Labour, Corbyn and anti-Semitism: speech by Nicki Jameson

Below we publish the speech delivered by comrade Nicki Jameson of the Revolutionary Communist Group to a public meeting in London on 21 September 2018. The meeting was entitled, 'Corbyn, Labour and Anti-Semitism: why is solidarity with Palestine under attack?'

On 4 September, the Labour Party NEC voted to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which includes, alongside other uncontentious examples of racism against Jews, clauses which restrict or forbid criticism of Israel and its racist, genocidal treatment of the Palestinian people.  The British government itself adopted this definition in 2016.  Local councils, such as that in Newcastle, if they have not already done so, are racing to catch up and passing motions to adopt the same definition.

This is a clear attack on the people of Palestine and their struggle for freedom and justice. It is also an attack on all those in this country who stand in solidarity with that struggle. 

I want to talk about how we got to this point, who our friends and enemies are and what we need to do now.

Background

Two years ago I gave a talk to another public meeting entitled ‘Why is solidarity with Palestine under attack?’ That talk was in two parts - the first dealing with the history of Zionism, what it actually is, how it developed and why we should oppose it; the second with Palestine solidarity and the attacks on it, which had then recently begun to mount, prefiguring the onslaught we see today.

Obviously, I don’t have time to repeat all of that speech, but you can find it on our website and there are a few print copies here as well. I do want to quote part of what I said then though, because it places where we are and helps us understand how we got here.

I began by saying that despite the existence of a ‘massive Zionist propaganda machine which, for example, in 2008/9 inundated the western media with claims of pro-Palestinian bias for not giving quite as much coverage to the seven Israeli citizens killed by rockets fired out of Gaza at nearby settlements, as to the over 2,000 Palestinians who died in the Israeli bombardment of their homes; despite all this...’ people around the world have become far more aware in recent years about Palestine and far more keen to take a stand against Israel, for example, by boycotting Israeli goods.

I then went on to say:

‘To what extent all this hurts Israel economically, we don’t really know for sure, any more than we did with apartheid South Africa, but it most certainly damages the country’s reputation and hurts it politically. No state likes to be seen as a pariah.

However, far from softening up in the face of protest, the Zionists have upped the ante. In 2015, Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked announced that the Zionist regime would be going on the offensive against those involved in “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” campaigns and would begin legal action against them.

The Times of Israel reported that this “legal campaign” was to be integrated with a wider plan to combat the “delegitimisation” of Israel being put together by Public Security and Information Minister Gilad Erdan, and that this was in keeping with statements by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party (of which Shaked is also a member), who said, “Let it be clear to any company or organization that’s considering boycotting us: We will hit back. We will attack our attackers. We will boycott our boycotters.”’

IHRA

The International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of anti-Semitism, which has become a key weapon in this counter-offensive, was first drawn up in 2015.  Its basic statement is not contentious and simply describes anti-Semitism in the same terms as any other form of racial or religious prejudice:

‘Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.’

The problem arrives with some of the examples which are appended to this statement, several of which link anti-Semitism to complaints about the state of Israel.  In particular:

  • denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour
  • applying double standards by requiring behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
  • drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis

Jeremy Corbyn under attack

The same year that the IHRA drew up that definition, Jeremy Corbyn became the surprise ‘left wing’ leader of the Labour Party.  The attack on him on the grounds he was anti-Semitic begun almost immediately, alongside all the other attacks with which we are now familiar, and which have attempted to paint Corbyn as a fellow traveller of every left or anarchist group, liberation movement or regime not in favour with the British establishment.  (And of course, this even includes such nonsense as the accusation that, despite our consistent opposition to the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has been a secret RCG member for the past 30 years!).

Just a few of the more recent lowlights of a media trawl designed to find any titbit that can be used, have been:

  • The suggestion he had laid a wreath on the grave of a supposed leader of the 1972 Munich Olympics attack 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, and those who carried out the Munich attack are in fact buried in Libya.)
  • A comment at a meeting on Palestine in 2013 that the Zionists in the audience did not understand English irony.  (Whether the comment itself was appropriate or not, the response by right wing former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Corbyn’s comment was the most offensive since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech was clearly absurd.)

