Corbyn’s latest – and best – statement on Labour antisemitism

First off, let’s give some credit where it’s due: Corbyn’s article in Saturday’s Guardian is by far the best statement he has yet made on the subject of antisemitism within Labour and the fears of many Jews about the party under his leadership.

Let’s note what the article says, some of which is either new or expressed much more plainly than in previous statements from Corbyn and/or his office; he:

  • acknowledges that there is a “real problem” with antisemitism within the party;
  • says to some of his own would-be supporters, “You do not do it (“dish out antisemitic poison”) in my name … [you] have no place in our movement”;
  • states that the party must show “a higher degree of empathy with the perspective of the Jewish community”;
  • acknowledges that before deciding not to adopt all the examples of antisemitism accompanying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, “the [Jewish] community should have been consulted more extensively at an earlier stage”;
  •  admits that Labour has been “too slow in processing disciplinary cases of antisemitic abuse”;
  • recognises that “we haven’t done enough to foster deeper understanding of anti-Semitism amongst members”, noting that “Labour staff have seen examples of Holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel, and even one individual who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood.”

Will this be enough to start breaking down the disastrous and deep-seated lack of trust that mainstream Jews presently have in Corbyn?

Probably not: Corbyn’s background in the ‘New Left’ of the 1960s and ’70s, and its associated third-worldism and “anti-imperialism” means that he and some of his key allies (notably Seumas Milne), subscribe to an underlying attitude towards Jewish nationalism (ie Zionism) that has informed his entire political background and education, despite this latest attempt to conciliate mainstream Jewish opinion and to (quite rightly) disown the cruder manifestations of  such “anti-imperialism”:

It consists of at least four key elements.  Most of of them are to do with the Middle East, for obvious reasons:

The first is the argument that Israel as a uniquely reactionary state and Jewish nationalism is a uniquely reactionary nationalism. The Hebrew-speaking Israeli-Jewish nation, however you wish to term it, undeniably constitutes a “national group”, in the Marxist understanding of that term, as opposed to a narrow, exploiting settler-caste like the South African Boers. They are the only national group for which the far-left’s programme is that their state must be dismantled, rather than changed in some way, however radical. There is no substantial “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement, consciously aimed at isolating a particular state, directed towards any other country.

Secondly, the view that the Jewish presence in historic Palestine is entirely illegitimate, a product only of a colonial land-grab, and only resolvable either by the Hebrew-speaking Jewish population agreeing to be a subsumed as a religious minority in a wider Arab state, or by their forcible conquest.

A third element is the argument that a Jewish, or “Zionist”, lobby exerts an essentially controlling influence on American foreign policy or world affairs in general, or the media, or some aspect of the media.

Finally, the argument, or the implied demand, that Jewish people, uniquely amongst ethno-cultural groups, make a total break from certain aspects of their historically-developed and experience or risk being considered basically akin to racists.

It should be added, that rejecting these four mistaken positions in no way requires anyone to renounce solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, based upon the objective of a just two states solution.

Immediately, Corbyn needs to go further in reaching out to mainstream Jews: that means:

  • heeding the good advice of people like John McDonnell and Jon Lansman who advocate compromise and conciliation and rejecting the confrontational approach of the likes of Milne and chief of staff Karie Murphy (and her mouthpiece Skwawkbox);
  • making it clear to mainstream Jewish organisations (which tend, at the moment, to be right-wing) that Labour has already adopted the IHRA definition and guidelines on antisemitism (it did so in 2016) and now seeks dialogue with them (and Palestinian representatives) to ensure that the guidelines are not used to suppress criticism of Israel;
  • dropping the disciplinary actions against Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin (obnoxious as the latter may be);
  • plainly and simply apologising for past misjudgements like calling Hamas and Hezbollah “friends“, attending an event that equated Israel’s actions in Gaza with the holocaust and failing to notice the antisemitic imagery of  ‘that’ mural;
  • ignoring the dishonest and provocative advice of a tiny, unrepresentative minority of Jews (eg the so-called Jewish Voice for Labour) who consistently prioritise their own obsessional opposition to Zionism over combatting antisemitism (which, they sometimes claim, doesn’t really exist in the Labour party).

