Corbyn capitulates to Zionism

Protestors outside the Labour NEC meeting on  4 September 2018

Jeremy Corbyn’s capitulation in the face of a stream of spurious allegations of anti-Semitism is a complete betrayal of the Palestinian people. Faced with the choice of continuing the Labour Party’s historic support for Zionism, or siding with an oppressed people fighting for their survival, Corbyn chose the former. His craven performance demonstrates that he lacks any principles. In the lead-up to the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on 4 September which adopted the full International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, Palestinian Knesset members and civil organisations correctly described this definition as Zionist and urged Labour to reject it. But the Zionist bigots who demanded that Labour adopt the IHRA definition have nothing but contempt for the Palestinian people – and, in the end, so did Corbyn and his supporters. In order to retain his position as leader of a party completely wedded to imperialism, he has opened the gate for a renewed drive to criminalise and suppress Palestinian solidarity.

As part of the Zionist campaign, the media trawled through Corbyn’s record to ‘prove’ his anti-Semitism; columnists in The Guardian were given free rein to attack him. Among the most ludicrous allegations were that: 

  • According to The Times, he had laid a wreath on the grave of a supposed leader of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre when he visited Tunisia in 2014. This turned out to be a complete fiction: the wreath was laid on the graves of Palestinian victims of a 1985 Israeli airstrike which was denounced by the UN at the time as a war crime. 
  • He had stated in a meeting on Palestine in 2013 that the Zionists in the audience did not understand English irony, which led arch-Zionist MP Luciana Berger to complain that she now felt ‘unwelcome in my own party’, and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to claim even more absurdly that Corbyn’s comment was the most offensive since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Sacks supports Israel unconditionally and defends its racist Nation-State law. In 2008 he appeared in a list of 100 top right-wingers compiled by The Daily Telegraph, the only religious figure to appear in the list. Sacks’ comparison of Powell’s grossly racist speech to Corbyn’s comment betrays his utter contempt for black and Asian people.

However, this reactionary campaign could have been stopped from the outset had Corbyn stood his ground. All he had to do was to demonstrate the utterly reactionary character of his opponents by pointing to any number of Israeli war crimes: the continuous ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the situation of Palestinians in the open prison of Gaza, now blockaded for more than ten years; the 14 May massacre of more than 60 protesters demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees; the use of checkpoints and the apartheid wall on the West Bank to ghettoise Palestinian people; the treatment of Palestinian child prisoners like Ahed Tamimi; the passage of the Nation-State law in July enshrining the racist character of the Zionist state. None of which have been criticised by Corbyn’s racist critics. Yet he refused to do so. Instead he made repeated concessions to his Zionist opponents:

  • In a leadership election debate in September 2016 organised by the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), Corbyn stated that ‘I admire the verve and spirit of the towns and cities in Israel. I admire the separation of legal and political powers in the system of democratic government that’s there.’ He did not mention the racism that governs the lives of Palestinian people living in Israel, nor as part of this, the state policy of denying Palestinian towns and villages meaningful funding.
  • When Shadow Development Minister Kate Osamor declared her support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in December 2017, a spokesperson for Corbyn stated ‘Jeremy is not in favour of a comprehensive or blanket boycott. He doesn’t support BDS,’ adding that ‘he would have no qualms with buying Israeli products himself.’
  • He issued an abject apology for chairing a House of Commons meeting in 2010 saying that he has ‘on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject.’ Once again he made no reference to Palestinian oppression or Israeli terrorism. At the meeting Holocaust survivor Haja Meyer had denounced the Zionist use of the ‘Nazi genocide of Jews to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by the state of Israel’ – this the Zionists decided was anti-Semitic even though it is historically accurate. 
  • He took no action against the millionaire reactionary MP Margaret Hodge when she shouted to his face that he was a ‘fucking anti-Semite and racist.’ Hodge, who led the vote of no confidence in 2016 against Corbyn is now stepping up the campaign to drive him from the leadership.
  • In an article he wrote for The Guardian (3 August 2018) Corbyn argued that the ‘essence’ of the four examples excluded from the IHRA definition had been captured in the Labour Party code of conduct, and that the actual differences ‘are in fact very small’. ‘All of us committed to peace and justice in the Middle East accept that the perspective of the Palestinian people, and their experience as victims of racism and discrimination, should not be censored or penalised any more than the right of Jewish self-determination should be denied.’ Not a word about the fact that the exercise of that ‘right’ required the violent expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian people, or their continued experience of torture, murder and ethnic cleansing.

