What do the anti-Corbynites even want?

Picture of Lisa Forbes, a white woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, wearing a black jacket over a white top, next to Amir Khan, a young South Asian man with a short moustache and beard wearing a black T-shirt and, over it, a black jacket with red swirly patterns on it.
Lisa Forbes with boxer Amir Khan, at a Peterborough iftar event

So, last night there was a by-election in Peterborough following the recall of a Labour MP who spent time in prison after a conviction for lying about a speeding ticket, and it was widely expected, as this was an area which voted 60.9% in favour of leaving the EU in 2019 and where the Brexit Party scored the highest plurality of votes in last month’s European elections (38.3%), that the Brexit Party would win their first seat in Parliament. But no: Lisa Forbes, the Labour candidate, won 31% of the vote while the Brexit Party’s Mike Greene won 29%; the difference was just 683 votes. The candidate had been ‘exposed’ as having ‘liked’ a Facebook post by which was deemed anti-Semitic; the post consisted of a video about a group of high-school students who organised a Friday prayer in their school playground in England, but concluded, “Unfortunately our leader Theresa May feeds off this rhetoric [of hate] to keep her Zionist Slave Masters agenda alive”. The upshot was that instead of celebrating a Labour party victory this morning, some people inside the Labour party and some who have recently left were bemoaning a victory for anti-Semitism instead, and some of them were indulging in race-baiting of their own:

Any Muslim reading the offensive post by the Evoca drinks company manager Ismail ibn Saeed would notice that the word used was Zionist, not Jewish, and would know that he was not talking entirely or even mostly about Jews but about people who uphold the current world order in which there is a “free world” and a “third world” which is either mired in poverty and debt or dominated by dictatorships supported by countries in the “free world”. One aspect of this world order is that the interests of Israel are held to be paramount, such that it is supplied with massive military aid and the abuses it inflicts on its occupied Palestinian native population are overlooked; at most, there will be bland statements about condemning violence on all sides and a two-state solution but the elephant in the room, namely that Israel intends to preserve the status quo as it is very convenient for them, is conveniently overlooked. Although the ‘mainstream’ Jewish community organisations support this position, when Muslims talk about Zionists, they do not always mean Jews and the same was true here. Many of us notice a strong overlap between supporters of Israeli policy and hostility to Muslims or Islam and Jewish Zionists often fail to realise that anti-Zionism today is often inspired by revulsion at Israeli military or settler behaviour, not hostility to the idea of a Jewish state or to Jews per se. So, the accusation that this was anti-Semitic is at most dubious. It was a Muslim calling out injustice.

Let us look at who Lisa Forbes’s major opponent was: not only a representative of a party with no other policies than leaving the EU albeit one led (and indeed owned) by a man known to be committed to an “insurance-based” model of healthcare and is also notorious for diverting a discussion on almost any issue onto immigration, but an ignorant representative at that. Oli Dugmore from JOE interviewed Greene and pressed him to name a single area in which the EU had imposed anything related to education policy on Britain. He claimed, “education is affected by what we’ve got to teach, how we’ve got to teach, when we’ve got to teach”, but anyone who has travelled in Europe or done the most basic research knows that this is not true: school curricula, school structures such as selectivity or comprehensivity, school rules, examinations, dress policies such as uniforms and restrictions on cultural dress, school hours, attendance policies such as the legality or otherwise of home education and the required qualifications for teachers all differ from country to country and indeed within countries. He is either woefully ignorant or lying.

If you support remaining in the EU, why would you hope for even a small victory for a party dedicated to ensuring we leave, with or without a deal, or not be glad that frankly any party except the BNP (or similar) won the seat instead? The simple answer is that you might be so obsessed with the idea of removing Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership that any setback is welcome, even if it is also bad for everyone. If you call the Labour leadership “unfit for public office” on the grounds of the “anti-Semitism” so far displayed, it is inconsistent to behave in such a way that someone as obviously unfit and obviously, repeatedly, overtly racist as Boris Johnson might gain, or retain, the office of Prime Minister, to say nothing of the underbelly of racism and Islamophobia in the same party. If you believe, as some openly say, that one prejudice is not morally equivalent to the other, what you are really saying is that some ethnic groups deserve racist treatment and others do not.

On a related issue, the Guardian printed an article by Keith Kahn-Harris last week, calling for what he called a “radical new form of anti-racism” to be adopted so as to resolve the ‘impasse’ over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party:

The only way out of this impasse is to recast anti-racist solidarity so that it is completely decoupled from political solidarity. Anti-racism must become unconditional, absolute, and not requiring reciprocity. Anti-racism must be explicitly understood as fighting for the right of minorities to pursue their own political agendas, even if they are abhorrent to you. Anti-racism requires being scrupulous in how one talks or acts around those one might politically despise.

This isn’t just an issue that applies to Jews and antisemitism. We are beginning to see the strains in other forms of anti-racism too, when minorities start becoming politically awkward. The opposition from some British Muslim groups to teaching LGBT issues in school is one example of this. Yet opposition to Islamophobia is as vital as opposition to homophobia and one must not be sacrificed on the altar of the other.

The problem here is that a lot of the accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party relate to political stances, not to any display of prejudice or hostility towards Jews as such. There are those who demand that support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel not be tolerated, for example, and indeed one of the accusations against Lisa Forbes is that she signed a letter (along with a number of other Labour constituency party representatives) that among other things supported BDS and called Israel undemocratic and racist. Palestinian rights advocates bend over backwards to avoid actual anti-Semitism and when someone they thought was one of them displays such attitudes (even if he is Israeli, as with Gilad Atzmon) they are ostracised. Israel’s partisans, call them what you will, are not satisfied; they want the total silencing of independent advocacy for Palestinians and total submission by the Palestinians themselves to permanent Israeli domination. Anyone who has worked for enough time in the mainstream media will be aware of the letter bombardment campaigns that can ensue when a newspaper or broadcasting station fails to treat the Palestinians’ rights with the same contempt they have.

It’s not about anti-racism. Anti-racism is already largely independent of demands on people’s political stances, except, increasingly, those of Muslims and it’s no coincidence that the ‘issue’ with Lisa Forbes was agreeing with a Muslim who is not polite enough for their liking. It’s precisely about censorship.

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