I hope Corbyn’s latest overture to the mainstream Jewish community receives a positive response: and I hope, equally, that he and the more responsible of his advisers realise they still have a long way to go before the majority of Jews in Britain once again come to regard Labour as no kind of threat to them, let alone as being their natural political home.

 

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23 thoughts on “Corbyn’s latest – and best – statement on Labour antisemitism

  1. Corbyn left it too late and has done little to assure the mainstream Jewish community. Published on a Friday too close to Shabat for many to reply. The bottom line is Corbyn would not have let this situation deteriorate so far with any other ethnic/minority group.

    Corbyn is committed to the destruction of Israel and us Jews are an inconvenience to him and a huge number of his rabid supporters.

    My local Labour candidate is a rabid anti-Zionist & Corbyn supporter. I will never vote for him and I would not trust a government under Corbyn over any issue whatsoever.

    Useless and untrustworthy to the last. He can simply f……..

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    1. Surely you cannot deny that Israel’s stance, in relation to it’s neighbours, is something that should be fully and openly discussed. Yes, of course it is only right and proper that listened to dissenting voices should not be those of the genuinely antisemitic, but neither should the fuller discussion be disingenguously shut-down. And there are those, possibly the same people who have previously worked to undermine, who are seeking to exploit this situation in order to more fully derail Labour’s current leadership.

      There is clear common ground, and there are many in the Jewish community who recognise this. It would be refreshing if more publicity were being given to these people.

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  2. It is something of a travesty, and a thorough damnation of the UK’s MSM, that one cannot find this type of reasoned and more analytical perspective in any of our national newspapers, or television stations. So, thank you for this article.

    Even so, there is clearly a political ‘movement’ hoping to exploit the evident bias in the reporting of the issue. John Mann, Ian Austin and their ilk are unlikely to cease their questionable and damaging actions but, if a number of more loyal (to the current Labour Party) and progressive members of the Jewish community could be seen to more publicly embrace this stance, we may yet be about to negotiate another orchestrated hurdle.

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    1. Yes. Take a lead from Trump and blame the press. Antisemitism in the Labour Party, from the Dear Leader down, is not fake news. The reference to loyalty brought a smile to my lips. Loyalty to the Labour MP whose entire career was built on uncompromising disloyalty to the Labour leadership for over thirty years.

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  3. It is, it seems both convenient and lazy to liken one’s opponents to Trump. I was hoping to make the point- clearly and conveniently missed by some- that coverage of the antisemitism issue was not balanced, and that it seemed to be serving as an excuse for those otherwise opposed to Corbyn to undermine the current leadership. I was not claiming that stamping out any antisemitism is not a vital issue, nor that there are not some in the party who are at fault. But, I have been a member for some thirty years and have never yet met a genuine antisemite in the party.

    Corbyn and others have genuine reasons for not adopting wholesale every one of the IHRA examples. The current Israeli government should not be placed, by some, above criticism, nor does it deserve to be. Members like Ian Austin, it is clear, will use whatever they can to harm the current leadership, whether or not it is grounded- we simply have to look back over his record. I, on the other hand, am almost unknown to you.

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    1. Since when have Israeli governments, of all political hues over the past 70 years, been placed above criticism ? Not in Israel itself, nor in much of the world. All those UN resolutions automatically approved, all those articles in the Guardian, the Scotsman, the Irish times, the Independent and the fringe publications on the hard left have apparently passed you by. No, the problem is not with governments but with the concept of Jews deciding what may be best for them without seeking permission from those who consider them inferior. Nice to British Jews adopting the same principle, to the evident chagrin of Mr Corbyn and company.

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  4. Yes, as you (unconsciously) concede, many fringe publications have recognised an alternative view. Perhaps you have not kept fully abreast of the Guardian’s relapse into far too many opinion pieces, coincidentally by those same ‘journalists’ who were so anti-Corbyn from moment he was popularly elected to the leadership?

    Yes, there has often and rightly been much ongoing criticism of Israel’s foreign policies, but curiously much of this has been at least partially obscured of late. And this at a time when the situation again demands much scrutiny.

    I note that you have followed with the use of many of the Conservative press’s catchphrases. ‘Hard left?’ You have shown your hand. At least both you and I agree that there should be no place for (genuine) antisemitism, although we appear to disagree as to whether this ‘stance’ should be weaponised for disingenuous purposes.

