The danger of the war against Corbyn

photo: Ben Brosnan

JVL introduction

Antisemitism thrives in some environments more than others and we think it reasonable to explore to what extent the lies, misattributions, projections and distortions that antisemitism thrives on can be fostered or undermined.

It is antisemitic to hold Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel. So anything which creates elisions and confusions between Jews, Zionists, Israel, defence of the Netanyahu government and more is to be deplored.

Cohen sees precisely this confusion and conflation as a likely outcome of “a Jewish communal leadership and a Jewish press which have merged Jewish interests in Britain with the need to defend the interests of the State of Israel”.


The Jewish establishment’s ‘War Against Corbyn’ risks bringing real antisemitism to Britain

Robert A. H. Cohen, Patheos
28 July 2018


You’re probably thinking that Her Majesty’s Government must have just introduced the equivalent of Hitler’s Nuremberg race Laws of 1935. Perhaps it’s worse. Perhaps the round-ups have already begun.

Don’t worry, you haven’t missed a major global news story. Britain remains one of the safest places to live as a Jew on the entire planet. That doesn’t mean there’s no anti-Jewish prejudice here. It’s just that there’s a great deal less of it than some people want you to believe. That’s true for now, but how long will it last?

Thanks to a Jewish communal leadership and a Jewish press which have merged Jewish interests in Britain with the need to defend the interests of the State of Israel, we are set on a path that risks turning fake antisemitism into real antisemitism. What we are witnessing could be an on-coming, self-inflicted tragedy for the Jewish community in Britain. Calling it out now is the best way to stop it happening.

How did we get here?

For those of you who’ve not been following every twist and turn of this saga let me bring you up to speed on the recent developments and the longer term background.

This week’s “existential threat” is just the latest ratcheting up of the rhetoric against the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn over his alleged failure to deal with the alleged epidemic of alleged antisemitism running rife in the party under his leadership – allegedly.

It all began three years ago soon after Corbyn’s election as Labour party leader. What started off as allegations that he was allowing antisemitism to fester in his party unchecked have evolved into direct accusations that Corbyn is himself antisemitic.  

I’m yet to see a credible piece of evidence that demonstrates that antisemitism is rife in the Labour Party. That doesn’t mean it’s non-existent but the claim made in the joint editorial that the “stain and shame of antisemitism has coursed through Her Majesty’s Opposition since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015” does not stand up to scrutiny.

It’s impossible to understand the hostility against Corbyn from the Jewish community without acknowledging Corbyn’s long standing support for the Palestinian people and the need for their rights to be respected and international law implemented. Take this fact away and the last three years would have been very different.

IHRA Definition   

This week’s show of Jewish media unity was all about attacking Corbyn for failing to adopt “in full” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. This has become the pretext for all-out war against the Labour leader.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the IHRA document has now become the ‘gold standard’ for our Jewish establishment in determining exactly what antisemitism is in the 21st century. This despite the fact that the IHRA webpage itself describes the document as a ‘working definition’, that is to say it’s a work in progress and a document to be studied, not a statute of government or a piece international law.

But this appears to be far too much nuance for the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council which have led the community to war against Jeremy Corbyn.

Two weeks ago, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) decided that the IHRA document might not be as perfect as the Jewish leadership and media think it to be. While adopting the vast majority of the IHRA wording, and indeed tightening it up in places, the NEC thought it better to separate out those parts of the document that suggest that criticism of Israel could in certain circumstances become antisemitic.

One IHRA example the NEC rejected was that it was anitisemitic to describe Israel as a “racist endeavor”. The NEC had clearly taken note of some of the legal opinion produced highlighting the risk to free speech, such as this critique by Hugh Tomlinson QC.

The attempt by the NEC to create a policy against antisemitism that balanced the needs of the Jewish community with the need for free speech turned out to be the last straw for our Jewish establishment. In short they went ballistic, insisting that only the Jewish community has the right to determine what is antisemitism and who is being antisemitic and what punishment they should receive.      

“This is a sad day for the cause of anti-racism in this country. Labour, for so long a Party that put equality and inclusion at the centre of its values, has today decided to claim that it understands antisemitism better than the victims of this vile prejudice and to set its face against the clear views of the Jewish community.”

Others including a Jewish Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, felt it justified to call her party leader “a fucking anti-Semite and racist” to his face. This despite Corbyn’s record on fighting racism which looks a whole lot more impressive than just about any other MP at Westminster, certainly Margaret Hodge, as this piece from David Rosenberg shows.

Even 68 British Rabbis who would fail to agree on just about any other issue, political or religious, decided that the IHRA definition was chiseled in stone by Moses himself and was beyond critical engagement.

More rational, intelligent and calmer Jewish thought on the subject was available from experts on antisemitism such as Professor Brian Klug and Anthony Lerman. But the wave of Jewish establishment hostility continues to drown out those voices.And this is why I’m becoming increasingly worried that a real wave of antisemitism could be on the way.

General Election

There is a reasonable chance that Jeremy Corbyn could be Britain’s next Prime Minister.

