Confronting the lies they tell about Corbyn
British Zionists, along with right-wing members of the British Labour Party, have launched a full-scale attack on Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing leader of the Labour Party, charging that he is anti-Semite. This is in an obvious attempt to remove Corbyn from the leadership of the party, which he first won in 2015 with mass support from the Labour Party rank and file against the all-out opposition of the party establishment, including the most Labour members of parliament. Since then, Corbyn and Momentum, the organization that supports him, won a second leadership election and came close to upsetting the ruling Conservative Party government in a general election in 2017.
Corbyn has long supported Palestinians and their struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation. The Zionists want to equate his opposition to Israel as anti-Semitic. Their campaign against Corbyn is a threat not only to his leadership of Labour, but also sets a dangerous precedent by equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. As such, it is an attack directed at the entire left in Britain and internationally, and particularly the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Neil Davidson is a member of revolutionary socialism in the 21st century across the UK and RISE within Scotland, and the author of numerous books, including How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? and We Cannot Escape History: States and Revolutions. He talked with about the attack on Corbyn, the forces involved and its political implications.
WHAT’S THE backstory to the slanderous attacks on Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as being anti-Semitic. Who’s behind the attacks and what are their aims?
THIS HAS been going on, although initially in a more low-key way, since Corbyn won the Labour leadership election.
Historically, the British state and private capital have tended to wait until the Labour Party is elected into office before moving against it — although there are obviously ongoing attacks in the right-wing press all the time. What’s happening here is a pre-emptive coup against Corbyn before we are even in pre-election mode.
The reason is obvious. Corbyn is by far the most left-wing leader the Labour Party has ever had. Only George Lansbury in the 1930s would come close, and Corbyn is much more left wing than he was. A lot of Corbyn’s positions are actually quite similar to the ones that readers of Socialist Worker hold: fighting imperialism, for example.
And what’s more, Corbyn is incredibly popular. He’s brought hundreds of thousands of members into the party, which now numbers around 550,000, making it the biggest Social Democratic party in Western Europe — and it’s led by a socialist. So Corbyn is viewed an immense threat, not only to British capital, but also to NATO and the other imperialist alliances of the British state.
So two main groups have launched an attack on Corbyn for slightly different reasons.
One of them consists of some British Zionists, the most vocal of whom tend to be self-appointed “community spokespeople.” They oppose Corbyn because he supports the Palestinians. They see him as a threat to Israel and its survival as an exclusivist Jewish state. So they are desperate to discredit him, and the way they do that is to claim he’s anti-Semitic because of his opposition to Israel.
The other group, which in my view is even more cynical, is the Labour right — at the core of which are the followers of Labour’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Blairites will do anything to get rid of Corbyn because they are genuinely terrified of an actual left-winger coming to power with mass support inside the party.
In some cases, there is overlap between these two groups. For example, the right-wing Labour politician, Dame Margaret Hodge — who in 2006 called for “Indigenous” British people to be given priority in council housing waiting lists — is alleged to have called Corbyn “a fucking anti-Semite and a racist” in the House of Commons (she denies saying “fucking”). Hodge claims that Corbyn “hates” Jewish people.
These two groups have converged to try and get rid of Corbyn, and they’re using the charge of anti-Semitism to accomplish it. They conflate opposition to Israel with hatred of Jewish people.
This is a classic Zionist argument that must be rejected full stop. The only conceivable definition of anti-Semitism that makes any sense is “hostility to or prejudice against Jews.” That’s the Oxford English Dictionary definition. It does not apply at all to Corbyn, nor to the vast majority of Labour Party members and the wider left.
THE BATTLE between Corbyn and his opponents seems to have come to a head over the introduction of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. What is it and how have the Zionists used it?
THEY’VE MANUFACTURED the slander against Corbyn by trying to force the Labour Party to adopt the IHRA definition. It conflates anti-Semitism with opposition to Israel.
