’s enough to brand the Israeli state as being as bloodthirsty as the British.


I feel solidarity, as all socialists should, with victims of racism and oppression – with the past Jewish victims of Nazi genocide and equally with the current Palestinian victims of Zionism. I understand why a “back to Africa” movement developed among black people in the USA; why Muslims in British India yearned for a homeland of their own within the sub-continent; and why Jewish holocaust survivors were desperately seeking a homeland of their own.

But I’m opposed, as should all socialists, to any state being based on or defined by ethnicity or religion: an “Israel for the Jews” any more than a “Britain for the British”. That’s why I was active in the anti-apartheid movement. I also sympathise with indigenous people whose land is colonised by outsiders, whatever their own history of oppression.

But history can’t be unwritten. I don’t call for the expulsion of the descendants of migrant settlers in the USA, Canada, South America or Australia, and I don’t call for the abolition of Pakistan – most of whom likewise were also originally fleeing from despair and persecution back home. Terrible and genocidal crimes were committed against the indigenous populations of all these countries, and similar crimes are being inflicted today against the Palestinians. Generations have grown up in Israel in the last seventy years, and they have no other home. What I condemn is Israel’s identity as a racially-designated state in which non-Jews face discrimination and which acts as a regional military occupation power.

The task of socialists is to combat all attempts to pit workers of different nationalities or historical backgrounds into fratricidal conflict, and to campaign for the common interests of all workers, uniting them in a common struggle for a new society. We should call for a common homeland of all communities in a harmonious socialist federation of the Middle East.

As a socialist, I will always fight against ethnic exclusionism, whether “Britain for the British” or “Israel for the Jews…”

As a socialist, I’m in favour of everyone living wherever they like: whether it’s Syrians in Britain or Jews in Israel…

And as a socialist, I support unity: a socialist federation of the Middle East, a socialist federation of the Indian sub-continent, a socialist federation of Europe.

Here I am, standing outside the sole remaining synagogue in Iasi, Romania, the birthplace of my grandfather Myer Silverman, who together with his brother fled anti-Semitic pogroms towards the end of the 19th century and eventually landed up in Liverpool. They couldn’t scrape together the fare for the two of them to emigrate to America, so they tossed a coin and Myer lost! (And I’m eternally grateful that he did.)

My last visit to Labour’s NEC – participating in a lobby outside the meeting where adherence to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was being debated.


NOTE: I sent the following letter to Paula Barker, the newly elected MP for Liverpool Wavertree, following an article she had written to the Jewish Telegraph.
Dear Paula Barker,
As a lifelong Jewish member of the Labour Party, I am writing to you in response to your recent article in the Jewish Telegraph.
I was surprised to see that you unaccountably omit from your list of notable Jewish Labour figures the name of Sydney Silverman, someone who played a central and pioneering role in the life of the Labour Party in Liverpool in the first half of the twentieth century. Born in Liverpool in 1895, he was the son of a penniless refugee from Romania, an anti-war activist jailed twice during the First World War for refusing military orders, a hunger striker in protest at conditions in his jail, and later a Liverpool councillor famed for his defence of families facing eviction and victimised workers. He went on to become an MP continuously representing the nearby Lancashire constituency of Nelson and Colne from 1935 until his death in 1968. Among his most notable achievements was his single-handed lifelong campaign to abolish the death penalty, a cause which he finally brought to victory in 1965 with the passage of his private member’s bill.        
What is particularly relevant in this context is Sydney Silverman’s role in fighting for the rights of Jewish victims of the holocaust. During the Second World War he was chair of the British section of the World Jewish Congress, and in that capacity was among the first to warn of the horrors of the holocaust. As a Zionist, he passionately defended the right of Jewish concentration camp victims to seek refuge in Palestine. Your article gives a false impression of the attitude initially taken by the postwar Labour government on this issue: Sydney Silverman defied the Foreign Secretary Bevin in protest at his brutal policy of sinking the ships carrying hundreds of desperate survivors. Following the establishment of Israel, Sydney Silverman fiercely condemned the actions of the Israeli government in colluding in the Suez war and later in its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank following the 1967 war. Despite this, on his death the Israeli government named a forest in his honour. 
In my early teens I was myself a member of a socialist Zionist youth organisation, Hashomer Hatzair, one of whose former members was Mordechai Analewiecz, the heroic leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. As the son of Sydney Silverman, I am providing this information only to prove my credentials as a Jewish socialist who could never reasonably be accused of anti-semitism.
I am no longer a Zionist. Before the age of the holocaust, neither the Zionist movement nor its smaller offshoot Poale Zion had any mass base in the ghettoes. They were little more than exotic fringe sects within the Jewish communities of Europe, whose rich political and cultural life was embodied in the socialist Bund, and whose defiant response both to the anti-Semites and the Zionists was: this is our home! We’re not going anywhere! Of course I now support the right of Jews to live in Israel, since generations have now grown up there and know no other homeland. What I emphatically oppose is the status of Israel as an exclusively Jewish racial state which arrogates to itself the right to refuse the right of return to its exiles, terrorise its indigenous Arab population, occupy its territorial military conquests, mow down peaceful protesters in their hundreds, jail and torture children, and now to threaten flagrant annexation.         
It is breathtaking that those who share my outrage at the monstrous policies of the Israeli government can now be indiscriminately branded anti-Semites and hounded out of the Labour Party. That is why I was bitterly disappointed to read in your article the apparent endorsement of the idea that anti-semitism is rife in the Labour Party. Surely in Wavertree above all it should be clear that the concoction of this myth was a pro-Tory media lie, desperately contrived to smear Labour’s popular socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn. You must know that it is the Tories who blocked the entry of refugees from Tsarist pogroms and Nazi extermnination, and promoted shameless anti-Semitic smears, and their current mouthpieces the Sun and the Mail which indulged in flagrant Jew-baiting as recently as during the leadership of Ed Miliband. 
Many proven socialist campaigners have been unjustly libelled and expelled from the Labour Party for expressing these views. My father too was expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party for opposing nuclear weapons, along with Michael Foot, who later became leader. History will show the truth. I sincerely hope that you will reconsider your unjustified accommodation to this vile smear campaign and uphold the true principles of socialist internationalism that run through the lifeblood of the Labour Movement in Liverpool.     
Comradely greetings,
Roger Silverman
West Ham CLP.

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