The antisemitism controversy within the Labour Party and around Jeremy Corbyn has been ongoing for months and there is no sign of it abating. But what’s it all about and why are Jews so angry about it?
Well let’s take a look at Jeremy Corbyn, the things he’s said and done and see why all this is happening.
Friends and Brothers
Recently the Daily Mail broke a story about Corbyn making comments about Zionists not understanding irony. What received less interest was where he was when he made those comments and who he was sharing a platform with. He spoke at a conference organised by a group called the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) and advertised by Hamas on their website which bears the same name as their military wing:
Speaking along with Corbyn were people who have been on the front page of various publications for incendiary comments they have made in the past, including Daud Abdullah who boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day and signed a declaration in support of Hamas that starts off with the words:
Praise to Allah who strengthened His troops, aided His servants and alone routed the Zionist Jews”
Also speaking was Alan Hart who said at the meeting:
Without the spurious legitimacy the [Balfour] declaration gave Zionism to get organised it would not have been well enough established on the ground in Palestine to take advantage of the Nazi holocaust and use it to justify everything it did.”
Another speaker at the conference was Alison Weir who said:
For over 100 years there has been a movement in the United States to try to manipulate the government and the country and has successfully done that. It’s a movement and an ideology that has made great efforts to determine the policy of the United States and to cause policies that are not only immoral and tragic for the region but are deeply damaging to the united states as well and yet most Americans have never even heard of this movement of Zionism”
The PRC together with Al Jazeera also organised a Hamas conference in Doha at which Corbyn chaired a panel. He was there with the leadership of Hamas including men who had just been freed in exchange for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. On Press TV Corbyn was interviewed along with one of those terrorists (via video link) who The Telegraph reported as being:
a convicted Hamas military leader who was jailed in Israel for his role in orchestrating a string of terrorist attacks that killed more than 100 people”
Corbyn referred to him as “brother”.
In a PressTV interview Corbyn gave in 2012 he was joined by video link by Dr Abdul Aziz Umar. Corbyn said “I met many of the brothers, including the brother who’s been speaking here when they came out of prison, when I was in Doha earlier this year”… pic.twitter.com/55qbHzqqBt
— The Golem (@TheGolem_) August 17, 2018
Conflation of Zionist and Jew
Corbyn takes great pains to ensure that the terms Jew, Israeli and Zionist aren’t conflated. He consistently points out that not all Jews are Zionists and that not all Jews support Israel. In the Hamas charter the word “Jew” appears 12 times. The word Zionist appears 19 times. Hamas conflate Zionist and Jew. Here are some examples of their use of the word Jews:
For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave”
“In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad.”
“The Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children, it scares everyone. They make war against people’s livelihood, plunder their moneys and threaten their honour.”
Corbyn on the other hand tries to differentiate. Speaking to a right wing, conspiracist website during a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy he said the following:
Well there are two lobbies here there is yes an Israeli govt lobby, there is a very strongly pro-Israel Zionist lobby, but we’ve just heard an absolutely brilliant speech one moment ago from Glyn Secker from Jews for justice for Palestinians who read a letter from Dr Mads Gilbert working in the Shifa Hospital in Gaza that is the Jewish tradition that I’m interested in, that is the Jewish tradition I understand”
Implicit in the argument that conflating Jews and Zionists is something negative is the idea that Zionists or supporters of Israel are fair game for attack. At the launch of the Chakrabarti Report, a report that whitewashed the issue of Labour antisemitism, Corbyn said:
To assume that a Jewish friend or fellow member is wealthy, part of some kind of financial or media conspiracy or takes a particular position on politics in general or on Israel and on Palestine in particular is just wrong! Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self styled Islamic states or organisations.”
What about those Jews who are wealthy, who do support the Netanyahu government and the state of Israel – or those Jews who don’t support Netanyahu on some things but do on others, or those Jews who absolutely support the state of Israel and show that support by being dead set against the Netanyahu government? Corbyn doesn’t appear to think in such nuanced terms. He does tell the world which Jews he likes and which he doesn’t, in doing so he leaves the door open for the justification of attacks on Jews who don’t fall into his category of “Jewish friends”.
According to polling by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research 82% of Jews feel Israel plays either an important part in their Judaism or a central and important part in it. Corbyn has chosen to ignore this fact.
