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Labour’s Problem is NOT Antisemitism

The antisemitic views expressed by Labour members have been getting a great deal of media attention recently, at HP we have done our best to shine a light on some of the antisemitic discourse that has become almost a staple of far left discussions on social media. Recently the Jewish community held two demonstrations against the antisemitism in the Labour Party, but no one seems to know what to do about it. Those who wish to fight it might want to start by addressing the root cause of antisemitism rather than just the discourse itself.

Jeremy Corbyn is proud of his hard left socialist views. He’s been writing for the Morning Star since becoming a Member of Parliament in 1983. This is a publication that was founded in 1930 to represent to the Communist Party of Great Britain. He called for a complete rehabilitation of Leon Trotsky in 1988 in Parliament. Recent revelations that he was in contact with a member of, what was then, Czechoslovak intelligence during the Cold War have come to the fore. Danny Finklestein points out that;

“No one would have had to pay Mr Corbyn to take a sympathetic view of the Soviet Union’s world role because he saw that as all part of the service as MP for Islington North. And far from advancing his ideas in clandestine encounters, Mr Corbyn was entirely open about his opinions.”

Finkelstein notes two criticisms of the USSR Corbyn made in a speech in 1991. Suffice it to say neither of them was a criticism of the antisemitism prevalent within the Soviet state. In fact, bearing in mind his determination to avoid blaming the Russian state, even now, for an attempted assassination in Salisbury or for chemical attacks made by Russia’s Syrian ally one wonders whether he’d admit there was any. Paul Anderson former editor of Tribune noted of Corbyn’s inner circle;

Labour Action for Peace, a pressure group that had no formal role in the Labour Party, and for which Corbyn was an officer, was notoriously and idiotically pro-Soviet. Corbyn, in making Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray key figures in his team, both of them rather keen on the Soviet Union in the 1980s, obviously doesn’t think any of that too important.

In short Corbyn isn’t hiding his far left views and in the current political climate it’s likely that those views gained him the leadership of the Labour Party. A massive influx of new members who had previously been hanging out in political irrelevance are now the newest, hardest working activists in the party.

During his election campaign for party leader in August 2015 Corbyn had his pick of any publication in the UK and even further afield to give an interview to, he chose Electronic Intifada and to speak to a man who had never voted Labour in his life;

Winstanley has been slavish in his devotion to Corbyn. He has also written a plethora of articles insisting that antisemitism in the Labour Party is a fiction invented by Zionists in order to attack Corbyn. Even after Corbyn stated explicitly;

I recognise that anti-Semitism has surfaced within the Labour Party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples. This has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our Party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.

Two days after Corbyn’s comments on antisemitism in the Labour Party Winstanley wrote an article criticising him entitled; “Jeremy Corbyn must stop pandering to Labour’s Israel lobby”. Winstanley represents the Labour voter who rushed to join the party to support him, now any statements by Corbyn about antisemitism risk alienating him. It’s worth bearing that in mind.

Another notable supporter is Roshan Salih who works for the Iranian propaganda mouthpiece Press TV. Salih claims to have interviewed Corbyn “countless times on Press TV”. Indeed Corbyn collected a wage from Press TV at precisely the moment Iranians were being murdered by the Islamic regime in Tehran during the Green Revolution. Writing in the Independent Tom Peck observed;

Fundamentalist Muslims and devout Marxists are not easy revolutionary bedfellows, but a lot of America-loathing goes a long way.

Corbyn’s motivation for working at Press TV is the same as for his defence of the USSR; his anti-Westernism, specifically the world view that the UK, USA and Israel are imperialists attempting to stamp their authority on poorer states around the world. This is why Winstanley has been so adamant in his refusal to accept antisemitism in the Labour Party, he’s petrified it will mean the end of the battle against Western imperialism, including against Israel.

Jeremy Corbyn referred to “pockets” of antisemitism in the Labour Party. He’s wrong. The issue is not that a bunch of antisemites suddenly joined the Labour Party. The issue is that a bunch of people holding extreme left wing views joined the Labour Party and invigorated the fringe extreme lefties still in Labour but banished into political irrelevance by Tony Blair and others. These activists share Corbyn’s belief system when it comes to the evils of a capitalist society and the evils of an Israel that, for them, represents all that is wrong with capitalism and the imperialism of the West.

When Corbyn now makes statements about the evils of antisemitism he appears to Winstanley and others as if he’s softening his stance on Western imperialism. The Jewish anti-Zionist activist Tony Greenstein even went so far as to argue a defence of Holocaust denial on this basis;

“If you use the Holocaust, not in order to teach about the evils of racism but to justify racism and every barbarous act of Israel, including ethnic cleansing, is it surprising that some people deny that there was a Holocaust?