You’ll notice that the Oxford English Dictionary definition of anti-Semitism consists of six words. The IHRA definition is 50 words long and has eleven illustrations attached to it. Except these are not “illustrations” — they are effectively prohibitions, setting limits on what kind of criticisms of Israel are permissible.
The argument is that Corbyn and the Labour Party must accept this definition, even though it’s been widely criticized by a number of legal thinkers (including the person who drafted it!), on the grounds that it is so indefinite that it could lead to a lot of false accusations of anti-Semitism. And it has already been used in this way to attack support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign in universities and local government.
Two of the “examples” are particularly pernicious. One supposed example of anti-Semitism is saying that the setting up the state of Israel was a racist endeavor, which it obviously was.
So this definition hopes to stop people from being able to make any criticism of the state of Israel other than of day-to-day Israeli policies. It forbids criticism of the foundation of Israel and its apartheid nature today.
The other pernicious example is the claim that denying the right of Jewish self-determination is anti-Semitic.
Leaving aside the racializing nature of this formulation — nobody would talk about a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist right of this sort — self-determination means the people who live in a particular territory having the right to govern themselves in that territory, free from external rule or pressure.
But Zionism is about seizing another people’s territory, expelling some of them and treating those who remain as second-class citizens. The idea that because the ancestors of some — certainly not all — Jewish people lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago, this gives contemporary Zionists the “right” to occupy and settle that land now is simply not to be taken seriously.
Imagine if this was treated as a general principle of international relations! But of course, it isn’t and never will be. Zionists often complain that Israel is treated differently from other nations. Well, perhaps this is because they expect a privilege — the right to seize someone else’s land — which is granted to no other nation.
Finally, we need to be clear that the IHRA definition is perfectly acceptable to right-wing politicians, like Victor Orban in Hungary, who are genuinely anti-Semitic, but who support Israel because it oppresses the Arabs and is imperialism’s only permanently reliable ally in the Middle East. Indeed, there are many non-Jewish Zionists who are anti-Semites, including members of the hard right.
But equally, not all Jewish people support the state of Israel. Some oppose its existence, some oppose the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and some support a two-state solution or have other critical positions towards the Zionist state. The idea that the Jewish community is homogenous, united and speaks with one voice is simply a joke.
SO WHY did the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and the Labour members of parliament (known as the Parliamentary Labour Party) agree to the IHRA definition?
SOME MEMBERS of the NEC actually agree with the IHRA definition, but there was considerable pressure on Corbyn from sections of the trade union bureaucracy who are normally his allies, from leading figures like Deputy Leader Tom Watson, and even from some of the left on the NEC.
All of them feel they are caught in the headlights and want the whole thing to go away. Of course, it won’t.
Acceptance means that this will now hang over the head of Corbyn and the principled anti-imperialist left in the Labour Party and beyond. It will used to try to keep Corbyn in line. And if he steps out of line, the Zionists and Blairites would use this to say that he is in breach of this definition because he’s been critical of Israeli apartheid, which is now defined as anti-Semitic.
Corbyn’s enemies won’t necessarily succeed in removing him, as the left remains relatively strong in the Labour Party. But it has given them another weapon.
WHAT IS the character and extent of anti-Semitism in Britain generally, and how does that impact the battles in the Labour Party?
WE NEED to start from the fact that there has indeed been an international increase in anti-Semitism, much of it encouraged by Trump and his alt-right supporters.
Most of this is spread on Twitter and other forms of social media, rather than in physical confrontation, but that doesn’t make it any less worrying or unpleasant to be on the receiving end.
Naturally, Britain isn’t immune from these developments, although it experiences anti-Semitism to a far lesser extent than, say, Poland or Hungary, where anti-Semitic (but pro-Israel) parties are in office. Nevertheless, there have been some serious incidents, such as the recent attempted arson attack at the Exeter synagogue.