    Unfortunately, the problem of antisemitism is far more prevalent in the wider UK, but this is not currently being so widely examined. I have never been a member of the Conservative Party, but still I have heard not infrequent antisemitism from this quarter, sometimes in a manner suggestive of a far more offensive strain of ‘thought.’

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      1. I would quite like to disect the presented argument but, I would be reluctant to dismiss the contention in its entirety. It’s not straight forward, and it’s not easy to fully support without at least some further clarification.

        Therein lies the problem, as I see it, that in adopting all of the examples a fuller debate becomes quite problematic.

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  5. It is theoretically awkward and linguistically difficult, principally because ‘Jew’ and ‘Muslim’ are now signs, simply ‘words’ and social realities, that intrinsically imply real ethnic, cultural and human identities rather than merely a set of religious doctrines and beliefs. This creates problems for those that want to assert political positions in these areas, but lack the linguistic subtleties and points of necessary hesitation.
    There used to be an entity called ‘Christendom’. It no longer has adherents, subjects or historical validly, well only for the odd deluded right-wing cretin and Holy Grail and Knights Templar hunter, nut-case. If a critical person points out certain religious, ideolgical and conceptual idiocies to me about ‘Christianity’, I can rebuff these by simply saying, ‘…these do not apply to me and I do not have to justify them, as I am not a Christian and in fact, I laugh at them myself’. Can a Jew or Muslim adopt the same position when confronted with similar criticism? It is awkward. Can a Jew or a Muslin simply say: ‘..well, the idiocy or cruelty of this, is nothing do with me as I am not Jewish, or not a Muslim’? They cannot, and they should not be expected to. Can one demand or expect a disavowal of cultural and religous and in fact, familial personhood on the basis of direct political questions? The answers to such ‘political’ criticism, if there are to be any at all, must take a different form. This problem is accentuated in the most acute form, when it comes to Israel and Israeli state policy. Simple-minded blunderers in Momentum and those around Corbyn who think they already have all the answers because they once read a one page pamphlet on Trotsky, will not be even think of such distinctions. The necessary political subtleties will be swept away with a few grand moral phrases about ‘the working class’, ‘Palestinian misery’ and ‘food banks’. The reality of which is not disputed by any one with any sense at all. The contemporary alt-right and Likud apologists, are happy to deviously exploit the problem and bundle and label all who even raise the question, as ‘anti-Semites’, ‘Hamas supporters’ or ‘crypto Nazis’. Meanwhile, the honest Jew or Muslim person of the left, faced with such questions, is left politically adrift.

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  6. Interesting distinction and food for thought, although I do think that I have met Jewish and Muslim individuals who could similarly detach themselves from culpability. So where would you suggest ‘we’ go from here, given that there is much polarisation, more so polarisation that is being exploited by certain individuals.

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  7. I accept and in fact have heard many Jews and Muslims detach themselves from culpability in atrocity and repression and many risk their lives to stand against these things Faerie Son. However, my main point, is that I have never encountered a Jew or a Muslim who did so by stating that they were ‘not a Jew’ or ‘not a Muslim’. This should not be expected and in fact, seems to me to be impossible, especially now. I once attended a talk by Tariq Ali, whom I do not much admire I must say, who began by stating that he was a ‘…secular and non-believing Muslim’. I found this apparently bland opening phrase of his, utterly complex and demanding in terms of the way it underpinned and interacted with his subsequent political positions. Is one to take that phrase as simply implying he is an atheist Muslim? That only pushes the question back a bit. What does that, then mean? I think it implies a whole series of things, about sex, gender, food, political outlook, social stance and so on. He could simply have said, ‘I am an non-believer’. He didn’t. It was clearly important to him that he made it clear he was attached to a cultural and inevitably, religious lineage and series of traditions. He could not simply, disavow all these, they are constituent of his identity in a way that is not simply illogical and idiotic in the way say, it would be for a person to say that they were ‘an atheist Christian’.

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  8. I cannot disagree. Your elaboration is both crystal clear, and it is thoroughly disheartening. Any constructive conversation would then have to begin from a position of both sides recognising this stance. If this cannot be done then are we not going to be highly dependent upon non-Jewish and non-Muslim characters, and this will never get off the ground.

