Jeremy Corbyn, the Left, and its antisemitism problem

The hitherto almost-unknown British Labour MP and backbencher Jeremy Corbyn has surged ahead in the Labour elections for a new leader, and to the establishment’s surprise and utter horror, it looks like he will become the new leader.

I wrote about Corbyn’s very anti-Jewish and anti-Israel “friends” Hamas, Hezbollah and others, last week. This week there has been an outpouring of horrified British commentators on the possible election of Corbyn.

Dan Hodges at the Daily Telegraph has produced an alarming prediction that:

Corbyn will be cheered by racists and terrorists:

As the Labour Party is about to learn to its cost, Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents have no need to manufacture anything. All they have to do is faithfully reproduce what he says and what he thinks.

Which is why I’m happy to acknowledge that those of his supporters protesting vociferously that their champion is not an anti-semite are correct. Jeremy Corbyn does not personally indulge in prejudice.

But he does indulge prejudice. He associates with anti-semites and other extremists. He provides a platform for anti-semites and other extremists – Dyab Abou Jahjah is on record as saying Corbyn helped make his recent visit to the UK possible. And he shares platforms with anti-semites and other extremists.

Dyab Abou Jahjah (centre) and Jeremy Corbyn (right)

Corbyn and his supporters have attempted to defend his actions in a number of ways. One is to scream “smear” a lot. A second is to claim no anti-semitism or extremism was expounded by these men in his presence. And I suppose it is conceivable he may have been duped by the odd Holocaust denier or Blood Libeler. But it is odd he has only become aware of their duplicity just at the point when he is running for the Labour leadership.

Their third justification is that Mr Corbyn feels it necessary to sit with people with a range of views (some of them unsettling), in his search for a solution to the decades-long Palestinian/Israeli conflict. …

And instead let’s consider this. Imagine if an MP attempting to understand growing public sensitivities around immigration invited Nick Griffin to the House of Commons, along with a member of the fascist-terror group Combat 18. …  What would the reaction be? What would Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters do?

The Labour party used to be clear on this stuff. Zero-tolerance of racism. Zero-tolerance of apologists for racism. No platform for racism.

And now that’s gone. It’s all gone. Holocaust deniers. Blood Libelers. Anti-semitic conspiracy theorists. Terrorist sympathisers. Terrorists. We are Labour. How wide and how high would you like your platform to be?

I have been one of the Labour Party’s fiercest critics. But I never thought I’d see this day: the day Labour started to launder prejudice. The day its commitment to standing against all forms of bigotry was so casually slaughtered on the altar of political ideology and expediency.

Soon Jeremy Corbyn will become Labour leader. When he does, his supporters will cheer his victory. And Paul Eisen and Stephen Sizer and Raed Salah and Dyab Abou Jahjah will pause a while from Holocaust denial, and conspiracy theories and Blood Libel and dreams of dead British soldiers. And they will stand at the very top of their platforms. And they will cheer his victory too.

In a similar manner, the blogger Tom Owolade also agrees that while Corbyn himself may not have actually uttered any antisemitic words or committed such deeds, he does condone such words and deeds. In a blistering attack on Corbyn’s supporters he insists that:

Corbyn’s supporters should be honest:

Those who defend Corbyn rely on two arguments: firstly, that guilt by association – attending the same event as anti-Semites – is an insufficient base on which to build an argument. Secondly, that opposition to Israeli policies doesn’t entail anti-semitism, and consequently those that criticise Corbyn are doing so from a position of bad faith; out of a wish to shield Israel from legitimate criticism or part of a general right-wing agenda. Both arguments are strawmen that rely on a misapprehension of most people’s motives and inattention to their arguments.

The argument that criticism of Corbyn comes from a position of bad faith fails to account for the fact that the people Corbyn supports don’t hate Israel but Jews – a distinction which, for them, is meaningless anyway. It fails to account for the fact that it is not just Blairites, neocons, and neoliberals who worry about a potential political leader palling with racists. People who think anti-semitism is worrisome in itself worry too – and so they should, for it is a matter of principle first and foremost.

What it irritates me most is the dishonesty with which Corbyn’s apologists have defended his links to racism. The charge is he endorses and willingly attends events organised by anti-Semites, not that he merely and accidentally associates with them. This charge is supported by evidence of him saying positive things about racists and attending events organised by groups ideologically committed to racism. Corbyn’s supporters should be honest: they should concede Corbyn supports anti-Semites. But they should then concede, that to them, this support doesn’t matter. They should be honest and concede that anti-semitism under the cover of anti-Zionism doesn’t matter to them, and is secondary to opposing austerity and opposing western foreign policy.

