How Owen Jones learned to stop worrying and love Zionism

A man in a shirt

Owen Jones at the Labour Party conference in 2019.

Isabel Infantes PA Wire

Guardian columnist Owen Jones is notorious on the British left for his lack of principles.

The Labour Party activist and YouTuber never hesitates to switch sides, perhaps thinking it will further his career.

Despite past claims to support the Palestinians, in his most recent book, This Land: The Story of a Movement published in 2020, Jones fully embraces Zionism, the Israeli state’s racist settler-colonial ideology.

Jones writes that there was “an incontestable need for a Jewish homeland” in Palestine. He soft-sells Zionism as “fundamentally different from those projects of European settler-colonialism” such as Algeria.

His opportunism is part of a long tradition of high-profile British social democrats policing the boundaries of acceptable public discourse and setting strict limits on its left flank. Jones is a leading part of the phenomenon that writer and historian Louis Allday has described as “social imperialism in the 21st century.”

Jones has been on a journey. Earlier in his career, when he had more need to build a loyal audience, he expressed sympathy with Palestinians.

In one viral clip from a 2012 BBC talk show, Jones criticized Israel for breaking a ceasefire with Palestinian fighters and attacking Gaza. But during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, Jones changed his tune.

He sabotaged the popular movement that brought the veteran Palestine solidarity campaigner to the brink of power by claiming the Labour Party had an anti-Semitism problem, insisted Corbyn apologize for anti-Semitism that he had not even been guilty of and happily played the role of the Israel lobby’s useful idiot.

Jones relentlessly called for Corbyn’s most high-profile supporters to be thrown out of the party based on confected anti-Semitism allegations – including Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson.

Last year Jones continued this trend, backing Labour’s banning of a left-wing group supported by veteran socialist filmmaker Ken Loach. The ban, supported by Jones, led to Loach’s expulsion.

For good measure, Jones even denied and justified the Zionist movement’s well-documented record of collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

For years, Jones opposed BDS, the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

In an interview with The Jewish Chronicle in 2017, Jones told the anti-Palestinian newspaper that he had “never been involved in BDS,” falsely claiming that the movement had been guilty of “indiscriminately targeting Jewish people.”

In fact, Palestine’s BDS National Committee has always made it clear that the movement is as opposed to anti-Jewish bigotry as to other forms of racism. Jones ignored this, claiming that “my Jewish friends” were often made to “feel uncomfortable” in the Palestine solidarity movement.

But after Israel’s most recent war against Palestinians in Gaza last year – and the subsequent global upsurge in BDS and decline in support for Israel – he did a classic Owen Jones flip-flop and suddenly declared his support for the boycott.

But even in the YouTube video laying out his case, he couldn’t help denouncing unspecified people within the Palestine solidarity movement who he claimed “Seize upon the Palestinian cause” as a mask for their “two-millenia-old hatred of the Jewish people.”

He took no accountability for his years of opposition to BDS, including by smearing the movement as anti-Semitic.

Instead he claimed his infamous Jewish Chronicle interview had been “garbled” and that the video was merely him “clarifying” his position on BDS, which – he implied – he had somehow supported all along.

Israel’s useful critic

In 2017 Jones willingly – if unwittingly – played a key role in a secret, Israeli-government-approved strategy to “sabotage” the Palestine solidarity movement and the British left.

The Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank with close ties to the government, authored a strategy which advocated “driving a wedge” between the hard core “delegitimizers” of the BDS movement and others described as “soft critics” of Israel.

Jones played the latter role by giving high-profile support to the Jewish Labour Movement – an anti-Corbyn group with close ties to the Israeli embassy.

In 2017, The Electronic Intifada obtained and published a secret Israel lobby report reaffirming the strategy to split the left over support for Palestinian rights.

Written by the Reut Institute, this time with US pro-Israel lobby group the Anti-Defamation League as a co-author, the strategy advocated “uncompromisingly” and “covertly” dealing with BDS leaders by dividing them from their potential allies.