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    1. Dear Faerie Son, Thank you so much for replying to my post linking to the SWP web site. I particularly liked the phraseology which exuded sweet reasonableness. Despite the flowery language, I do get the message. You really do believe that farrago of lies, distortions and fake history served up at the SWP but you might be a teeny bit too embarrassed to say so out loud. Stay with the obfuscations; they will serve you well amongst your fellow bigots.

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      1. Your tone becomes increasingly unpleasant and confrontational and you might try considering this before you assume the moral high ground. But I suspect you are rather beyond taking on board this point.

        I find that I have learned something in discussing this article, although far more so from De Certeau’s comments than from yourself. I am trying to more fully understand the reality of this situation and to see a way forward for the Labour movement. Whereas you are increasingly revealing much intransigence, likely that you see this issue far more as a means to undermining the current Labour leadership than as a vehicle for widening your own grasp of the situation. You might start by reading and giving some thought to De Certeau’s comments, but I doubt you will.

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  9. If the British Labour Party can be reminded they were formed to represent the British people and not people from other countries then they may get elected.

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  10. Well done Boris for pointing out that women are dressing like letter boxes and bank robbers. The burka should be banned and the men who enforce the burka deported.

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  11. I come from a mining community. Men like Jimmy Glesga who went around promoting hurting women generally got a kicking…sooner or later.

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  12. Is there really no one on the UK Left who thinks that the two-state settlement is no longer feasible and advocates a binational state of all historic Palestine? Because that’s becoming the most popular position on the US Left, particularly within Democratic Socialists of America. Some Israeli Jews, even some formerly associated with Gush Shalom, have come to the same conclusion:

    https://972mag.com/why-its-time-to-discuss-the-one-state-solution/56007/

    https://ipan.org.au/palestine-israel-the-one-democratic-state-campaign-may-3-2018/

    https://www.palestine.cz/en/newsd-gideon-levy-opinion-why-i-wont-fly-the-israeli-flag-on-independence-day

    If the Hebrew nation has national rights then clearly no antisemitism is involved. And it does seem to me that the refrain of “the Jews won’t accept it” implies that Israeli Jews are entirely racist and will be so for the forseeable future. What does that say for the fate of Palestinians inside Israel?

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  13. Wikipedia has an interesting (and to the best of my knowledge, accurate) entry re the main proponent of a binational solution, Judah Leon Magnes. It also gives us a strong indication as to why the idea never got anywhere and is still not a viable way forward. Two states may have its difficulties, but these are as nothing compared with the impracticability of a binational solution:

    Wikipedia:

    Magnes’s responded to the 1929 Arab revolt in Palestine with a call for a binational solution to Palestine.[26] Magnes dedicated the rest of his life to reconciliation with the local Arabs; he particularly objected to the concept of a specifically Jewish state. In his view, Palestine should be neither Jewish nor Arab. Rather, he advocated a binational state in which equal rights would be shared by all, a view shared by the group Brit Shalom, an organization with which Magnes is often associated, but never joined.[27] In a speech given at the reopening of the university following the 1929 riots Magnes was heckled by members of the audience for speaking of the need for Jews and Arabs to find ways to live and work together. He was also attacked in the Jewish press.[28]

    In late 1937, Magnes welcomed the Hyamson-Newcombe proposal for the creation of an independent Palestinian state with all citizens having equal rights and each community having autonomy, writing that it offered the ‘portals to an agreement’ between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. This proposal was a document put together by leading a British Arabist, Colonel Stewart Newcombe, and prominent British Jewish binationalist, Albert M Hyamson. Magnes then tried to use the document to work with moderate Arabs towards an alternative to partition that was not tainted by official British endorsement, however this did not work out. Magnes’s enthusiasm for the Newcombe-Hyamson proposal can be explained by his commitment to Arab-Jewish cooperation, a binational state and his acknowledgement of the importance of demographic balance for Arab negotiators.[29]

    When the Peel Commission made its 1937 recommendations about partition and population transfer for Palestine, Magnes sounded the alarm:

    With the permission of the Arabs we will be able to receive hundreds of thousands of persecuted Jews in Arab lands […] Without the permission of the Arabs even the four hundred thousand [Jews] that now are in Palestine will remain in danger, in spite of the temporary protection of British bayonets. With partition a new Balkan is made [..] New York Times, July 18, 1937.