Jeremy Corbyn’s pals: Head of Islamic Movement Raed Salah and the antisemitic vicar Steven Sizer

 

Let them then concede that parts of the left are now morally bankrupt on the issue of racism. They should admit that they’re diminishing the values they pretend to espouse. Let them concede all of that, and support the MP from Islington with a candid heart – but not, in reality, with an anti-racist one.

Whew! As if that’s not enough, the most serious indictment, not only of Corbyn but of the left and its antisemitism problem, comes from Stephen Daisley, of the Scottish STV news channel, who writes:

Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite. It’s so much worse than that:

The Labour leadership frontrunner has a singular talent for extending a warm welcome to anti-Semites and extremists.

He invited “friends” from Hezbollah and Hamas, both proscribed terrorist organisations. …

He invited Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement, to tea on the Commons terrace. Salah promotes the blood libel that Jews murder children for blood to bake in their matzah and claims that thousands of Jews stayed home from work at the World Trade Centre on 9/11, a key component of the conspiracy theory that Jews and not Islamic fundamentalists were behind the attacks.

He invited Dyab Abou Jahjah and shared a platform with the Belgian radical. Abou Jahjah called the killing of British soldiers in Iraq “a victory” …

Elsewhere, his connections to Holocaust-denier Paul Eisen have been documented by the Jewish Chronicle. … . In fact, as JC political correspondent Marcus Dysch has revealed, Corbyn attended a 2013 event for Eisen’s Deir Yassin Remembered group.

Holocaust denier Paul Eisen sits with Jeremy Corbyn in St. John’s Wood Church in 2013

…  He cannot recall meeting Abou Jahjah, despite a picture of the two of them sitting side-by-side on a panel. He was unaware of Eisen’s views at the time. He stresses that Salah “did not at any stage utter any antisemitic remarks to me”.Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite. How I wish that he were. How much easier it would make things. We could chalk all this up to the prejudices of one man and we could avoid the raw, awkward conversation we’re about to have. Because this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn; he’s just a symptom and a symbol. The Left, and not just the fringes, has an anti-Semitism problem.

Contrary to left-wing mythology, anti-Jewish prejudice has never been the exclusive preserve of aristocratic snobs or skinhead fantasists. “The Jew is the enemy of the human race,” declared Proudhon. “One must send this race back to Asia or exterminate it.” Bakunin labelled Jews “bloodsucking people” while Orwell, self-consciously anti-Semitic, even obsessed over the excessive number of Jews sheltering in London’s Underground during World War II. (No matter what the Jews do to protect themselves, it’s always disproportionate.)

The contemporary Left, in most cases, would recognise these statements as irrational prejudice. But what if we substituted “Zionist” for “Jew”, what would happen then? How many would object to “Zionists” being termed enemies of the human race? How many would be glad to see the “Zionist” become impossible? Anti-Zionism has removed much of the need for classical anti-Semitism by recycling the old superstitions as a political critique of the State of Israel. Why risk the ridicule that comes with quoting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion when you can cite The Israel Lobby and win eager nods from academics and commentators? Why deny the Holocaust when you can throw it back in the Jews’ faces by fictionalising Gaza as a concentration camp? Why hurl rocks at a Jew in the street when you can hurl endless vexatious UN resolutions at Israel?

The Left’s unhinged antipathy towards the State of Israel has let loose ugly sentiments wholly unmoored from such legitimate criticisms. Israel is execrated as uniquely malignant and its enemies held up as plucky freedom-fighters or victim-idols. Corbyn and his like sup with Hamas and Hezbollah, they say, because we must talk to all sides to resolve the conflict, even the extreme and unpleasant. It would never occur to them to invite representatives of the Jewish Defence League to Parliament or to count Baruch Marzel or Michael Ben-Ari as “friends”.

Why don’t the policies of the Chinese government in Tibet or against the Uighurs in Xinjiang inspire comparable protests and boycotts?

The problem goes deeper than asymmetry. For too many on the Left, Jewish suffering does not touch them the way Muslim suffering or gay suffering or black suffering touches them. Scrutiny of Corbyn’s associations elicits cries of “smear” or just a collective shrug of the shoulders. It was always going to. We lack a language to talk about anti-Semitism because too many on the Left don’t consider it a serious problem and couldn’t recognise it as readily as racism, misogyny or homophobia anyway.

Those who are questioning Jeremy Corbyn’s associations are dismissed as “extreme Zionists” and yet I struggle to imagine critics of a politician’s links to white supremacists being shouted down as “black nationalists”. The Left gets racism; it doesn’t get anti-Semitism. It’s forever on Cable Street battling a long-gone menace while around the corner thousands march and chant “from the river to the sea”.

Israel has become the Jew of world affairs, affluent, successful, provocatively different.