Where this happens, the left has to come to the defense of Jewish communities, just as it did in the 1930s. But this is relatively rare, and, just as in the ’30s, the perpetrators aren’t members of the Labour Party, but of the far right.
Given the experience of the Holocaust, it is understandable why Jewish people are alert to the implications of anti-Semitism. It would be incredible if this weren’t the case.
But some sense of perspective is surely also required. Unlike Black people or Muslims, Jewish people aren’t subject to state or institutional racism. They are not prevented from taking certain jobs, or from living in certain areas. They aren’t regularly arrested and beaten by the police or likely to die in police custody just because they are Jewish.
There aren’t state apparatuses or surveillance programs like Prevent spying on them and checking on their political or religious affiliations. No politicians or public figures are calling for Jewish people to be prevented from migrating to the UK or for those who are here to be deported anywhere else.
Indeed, it is precisely because Jewish people are not typically facing day-to-day racism, let alone “an existential threat” — as was recently claimed by three Jewish newspapers — that the rhetoric has been ramped up to such a pitch of absurdity.
For example, although you may find this hard to believe, Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, compared Corbyn with perhaps the most racist establishment politician in British history, Enoch Powell.
Sacks actually said that a speech Corbyn had given years ago against Zionism was the equivalent of Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech from 1968.
This from a man who in 2016 led the annual “March of the Flags” in Jerusalem, where Zionists march through Palestinian territory chanting such slogans as “Death to the Arabs” and “The Jewish Temple will be built, the Mosque will be burned down.” But Corbyn is the racist, apparently.
Some have gone ever further, comparing the situation for Jews in Britain today to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. I find these comparisons to be absolutely obscene, not least because of the way in which this cynical “weaponizing” of the Holocaust disrespects the memory of those who died in the 20th century’s greatest crime.
THE MEDIA makes it seem like anti-Semitism is a significant problem in the Labour Party. What’s the real story?
THE CHARGE of anti-Semitism is largely groundless. As I’ve said, there is some anti-Semitism in British society, and since Labour Party membership reflects society as a whole, it would be very surprising if there were no examples within its ranks.
Usually, this type of “left” anti-Semitism involves imaginary conspiracies by Jewish bankers — but no serious person on the left doubts that these attitudes have to be called out and fought.
The overwhelming majority of people who join the Labour Party do so to fight racism and oppression, not to endorse it. Furthermore, the actual majority of anti-Semites have historically been members of the Tory Party or of the far right, and continue to be so today. It is they who are responsible for most anti-Semitic attacks, not members of the Labour Party.
So what makes it possible for the charge of anti-Semitism to be leveled with any degree of plausibility? I think there are two reasons.
One is people who may have just become involved in left-wing politics — and who are still relatively innocent about where some material on the Facebook or Twitter originates — and who repost or retweet something without checking its provenance or knowing that certain coded terms or descriptions are intended to be anti-Semitic. These are usually cases of genuine ignorance.
The other reason is people who are angry and frustrated, and respond stupidly at meetings or on Twitter or Facebook, without thinking about what they’re saying. Most of the people who make these statements wake up the next day and regret what they said, but by then, it’s too late, and their words are used to intensify the moral panic.
In relation to Corbyn in particular, his enemies have trawled back through literally every single speech he has made over the last 40 years to claim any remotely ambiguous statement as evidence for these smears, then appealed to the IHRA definition to turn Corbyn’s criticisms of Israel into evidence that he’s an anti-Semite. But really, it’s all rubbish.
When Corbyn talks about Zionists, he is genuinely talking about actual Zionists, and certainly not all Jewish people. His critics remind me of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, when he has Humpty Dumpty say, “I can make words mean anything I want them to mean...It’s a question of who’s to be the master, that’s all.”
So they pretend that when Corbyn says “Zionist,” he really means “Jew”: They can make words mean anything they want them to mean.
BUT THE attack seems to have been quite effective and put Corbyn and the Labour Party left on the defensive. Why is that?
