His ill-chosen words have nothing to do with the just cause of Palestinian liberation.
“Maverick” is a term I usually avoid, because all too often appears to mean “those who reject the prevailing consensus and are therefore a bit wacky”. But — with all due respect to Newport West’s long-standing Labour MP — Paul Flynn has a track record of both being a maverick and a bit wacky. “The only I way I’ll vote for this is if they give me a full frontal lobotomy,” he said over tuition fees in 2004. “If you find me with half my brain missing, the whips will have had their grubby, blood-stained hands on it.” Witty and — as I say — a bit wacky.
But – if his comments to the Jewish Chronicle have been accurately reported – then Paul Flynn has discredited himself. The paper challenged him after he questioned the acceptability of Matthew Gould as Ambassador to Israel. In a sitting of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, which discussed meetings between Gould, the former defence secretary Liam Fox and his friend Adam Werrity, Flynn alleged that Gould “has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and has previously served in Iran, in the service.”
There is a case for Flynn to raise this. Zionism is a political movement, after all, and an MP is well within his rights to query whether there is a conflict of interest. But there is no justification whatsoever for his subsequent comments. According to the Jewish Chronicle, Flynn argued that previous ambassadors to Israel had not been Jewish “to avoid the accusation that they have gone native.” He apparently added that Britain needed “someone with roots in the UK [who] can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty.”
Flynn has dismissed accusations of anti-semitism as “ludicrous” on his blog. But he still must adequately explain — or apologise for — these reported comments.
Firstly, his remarks imply that being Jewish would make a person inherently supportive of Israel. Given the long tradition of Jewish critics of Israel — recent prominent examples include the late Harold Pinter, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky — this is outright nonsense.
In actual fact, many hardened Zionists are not even Jewish. US Presidents ranging from Richard Nixon (who privately indulged in anti-Semitic tirades) to Ronald Reagan were non-Jewish Zionists. The US Christian Right could not be more supportive of the worst excesses of Israeli governments. There are plenty of non-Jewish British ultra-Zionists who — it could be argued — would fail to hold Israeli governments to account if they served as Britain’s Ambassador.
Of even greater concern is Flynn’s clear suggestion that a Jewish person has no “roots in the UK”. This echoes classic anti-semitism, which is based on the slur that Jews outside Israel are aliens in whichever country they live (a myth that, unfortunately, is these days also promoted by the Israeli government.) Perhaps Flynn’s words simply were ill-chosen but he certainly should clarify what he meant by this.
Apologists for Israeli policy have long alleged that their critics are motivated by anti-Semitism (and that Jewish critics are “self-hating Jews”). It is an ingenious means of shutting down scrutiny, because nobody wants to be associated with a bigotry that, in the 20th century, culminated in the extermination of millions of people. It is as untrue as to suggest critics of Apartheid South Africa were motivated by a hatred of white South Africans.
But Flynn’s comments will now be used by ultra-Zionists as evidence that their critics are motivated by bigotry. The immediate danger is that the affair risks overshadowing legitimate questions about the Fox-Werrity affair.
There is an ongoing struggle for a just Middle East free of Western interference, in which Muslims, Jews and Christians alike can live secure, peaceful lives. Hatred of the Jewish people has nothing to do with this struggle — except that it must be fought against to the bitter end.
I have proudly marched in support of Palestinian liberation, and I will continue to do so. But Paul Flynn’s words have nothing to do with this just cause, and he should rightly be condemned.
Owen Jones is author of “Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class”