Jones was star of the show at a Jewish Labour Movement event at which he opined on “left anti-Semitism” and called for the expulsion of Black Jewish anti-Zionist Jackie Walker from Labour. He would not get his way for two more years.

Defending himself from his grassroots critics at the time, Jones criticized Israel’s “occupation of Palestine” and wrote that he believes “in a just peace for both Arabs and Jews” – even while failing to advocate for any actual mechanism to hold Israel to account, such as BDS.

A man on stage talks into a microphone while a woman watches

Owen Jones addressing a 2017 meeting of Israel lobby group the Jewish Labour Movement.

Asa Winstanley

The Labour membership backlash against Jones was so strong that he soon took to Facebook to announce he was quitting social media due to “abuse.” He claimed that “frothing keyboard warriors” were accusing him of being “a right-wing sell-out careerist who’s allied to Tony Blair and possibly in the pay of the Israeli government.”

His social media break did not last long and today he has more than one million Twitter followers and almost 400,000 followers on Facebook.

Jones’ line at the Jewish Labour Movement event criticizing “the occupation” and “the settlements” while simultaneously attacking anti-Zionists as “anti-Semitic” perfectly mirrored the type of Israel lobby propaganda which nebulously calls for “peace” and a “two-state solution” while proposing nothing to halt continuing Israeli colonialism and war crimes all over historic Palestine.

In the book, Jones argues that Israel only “came to resemble a colonial occupier” (emphasis added) in 1967 when it invaded and occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Jones ignores the Sinai Peninsula which Egypt got back years later and Syria’s Golan Heights which Israel still illegally occupies today, as well as South Lebanon which Israel occupied for 18 years until driven out by armed resistance in 2000).

Such “soft” criticism of Israel is typical of the Zionist “left,” which dishonestly ignores or even denies that Zionists from Europe have been colonizing Palestinian lands since 1882 and perpetrated the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians in 1948. That mass ethnic cleansing was the prerequisite for establishing a “Jewish state” on the ruins of Palestinian cities, towns and villages.

One of Jones’ columns about alleged left-wing anti-Semitism even earned warm words from Israeli ambassador Mark Regev.

In a letter to The Guardian, Regev wrote that Jones’ piece “tackles several important issues.”

However, as Israel often does, the ambassador admonished Jones for not being hard enough on supporters of Palestinian rights.

“Embarrassed of Jeremy”

Jones’ book reveals – perhaps inadvertently – how he pushed an ideology of defeat on Corbyn’s Labour.

Even with Jones’ years of vacillation between pro-Corbyn and anti-Corbyn positions, he is sometimes shockingly frank about his opposition to the left-wing Labour leader.

Jones describes Corbyn as “mulish” in his refusal to follow advice and his leadership of the party as “shambolic.” He approvingly cites Labour sources who describe Corbyn’s leadership as “clearly dysfunctional” and say they were “embarrassed of Jeremy and of working for him.”

At one point in This Land, Jones attacks Corbyn for refusing to make an official visit to Israel.

He also criticizes the former Labour leader for refusing to bow to the same demand when it was issued by the Board of Deputies of British Jews – a virulently anti-leftist and anti-Palestinian British pro-Israel lobby group.

Jones quotes an anonymous “ally” of the former leader who argues it would have been “unreasonable” to insist Corbyn visited Israel “when we’re spending the whole time saying that being Jewish is not necessarily the same as the government or state of Israel.”

Jones concedes this “might be” a legitimate argument, but nonetheless claims that by refusing to go to Israel, Corbyn “missed another opportunity to reach out to the Jewish community.”

By reinforcing the position that a visit to the violently racist apartheid state of Israel would have helped “reach out” to British Jews, Jones is reinforcing the anti-Semitic view that being Jewish is equivalent to supporting Israel – a position which even Zionist definitions of anti-Semitism ostensibly condemn.