WELL, IT depends on what and who you’re looking at. If you’re judging the situation by what the liberal left press, like The Guardian, The Observer and The New Statesmen publish, you would think that the charge of anti-Semitism are undermining Corbyn.
Let’s be clear: Faced with charges from the Zionists and Blairites, the liberal left themselves have collapsed and actually augmented the attacks on Corbyn. The reason is obvious — they don’t like Corbyn because he’s far too left wing, far too socialist for their tastes. So they have joined the chorus of attackers, helping to manufacture a crisis in Labour.
By contrast, this hasn’t actually affected Labour’s standing in the opinion polls. There have been some minor fluctuations downwards, but nothing like the kind of thing you would expect if this was having a big impact.
Indeed, the most recent poll on how people would vote in a general election showed Labour four points ahead of the Tories. People have deep problem in their lives, and this row seems like a complete irrelevance to most of them.
So you have to pay attention to the difference between the liberal left media and how they have responded and how Labour voters have responded. There’s a big difference between the two: One has joined in spreading the panic, and the other has largely been unaffected.
What the attack has successfully done is paralyze Corbyn and the main basis of his support, the organization Momentum.
Corbyn himself has been feeble. He should have responded by seriously taking on his attackers, calling them out for what they have been doing and making it quite clear that he had no intention to stop criticizing the state of Israel as an apartheid state, all the way back to its foundation.
God knows, his case would have been airtight. The Zionists and Blairites created this crisis at the very same time that the Israeli parliament passed the nation-state law that enshrined the Arab population as second-class citizens. That’s racist to its very core.
But truth be told, I don’t think Corbyn and the people around him know how to confront the attack. More recently, there have been some signs of resistance to the increasingly extreme rhetoric, such as Sacks’ comparison of Corbyn with Powell, which was so over the top that it finally provoked an official Labour response. But this is nothing like enough.
WHY HAS Momentum’s response been so weak?
MOMENTUM IS deeply divided on this. Its leader, Jon Lansman, has made extraordinary concessions to the attack.
Since Momentum is not democratically run, especially in its central leadership, the membership has not been able to counter this. Momentum does have local organizations, some of which have taken better positions, but it remains divided over how to respond.
It is a leftward-moving group that is quite amorphous, with currents and divisions, but no democratic organizations. A lot of them want this whole crisis to go away, and they hope that by accepting the IHRA definition, they can calm everyone down and put an end to the crisis, so they can then go back to attacking the Tories.
But as I’ve said, that won’t happen, especially now that NEC has accepted the definition. It will be used to attack Corbyn and everyone else on the left in the Labour Party who criticizes Israel or defends Palestinians.
However, it’s important to note that Momentum is not in complete retreat. The left stood nine candidates for the NEC, eight of whom, admittedly including Lansman, were Momentum members. All were elected, which suggests that the left has not been undermined among the wider party membership.
HOW HAS the far left responded to the attack?
THE FAR left has responded as well as it could. With the exception of those organizations that are themselves Zionist — the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, etc. — most of the groups on the far left have taken a good, serious and committed position, and made no concessions to the attack. So, too, have activists in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and BDS movement.
Perhaps most importantly, there have also been good responses from Jewish Labour and left organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and Jewdas.
The real problem is the weakness of the far left: Our forces are not large or influential enough to have a large impact, as we discovered during the Brexit referendum, where the right was able to dominate the Leave argument.
The left has grown over the last few years in Britain, as it has in the U.S. There’s been a polarization of society, but that doesn’t mean that people who are moving left have the historical knowledge or theoretical apparatus that would enable them to confidently take on the arguments about Zionism.
A lot of people simply don’t know the history and nature of the Zionist project, the racist foundation of Israel in 1948 and ongoing occupation of Palestinians’ land. So we have a lot of education to do, and that has to be done in a quite difficult circumstance amid an all-out Zionist attack on Corbyn.
