Category Archives: anti-Semitism

Guardian-Friendly Omissions

In his latest book, This Land: The Story of a Movement ((Penguin, ebook version, 2020.)), the Guardian’s Owen Jones charts the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn.

Jones depicts Corbyn as a ‘scruffy,’ (p. 8), ‘unkempt’ (p. 50), thoroughly shambolic backbench MP, ‘the most unlikely’ (p. 50) of contenders for the Labour leadership. In May 2015, Corbyn reluctantly dipped his toe in the water of the leadership contest, saying: ‘You better make fucking sure I don’t get elected’ (p. 54), only to be swept away on a tide of popular support.

As this suggests, Jones argues that while Corbyn was indeed relentlessly savaged by forces both inside and outside the Labour Party – including the ‘mainstream’ media, with ‘profound hostility’ from ‘the publicly funded, professedly impartial’ BBC (p. 68) – he was out of his depth, his team making constant, massive mistakes from which all progressives must learn. It is not at all inevitable, Jones says, that future leftist movements need suffer the same fate.

Much of this analysis is interesting and useful; Jones interviewed 170 insiders closest to the action, ‘people at the top of the Labour Party right down to grassroots activists’, who supply important insights on key events.

Jones portrays himself as someone who fundamentally agrees with much that motivated Corbyn, emphasising that his disagreement lies in tactics and strategy. But, once again, we note a remarkable pattern of omissions in the work of Jones, an ostensibly outspoken, unconstrained leftist, and by his serious misreading of the antisemitism furore that engulfed Corbyn.

Jones recognises that people loved Corbyn because, unusually for a UK politician, he was made of flesh rather than PR plastic; he told the truth:

‘While other contenders refused to give direct answers to questions, and were caught squirming between their principles and their political compromises, he spoke with immediacy – sometimes rambling, always authentic, always passionate.’ (p. 57)

Ironically, Jones does plenty of his own ‘squirming’ between ‘principles’ and ‘political compromises’ as he airbrushes out of existence facts, views and voices that are consistently and conspicuously Guardian-unfriendly. He writes:

‘Corbynism… was woven together from many disparate strands: from people who marched against the Iraq war in 2003’ to people hit by the ‘trebling of college tuition fees in 2010’ and ‘the millions more frightened by a looming climate emergency’. (p. 10)

Above all, of course, ‘Corbyn’s entire career had been devoted to foreign affairs’. (p. 29) Andrew Murray of the union, Unite commented: ‘Corbyn was very prominent in the anti-war movement.’ (p. 33)

Thus, deep popular outrage at the Iraq war is key in understanding Corbyn’s popularity. And yet, in discussing this central feature of the movement, Jones makes no mention at all of Julian Assange (or WikiLeaks), of Noam Chomsky, or John Pilger – the most important anti-war voices – exactly as he made no mention of them in his previous book, The Establishment, published in 2014.

Jones has not mentioned Assange in his Guardian column in the last twelve months. Indeed, his sole substantive mention came in April 2019.

Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015, but Jones mentions NATO’s catastrophic, 2011 war on Libya, opposed by Corbyn, once in passing, noting merely that Labour MP Chris Williamson had ‘supported the war in Libya’. (p. 251)

Jones’ previous book, The Establishment, published three years after NATO’s assault, similarly granted ‘Libya’ a single mention, noting that UK voters were ‘Weary of being dragged by their rulers into disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya…’.1. (See our discussion.)

The fact that the US-UK assault resulted in mass death, ethnic cleansing, mass displacement for millions of Libyans and the destruction of the entire country was not mentioned in either book.

Elsewhere, Jones has been more forthright. In February 2011, with NATO ‘intervention’ clearly looming, he tweeted:

‘I hope it’s game over for Gaddafi. A savage dictator once tragically embraced by me on left + lately western governments and oil companies.’2

On 20 March 2011, one day after NATO bombing had begun, like someone writing for the ‘Soaraway Sun’, Jones commented:

‘Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive.’3

Similarly, in 2012, Jones reacted to news of the killings of Syrian ministers in a bomb explosion with:

‘Adios, Assad (I hope).’4

After all, Jones tweeted, ‘this is a popular uprising, not arriving on the back of western cruise missiles, tanks and bullets’.4

As was very obvious then and indisputable now, Jones was badly mistaken.  The West, directly and via regional allies, played a massive role in the violence. The New York Times reported that the US had become embroiled in a dirty war in Syria that constituted ‘one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A’, running to ‘more than $1 billion over the life of the program’.5

As though tweeting from the NATO playbook, the same Guardian columnist now analysing the peace movement supporting Corbyn, wrote:

‘I’m promoting the overthrow of illegitimate and brutal dictatorships by their own people to establish democracies.’4

In This Land, Jones mentions Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war in famine-stricken Yemen exactly once, again in passing:

‘…Labour MPs refused to back Corbyn’s call for a UN investigation into alleged Saudi war crimes in Yemen’. (p. 81)

There is no mention of the UK’s support for these crimes since 2011, no discussion of the horrors the UK has inflicted (See our discussion). The word ‘Yemen’ was unmentioned in Jones’ previous book in 2014. To his credit, he has written several Guardian pieces on the war in Yemen, the most recent in 2018.