Throughout his Guardian article Corbyn is at pains to appease his enemies: he declares that ‘In the 1970s some on the left mistakenly argued that “Zionism is racism”. That was wrong.’ This was an extraordinary statement: the United Nations General Assembly itself declared in 1975 that Zionism is a racist ideology, until in 1991 following the collapse of the socialist bloc, the US was able to garner sufficient support to overturn the resolution. That Zionism is racism is a fact, not a matter of opinion. Corbyn’s language is like cotton wool: he characterises the passage of the Nation-State law and the murder of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators (in Corbyn’s non-judgemental language, ‘killings’) as ‘a difficult year in the Middle East’. His repeated desire for a gentler political language is designed to dull the perception of his followers over the appalling brutality of the Zionist state. It took an attack from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Corbyn to show any courage and condemn the May 2018 Israeli massacre of Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza.

In his written submission to the 4 September NEC debate, Corbyn claimed that adoption of the IHRA definition with all examples ‘does not undermine freedom of expression on the Israel-Palestine conflict’ – a stupid lie because it is used by universities in Britain and the US in attempts to suppress pro-Palestine events, particularly the annual Israel Apartheid Week. His further statement that Zionism has had ‘honourable proponents’ in the Labour Party was just a wretched sop to its most reactionary wing. There was no acknowledgment of the opposition from the Palestinian Knesset MPs whose letter to The  Guardian said the IHRA definition ‘goes far beyond anti-Jewish animus to include anti-Zionism’. Palestinian civil organisations declared that the IHRA definition ‘attempts to erase Palestinian history, demonise solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, suppress freedom of expression, and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid from effective measures of accountability in accordance to international law.’ On the day of the NEC meeting, the Israeli Supreme Court approved the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan Al Ahmar. Khan Al Ahmar is in Area C, an Israeli designation assigned to about 60% of the occupied West Bank which places it under exclusive Israeli control: the destruction of the village is to enable the construction of a motorway linking Zionist settlements. 

In the days before the NEC vote there had been growing concern among liberals and supporters of Palestinian liberation at Corbyn’s conciliation and obfuscation. Having stated that ‘Jeremy Corbyn has no need to apologise for being the first Labour leader to oppose Zionism on moral grounds,’ Ahmad Khalidi in The Guardian lamented that Corbyn ‘has singularly failed to make the case in his own defence. Under a barrage of attacks on the anti-Semitism issue, he has retreated and backtracked, mumbled and fumbled as if he has something to hide, thereby undermining his credibility as leader and peacemaker alike’ (29 August 2018). The radical journalist Jonathan Cook complains that ‘Corbyn’s allies in the Labour leadership have largely lost the stomach for battle’ and that ‘Corbyn himself has conceded too much ground on anti-Semitism ... He has tried to placate rather than defy the smearers. He has tried to maintain unity with people who have no interest in finding common ground with him. And as he has lost all sense of how to respond in good faith to allegations made in bad faith, he has begun committing the cardinal sin of sounding and looking evasive – just as those who deployed the anti-Semitism charge hoped’ (Counterpunch 24 August). 

Yet Cook does miss a key point: Corbyn has to maintain unity with his enemies if the Labour Party is to remain a credible parliamentary body, and if he is to stand a chance of becoming prime minister. There are 70 Labour MPs affiliated to Labour Friends of Israel, and over 80% of all Labour MPs oppose Corbyn. He will not sacrifice this force on any matter of principle, and this ruled out any chance of him defending the rights of the Palestinian people: they became the victims of this British parliamentary charade. 