Racist Labour Party – time to take a stand!

The RCG has always emphasised the racist history of the Labour Party– indeed we have produced a book entitled Labour: a Party fit for Imperialism, chronicling Labour’s extensive history in government of perpetrating imperialist war, and mass detention and deportation of immigrants, atrocities it has also supported while in opposition. However, the attacks on Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semitic were clearly spurious

Instead, it was clear that this was an attempt both by Zionists to assert their agenda and by right wing forces inside and outside the Labour Party to use that agenda to attack Corbyn.  Whatever we think about him and about the Labour Party itself, there is very clearly a significant and powerful grouping that hates anything even vaguely tinged with socialism and any expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people, and which fears and will do anything to avoid the prospect of that current becoming present in the government of the country.

So, unwelcome as they may have been, these attacks on Corbyn and Labour by Zionists, the right wing of the Labour Party and the right outside of Labour gave him and his supporters the opportunity to take a clear stance against racism and imperialism.  Instead we have witnessed three years of repeated capitulation and appeasement, made worse by the clear and apparent reality that the attackers are not going to be appeased by any concessions and will simply gobble them up and come back for more – a situation nicely summed up by the Steve Bell cartoon of Margaret Hodge saying to Corbyn, ‘Remove your own head, put it on this pole. Then we can talk.’

Concessions upon concessions

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, the Labour Party NEC and all those councillors doing the same thing have all chosen the former and have made it clear that they stand with the racist Israeli regime and against the people of Palestine.

The adoption of the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism did not come out of nowhere, but is the culmination of a process which has seen concession after concession by Corbyn and his ‘left’ supporters in the Labour Party to the Zionists within and without:

  • In September 2016 in a debate organised by the Labour Friends of Israel and Jewish Labour Movement, Corbyn said ‘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.’
  • Corbyn 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.’ At that 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. Once again Corbyn made no reference to Palestinian oppression or Israeli terrorism.
  • In an article in The Guardian on 3 August Corbyn wrote: ‘In the 1970s some on the left mistakenly argued that “Zionism is racism”. That was wrong.’

This was an extraordinary statement, as the United Nations General Assembly itself declared in 1975 that Zionism was a racist ideology, and this stood until in 1991 following the collapse of the socialist bloc, the US was able to garner sufficient support to overturn the resolution.

And, in the light of the passage of the overtly racist Israeli Nation-State law, just weeks before that article was published, the statement is not just extraordinary but an overt capitulation.

The sole occasion on which Corbyn appears to have stood up for himself and for the people of Palestine was when directly attacked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, causing Corbyn to retaliate by condemning the May 2018 Israeli massacre of Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza.

‘Unity’ at all costs

This is a watershed moment for the Labour Party.  Many of those people who joined in order to elect Corbyn, and who have continued to hope for the election of a progressive, left-leaning government, must be holding their heads in their hands, wondering what has happened.

The Labour Party has always been a reactionary, pro-imperialist party and its character has never been more apparent.  Corbyn and his supporters, while mouthing the occasional left-wing platitude, have refused on every issue to break from that legacy, valuing ‘party unity’ with the reactionary right-wing of the party above principle. This was the case in relation to Syria and to council cuts, but nowhere is it more openly visible than here in relation to Palestine. 

There will be those in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and left-wing groups who try to cover this up or smooth it over, as they have always done.  We have to say to them that this is no longer possible.  The Labour Party, its NEC, its councils and any future government led by it are not friends of the struggle for Palestinian national liberation.

This does not mean that there are not many individuals in the Labour Party or PSC who are rejecting the concessions. Indeed, we have had support from many such people over the attempts to ban this meeting. These comrades need to continue to stand with Palestine, and when they find they cannot do so within the Labour Party, will have to make a choice.

For the RCG, our support for the Palestinian liberation struggle has never been determined by the Labour Party and will not be in the future. We will continue to hold pickets, demonstrations, meeting, benefits and other solidarity events (even picnics). We want to discuss this further and we hope you will join us to build a strong, united and unfettered movement in support of Palestine.

 

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