Thanks to the on-going political turmoil created by Brexit we could well be facing a General Election in Britain in the late autumn or next spring. It will be fought predominantly on our post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, a question which will determine the future prosperity of the country for decades to come.

If Labour runs a good campaign the election will also be fought on the issues that mattered long before the Brexit referendum – ending economic austerity, funding for the National Health Service, affordable housing, safer communities, and care for the elderly. As the most radical version of Labour for many decades, a Corbyn victory could well herald serious change and the reversal of the neo-liberal economic agenda pursued by Thatcher/Major/Blair/Cameron/May for the last thirty years. The quality of life for millions of people in this country is at stake. For a change, who wins the next election will actually make a difference.

But none of this is of the slightest concern to the Jewish community’s leadership or its media. They only have one issue on their mind – Israel, and how best to protect it from criticism. On this basis they are willing to brand the main opposition party in Britain as irredeemably antisemitic under Corbyn’s leadership. The Jewish Chronicle has already called for Jewish Labour MPs to break away from the party.

And that’s what makes me fear where we could be heading.

If you vote Labour will that make you antisemitic in the eyes of the Jewish community? If you stand for election as a Labour candidate will you be antisemitic?

And what if Corbyn losses by a narrow margin? How will the millions who voted for him see the Jewish community and its three-year campaign to brand him toxic?

The ‘Jewish War Against Corbyn’ is not good Jewish communal politics. It’s playing with fire.

Fighting racism with both hands tied

This is where you end up when you allow antisemitism to become mixed up with Israel and Zionism. This is where the merger between Zionism, Judaism and modern Jewish identity leaves you: fighting racism with both hands tied behind you back.

Mainstream Jewish thinking has created a whole new category of anti-Jewish hatred which the joint editorial this week described as “political antisemitism”. In other words, where they once hated us for our faith, and then for our race, now they hate us for our politics.  This is how Jewish nationalism skews Jewish communal relations around the world.

It’s hardly surprising that the leadership of our community want to frame the debate about Corbyn in terms of antisemitism. It’s much easier to talk about antisemitism than defend Israel directly. Israel itself keeps making that harder and harder.

After the Nation State Law was passed who can truthfully claim that Israel does not support creating apartheid communities and does not deny national self-determination to millions of Palestinians under its direct or indirect authority? What’s been the case for decades has just been given a constitutional ratification by the self-styled ‘only democracy in the Middle East’. Even the Board of Deputies is uncomfortable with what’s just happened. That’s because it knows how much harder it will make their work on Israel advocacy.

If you want to look credible in fighting racism against Jews, and other minorities in Britain, it’s best not to be supporting it in Israel.

No Palestinian voice

The other benefit of focusing the ‘Corbyn War’ on antisemitism, rather than criticism of Israel, is that it means we don’t need to hear from any Palestinians. The debate becomes an entirely Jewish affair where the rights and concerns of the Jewish community are all that’s being discussed.

In the last few weeks, as the row has dragged on and escalated, I’ve never see a Palestinian invited to comment on the TV news or mainstream media. You never see a Palestinian asked if they think Israel is a “racist endeavor?”. Only Jews are allowed to define their oppression. Israel and Zionism, according to Jewish rhetoric, has had no victims.

Jewish voices of protest

I hope I’m wrong about the threat of a backlash against the Jewish community if Labour is narrowly defeated in the next General Election. I hope the British public will be able to understand the diversity of Jewish opinion on Israel that’s mostly obscured by those who claim to speak for us in our entirety. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for non-Jewish voices to call out the attacks on Corbyn as disingenuous or at least motivated by a more complex agenda than is being admitted to. The antisemitism allegations come thick and fast.

That’s what makes the Jewish voices in Britain that have been attempting to counter the official Jewish War Against Corbyn, such as Jewish Voice for Labour and Independent Jewish Voices  so vital to our long-term well-being in a country that remains (so far) incredibly hospitable towards Jews.

Comments (21)

  • Barry Rodin says:

    An excellent, insightful article.

  • Dave says:

    I think this piece goes too far, and goodness knows I’m extremely angry about the absurd hyperbole of the right. But it is coming from the right and I don’t think anyone is going to start blaming ‘the Jewish community’ for spoiling our chances at a general election. It will be recognised for what it is – a dirty political strategy by a coalition of the right, not just Jews. And if there is any backlash against Jews as Jews – then I’ll be the first to defend them as we all will no doubt. That’s the whole point.

  • Teresa Steele says:

    Thank you so much for this, I only wish the voices from all the other Jewish organisations could be heard in all our Main Stream Media. For certain people to accuse Mr Corbyn of being anti Semitic is something I find hard to understand, knowing his track record over the last 30 years I can’t see any connection between him and this scourge at all. I hope these accusations will soon be seen for what they are.

  • Star says:

    It’s the if you criticise Israel you are being anti-Semitic that is being peddled by the right wing centred press

  • Mark says:

    Brilliantly composed!