Cook’s insights are not shared by the British opportunist left. Within the Labour Party, the supposed radical Owen Jones opposes BDS, and spoke at a JLM conference in April 2017 to share his view that there indeed was a crisis of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. BDS is endorsed by all Palestinian civic organisations. Given the JLM’s links with the Israeli embassy, to speak on its platform was a gesture of contempt for the Palestinian people. Momentum leader Jon Lansman is a closet Zionist who regards Zionism as an ‘outdated’ term. Like Jones, he opposes BDS, having visited Tel Aviv in June to speak about the anti-Semitism ‘problem’ in the Labour Party. He supported the adoption of the full IHRA definition and, days beforehand, spoke at a JLM meeting at which he suggested that Corbyn should undertake an awareness course on anti-Semitism. There has been no reaction from Momentum: its silence on Lansman’s position and behaviour can only be interpreted as indifference to the question of Palestinian solidarity – indeed, its members on the NEC voted in support of the IHRA definition. 

Concerned that their hope for a Corbyn-led Labour government was slipping away, others on the left came out, not to build effective solidarity with the Palestinian people, but to worry about saving their own hides. Flying in the face of facts, Tariq Ali declared at a meeting organised by Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) on 22 August that ‘On Palestine, Corbyn has been rock-solid. That’s why his opponents in and out of the Labour Party fear him.’ Labour NEC candidate Huda Elmi added to the fiction by declaring that ‘One of the things we have to be proudest about in the Labour movement is that we’ve stood consistently shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians.’ This is just fantasy: Labour has never supported the Palestinian people. Without mentioning names, SWP’s Rob Ferguson declared that ‘It has been a fundamental misjudgement over more than two years to retreat and concede and fail to call out those prosecuting this attack.’ This is the SWP which showed itself to be very willing to ‘retreat and concede’ to Zionism when it fought to include a contingent of Zionists on a Stand up to Racism demonstration in Glasgow on 17 March this year. JVL’s Richard Kuper said that if the fight against Labour’s adoption of the full IHRA definition is lost, ‘the war is not over’ – citing the possibility of opposing councils adopting the definition. Yet Labour-led councils like Newcastle are falling over themselves to adopt the definition (if they have not already done so), with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign refusing to challenge them and Corbyn-supporting councillors running away to avoid being whipped into support.

Perhaps the most absurd comment came from Tony Greenstein who faced expulsion over a false allegation of anti-Semitism. Responding to an article on Electronic Intifada by Stephen Garside who said correctly that ‘Tragically, the fight over the IHRA now looks to have also become a fight against Corbyn’, Greenstein wrote that it was a very good article but for that phrase, continuing ‘No we are not fighting against Corbyn but we will disagree with him when he backslides. That is very important. The whole of the false anti-Semitism campaign has one purpose in mind – removing Jeremy Corbyn. We must be very clear that we defend Jeremy's position even if he is unable to do so.’ (emphasis added). What a comment about the leader of an imperialist party! 

But the more Corbyn backslides, the more will be the desperation of the opportunist left to protect him and the Labour Party. Honest socialists now have to take stock. Corbyn was content to remain a Labour MP while Labour governments waged war in Yugoslavia and in the Middle East and excused every act of Israeli aggression. His opposition was always confined to meaningless parliamentary gestures, his supposed principles a myth. He capitulated to the Zionists when a principled stand would have swatted away the clearly reactionary campaign, given the daily displays of the racist character of the Israeli state. He leads a reactionary, anti-working class party. How can anyone other than a dyed-in-the-wool opportunist believe he has the willingness to withstand the slightest pressure if he leads a Labour government? As it is, he has demonstrated utter contempt for the position and views of the Palestinian people, and from now on the fight to build a solidarity movement will be a fight against Corbyn and his Labour Party. 


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