Gaza was mentioned once, in passing, in Jones’ previous book and three times, in passing, in This Land. Our media database search found that, since he joined the Guardian in March 2014, Jones has made three substantive mentions of Gaza, in 2014 (a philosophical piece focusing on ‘How the occupation of Gaza corrupts the occupier’, with few facts about the situation in Gaza) a brief piece here, and one in 2018 (with a single paragraph on Gaza).

This Land simply ignores the Western propaganda wars on Iran and Venezuela.

Remarkably, while recognising the role of climate fears in the rise of Corbyn and discussing the UK’s ‘Climate Camp’ in the late 2000s, Jones makes no mention of Extinction Rebellion or of Greta Thunberg, both strongly supported by Corbyn, further fuelling popular support for his cause.

There is no mention of the Guardian’s lead role in destroying Corbyn; although, ironically, Jones does celebrate the fact that, ‘I wrote the first pro-Corbyn column to appear in the mainstream media: a Guardian piece’. (p. 53)

The silence is unsurprising. In 2017, Jones tweeted:

‘I’m barred from criticising colleagues in my column.’6

He wasn’t joking:

‘Guardian colleagues aren’t supposed to have these public spats…’

Of his own opposition to Corbyn, in the Guardian and elsewhere, Jones writes:

‘Although I voted for him again in 2016, I had a period of disillusionment before the [June 2017] general election – something which still riles his most ardent supporters.’ (p. 14)

In fact, the ‘period of disillusionment’ was extensive and began long before the 2017 election. In July 2016, fully one year earlier, Jones wrote:

‘As Jeremy Corbyn is surrounded by cheering crowds, Labour generally, and the left specifically, are teetering on the edge of looming calamity.’

He added:

‘As things stand, all the evidence suggests that Labour — and the left as a whole — is on the cusp of a total disaster. Many of you won’t thank me now. But what will you say when you see the exit poll at the next general election and Labour is set to be wiped out as a political force?’

Similar comments followed in February, March and April 2017. For example:

‘My passionate and sincere view is Jeremy Corbyn should stand down as soon as possible in exchange for another left-wing MP being allowed to stand on for leadership in his place: all to stop both Labour and the left imploding, which is what is currently on the cards.’7

Blaming The Victim – The Great, Fake Antisemitism Scandal

Time and again, Jones criticises the Corbyn leadership for failing to deal adequately with antisemitism claims: ‘there was no coherent strategy within the leader’s office on how to tackle claims of antisemitism’. (p. 227)

While Jones accepts that there were ‘bad-faith actors opposed to Corbyn’s policies’, his emphasis is focused elsewhere: ‘ultimately there were severe and repeated errors by the leadership, which resulted from those two characteristic failings: a lack of both strategy and emotional intelligence’. (p. 254)

Remarkably, Jones concludes that the crisis ‘need never have happened’. (p. 254)

This is nonsense. The crisis had to happen because sufficiently powerful forces within the Labour Party and Conservative Party, and across the corporate media ‘spectrum’, were determined to make it happen.

Compare Jones’ account with that of Norman Finkelstein, whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps. Finkelstein’s father was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. In an interview with RT in May, Finkelstein commented:

‘Corbyn, he did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign. Now that’s unprecedented – the entire British elite, during this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.’

He added:

‘Yeah, there’s some fringe members of Labour who, you know, play the anti-semitic [interrupted by interviewer]… I read the polls, I read the data – it hovers between six and eight per cent are hardened anti-semites in British society. It’s nothing! Yeah, so there are a few crazies, but there’s no “institutionalised” anti-semitism in the British Labour Party. There’s no threat of anti-semitism in British society. I’ve read all the data, I’ve studied it closely. It just doesn’t exist. It’s all being designed and manipulated… I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, as you know, but this is a conspiracy.’

Jones accepts that ‘the former leadership and the vast majority of Labour’s membership abhor antisemitism’, arguing that the problem lay with a ‘small minority’. (p. 254) But Jones does not cite an October 2016 report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found:

‘Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.’

And he does not cite a September 2017 report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, which found:

‘Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population… The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.’

Instead, Jones pours scorn on leftists who ‘still were in denial, claiming that the antisemitism crisis had been entirely manufactured by a media “out to get” Corbyn…’ (p. 254)

Rational commentators have always accepted that antisemitism exists within the Labour Party. The point is that making that ugly reality a ‘crisis’ specifically for Labour, rather than for other parties and other sectors of society, and above all making it a ‘crisis’ for Corbyn – reviled as a dangerous antisemite – was entirely manufactured.

