Paul Flynn, BICOM and the nexus between Zionism and anti-Semitism

BICOM’s Lorna Fitzsimons addresses the 2011 Herzliya Conference. “Every Jew is an ambassador for Israel”, claimed a panel she recently took part in.

At the start of December, a minor row broke out after comments UK parliamentarian Paul Flynn made about the ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould. The Jewish Chronicle reported that Flynn cast doubt on the wisdom of Gould’s appointment as ambassador, saying Britain needed “someone with roots in the UK [who] can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty”. Gould is Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel.

Under pressure, Flynn soon apologized for his comments. But the wider British press paid little attention to the story. Flynn’s initial comment seems to have been innocuous enough. He complained that Gould would be biased towards Israel because “the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist”. It was later to the Jewish Chronicle that he brought up the nebulous and problematic idea of “Jewish loyalty”.

This comment was misguided. It is unacceptable to conflate Zionism with Judaism in such a way, or to suggest Jews would always be sympathetic with Israel. So we need to ask: who is guilty of conflating the state of Israel with Jews in general? The primary culprit is Israel, the Zionist movement and their supporters around the world. Indeed, Flynn defended himself by claiming to have been “a lifelong friend of Israel”. He said this as if it was a proof against accusations of anti-Semitism, but that certainly does not follow.

BICOM’s hypocrisy on anti-Semitism

The hypocrisy of Zionism on this issue knows no bounds. On the Huffington Post’s UK site, Lorna Fitzsimons wrote a shockingly two-faced article about the affair. Fitzsimons is a former Labour MP and current CEO of Israel lobby BICOM (the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre). She complained of an allegedly new form of anti-Semitism in which “Jews are depicted as the ‘Zionist’ or part of the ‘Israel lobby,’ loyal to Israel not the nation in which he or she is, once again, no more than an interloper.”

But as I reported for the Electronic Intifada in November, Fitzsimons recently took part on the panel of a workshop with an anti-Semitic title expressing very similar sentiments to Flynn. The Jewish Chronicle (which is a staunchly pro-Israel weekly paper) did not complain about anti-Semitism in that case. The reason is simple: the workshop was at a conference intended to explore new ways to propagandize for Israel — “The Big Tent For Israel”. The title of the workshop was “Every Jew is an Ambassador for Israel, why don’t we use them?”. The mind boggles.

If Israel’s apologists were genuinely concerned about principled anti-racism, they would not use such anti-Semitic tropes. The nexus between anti-Semitism and Zionism in fact has a long history, far too often ignored. It goes all the way back to the movement’s founder Theodor Herzl.

Zionism’s anti-Semitic history

Political Zionism’s modern founder Theodor Herzl: “a freer attitude toward anti-Semitism…”

In reaction to the Dreyfuss affair, Herzl wrote in his diaries: “In Paris, as I have said, I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.” The general logic of Zionism is to embrace the anti-Semitic and historically unsustainable myth that European Jews do not “belong” to Europe and should therefore “go back” to Palestine.

Another Zionist anti-Semite was Arthur Ruppin. Working in Palestine during both the Ottoman and British occupation periods, Ruppin was the key Zionist official responsible for land acquisition. As the representative of Theodore Herzl’s Zionist Organisation, Ruppin established the Palestine Office in 1908. He was also a racist who had internalized the anti-Semitism of his native German society: “I hate the wild thorns of Judaism, more than the worst anti-Semite” he wrote in his teenage diary. Toward the end of his life, Ruppin wrote that “the shape of the nose” can give an indication of racial affinity, and he sketched a series of Jewish “types”. He attached to each “type” names of Zionist leaders including Herzl and Menachem Ussishkin.

Counter-jihadism: Zionism’s new ally

This historical nexus of Zionism with anti-Semitism is finding new expressions in contemporary Europe. The European far-right had historically targeted Jewish communities as a main target of abuse. Not that they stopped there. In 1950s and 1960s Britain for example, migrants from the former Caribbean and African colonies found themselves attacked by fascist or neo-Nazi groups such as the National Front and the British National Party (BNP).

These days however, the far-right has switched is malign focus to Muslim communities. Islamophobia has been on the rise. This comes in a far wider political climate of Islamophobia, what a recent report called “The Cold War on British Muslims”. I covered this issue in a recent article for Al-Akhbar English, about the Islamophobic right’s new counter-jihadist, pro-Israel ideology. As I also covered, the parts of this new rightist movement with a history of more clearly neo-Nazi origins, have “by no means abandoned their anti-Semitic roots”.

These days it seems the Zionist movement has such a rapidly diminishing pool of friends, that it is more and more openly forced to own up to the logic of an alliance with Eurpean fascism.


Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).