The British Left and Zionism – A History of a Divorce


19th Sep 2013    
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm


Friends Meeting House
6 Mount Street, behind Central Library, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 5NS

Event Type

Paul Kelemen will be talking about his recently published book ‘The British Left and Zionism – A History of a Divorce

Paul is a Lecturer at the University of Manchester and a member of Sheffield PSC.

Review of The British Left And Zionism: History Of A Divorce in the Morning Star

by Paul Keleman (Manchester University Press, £15.99)

Sunday 03 March 2013

by Chris Searle

How have the constituent parts of the British left characterised and behaved towards zionism since 1917 when the Balfour Declaration committed British conservatism to the establishment of a “Jewish home” and the Labour Party adopted a virtually identical policy?

Paul Keleman provides many answers in this revelatory and investigative book.

He starts from the 1920s when the British Socialist Party, which would become part of the Communist Party, recognised the zionist propject as “a veiled attempt at the annexation of Palestine.”

That veil was soon lifted with the support of the Labour minority governments of 1924 and 1929-31, led by the enthusiastic zionist adherent Ramsay McDonald.

But when the Palestinians rebelled in 1936 it was a Daily Worker editorial which declared: “The Arabs are fighting for their liberation and independence.”

In a fascinating chapter, Keleman describes British zionism’s growth in the 1930s as largely within the burgeoning Jewish middle class. At the same time the Jewish working class, particularly in east London, turned towards communism.

No doubt there was a recognition on the latter’s part, as another Daily Worker editorial stated, that the British administration in Palestine with zionist help was “striving to construct an imperial citadel.”

Keleman reminds us that an ideological somersault was performed during the second world war when the CP’s support for the zionists “contributed to the fate of Palestinians and helped consolidate zionism’s influence over the left wing of the Jewish community.”

The author goes on to describe post-war Labour support for Israel’s robbery of Palestinian lands – indeed, the 1944 Labour Party conference advocated the removal of Palestinians from Palestine itself – and the buttressing of an anti-Arab foreign policy by the US military.

Yet he also shows how elements of the British left, often led by progressive trade unions, finally delivered strong support for the Palestinians. This followed Israeli war crimes against Palestinans at Quibya in 1953 and its facilitation of the 1983 massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

Insightfully, Keleman shows how both zionism and the Palestinian cause have been twin and contradictory mirrors on the British left and how much, relieved of its crippling imperial burden, it needs to maintain and strengthen its absolute support for a free and independent Palestine.