Jones cites ‘the passionately anti-Corbyn editor of the Jewish Chronicle’, Stephen Pollard, who grotesquely claimed to perceive ‘nudge, nudge’ (p. 253) antisemitism in one of Corbyn’s self-evidently anti-capitalist critiques. Such outlandish claims, Jones notes, only encouraged leftists to believe the whole furore was a smear campaign:

‘It was a vicious circle, and it turned to nobody’s benefit – least of all Corbyn’s, while causing more hurt and distress to Jewish people.’ (p. 253, our emphasis)

But this is absurd. Quite obviously, the smear campaign was to the very real benefit of the political and media forces trying to crush Corbyn’s version of socialism.

The claims targeting Corbyn were fake and they depended on ignoring as non-existent a mountain of evidence indicating that Corbyn is a passionate, committed and very active anti-racist. What is so outrageous is that this was accepted by essentially everyone before Corbyn stood for the leadership in 2015. As Jones comments:

‘Anti-racism is core to Corbyn’s sense of identity. He believes, proudly, that he has fought oppression all his life, so being labelled a racist was a cause of profound personal trauma to him.’ (p. 228)

Corbyn’s chief of staff, Karie Murphy, commented on the impact of the smear campaign:

‘This was a man who was beyond broken-hearted, that, as a proud antiracist campaigner, he was being accused of racism. So he was paralysed… It wasn’t true – no one will convince me that he has an antisemitic bone in his body…’ (p. 242)

Genuine racists are not left ‘beyond broken-hearted’ by claims that they are racist. They are not ‘paralysed’ by a sense of injustice and grief.

Jones comments on Corbyn: ‘no one close to him believes for a moment that he would ever willingly associate with a Holocaust denier’. (p. 222) And Corbyn ‘could point to an extensive record opposing antisemitism and showing pro-Jewish solidarity’ (p. 221). Jones lists some of Corbyn’s efforts in this regard: helping to organise a counter-mobilisation to a demonstration by National Front fascists in the so-called Battle of Wood Green in 1977; taking part in a campaign to save a Jewish cemetery from being sold off to property developers in 1987, calling on the British government to settle Yemeni Jewish refugees in 2010.

Before the sheer intensity of propaganda caused most commentators to find truth in lies, Corbyn’s deep-rooted opposition to racism was simply unquestioned. Chris Mullin, who did not vote for Corbyn to either become or remain leader, commented:

‘I’ve always liked him as long as I’ve known him. He’s a thoroughly decent human being, almost a saintly man.’ (p. 30)

As Jones writes of Corbyn at the time he stood for the leadership in 2015:

‘Corbyn had no personal enemies. Everyone liked him. Relentlessly cheerful, endlessly generous with his opponents, he exuded integrity.’ (pp. 50-51)

Despite this, Jones says of the antisemitism crisis:

‘The damage to Corbyn’s Labour was grievous. The crisis led to months of media coverage.’ (p. 254)

In fact, the media coverage was the crisis! It was this real crisis that was the cause of the ‘crisis’. The antisemitism ‘crisis’ was just one more fabrication by an awesomely corrupt and immoral media system willing to throw, not just the kitchen sink, but – God help us! – Nazi gas chambers at Corbyn.

The key to understanding the anti-semitism ‘scandal’ was explained by Jones himself:

‘Anybody who knows anything about the British press knows that it is almost unique in the Western world for its level of commitment to aggressively defending and furthering right-wing partisan politics… the media onslaught that greeted his [Corbyn’s] leadership win in 2015 was as predictable as it was unrelentingly hostile.’ (p. 67)

Jones lists only a few of the endlessly fabricated stories used to smear Corbyn: he supposedly planned to ‘abolish’ the army, refused to bow his head on Remembrance Day, danced happily on Remembrance Day, didn’t sing the national anthem loudly enough, and so on. The London School of Economics reported in 2016:

‘the British press systematically delegitimised Jeremy Corbyn as a political leader’ through a ‘process of vilification that went beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy’. (p. 68)

Corbyn’s great anti-semitism ‘scandal’ was a non-story, a fabricated non-event, a Soviet-style propaganda smear. Sufficient numbers of people wanted it to be true because they wanted to be rid of Corbyn. Everyone else bowed their heads to avoid being subject to the same career-destroying smears.

Jones often mentions Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite Union, in This Land. McCluskey commented in the New Statesman last week on Corbyn’s press chief Seumas Milne and chief of staff Karie Murphy:

‘Having given a brilliant and detailed polemic of the history of anti-Semitism, he [Jones] veers away to lay blame at the [door of] Milne and Murphy, based on a distorted view of what it was like trying to deal with the constant daily attacks.