In May 2012 Corbyn said in Parliament:
To take my right hon. Friend back to the issue of European trade with Israel, does he agree that it would be completely inappropriate to upgrade the EU-Israel trade agreement while Israel continues its settlement policy and the imprisonment of Palestinians, and that there should be no stealth by which any other agreement opens up European markets to, for example, Israeli pharmaceutical companies and others, given that it would undermine the whole resolve behind trying to enforce human rights through the EU-Israel trade agreement?”
Later that year the ACAA trade agreement between Israel and the EU was passed by the European Parliament. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, of which Corbyn is a patron campaigned against it. MEP for London Mary Honeyball described the deal thus:
The proposed Protocol is intended to eliminate technical barriers to trade in industrial products between the European Union and the State of Israel. It largely applies to pharmaceutical products, and is intended to align certain assessment standards in order to facilitate trade. In effect this means some of the benefits of the EU internal market would be extended to Israel, and would offer Israeli pharmaceutical companies easier access to the EU market.
As well as giving Israel easier access to European markets it gave EU countries access to cheaper Israeli pharmaceutical products. Fast forward to 2015 and this from the Board of Deputies:
One of my favourite statistics about surging British-Israel trade is that one out of every seven prescriptions filled by the NHS is sourced from Israeli pharmaceutical companies.”
It’s worth noting that Brummer is also listed as being Editor of the Daily Mail’s City Mail at the time. What would Corbyn make of a Zionist Jew who works for the Daily Mail? Are they fair game for his attack dogs?
In September 2016 Conservative Friends of Israel wrote:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Community Health and Care, David Mowat MP, said that without Israeli supplies used by the NHS, there would likely be “significant shortages of some medicines important for patient health”, which would cause a “significant impact on competition and in all likelihood increase prices paid by the NHS”.”
The “Racist Circumstances” Surrounding Israel’s Creation
The Times reported that Corbyn wrote a statement to the National Executive Committee for their debate over whether to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition into their code of conduct. Skwawkbox reproduced the text in full, note this sentence:
“We are determined to take whatever action necessary to confront antisemitism in our party and movement and to ensure that the Labour Party is a warm and welcoming home for all Jewish people”
Compare it to this sentence at the end of the 500 word statement:
But it cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law. Nor should it be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances surrounding its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact or to support another settlement of the Israel Palestine conflict.”
So the first sentence stands except for when it is contradicted by the second. Perhaps it’s worth looking at some of the “discriminatory impact”. For example Hebron in 1929. During an orgy of bloodletting the Jewish community of Hebron was ethnically cleansed. Martin Gilbert writes in Israel: a History:
On August 25 a large Arab crowd made what the official British report described as ‘a most ferocious attack’ on the Jewish Quarter. ‘This savage attack,’ the report continued, ‘of which no condemnation can be too severe, was accompanied by wanton destruction and looting.’ Within five hours, more than sixty Jews had been killed, including many women and children.”
The ethnic cleansing of the Jews of the Hebron area wasn’t completed until Israel’s War of Independence, Gilbert writes (ibid):
besieged in the first and second week of January 1948 were the four isolated Jewish settlements in the Hebron Hills: Kfar Etzion, Massuot Yitzhak, Ein Zurim and Revadim (known as the Etzion bloc). A thousand Arabs, drawn from the villages in the area, had surrounded the bloc, under personal command of Abdel-Kader al-Husseini, the Mufti’s cousin. There were fewer than thirty armed defenders. On the eve of the attack, hundreds of Arab men, women and even children arrived from their villages carrying empty bags in which to put the loot they anticipated would be theirs within a few hours. But the attack was driven off, and 150 Arabs killed.”
This situation couldn’t last however:
As Arab Legion armoured cars penetrated Kfar Etzion on May 13, the defenders fought to the last. ‘A desperate Masada battle was waged in the village,’ was the last radio message received in Jerusalem. When the battle ended there were only four Jewish survivors. One of them reported that when the area commander of the forces at the centre of Kfar Etzion went forward with some of his men under the white flag of surrender the Arab Legion forces ceased firing, but when the sound of battle was heard elsewhere, they reopened fire.
There then occurred an incident that has scarred the memory of that time until today. When an Arab Legion officer called for a cease-fire, fifteen of the defenders piled their arms and, as ordered to do so by the officer who wished to take a photograph of the surrender, lined up in a row. At that moment another Arab, armed with a sub-machine-gun, came up and opened fire. All fifteen Jews were killed.
