THE current slaughter in Gaza (Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s description of it as a “war” is a cynical euphemism) has raised again the question of what does, and what does not, constitute antisemitism. In his “alternative Christmas message” on Channel 4, the Jewish comedian and actor Stephen Fry hung the current rise in antisemitism in Britain on people’s responses to recent and current events in Israel and Gaza.

Fry insisted that antisemitism is now “the one acceptable form of racism” in the UK (which must have come as news to the Muslim and Roma communities in particular, and to Black and Asian people more generally). Fry made no distinction between the Judeophobic racism of fascists and the far-right and the views of those who oppose Israel’s mass murder in Gaza.

To her credit, when she was asked if she detected a rise in antisemitism, the Jewish TV personality Claudia Winkleman said that both antisemitism and Islamophobia were on the increase. Not for her Fry’s dangerous notion of a hierarchy of oppression, or the implication that a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke is in greater danger on the streets of the UK than a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

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The Jewish comedian Alexei Sayle went further. Posting his “alternative alternative Christmas message” on Skwawkbox, Sayle lambasted people like Fry for repeating an “establishment, ruling class narrative” in which support for the “Jewish community” and support for Israel are synonymous. The likes of Fry are, he continued, “an alternative to nothing”.

Sayle said that the Jews he wanted to stand with were “those of the Jewish Bloc”, with whom he has marched on the recent, massive pro-Palestine demonstrations in London. Indeed, far from the despicable former home secretary Suella Braverman’s characterisation of these protests as “hate marches” against Jews, Sayle said that he and his friends in the Jewish Bloc have “always been greeted with love, kindness and support from all those around us.”

There, in a nutshell, is the rub. From the Israeli cabinet office, to Downing Street and the White House (not to mention, shamefully, the office of Keir Starmer (below), the so-called “Leader of the Opposition”), we hear the insistence that criticism of Israel or opposition to its founding political ideology, Zionism, is “antisemitic”.

Asian Image: Keir Starmer is set to give a speech later this week

If you follow that logic, there were 800,000 antisemites marching for Palestine in London on November 11. The truth, as Sayle says, is not only different, but the opposite.

Opponents of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians are overwhelmingly opponents of all forms of racism, including the scourge of antisemitism. In fact, pro-Palestine activists are more likely than the average citizen to be found on the frontline in any battle against the antisemitic scum of neo-Nazism and the far-right.

Israel and its supporters insist that cannot be true, that you are either with Israel or you are an antisemite.

This is, of course, a pernicious lie. Antisemitism, as the brilliant Israeli dissident and theatre-maker Itai Erdal told this newspaper during last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, should be defined, clearly and unambiguously, as “hatred of Jews as Jews”. There is, he said, no reasonable basis for equating criticism of Israel with Judeophobia.

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As I have written in this newspaper before, as a left-wing goy (non-Jew), my foremost teacher about the Israel-Palestine issue was the late, great Palestinian-Jewish socialist Ygael Gluckstein (aka Tony Cliff). To this day, I look to many Jewish friends, such as the celebrated Scottish-Jewish Holocaust educationalist Professor Henry Maitles, for guidance in our common causes, from anti-racism to liberation for Palestine.

Israel’s supporters typically try to sideline Jews who criticise Israel by calling them “self-hating Jews”. This is a contemptible, poisonous slander against a significant and growing proportion of the world’s Jewish population.

The argument over the nature of antisemitism matters for two equally important reasons. Firstly, to insist that pro-Palestine activists (including supposed “self-hating Jews”) are responsible for a rise in antisemitism is to engage in dangerous untruths equivalent to those of the young shepherd in Aesop’s fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Just as the shepherd, who repeatedly cried “wolf” when there was none, was not believed when the danger was real, those who stand with the Tory Party, waving Israeli and British flags and screaming “antisemite” at critics of Israel, undermine the struggle against the real Jew-haters on the far-right.

The Tory government cuddles up to Hungary’s far-right leader Viktor Orban (below), despite his virulent antisemitism.

Asian Image: Prime Minister Viktor Orban says Hungary will block a proposal to start talks on European Union membership for Ukraine (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

In a speech in 2018, which is, surely the most Judeophobic made by a European head of government since the death of Adolf Hitler, Orban said: “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

If the disgraceful slandering of pro-Palestine activists as antisemites undermines the increasingly important struggle against the hatred, including Judeophobia, peddled by the far-right, its primary purpose is to scare decent people away from joining the Palestine solidarity movement. After all, who wants to be falsely accused of being an anti-Jewish racist?

However, Israel and its supporters have failed to stop the exponential growth of the pro-Palestine movement around the world. The reason for this is obvious: the disingenuous accusation of antisemitism doesn’t stand up when Israel’s critics are opposing a genocide.

At the time of writing the death toll in Gaza is more than 22,000 (very nearly 1% of the population of Gaza). A mind-boggling 70% of homes in the strip have been destroyed.

Some 1.9 million people (out of a population of 2.3m) have been displaced. The health service has been obliterated and the UN estimates that approximately half a million people are now starving.

In such circumstances, people of conscience cannot and will not be silenced by the shameless lies of those who perpetrate and support the genocide.

This column was originally published in The Herald