So the far left has behaved honorably, but the real difficulty is the weakness of its position in British society, compared to 40 years ago. Conversely, the left is growing around Corbyn, but it’s a kind of left reformist radicalization, without the political depth we need to respond to this kind of attack.
WILL CORBYN be able to hold on to the leadership of the Labour Party? Will there be a rightward split from Labour?
SINCE CORBYN won the Labour leadership, there has been talk about some right-wing Labour politicians setting up a new centrist force between the Tories and Labour. No one has yet made any serious moves in this direction. One MP, Frank Field, for example, recently resigned as Labour whip. He’s now being asked to leave the party.
But Field is a kind of maverick right-winger who supported Brexit on right-wing, anti-immigrant grounds, and — unlike Corbyn — he actually has praised Enoch Powell in the past. But Field — who, at the very least, has flirted with racist “British jobs and homes for the British” rhetoric — is now absurdly claiming that the Labour Party is drowning in anti-Semitism.
He is using this maneuver to salvage his political career. He was about to be deselected by his constituency’s Labour Party, which is something that may happen to others on the Labour right.
This was a pre-emptive move to stop that from happening and preserve his position as an independent member of parliament. But he’s the only one who’s actually gone this far. I don’t see many people following him, even if he survives as an independent, and he is unlikely to be setting up a new party, which would produce a grouping of very tired, old politicians, without any real base or influence.
Further, that kind of centrist group already exists in the form of the Liberal Democrats, and they aren’t attracting any support. So setting up a new one makes no sense.
The Labour right has a proprietorial notion that the party belongs to them, and they see this intrusion by the new mass membership as an appalling attempt to change the Labour Party they know and love by delivering it to the left.
So the vast majority will stay in the party. That’s why Corbyn has to fight, because they’re not going to give up. There can be no misunderstanding about what’s going on. Dame Margaret recently revealed that there was, in effect, a campaign to get rid of Corbyn.
That’s what it was always about in reality, but now, it’s openly declared. That suggests there will not be a split away led by the Blairites. They think they can remove Corbyn. If he understood this, it would be easier for him, Momentum and the rest of the Labour left to resist the planned coup against his leadership.
WILL THIS fight in the Labour Party enable the Tory Party to hold onto power?
I WOULDN’T want to predict anything at the moment. The shambles that the Tory Party is in cannot be underestimated. That just makes the crime of the Labour right’s attack on Corbyn all the more inexcusable.
They’re trying to take down Corbyn at the very time the Tory Party is collapsing. Instead of attacking Corbyn, everyone in the Labour Party could and should be going for the jugular.
The crisis in the Tory Party is an organic one. I always joke that this is a sign of the simply appalling decline in quality of the political leadership of the British ruling class.
But there is a serious issue here: the Tories who are implementing Brexit don’t believe in it and know that their class base doesn’t want it — understandably, since it is at odds with the interests the majority of British capitalists. The party that usually represents them is pushing Brexit through against their wishes.
Unfortunately for them, they don’t have an alternative. Because the Tories are making such a mess of Brexit, there is a genuine fear among the British ruling class that there is no stable governmental party across the whole of Britain that can actually take control of the situation and stabilize it.
They certainly don’t trust the Labour Party under Corbyn — who is a soft supporter of leaving the EU on traditional left-wing grounds — to step in place of the Tories and clean things up.
But a suitably degutted Labour Party, shorn of Corbyn and with the left whipped into line, might be able to play this role. This is a thought that I suspect has occurred to the Labour right.
So I wouldn’t rule out an election in the next six to nine months because of the weakness of the Tory Party. After all, since 2012, they’ve called three popular votes for short-term reasons that out a catastrophe — and that were all, from the point of view of British capital, strategically quite unnecessary: first, over Scottish independence; then, over Brexit; and then the last general election.
I wouldn’t bet against a fourth.