Book cover for "This Land:The Story of a Movement' by Owen Jones

In his latest book, Owen Jones soft-sells Zionism as unlike other forms of settler-colonialism. (Owen Jones/Facebook)

In a chapter about what he describes as “The Anti-Semitism Crisis,” Jones claims the issue caused “grievous” damage “to Corbyn’s Labour” thanks to a “prolonged drip feed that helped fundamentally change the British public’s sense of Corbynism from something positive and hopeful to something poisonous and sinister.”

While there’s no doubt that the campaign to smear Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semitic caused fatal damage to Labour’s electoral prospects, Jones is writing this as if he himself wasn’t an important part of that very same “prolonged drip feed” of disinformation.

Though Jones acknowledges in passing some “bad-faith actors,” he flatly denies that “Labour anti-Semitism” was a manufactured scandal. More often than not, “anti-Semitism” was used as a code word for solidarity with the Palestinians or just for being a leftist.

Polling data consistently showed that the vast majority of Labour members recognized this all along.

In April last year one poll showed that 70 percent of members believed anti-Semitism was either “exaggerated” or not “a serious problem” within the party.

A February 2020 poll found 73 percent agreeing that the anti-Semitism crisis in the party had been “invented or wildly exaggerated.”

Jones in the book accuses Labour members of being “in denial” and of causing “hurt and fear” to the Jewish community.

After initially supporting Corbyn for leader in 2015, Jones soon changed his tune. When in 2016 a coup attempt against Corbyn by Labour’s right-wing MPs (the majority) broke out into the open, Jones publicly abandoned Corbyn, writing that he was “in despair” over his leadership.

Not long before the June 2017 election, Jones explicitly called for Corbyn to quit. After Corbyn did far better than anyone expected in that election, Jones admitted he’d made a mistake.

“A transitional figure”

In This Land Jones reveals that his involvement in the 2016 efforts to overthrow Corbyn as Labour leader was deeper than previously thought. He admits wanting to have Corbyn replaced by soft-left MP Clive Lewis before the next general election.

Corbyn would become “a transitional figure,” Jones writes in the book, arguing that his preferred replacement Lewis was “photogenic,” “handsome” and “someone you could imagine playing a prime minister in a fictional political drama.”

Jones later writes that it was a “tragedy” John McDonnell, Corbyn’s right-hand man and Labour’s finance spokesperson, “never assumed the leadership.”

As he recalls in the early part of the book, Jones once worked for McDonnell as a parliamentary researcher. According to Jones, in 2015 McDonnell was initially opposed to Corbyn’s run for the Labour leadership; Jones himself recalls that it was “unthinkable” at the time that Corbyn would actually win.

Was this just another example of Owen Jones being proven wrong, or rather an expression of his revulsion at the thought of a genuinely socialist Palestine solidarity campaigner becoming leader of the UK’s official opposition party?

In a 2019 video posted to Twitter, Jones said he had “come to understand” that people in Europe and the United States should not use the words “Zionist” or “Zionism” because “they lack precision as terms” and “can cause hurt and distress.”

Instead, he said, people should use the terms “supporters of the Israeli occupation” or “supporters of a brutal and illegal occupation.”

While strictly policing the language that can be used to criticize Israel and its racist ideology, Jones has also asserted that people on the left “have to build those bridges” with parties in Israel such as Meretz.

Meretz is an allegedly left-wing Zionist party which last year joined a coalition under far-right Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett.

Meretz has a long record of supporting Israeli wars.

Jones naturally does not apply his demand for the Western left to censor the word “Zionism” from its vocabulary to himself. His chapter on the alleged anti-Semitism “crisis” is replete with both the words “Zionism” and “Zionist” – usually in an apologetic and anti-Palestinian context.

He argues that it is “deeply problematic” when those on the left point out that Zionism is “a political ideology … inherently rooted in oppression,” but does not convincingly explain why, especially when that happens to be a fact.

