Corbyn and Anti-Semitism versus Brexit

A front page from the Sun newspaper in 2015, showing Ed Miliband eating a bacon roll with the slogan: "This is the pig's ear Ed made of a bacon sarnie. In 48 hours he could be doing the same to Britain. SAVE OUR BACON. Don't swallow his porkies and keep him OUT."The Labour anti-Semitism crisis has not disappeared from the headlines after yet another week. It is noticeable now that the issue has moved on from any specific incident of anti-Semitism by any Labour politician or activist to the mere refusal of Jeremy Corbyn to accept the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism to the letter, including the problematic examples, despite the problems with it being clearly spelled out. On Friday evening the Guardian published a piece attributed to Corbyn, which some are suggesting he did not in fact write, that tried to reassure Jewish voters that anti-Semitism had no place in the party, but it was condemned for being released on the eve of the Sabbath on which observant Jews are not allowed to use electricity or buy or carry things (which would rule out reading it online or buying the paper until Saturday evening, at which point it is likely to have sold out). In today’s Observer, the deputy leader Tom Watson is interviewed and calls for the unaltered IHRA definition to be adopted without delay and to drop investigations of abuse or bullying into two MPs, Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin, who the article claims both lost family members in the Holocaust (Austin, in fact, was born in 1965; his father was a Jewish refugee as a result of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia), or it might “disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment”.

As I’ve said before, I have a world of differences with Jeremy Corbyn and his fan club. The fans seem blind to his faults; many of them are the young people who will lose out most from Brexit, which he is committed to. They paint defeats as victories and small advances (such as local by-election victories) as great victories. They share stories from junk news sites such as Skwawkbox and The Canary which are often careless with the facts, as if the content was never at all problematic (I’ve dealt with this in a previous post). They are convinced that the last general election result was a victory for him, which it was not, and are convinced that with just a few more months to prepare, he might just win; in particular, they believe that fluke wins such as in Kensington and Canterbury indicate that he can overturn large Tory majorities elsewhere, even as the party loses heartland seats in places like the East Midlands and Yorkshire. Corbyn’s and his inner circle’s commitment to Brexit and their delusion of a “workers’ Brexit” are dangerous, because apart from the (rejected) Norway option, there is no such thing as a good Brexit deal and there is a strong danger of civil unrest if the economy collapses, or there are shortages or food price rises as a result of a bad-deal Brexit. His opponents should be treating this as an open goal, since Remainers were 48% of the vote at the referendum and that figure may have increased as the reality has set in. But they do not.

The attacks from inside and outside the party make me more sympathetic to Corbyn, not less. As a Muslim, I am torn between wanting to head off the ruin caused by Brexit and wanting to preserve the diversity of the Labour party, which it will not be if it outlaws the expression of the usual Muslim view of Israel, and of the racist, colonial attitudes behind its foundation. It will make the party one based on a white view of history, with a definition of racism based on white guilt about a genocide that only Europeans had any role in, and one in which everyone, including non-white members, will have to watch what they say around whites in case they turn out to be Jewish. Adopting this policy will mean muzzling all but the most polite criticism of Israeli policy (and as previously discussed, the “whataboutery” clause will make any such criticism difficult) and will legitimise attempts to silence pro-Palestinian rights activism on campuses where Labour students dominate (which they do in many places). We already have too little Muslim representation in the party which represents the seats where the majority of our community live; we have no visible Muslim MPs at all, only Asian ones, and this situation will get worse if this policy is adopted.

The rhetoric being used by his enemies is not that of a community that fears persecution. It is the language of threat, from a group of people confident enough in their power, or at least their connections, to make threats to an elected party leader. To give one example, a Jewish Chronicle journalist named Daniel Sugarman posted a thread on Twitter last Friday in which he claimed:

One never hears Muslim organisations talk of anything being “non-negotiable” in their dealings with the media or political parties; they do not have the ability to back up any such threat. How will they back this threat up? By using their media connections to make sure that smears are printed about Corbyn and the Labour party in the run-up to any forthcoming election, of course. They do not have to own papers to do this; they simply have to have friends and people sympathetic to their position — liberal editors with a definition of racism that is stuck in the past and right-wing editors who regard support for Israel as a pro-western standpoint. It’s worth noting that it was the Guardian’s decision to print Corbyn’s article on the eve of the Sabbath and in the Saturday edition; it would have been written some time last week and could have been delayed until today (for the Observer) or Monday. The Guardian’s editor could have spoken to any number of its own staff (Jonathan Freedland and Hadley Freeman, both of whom regularly appear in the Saturday edition, spring to mind) who could have pointed out this oversight; they chose not to, and it is Corbyn who takes the blame.

