Former Liverpool and England footballer John Barnes has weighed in on the antisemitism plaguing the Labour Party in recent years. Barnes has been politically outspoken in recent years but his appearance on BBC Question Time, his first on the show, left many amongst the Jewish community hurt and confused. Whilst commending the Labour MPs who left the Labour Party in the past week over “what they believe” recognising “it’s about antisemitism in the Labour Party” he also took it upon himself to decide on behalf of Jewish people what is and what is not antisemitism.
Mr Barnes on the issue of antisemitism recognised that “there is a difference between that and anti-Zionism…getting mixed up.” He correctly pointed out that “you can criticise the state of Israel without being antisemitic,“ but turned at that point against the view of the vast and overwhelming majority of the Jewish community in saying that he thought that “from the Labour Party’s point of view, as much as Zionists may want to say it’s one and the same I don’t think it is. It’s a bit like saying all racism is the same, because it isn’t, for example the Jews, in my opinion, whilst it is a religion they aren’t necessarily a separate race of people. I think they get mixed up in that respect.”
The history of antisemitism shows that antisemitism can target Jews over either perceived race or faith as well as conspiracy theories around perceived collective Jewish power. When speaking about antisemitism it is important to understand these fundamental points around what antisemitism targets and looks like. Whether or not Jews are defined as a race or a religion is not relevant to whether or not antisemitism attacks Jews on the basis of perceived race or religion. Nazi and fascist attacks on Jews have cited opposition to Jews as a racial group and not to their religious beliefs, whilst modern left-wing antisemitism tends to target Jews in a manner which does not focus on either race or religion, instead targeting them for perceived power, disloyalty, or for the actions and very existence of the State of Israel.
Furthermore, whilst it is true that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic in and of itself, all too often opposition to Israel is used as a vehicle for antisemitism. This has included claims that Jews are less loyal to the UK, holding Jews collectively responsible for Israeli political and military decisions, the use of antisemitic language in relation to Israel, or comparing Israelis to the Nazis.
To accuse the majority of the Jewish community (who are Zionists) of deliberately confusing the issue of antisemitism is to accuse them of weaponising antisemitism, a despicable and outrageous claim.
Mr Barnes would do well to learn more about antisemitism before choosing to speak out on this topic on national television.
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