    With increasing persecution of European Jews, the outbreak of World War II and continuing violence in Mandate Palestine, Magnes realized that his vision of a voluntary negotiated treaty between Arabs and Jews had become politically impossible. In an article in January 1942 in Foreign Affairs he suggested a joint British-American initiative to prevent the division of Mandate Palestine. The Biltmore Conference in May that year caused Magnes and others to break from the Zionist mainstream’s revised demand for a “Jewish Commonwealth”.[30][31] As a result, he and Henrietta Szold founded the small, binationalist political party, Ihud (Unity).[32]

    By mid-1948, when the conflict between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine was in full swing, Magnes was pessimistic, and feared an Arab victory due to the Arabs’ overwhelming numerical superiority. Magnes expressed the hope that if a Jewish state were declared, the United States would impose economic sanctions, saying that there could be no war without money or ammunition. During a conversation with George Marshall on May 4, 1948, he asked the US to impose sanctions on both sides. Calling the Yishuv an “artificial community”, he predicted that sanctions would halt “the Jewish war machine”. He supported a March 1948 US trusteeship proposal, in which the UN would freeze the partition decision and force both sides into a trusteeship with a temporary government ruling Palestine, until conditions suited another arrangement, in the hope that there would be understanding and peace talks would be possible. He predicted that even if a Jewish state was established and defeated the Arabs, it would experience a never-ending series of wars with the Arabs.[34][35]

    Magnes returned to the United States in April 1948 to participate in an anti-partition campaign. At the time he left, his position at Hebrew University was in jeopardy, as more staff moved against him due to his views. According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, the Hadassah medical convoy massacre of April 13, 1948, was “in effect the final nail in the coffin of Magnes’ binationalism. It was not that he publicly recanted. But he understood that it was a lost cause – and that his own standing in the Yishuv had been irreparably damaged.” At the funerals of the victims, eighteen staff members from Hebrew University signed a petition protesting Magnes’ view. The campaign was led by Professor Shimon Fritz Bodenheimer, who called Magnes a “traitor”.[36][37]

    Following the Israeli Declaration of Independence, Magnes ceased advocating binationalism, and accepted the existence of the state of Israel, telling one of his sons “do you think that in my heart I am not glad too that there is a state? I just did not think it was to be.” On May 15, 1948, following the declaration of independence, he called Israeli President Chaim Weizmann to express congratulations.[38] During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Magnes lobbied for an armistice, and proposed a plan for a federation between Israel and a Palestinian state which he called the “United States of Palestine”, under which the two states would be independent, but operate joint foreign and defense policies, with Jerusalem as the shared capital. He spoke with American, Israeli, and Arab officials, who expressed some interest in his plans. During the summer of 1948, he also began to increasingly lobby for a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.[39]

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    1. 1948 was a long time ago, Jim. What if now a *two-state settlement* is in fact no longer possible?

      I really think that all of us who live outside of historical Palestine (Israel plus Gaza plus West Bank) ought have more agnosticism about two states or one binational state. We should make clear that we believe that both Palestinians and Jews born in Israel (the “Hebrew nation”) have the right to national self-determination and leave it at that.

      It isn’t clear to me at all anymore what’s feasible and what isn’t (and until the U.S. stops giving military/economic/diplomatic support to Israel, it’s likely that there’s no way forward to getting the Israeli boot off of the Palestinian neck).

      It seems to me that far too much of the English-speaking left is too dogmatic on this question. That would include the AWL as much as everyone else (though at least the AWL says that it’s not only Palestinians who should have national rights).

      By the way, Jim, I’ve found that a number of socialists who oppose “two states for two peoples” honestly believe that the slogan means “Israel for Jews only, all Palestinians currently in Israel must move to the smaller Palestinian state,” and that’s why they’re one-statists. They really believe “two states” is inherently racist. I’d suggest dropping the slogan in order to avoid the confusion. (A bit like how genuine Marxists adopted “revolutionary socialist” once “communist” became essentially synonymous with “Stalinist.)

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