‘When you are in a war – and be under no illusion, from day one of his leadership, Corbyn was subjected to an internal and external war – you develop methods of defence and attack that change by necessity almost on a daily, if not hourly basis.  Being in your living room, observing with a typewriter, is a damn sight easier than being in the ditches on the front line, trying to dodge bullets flying at you from all angles, especially from your own side.’

Establishment forces were out to destroy Corbyn with antisemitism, or whatever else they could think of, no matter what he did, how he replied. And it worked. The incompetence of Corbyn’s team may have made things worse, but the truth that matters is that a form of ruthless fascism arose out of British society to crush an attempt to create a more democratic politics.

Needless to say, Jones has not one word to say about the lead role of his employer, the Guardian, in the antisemitism smear campaign.

Conclusion

Why do we focus so intensely on popular progressives like Owen Jones, George Monbiot and loveable, NATO-loving loon Paul Mason?

The reason is that they breathe life into the faded dream that progressive change can be achieved by working within and for profit-maximising corporations that are precisely the cause of so many of our crises. Even the best journalists cannot tell the truth within these undemocratic systems of top-down power. As Jones freely admits, they have to compromise, to self-censor. Guardian colleagues may not be criticised! Ultimately, they have to compromise in ways that allow the state-corporate status quo to thunder on.

Our most celebrated public radicals – almost all of them made famous by corporate media – function as dissident vaccines that inoculate the public against a pandemic of authentic dissent.

Corporate media are careful to incorporate a tiny bit of progressive poison, so that we all hang around for a whole lot of propaganda-drenched news and commentary, and a perma-tsunami of unanswered corporate advertising persuading us that status consumption, status production and paper-thin concern for the problems of our world are all there is.

Ultimately, corporate dissidents are the final nail in the corporate coffin, normalising the blind, patently doomed rush to disaster called ‘business as usual.’

  1. Owen Jones, The Establishment:  And how they get away with it, Penguin, 2014, p. 275.
  2. Jones, Twitter, 20 February 2011.
  3. Jones, ‘The case against bombing Libya’, Left Futures, March 2011.
  4. Jones, Twitter, 18 July 2012.
  5. Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, ‘Behind the sudden death of a $1 billion secret C.I.A. war in Syria’, New York Times, 2 August 2017.
  6. Jones, Twitter, 19 November 2017.
  7. Jones: ‘“I don’t enjoy protesting – I do it because the stakes are so high”’, Evening Standard, 3 February 2017.

The post Guardian-Friendly Omissions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

UK Labour Party teeters on Brink of Civil War Over Antisemitism

Jeremy Corbyn, the former left-wing leader of Britain’s Labour party, is once again making headlines over an “antisemitism problem” he supposedly oversaw during his five years at the head of the party.

This time, however, the assault on his reputation is being led not by the usual suspects – pro-Israel lobbyists and a billionaire-owned media – but by Keir Starmer, the man who succeeded him.

Since becoming Labour leader in April, Starmer has helped to bolster the evidence-free narrative of a party plagued by antisemitism under Corbyn. That has included Starmer’s refusal to exploit two major opportunities to challenge that narrative.

Had those chances been grasped, Labour might have been able to demonstrate that Corbyn was the victim of an underhanded campaign to prevent him from reaching power.

Starmer, had he chosen to, could have shown that Corbyn’s long history as an anti-racism campaigner was twisted to discredit him. His decades of vocal support for Palestinian rights were publicly recast as a supposed irrational hatred of Israel based on an antipathy to Jews.

But instead Starmer chose to sacrifice his predecessor rather than risk being tarred with the same brush.

As a result, Labour now appears to be on the brink of open war. Competing rumors suggest Corbyn may be preparing to battle former staff through the courts, while Starmer may exile his predecessor from the party.

Rocketing membership

Corbyn’s troubles were inevitable the moment the mass membership elected him Labour leader in 2015 in defiance of the party bureaucracy and most Labour MPs. Corbyn was determined to revive the party as a vehicle for democratic socialism and end Britain’s role meddling overseas as a junior partner to the global hegemon of the United States.

That required breaking with Labour’s capture decades earlier, under Tony Blair, as a party of neoliberal orthodoxy at home and neoconservative orthodoxy abroad.

Until Corbyn arrived on the scene, Labour had become effectively a second party of capital alongside Britain’s ruling Conservative party, replicating the situation in the US with the Democratic and Republican parties.

His attempts to push the party back towards democratic socialism attracted hundreds of thousands of new members, quickly making Labour the largest party in Europe. But it also ensured a wide-ranging alliance of establishment interests was arrayed against him, including the British military, the corporate media, and the pro-Israel lobby.

Politicized investigation

Unlike Corbyn, Starmer has not previously shown any inclination to take on the might of the establishment. In fact, he had previously proven himself its willing servant.

As head of Britain’s prosecution service in 2013, for example, his department issued thinly veiled threats to Sweden to continue its legal pursuit of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who had sought political asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, even as Swedish interest in the case waned.