Of course, they and their allies still use the language of victimhood. Take this thread, posted by Victoria Freeman yesterday morning:

Gaslighting is when an abuser (usually a domestic abuser or bully of some sort) plays tricks on his victim with the intention of making them look silly, mad or otherwise less then credible; they back this up by telling the victim (or others) that they are imagining what they are seeing. It is commonly abused to mean disagreeing with someone who has been, or feels, wronged. An abuser is not, needless to say, someone who disagrees with you or calls your second cousin a racist thug if that is what he is. I am seeing the most ludicrous expressions of victimhood on Twitter, Jews talking as if the world is ending for them, complaining that the Labour leadership shows “no empathy” and should really hear what they say amongst themselves at their Shabbat meetings, all as if Corbyn was sanctioning open discrimination or violence rather than just not accepting demands; a Muslim friend said to me privately that “if Muslim families were raising their kids with such a massive persecution complex there would be social services involvement and PREVENT referrals”. My instinctive reaction in reading this is to tell the people concerned to get over themselves and stop being such crybabies; it is much less than what more visible minorities have had to put up with on a daily basis for years in this country.

It’s worth pointing out that the support among mainstream Jewish voters for Labour did not start declining when Corbyn became leader; it had been declining since Ed Miliband’s time as leader, during which support for Labour among Jewish voters slumped, according to polls, to just 14%. Turning points include his decision to whip Labour MPs in a vote to recognise Palestine and his statement to Labour’s National Policy Forum attacking Israel for “the horrifying deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and innocent civilians” during “Operation Protective Edge” in mid-2014, which led to a former director of Labour Friends of Israel quitting the party and the Jewish Chronicle attacking him for “knee-jerk criticism of a nation defending itself from terrorism”. This should leave nobody in any doubt that treating the Palestinians’ claims to their own country and to basic human rights will cost Labour votes among north London’s Jews; it cannot secure the support of that community or the approval of its leadership without uncritical support for Israel. Many of the people attacking Corbyn from this camp do not care about the success of the Labour party; they care about ensuring that no British government takes a hostile stance towards Israel.

I have heard it alleged recently that Corbyn’s centrist Labour opponents have a single policy, namely remaining in the EU. (In fact, some of them, such as Chuka Umunna, have adopted a “respect the referendum” position, citing polls that found that immigration was a major motivating factor.) My opinion is that they are motivated by a contempt for Corbyn that pre-dates the emergence of the anti-Semitism issue and that their strategy is to continue throwing mud until he loses another general election, hopefully by a larger margin than in 2017, which they believe might persuade his supporters that he is toxic and cannot win. I suspect that some of them would rather form a new party (possibly a coalition with pro-Remain Conservatives and/or Lib Dems) but are put off by the enormous difficulties in setting up a new major party and by the example of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s. Nonetheless, I think this is both an ineffective and immoral strategy; ineffective because his supporters will blame his loss on media bias and cannot be relied on to support someone other than (or at least opposed to) Corbyn, and immoral because it would condemn Britain to several more years of gutting of public services, the NHS and so on, allied to the ruinous Brexit of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove. Corbyn won in large part because neither Miliband nor his intending Blairite successors were willing to even defend Blair’s legacy, being cowed by the media’s obsession with the deficit during the 2010-15 term; their successors still fail to do that, only crowing about the importance of ‘power’ without explaining what they plan to do with it. They sell no policy to either the membership or the general public.

It’s significant that nobody today is talking about the incidents which led to the demands for the adoption of this definition of anti-Semitism as part of Labour policy. Most of the people involved have since left the party, been expelled or apologised and none of the incidents involved prejudice towards Jews living in this country or any threat to their well-being. It is all about the definition, the adoption of which would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech within the Labour party which already has a poor record on that (note how it expels members for even suggesting tactical voting in public). Corbyn needs to hold firm on this, regardless of the smears that might be directed his way in the mass media. This is not about racism, otherwise the people making the most fuss would have been outraged at the much more prejudicial anti-Muslim and anti-Gypsy front pages that have appeared on national tabloids; it is about shoring up a pro-western policy and silencing dissent to it. As for the Labour plotters, they need to stop throwing mud and show their hand before the Tories (remember them?) drag this country off the edge of a cliff.

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