All of this perfectly mirrors the liberal end of the Israel lobby’s false narratives about Palestine, as promoted by groups like the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel.

This brings us full circle back to the quotes from This Land on Zionism which opened this article.

“European Jews did not arrive as refugees but as invaders”

The reason Owen Jones gives for “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands” being “fundamentally different from those [other] projects of European settler-colonialism” is as unoriginal as it is false.

He claims that in places other than Palestine, “Europeans arrived to plant their flags to claim land on behalf of their own states, while Israel’s founders were fleeing the flags of their old nations. Rhodesia, for example, was not founded by survivors of a genocide who had already suffered two millennia of persecution.”

But in fact, as Columbia University’s Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History Joseph Massad explained as long ago as 1993, “For Palestinians, European Jews did not arrive as refugees but as invaders, whose sole purpose was to appropriate Palestine by any possible means in order to realize Zionist aspirations, which began before the rise of Hitler to power.”

Neither is Zionism alone among settler-colonial ideologies in its claim to be motivated by persecution, Massad explains. “European Jewish colonial experience is not in itself unique,” he wrote, “although the Jews’ experience as holocaust-surviving refugees certainly is.”

The Boers, white settlers of predominantly Dutch extraction in Southern Africa, for example, were horrifically treated by the British during the Anglo-Boer Wars at the beginning of the 20th century. They were interned in concentration camps where tens of thousands of children, women and men died.

Decades later, the memory of this experience was regularly used by South Africa’s apartheid leaders as justification for their white supremacist regime.

The early English colonists to North America too, are also still popularly understood to have been motivated by a desire to escape religious persecution – although historians have shown how they also had far more mercenary motivations.

Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that they too were also “fleeing the flags of their old nations.”

Like several other high-profile Labour “left” opportunists during the Corbyn years, Owen Jones was successfully co-opted by the Israel lobby and the Zionist movement.

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have others” – so runs the joke commonly attributed to Groucho Marx.

For Owen Jones it seems, adoption of the Zionist narrative – albeit in its “liberal” or “leftist” guise – was an easy sell for a man with few fixed principles.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.




Owen Jones really is a gem, isn't he? His devious subversion of actually left wing positions on the crimes of the zionist entity echoes his subversion of all other areas of left politics.

Give me an open racial hater like Ben Shapiro over a dishonest one like Jones any day.


I have to absolutely agree with you regarding this imbecile about whom I have always a low opinion but on other hand he is not the only one because many media personalities and politicians have the same double standards when it comes to Zionist oppression of Palestinians and their politics of segregation and discrimination as well others wars and suffering in Middle East and the Russian military imperialist aggression on the Ukrainian homeland. Orientalist propaganda and the distortion of Middle Eastern history are still unfortunately present in corporate-controlled legacy media the Western Hemisphere, where the importance of universal values ​​is clearly ignored. The banality of various statesmens who like to punch in chests but don't know how to carry a rifle has always make me I want to laugh, however now that we are on the brink of World War III and our moral values ​​are falling apart and in this madness it is difficult to stay normal and I just want to scream because all this bloodshed and destruction of innocent souls, watching the destruction of cultural and natural values, watching this humiliation, half-heartedness, arrogance, insolence, hypocrisy, cowardice, shame, suffering, pain, sadness and tragedy, I just don’t know how I can sleep peacefully. War is devil's temptation where evil never know to values ​​life, because this heresy who destroys our minds tries to distract us from all the wonderful things we have in life. Charlatans like Owen know nothing about conscience and responsibility, they simply know absolutely nothing about the Palestinian Question that needs to be answered one day. they know nothing about the Palestinian soul, because if they did I think they would think differently about themselves. And peace and prosperity in the Middle East is important for all people of good will and we need the courage to make it happen one day and one day Jerusalem will be liberated and children of God will can be sing and celebrating our life


Where were you for the 8 years of shelling, killing by the Azoz neo-Nazis in Donbas? Or do think Russian speaking Ukrainians or Russians are not worth deaths? Not white enough?