This is not antisemitism as a determination to hate Jews, it’s antisemitism as a construct of most Jews as perpetrators of the worst crimes humanity has ever seen, the demonisation of their state as “evil” incarnate and forgiveness for those who attack Jews because Israel is so awful and Jews support Israel. It’s interesting to note that Greenstein was expelled from the Labour Party for obnoxious posts relating to antisemitism. It’s also worthy of note that there is a movement in the Labour Party calling for his expulsion to be lifted. The Chakrabarti Report specifically advises against expulsions from the party, should the report be adopted in full it’s possible that Greenstein and others will be admitted back into the party.

However antisemitism is not what we saw coming from the former head of the disciplinary committee Christine Shawcroft in her defence of then Labour candidate for local council Alan Bull. He had shared posts denying the Holocaust and another arguing that ISIS and Israel were working together. Shawcroft later claimed she hadn’t even seen the offensive material that she was defending Bull for sharing. It later emerged that two Jewish members of the National Executive Committee, Jon Lansman and Rhea Wolfson were sent Shawcroft’s email defending Bull. Despite being Jewish, Lansman is said to have moved to limit the penalty imposed. This points to another issue with far left politics, clannish devotion to the cause. It’s this clannish devotion that led to Shawcroft responding to Bull’s case with a knee jerk defence, by her own admission without even having seen the offensive material, and has served to compound the crisis Labour is facing when it comes to antisemitism. If the right person is being antisemitic then they’re practically guaranteed a defence from those who share their ideological sympathies, if not their overtly antisemitic outlook. This makes it impossible for the party to be able to police itself. Note this from The Guardian on the workings of the Labour Party disciplinary committee;

“People were generally outraged at the scale of the defence of just anything. It’s all about control: control of the party and control of the processes,” one source close to the NEC said.

The notion that Jewish members of the Corbyn clique are antisemitic has been ridiculed by many of the rank and file in the Labour party but it is clear that for Lansman the tribal nature of far left politics has caused him to even argue against those who have shared posts attacking his Jewish coreligionists. Is Lansman being antisemitic here? No. Is Lansman perpetuating a situation where those who are being antisemitic are able to continue? Yes.

Capital

The top echelon of the Labour Party consists of politicians and activists who actively agitate against Capitalism. Jeremy Corbyn immediately put forward the theory that oligarchs, (wealthy, unscrupulous capitalists) were responsible for the Salisbury poison attack and not the Russian state when the Skripal affair arose. John McDonnell recently dismissed the idea of Labour centrists breaking away to form their own party as an issue of wealth;

So those Jews who are wealthy, influential business people may well fall into the category of those who are loathed by the clique at the head of the Labour Party. If such individuals also hold portfolios within the Jewish community that clique are, at best, going to be presented with the dilemma of whether to deal with the kind of people they have spent their lives railing against at demonstrations. The fact that their Judaism is not the reason for being treated with hostility by Corbyn and his inner circle is rather besides the point. As things stand Corbyn has offered to meet representatives of the mainstream Jewish community who submitted to him certain preconditions. It’s really a bizarre situation to think that Corbyn will meet with Zionists and be able to find the wherewithal to take their concerns at face value without seeing the hand of Israel in their claims about antisemitism as relates to claims about Israel.

With this in mind it’s hardly surprising that Jeremy Corbyn chose to sit with Jewdas, a small group of anti-capitalist Jews who have vocally supported him and called for the end of capitalism. Corbyn specifically referenced the fringe group Jewish Voice for Labour during his interview with the Jewish News. It’s likely that even if he were aware of the extent to which referring to such a group would be regarded as a slap in the face by the Jewish community he would have done it anyway. The Jews of JVL spent their lives in the same political backwater that he spent the last 30 years of his own career in, his ascendancy is also theirs. What this means for the rest of the Jewish community can only be guessed at.

This is the institutional issue now at play in the Labour Party. Where the far left part ends and the antisemitic part begins is almost impossible to define and in any case irrelevant. A large part of the ideology of the current Labour party is anti-West, anti-wealth, anti-capitalist, anti-Zionist, anti many things. It is that kernel of seething resentment within it that leads to the massive amount of antisemitic discourse among the party faithful from street activists all of the way up to Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and union officials. But that hatred is also the powerful motivation that leads to this new wave of activists to get out onto the streets and campaign for Corbyn’s Labour Party. Anyone, including Corbyn, who seriously attempts to interfere with that driving force of hatred puts their own position in the party in doubt and also runs the risk of unravelling the whole movement right when it’s on the cusp of taking power.

On this basis any fight against antisemitism within that movement is likely to fail and any attempt to convince Corbyn and his clique to abandon their anti-Western, anti-Capitalist world view is an exercise in futility. If the antisemitism of the Labour Party is to be defeated it will have to happen at the ballot box.