With his background in realpolitik, Starmer appears to have grasped quickly the danger of being seen to share any common ground with Corbyn – not only should he pursue significant elements of his predecessor’s program, but by challenging the carefully crafted establishment narrative around Corbyn.

For this reason, he has refused to seize either of the two chances presented to him to demonstrate that Labour had no more of an antisemitism problem than the relatively marginal one that exists more generally in British society.

That failure is likely to prove all the more significant given that in a matter of weeks Labour is expected to face the findings of an investigation by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The highly politicized watchdog body, which took on the probe into Labour while refusing to investigate plentiful evidence of an Islamophobia problem in the Conservative party, is expected to shore up the Corbyn-antisemitism narrative.

Labour has said it will readily accept the Commission’s findings, whatever they are. The watchdog body is likely to echo the prevailing narrative that Corbyn attracted left-wingers to the party who were ideologically tainted with antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. As a result, or so the argument goes, Jew hatred flourished on his watch.

Starmer has already declared “zero tolerance” of antisemitism, but he has appeared willing – in line with pro-Israel lobbyists in his party – to conflate Jew hatred with trenchant criticism of Israel.

The barely veiled intention is to drive Corbynite members out of Labour – either actively through suspensions or passively as their growing disillusionment leads to a mass exodus.

By distancing himself from his predecessor, Starmer knows no dirt will stick to him even as the Equality Commission drags Corbyn’s name through the mud.

Sabotaged from within

Starmer rejected the first chance to salvage the reputations of Corbyn and the wider Labour membership days after he became leader.

In mid-April, an 850-page internal party report was leaked, stuffed with the text of lengthy email exchanges and WhatsApp chats by senior party staff. They showed that, as had long been suspected, Corbyn’s own officials worked hard to sabotage his leadership from within.

Staff at headquarters still loyal to the Blair vision of the party even went so far as to actively throw the 2017 general election, when Labour was a hair’s-breadth away from ousting the Conservatives from government. These officials hoped a crushing defeat would lead to Corbyn’s removal from office.

The report described a “hyper-factional atmosphere”, with officials, including then-deputy leader Tom Watson, regularly referring to Corbyn and his supporters as “Trots” – a reference to Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of a violent Communist revolution in Russia more than a century ago.

Corbynites were thrown out of the party on the flimsiest pretexts, such as describing those like Blair who led the 2003 attack on Iraq as “warmongers”.

But one early, favored tactic by staff in the disciplinary unit was to publicize antisemitism cases and then drag out their resolution to create the impression that the party under Corbyn was not taking the issue seriously.

These officials also loosened the definition of antisemitism to pursue cases against Corbyn’s supporters who, like him, were vocal in defending Palestinian rights or critical of Israeli policies.

This led to the preposterous situation where Labour was suspending and expelling anti-Zionist Jews who supported Corbyn on the grounds that they were supposedly antisemites, while action was delayed on dealing with a Holocaust denier.

The narrative against Corbyn being crafted by his own officials was eagerly picked up and amplified by the strong contingent of Blairites among Labour legislators in the parliament, as well as by the corporate media and by Israel lobbyists both inside and outside Labour.

Effort to bury report

The parties responsible for leaking the report in April did so because Labour, now led by Starmer, had no intention of publicizing it.

In fact, the report had been originally compiled as part of Labour’s submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, effectively giving Corbyn’s side of the story against his opponents.

But once Corbyn stepped down, the party bureaucracy under Starmer preferred to shelve it. That decision meant there would be no case for the defense, and Corbyn’s opponents’ claims would go unchallenged.

Once leaked, Starmer stuck to his position. Rather than use the report as an opportunity to expose the ugly campaign against Corbyn and thereby question the antisemitism narrative, Starmer did his level best to bury it from sight.

He vowed to investigate “the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain”. That sounded ominously like a threat to hound those who had tried to bring to light the party’s betrayal of its previous leader.

Rather than accept the evidence presented in the leaked report of internal corruption and the misuse of party funds, Starmer set up an inquiry under QC Martin Forde to investigate the earlier investigation.

The Forde inquiry looked like Starmer’s effort to kick the damaging revelations into the long grass.

The British media gave the leaked report – despite its earth-shattering revelations of Labour officials sabotaging an election campaign – little more than perfunctory coverage.

Labour ‘whistleblowers’

A second, related chance to challenge the Corbyn-antisemitism narrative reached its conclusion last week. And again, Starmer threw in Labour’s hand.

In July last year – long before the report had been leaked – the BBC’s prestige news investigation show Panorama set out to answer a question it posed in the episode’s title: “Is Labour Antisemitic?

John Ware, a reporter openly hostile to Corbyn and well-known for supporting Israel and his antipathy towards Muslims, was chosen to front the investigation.

