In an interview promoting her new film Fanny Lye Deliver’d, actress Maxine Peake supposedly espoused an “antisemitic conspiracy” in relation to the death of George Floyd. Whether the comments were antisemitic is up for debate, but the fact that she wrongfully hijacked Floyd’s death for her own political agenda is not.
The comments were made by Peake in relation to capitalism and the Black Lives Matter protests happening across the globe right now. She then stated that “the tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
The article was shared by Labour shadow minister Rebecca Long-Bailey, who was promptly sacked by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, on the grounds that the article was promoting an “antisemitic conspiracy theory.” On the one hand, the suggestion that Israel is behind police brutality in the US feeds into vulgar images of Jewish world order, propagated in literature such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. On the other hand, this could just be criticism of Israeli policy that doesn’t entail antisemitism.
Peake…is using the death of George Floyd to further her own political agenda
But that is not the point of this article. It is arguable whether Maxine Peake’s claim that Minnesota police were taught their brutal methods of “crowd control” by Israeli special agents is true or false, antisemitic or Anti-Zionist, or just a criticism of Israeli aggression. The fact of the matter is that she is using the death of George Floyd to further her own political agenda, in doing so belittling the importance of Black Lives Matter protests.
The notion that Israel is somehow indirectly behind Floyd’s death distracts from the real issues that the tragedy has drawn attention to: police brutality, racism, and trust in authority. The problematic implication is Peake’s suggestion that Floyd’s death is not really Derek Chauvin’s fault, he was just following the lead of the Israelis who brutalise innocent Palestinians on a near daily basis. An absurd conclusion of this implication is that if it weren’t for those Israelis everything would be fine. No chokehold, no death. Of course, this is problematic to suggest. Floyd’s death came directly at the hands of racist police officers who deserve every morsel of punishment and condemnation for their crime. Anything to disperse responsibility indirectly absolves them for their actions and distracts us from the real problems at hand. The Black Lives Matter movement is about black lives. Not about Israeli aggression.
The notion that Israel is somehow indirectly behind Floyd’s death distracts from the real issues that the tragedy has drawn attention to
Should Long-Bailey have been sacked? While it is difficult to comment given the vague nature of Peake’s criticism, it is worth noting that she tweeted the following in the aftermath of Long-Bailey’s sacking: “I feel it’s important for me to clarify that, when talking to The Independent, I was inaccurate in my assumption of American Police training & its sources. I find racism & antisemitism abhorrent & I in no way wished, nor intended, to add fodder to any views of the contrary.”
What is nonetheless obvious is that Keir Starmer wants to do his utmost to root out any possible antisemitism in the Labour party. This is especially noticeable following Jeremy Corbyn who, anti-semite or not, undeniably provoked Jewish communities in the UK. With that said, we cannot let Israel off the hook by avoiding criticising their foreign policy in fear of being accused of antisemitism. Anti-Zionism and antisemitism are not the same, and with the impending annexation of the West Bank, it is vital that we continue to hold Israel to account for their offenses.
But this is a separate issue to the Black Lives Matter protests against racism, and the two should not be conflated.
Image: TheManBookerPrizes via Flickr