  • Jaye says:

    Teresa

    Have you actually looked at Corbyn’s track record? I have and your statement “knowing his track record over the last 30 years I can’t see any connection between him and this scourge at all” is just silly. Corbyn is the epitomy of someone who despises main-stream Jews, consistently aligning with those who oppose Jewish traditions, including but not only Zionism (love of and longing for Zion and Jerusalem) which for every Jew has always been core to our religion and tradition. He despises what we represent and what we have achieved. Why, I don’t know, but there is a name for his condition.

  • Alyson says:

    So – do only black people have the right to define what is racist about their experience of discrimination ? Certainly their experiences should inform anti racist legislation. Should only Muslims be allowed to define what is Islamophobic? It is important that voices of minorities are heard and integrated into inclusive policies. If Jewish people feel that their views should inform anti racist legislation then who is going to disagree? No-one is going to disagree. We should all be measured by the same standards of respect for difference and inclusion without obstruction. Corbyn holds the highest standards of respect for minorities in Britain, and international law, and human rights around the world. Fake news and mischief making need to stop now

  • Dangerfield says:

    There has been so much over-the-top comment even by such experienced politicians as Margaret Hodge that one cannot help but wonder if the whole anti-Labour campaign has not been orchestrated by an outside agency. Now which country has a political interest in trying to ensure that a British political party which has a balanced view on the plight of Palestinians does not get elected? I leave you to work out the answer to that.

  • Keith says:

    What a load of absolute twaddle.

  • Dangerfield says:

    Instead of being abusive, why don’t you address the proposition?

  • Robert George Fox says:

    I am not Jewish, I am Christian and a Labour supporter. What Robert has said makes sense. We all pray to the same God in are own way, It’s birthright which determines this. What has happened to the Jewish Nation through the centuries is shocking and should be deplored. What is happening to Palestinians today should also be deplored. Again by birthright, depends which side of the barrier you live or survive. Attacking Jeremy Corbyn is a side show drawn up by the Far Right, both Jewish and otherwise

  • jess duncan says:

    Jaye

    Have you actually looked at Jeremys track record? because your venomous comment shows that you clearly haven’t!

    I would like to see the evidence to your claims!!

  • Roger henshaw says:

    For the first time in my life (I am 75) we have an authentic leader of the Labour Party that can potentially begin the process of rule based on the principles of decency and compassion. Practical and meaningful solutions that can improve the lives of millions. This now stands to be sabotaged by a fallacious and flawed formulation that we have an anti semitic Labour Party. I have been an activist at all levels of the Labour movement for over 50 years. I have argued for tolerance, understanding and equality. It has been this that has led to my agnostic philosophy. With such a vast range of beliefs, how difficult to settle with certainty.
    I understand that the accusations of antisemitism do not come from the whole of the Jewish community, but my fear is, that with enthusiastic promotion of a hostile media, it could be damaging enough to fatally weaken Labours election chances. If that happens an emboldened Tory Party will brutally and with relish destroy what is left of our social structures. Longer term this could well impact on the the Jewish community in an irrational backlash. My hope is that the Jewish community will speak out and countermand any possibility of this happening.

  • Joanna Pritchard says:

    To Roger Henshaw
    You and I are the same age and you have exactly expressed my feelings.That any
    prospect of defeating this vile government should be destroyed by absurd and childish pique against a man who has fought against racism all his life is devastating. What about our grandchildren? Are they to suffer for this?

  • Freb says:

    Teresa

    Spot on. One can be left wing

    and still see Jeremy s faults some of which seem to be a blind spot Vis a vis the British Jewish community

  • Guillaume Dohmen says:

    Thank you for putting the case for Corbin so clearly. Having lived through the dreadful times of the 1930’s and the war years in an occupied country racist and fascists ideas have worried me during the last few years again. Your explanation of the current struggle may help people to come to their senses.

  • Colin says:

    An excellent article, it’s a shame that these intelligent voices are not being more widely heard.

  • Colin says:

    Well said. There will be some idiots who will make the usual racist mistake by thinking in the plural and reacting. It’s hard to imagine any of them calling themselves Socialists, but there are some and they have no place in the party. The very notion of making the distinction between Zionism and being Jewish actually highlights the true diversity of thought among Jews. A person’s religious, ethnic or cultural beliefs and heritage doesn’t always determine their politics, as all inteligent people know.

  • Maria Schunter says:

    This has been my fear since the accusations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn first gained momentum. And I think that it is a very real danger. I am so angry at the smears and with the prominent Jewish voices attacking Corbyn, however, I know how insidious prejudice is and I constantly guard myself against it. How many others are similarly aware? Dialogue is vital to mutual understanding, but impossible when people are shut down by a prohibitive definition which determines the parameters of discussion.

  • Sherrie Fisher says:

    Evidence please Jaye.

  • Neville Smith says:

    Complete rubbish! “Corbyn is the epitomy (SIC) of someone who despises main-stream Jews, consistently aligning with those who oppose Jewish traditions” — what exactly do you mean here — cite some examples please.

Comments are now closed.