The program presented eight former staff as “whistleblowers”, their testimonies supposedly exposing Corbyn’s indulgence of antisemitism. They included those who would soon be revealed in the leaked report as intractable ideological enemies of the Corbyn project and others who oversaw the dysfunctional complaints process that dragged its heels on resolving antisemitism cases.

The Panorama program was dismal even by the low standards of political reporting set by the BBC in the Corbyn era.

The show made much of the testimony of pro-Israel lobbyists inside the Labour party belonging to a group called the Jewish Labour Movement. They were not identified – either by name or by affiliation – despite being given the freedom to make anecdotal and unspecified claims of antisemitism against Corbyn and his supporters.

The BBC’s decision not to name these participants had nothing to do with protecting their identities, even though that was doubtless the impression conveyed to the audience.

Most were already known as Israel partisans because they had been exposed in a 2017 four-part al-Jazeera undercover documentary called The Lobby. They were filmed colluding with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to bring down Corbyn. The BBC did not identify these pro-Israel activists presumably because they had zero credibility as witnesses.

One-sided coverage

Nonetheless, a seemingly stronger case – at least, at the time – was made by the eight former Labour staff. Their testimonies to the BBC suggested they had been hampered and bullied by Corbyn’s team as they tried to stamp out antisemitism.

Panorama allowed these claims to go unchallenged, even though with a little digging it could have tapped sources inside Labour who were already compiling what would become the leaked report, presenting a very different view of these self-styled “whistleblowers”.

The BBC also failed to talk to Jewish Voice for Labour, a group of Labour party members supportive of Corbyn who challenged the way the Jewish Labour Movement had manipulated the definition of antisemitism in the party to harm Palestinian solidarity activists.

And the BBC did not call as counter-witnesses any of the anti-Zionist Jews who were among the earliest victims of the purge of supposed antisemites by Labour’s apparent “whistleblowers”.

Instead, it selectively quoted from an email by Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s chief adviser, to suggest that he had interfered in the disciplinary process to help antisemites avoid suspension.

Proper context from the BBC would have revealed that Milne had simply expressed concern at how the rule book was being interpreted when several Jews had been suspended for antisemitism – and that he had proffered his view only because a staff member now claiming to be a whistleblower had asked for it.

This section of the Panorama show looked suspiciously like entrapment of Milne by Labour staff, followed by collusion from the BBC in promoting their false narrative.

Flawed reporting

Despite these and many other serious flaws in the Panorama episode, it set the tone for subsequent discussion of the “antisemitism problem” in Labour.

The program aired a few months before a general election, last December, that Corbyn lost to Boris Johnson and the ruling Conservative party.

One of the key damaging, “gotcha” moments of the campaign was an interview with the veteran BBC interviewer Andrew Neil in which he repeatedly asked Corbyn to apologize for antisemitism in the party, as had been supposedly exposed by Panorama. Corbyn’s refusal to respond directly to the question left him looking evasive and guilty.

With the rest of the media amplifying the Panorama claims rather than testing them, it has become the accepted benchmark for judging the Corbyn era. The show has even been nominated for a Bafta award, the British equivalent to an Oscar.

Shortly after the program aired, Corbyn’s team disputed the Panorama narrative, saying it had contained “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public”. They also described the “whistleblowers” as disaffected former staff with “political axes to grind”.

Ware and seven of the former staff members who appeared in the program launched a defamation action against the Labour party.

After the internal report was leaked in April, the legal scales tipped decisively in Labour’s favor. Starmer was reportedly advised by lawyers that the party would be well-positioned to defeat the legal action and clear Corbyn and the party’s name.

But again Starmer preferred to fold. Before the case could be tested in court, Starmer issued an apology last week to the ex-staff members and Ware, and paid them a six-figure sum in damages.

Admitting that “antisemitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years”, the statement accepted the claims of the ex-staff to be “whistleblowers”, even capitalizing the word to aggrandize their status.

It said: “We acknowledge the many years of dedicated and committed service that the Whistleblowers have given to the Labour Party … We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying.”

Threat of bankruptcy

With typical understatement, Corbyn said he was “disappointed” at the settlement, calling it a “political decision, not a legal one”. He added that it “risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour party in recent years.”

Starmer’s decision also preempted – and effectively nullified – the Forde inquiry, which was due to submit its own findings on antisemitism in Labour later in the year.

Many in the party were infuriated that their membership dues had been used to pay off a group of ex-staff who, according to the leaked report, had undermined the party’s elected leader and helped to throw a general election.

But in what looked disturbingly like a move to silence Corbyn, Ware said he was consulting lawyers once again about launching a legal battle, personally against the former Labour leader, over his criticism of the settlement.

Mark Lewis, the solicitor acting for Ware and the whistleblowers, has said he is also preparing an action for damages against Labour on behalf of 32 individuals named in the leaked report. Among them is Lord Iain McNichol, who served as the party’s general secretary at the time.

Lewis reportedly intends to focus on staff privacy breaches under the Data Protection Act, disclosure of private information and alleged violations of employment law.