Totally agree with you Peter. Unfortunately most people in the West still think that Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year was completely unprovoked and are also completely oblivious to the fact that Ukrainians themselves have also been committing war crimes in Ukraine both prior to and during the current conflict.


During World War 2 I lived in a country occupied by Germany. There were then a lot of left wing people who thought the so-called social policies advocated by Germany were a good thing. One obviously finds people like that today. These people are confused just as the outraged people who suddenly love the Ukrainians now but hardly complained when many thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Middle Eastern people or Africans get killed over many decades.


The article makes some analogies between Israel and other settler-colonial countries., South Africa in particular. Another close analogy is Liberia, from 1847 - the date of its formal establishment - up to 1980. The colony was settled by freed slaves and other African-Americans eager to escape the racism of the USA. In this they were supported by liberals - many of them Quakers - and by racists who wanted to reduce the number of blacks living in the USA, through the American Colonisation Society. Of course, this was vehemently opposed by Black American radicals, like Frederick Douglass ("While our brethren are in bondage on these shores, it is idle to think of inducing any considerable number of the free colored people to quit this for a foreign land"). The settlers formed a privileged caste, forcing the indigenous people from their land, supressing their culture and establishing a "democracy" where only this caste had the right to vote (until 1951). The True Whig Party ruled Liberia from 1878 until it was overthrown in Samuel Doe's military coup in 1980. Indigenous Liberians were not able to become citizens until 1951.

Liberia was also not in any serious way a colonial project carried out by an imperialist power.

Of course, the major difference with Israel - and the reason why this history is so neglected - is that Liberia is of little strategic importance to the main imperialist powers. Another is that I don't think people like Frederick Douglass - or others Black Americans in later years - would have been denounced (especially by white people) as racists or "self-haters" for opposing this settler colonialism.


Jones's argument is obviously flawed: the notion that only after 1967 did Israel take on the tone of a settler-colonial movement is defied by the most basic historical facts; but he fits into a long line of supposed leftists and libertarians who have argued in favour of a Jewish State: Nye Bevan took the view that the Arabs were backward while Israel progressive; Michael Foot wrote in favour of the creation of Israel; Richard Crossman saw the Palestinians as disposable. And the Labour Party in its entirely has been a supporter of Israel for decades, paying feeble lip-service to a two-State arrangement, but refusing to do or say anything the Israeli State doesn't approve of. What this points up very starkly is the inadequacy of Labour position: it stands for workers' rights (nominally), for internationalism (apparently), but it has never grasped the essential fact emphasised by Joseph Conrad in the early pages of Heart of Darkness: conquest consists essentially in dispossessing and oppressing people with darker skins and flatter noses . Europe, since 1492 at least, has exported racism and its attendant creed that because there are lesser races, we are justified in ruling over them, and, of course, if necessary, doing away with them. Hitler fulfilled the logic. Irony. The Zionists use his lunacy as a justification for their. What Jones and those like him fail to recognise is that progress is the problem. The ideology of progress is not the idea that things can be improved, but the irrational conviction that everything is sure to get better in and through the movement of time, that the "progressive" people have the right to trample over the "backward". Labour embraces this notion. Its ostensible support for workers' rights is a weak nod in the direction of the equality and justice it in fact rejects. Jones has found his home, but it stinks of hypocrisy and pusillanimity.


I cannot enough recommend David Swift's critique of Jones and his Peers, Left Behind. Jones is truthfully an out of their depth toxic grifter, trying to stay relevant by any means possible even if it means engaging in witch hunts, accusing others antisemitism and causing them harm with this smear. As soon as the Left in Britain realise that he is all about his own prestige rather than being fair towards others and that Jones ethos is in fact damaging to socialism the better.