If only Israel allowed Hamas to build up its terror statelet in Gaza unimpeded, angry Muslim youths wouldn’t riot in the French banlieues. If only Jews were driven once again from Kfar Etzion and Giv’on HaHadasha — this time not in blood but in cushioned, air-conditioned UN buses — there would be no more 9/11s.

To be an anti-Zionist is to say the Jews alone have no national rights. The Left are committed internationalists; they just make an exception for every country in the world besides Israel. Today a European leftist is someone who sees “Jews, get out of Palestine” on a wall and tuts, before scoring out “Jews” and writing “Zionists” above it.

Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite and nor are most people on the Left. He is a petition-signer who never reads the small-print, a sincere man blinded as so many radicals are by hatred of the United States and Western power. But his ascendancy comes at a time of great upheaval and populist torrents battering the centre-left and centre-right. It is a storm in which the organisation of politics against the Jews could once again prove an anchoring force in Europe.

Corbyn has declared: “We all have a duty to oppose any kind of racism wherever it raises its head, in whatever form it raises its head.” When he is elected Labour leader next month, Corbyn will become a pivotal figure on the international Left. He should use that office to mature his own politics and shepherd his comrades towards a civil and tolerant radicalism.

My only real quibble with Stephen Daisley is his assertion that neither Corbyn nor most people on the Left antisemites. With the wealth of evidence abounding of the outright Jew-hatred of those they associate with, with whom they share platforms and whose acts they condone, can only be blind if they wish to be so.

I don’t see a snowball’s chance in hell for Corbyn to “shepherd his comrades towards a civil and tolerant radicalism”. Daisley is blinding himself with wishful thinking. It’s tempting to follow suit but in order to fight this evil we have to keep our eyes wide open.

The last word goes to words of warning from David Hirsh who presents the Jewish point of view:

What if Corbyn should (G-d forbid) be elected:

The problem, however, is that these current challengers of the Thatcher/Reagan economic consensus appear to be intensely relaxed about anti-democratic politics, so long as it is anti-American; anti-Semitism so long as it is anti-Israel; and jihadi Islamism, which is seen as a defensive response to the real enemy, imperialism.

Corbyn does not understand the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, and the distinction does not seem to interest him.

His political support for anti-Semitic movements leads him into a series of encounters with anti-Semitic individuals.

He says he is being smeared by association, a backbencher is busy, anyone who supports liberation movements meets some strange people along the way. But his associations with anti-Semites are not random accidents.

The worry is also that in their response to mounting criticism here in Britain, the Corbyn campaign is happiest denouncing its critics – as Tories, neo-liberals, Zionists or Blairites. It prefers to de-legitimize opponents than to relate rationally to their criticism.

In other words Corbyn’s supporters are tempted by totalitarian methods and practices, as well as alliances and worldviews.

Some Labour activists believe that if Corbyn wins then this will condemn Britain to decades more Tory government. They imagine the dismal fate of a Labour candidate in a general election who is associated with people who hope for the death of British soldiers, with anti-Semites, with homophobes and with woman-haters. But we should not entirely discount a more troubling possibility. Perhaps Corbyn could be successful in knitting together the resentments and the prejudices of those who feel all at sea in today’s frightening world: those who are anti-European Union, anti “Westminster elite,” isolationist, anti-banker, anti-Zionist, anti-American, anti-democracy and pro-conspiracy theory.

And that is the most terrifying vision of all.

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10 Responses to Jeremy Corbyn, the Left, and its antisemitism problem

  1. Reality says:

    As far as all the points you just presented ,it makes no sense to say that Corbyn is NOT anti semitic.Perhaps everyone is being extra careful not to say that in order to avoid for whatever strange democratic reason ,perhaps so that Corbyn cannot sue for slander.He has been very careful as to which words he uses.He has never specifically slandered the Jews but only Israel.The fact that his best friends are rabid anti zionists and anti semites as far as he is concerned doesn’t mean he is.It’s all about splitting hairs.
    The Brits should be worried

    • anneinpt says:

      “splitting hairs” – that’s a very good description. I agree with you completely. Everyone is being SO careful to emphasise that he’s not antisemitic that you can’t help getting the impression that “the lady doth protest too much”.

  2. Earl says:

    In the current Canadian federal election, both the leftist New Democratic Party and center-left Liberals have started flushing out the Jew-hater candidates that conveniently “slipped” past the selection screening process. Expect a near-tsunami from the NDP as the campaign progresses.

    Because, nothing says Judenhass like “progressive”…

    • anneinpt says:

      Do you mean they’ve weeded them out? That’s very good news – quite the opposite of the UK Labour Party which seems to have them crawling out of the woodwork.

      I agree with your last sentence totally. The word “progressive” sets my teeth on edge. It’s so self-righteous and smug and in reality it’s just dreadful.

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