Conversely, Mark Howell, a Labour party member, has initiated an action against Labour and McNichol seeking damages for “breach of contract”. He demands that those named in the leaked report be expelled from the party.

He is also reported to be considering referring named staff members to the Crown Prosecution Service under the 2006 Fraud Act for their failure to uphold the interests of party members who paid staff salaries.

This spate of cases threatens to hemorrhage money from the party. There have been warnings that financial settlements, as well as members deserting the party in droves, could ultimately bankrupt Labour.

Corbyn to be expelled?

Within days of the apology, a crowdfunding campaign raised more than £280,000 for Corbyn to clear his name in any future legal actions.

Given his own self-serving strategy, Starmer would doubtless be embarrassed by such a move. There are already rumors that he is considering withdrawing the party whip from Corbyn – a form of exile from the party.

Pressure on him to do so is mounting. At the weekend it was reported that ex-staff might drop the threatened case over the embarrassing revelations contained in the leaked report should Starmer expel Corbyn.

Quoting someone it described as a “well-placed source”, the Mail on Sunday newspaper set out the new stakes. “Labour says they have zero tolerance to anti-Semitism. Zero tolerance means no Corbyn and no Corbynistas,” the source said.

There are already reports of what amounts to a purge of left-wing members from Labour.

Starmer has committed to upholding “10 Pledges” produced by the Board of Deputies – a conservative Jewish leadership organization hostile to Corbyn and the left – that places it and the pro-Israel lobbyists of the Jewish Labour Movement in charge of deciding what constitutes antisemitism in the party.

Selective concern

Starmer’s decision about who can serve in his shadow cabinet is a reminder that the storm over Corbyn was never about real antisemitism – the kind that targets Jews for being Jews. It was a pretext to be rid of the Corbyn project and democratic socialism.

Starmer quickly pushed out the last two prominent Corbynites in his shadow cabinet – both on matters related to criticism of Israel.

By contrast, he has happily indulged the kind of antisemitism that harms Jews as long as it comes from members of his shadow cabinet who are not associated with Corbyn.

Starmer picked Rachel Reeves for his team, even though earlier this year she tweeted a tribute to Nancy Astor, a supporter of Hitler and notorious antisemite. Reeves has refused to delete the tweet.

And Steve Reed is still the shadow communities secretary, even though this month he referred to a Jewish newspaper tycoon, Richard Desmond, as a “puppet master” – the very definition of an antisemitic trope.

Starmer’s “zero tolerance” appears to be highly selective – more concerned about harsh criticism of a state, Israel, than the othering of Jews. Tellingly, Starmer has been under no serious pressure from the Jewish Labour Movement, or from the media or from Jewish leadership organizations such as the Board of Deputies to take any action against either Reeves or Reed.

He has moved swiftly against leftists in his party who criticize Israel but has shrugged his shoulders at supposed “moderates” who, it could be argued, have encouraged or glorified hatred and suspicion of Jews.

But then the antisemitism furor was never about safeguarding Jews. It was about creating a cover story as the establishment protected itself from democratic socialism.

With Corbyn Gone, the Israel Lobby is targeting Palestinians Directly

An attack on a prominent British-Palestinian doctor and academic, Ghada Karmi, by a self-styled “antisemitism watchdog” looks suspiciously like a new trend in anti-Palestinian bigotry and bullying dressed up as victimhood.

Late last month, the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which claims to represent the interests of the UK’s Jewish community, said it was writing to the General Medical Council and Exeter University to accuse Karmi of making “a series of antisemitic statements”.

The supposedly racist comments were contained in an opinion piece in Middle East Eye that praised Jeremy Corbyn’s record – and his decades of support for the Palestinian cause – as he stepped down as Labour leader.

It is hard not to conclude that the CAA wishes to make an example of Karmi, in the hope that she can be stripped of her medical licence and disowned by Exeter University, where she was previously an honorary research fellow.

More widely, this kind of public pillorying – familiar from pro-Israel lobby groups in the United States – is designed to chill free speech and delegitimise Palestinians trying to give voice to their people’s oppression.

Targeting Palestinians

The smears suggest that groups such as the CAA have been buoyed by their success in using antisemitism to damage Corbyn. He faced four years of relentless claims that the party had become “institutionally antisemitic” on his watch.

Now, the CAA appears to be moving on from simply maligning those who have offered solidarity to Palestinians – protesting their decades of oppression at Israel’s hands – to target Palestinians directly.

It is a sign of the pro-Israel lobby’s growing confidence that it has chosen to smear Karmi. She is one of a shrinking number of Palestinians alive today who experienced firsthand the Nakba, or “catastrophe” – Israel’s ethnic cleansing in 1948 of many hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to create a self-declared Jewish state on the ruins of their homeland.

Forced from her home in Jerusalem by the Israeli army, Karmi and her family eventually settled in the UK.