The battle was followed by a massacre of the surviving Jewish civilians. ‘You kill your enemy, OK’, commented Uzi Narkiss, the young commander of the Palmach group that had been the last to reach the Etzion bloc, ‘but why do you have to dismember him?”
The language Corbyn used to describe the “circumstances surrounding its (Israel’s) foundation” hardly do justice to the losses inflicted on the Jews during their war for independence nor do they take into account the fact that wherever the Jews were defeated in that war they were ethnically cleansed. Corbyn describes this period in history in an interview by saying simply:
“Eventually The state of Israel was founded and the Palestinian people were driven out of that part of Palestine into exile and I’ve visited the refugee camps.”
In the same interview he lays out the story of rising support for Palestine by saying:
“Post war there was a obvious guilt about the treatment of Jewish people and whilst a number of Jewish people did manage to flee Nazi Germany and settle in the United States or here in Britain a lot didn’t and this then married up with a much earlier Zionist demand for the establishment of a Jewish state, which was actually opposed by quite a lot of Jewish people who didn’t want a Jewish state; they wanted Jewish identity and they wanted their right to a Jewish identity in London or Moscow or Berlin or anywhere else. And that state was established and we have had the conflict between the establishment of that state and the expulsion of Palestinian people ever since.
This isn’t fact it’s narrative and it’s an incorrect one. In the wake of WWII Jews didn’t “marry up” with Zionism they were desperate to get to Israel in order to be away from the place of their suffering and to join with their co-religionists in a place where they were striving for the autonomy that their suffering had convinced them they needed. In exchange for their efforts the British locked many of them up in concentration camps first in Atlit in Palestine and then in Cyprus where they remained until Israel’s independence. On arrival in the nascent Israel they had to don uniform and rifle because the country was under attack from all sides. Corbyn can acknowledge the suffering Jews experienced in WWII but can’t accept that Jews embraced Zionism en mass after the Holocaust. He looks at Zionism as an exploitative ‘other’ that “married up with” the issues survivors faced when they were liberated from the camps. Corbyn adds:
All through the ’50s and much of the ’60s I would say Western public opinion was fairly pro-Israeli on the basis that Jewish people deserved a place of safety and I can understand that and I agree all people deserve a place of safety and obviously that includes Jewish people deserve a place of safety. I think it began to change in the 1960s. After the Six Day War some people began to question what this war was really about and was it really right that the West would put so many arms in the hands of Israel that would then occupy large parts of Egypt at the time…”
Large arms shipments were sent by the USSR to the countries surrounding Israel from the late 1940s through to the late 1970s and after. Before the start of the Six Day War Israel was outnumbered and outgunned not just by her enemies combined but by some of them individually.
The Bottom Line
Jeremy Corbyn has spent his entire political life being disloyal to the leadership of the Labour Party and suffering no consequences. He has been free to say whatever he likes about his colleagues and criticise them freely. It is telling that now the show is on the other foot we’re seeing talk about a lack of decency in the political discourse and votes of no confidence against MPs who are seen by the Momentum foot soldiers of not being loyal enough to the leader.
The member for Islington North had no state sanctioned reason to travel to Tunisia to lay a wreath at the grave of dead terrorists while standing alongside living ones. Jeremy Corbyn gained nothing for the residents of Islington North by chairing a panel in Doha where he mixed respectfully with Hamas terrorists, real ones who had overseen suicide bombings and the kinds of killings he is supposedly so against. There isn’t a single mention of any moves Corbyn made in order to facilitate peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Truthfully no one really imagines there were.
When Jeremy Corbyn said Glyn Secker represented the “Jewish tradition I can understand” he meant it. When he wrote the pro-Israel Jewish community off as a “Zionist lobby” he meant it. Seen through this perspective it’s clear why Corbyn dragged his feet and ignored calls by the Jewish community until the roar they made became irresistible. For him they were merely the noise generated by a Zionist lobby determined to smear him. Herein lies the unbridgeable divide. The leader of the Labour Party lives in a world where he is so obviously right about everything that any questions or criticism can only be an attack, one he is determined to defeat.
Now he has solidified his grip on the structures of the party, the National Executive Committee in particular Corbyn has no reason to compromise.