‘Undue panic and alarm’

The CAA has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence and influence since it was established six years ago to challenge what it claimed at the time was an upsurge of antisemitism in the wake of Israel’s 2014 military assault on Gaza. More than 500 children were among some 2,200 Palestinians killed in the operation.

Back then, and despite being registered as a charity, the CAA’s founders did not hide the fact that it was an openly partisan organisation trying to prevent criticism of Israel by manipulating the meaning of antisemitism for political ends.

It actively sought to blur the distinction between genuine antisemitism – such as verbal and physical attacks on Jews – and the inevitable climate of intensified criticism of Israel provoked by the Gaza assault.

In early 2015, an all-party parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism accused the CAA of stoking “undue panic and alarm”, and warned it not to “conflate concerns about activity legitimately protesting Israel’s actions with antisemitism”.

Another more venerable Jewish think tank, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, called the CAA’s surveys on antisemitism “irresponsible” and “littered with flaws”.

Fortunes change

The CAA’s fortunes started to change a few months later, however, when Corbyn was elected Labour leader in the summer of 2015.

The media and Corbyn’s opponents within his own party – including senior party staff still deeply committed to the centrist worldview of former Labour leader Tony Blair – were desperate to find ways to undermine Corbyn, as a recently leaked internal investigation revealed.

Pro-Israel lobby groups such as the CAA, which feared Corbyn’s pro-Palestinian activism, were soon propelled to centre stage. The once well-established distinction between antisemitism and determined criticism of Israel was swept aside.

The CAA blazed a path that other, more establishment Jewish organisations, such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, were happy to follow, given their support for Israel and opposition to Corbyn.

Accusations once deemed “irresponsible” soon became routine, with Corbyn’s party roundly attacked for being “institutionally antisemitic” – despite the lack of any actual data to uphold such a claim.

Antisemitism ‘denial’

Through 2018, there were a series of rallies in London against Corbyn under the banner “Enough is Enough” and “For the Many Not the Jew” – a corruption of Labour’s “For the Many Not the Few” slogan.

Shortly afterwards, the CAA worked with the Jewish Labour Movement, a fervently pro-Israel lobby group within Labour, to get the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to investigate the party. A decision on their claim, which falsely alleges Labour has a graver antisemitism problem than other major parties, is still awaited.

Crucial to this strategy was to find a way to formally redefine antisemitism in a way that would include critics of Israel. That moment arrived with the drafting of a controversial new “working definition” of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It shifted the emphasis from hatred of Jews to focus on criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism, Israel’s political ideology.

Soon, even the main author of the IHRA’s definition, Kenneth Stern, came to express regrets that his work was being “subverted” and weaponised to silence criticism of Israel. Nonetheless, under pressure from groups such as the CAA, Labour adopted the new definition of antisemitism in September 2018.

Since then, Labour members have found themselves at risk of being suspended or expelled if they criticise Israel, object to the definition, or suggest it is being misused to silence Palestinians and their supporters. The latter have found themselves labelled as antisemitism “denialists” – an offence now equated to Holocaust denial.

No debate about Israel

There are many problems with the IHRA’s recent reformulation of antisemitism. Perhaps most obviously, a majority of its 11 examples of potentially antisemitic attitudes or behaviours relate to Israel, not Jews. In the words of the IHRA definition, for example, it may be antisemitic to present Israel as “a racist endeavour”.

According to the enforcers of this definition, decades of Israel’s blatantly racist policies towards Palestinians can be attributed solely to foolishness or shortsightedness. Make the case that there may be something more inherent in Israel’s approach – something reminiscent of the segregationist and ethnic exclusivist ideas that underpinned apartheid South Africa – and you will be cast out of respectable society as an antisemite.

The denial of a basic right to debate Israel’s character as a Jewish state and the future for Palestinians has happened at the worst possible moment. The new Israeli government has vowed to begin annexing many of the last fragments of the occupied territories, destroying any hopes of a Palestinian state.

With Corbyn gone, Labour appears to have given up the fight on the Palestinian cause. Its new leader, Keir Starmer, has declared himself a supporter of Zionism “without qualification” and signed up to a so-called list of “10 Pledges” from pro-Israel lobbyists that highly circumscribe the right to speak freely about Israel.

Reign of terror

Labour activists may have the luxury to “move on”, but for a Palestinian such as Ghada Karmi, the battle to end Israel’s oppression of her people cannot be so easily jettisoned. This is the danger the pro-Israel lobby in the UK has now identified and is turning its attention to.

The CAA has accused Karmi of antisemitism by further twisting the already sweeping and misleading provisions of the new IHRA definition.

In the US, the pro-Israel lobby has a wealth of experience in limiting the scope for criticising Israel, with a particular emphasis in recent years on academia, where support for an international boycott movement against Israel and in solidarity with Palestinians briefly flourished.

Since 2014, Palestinian and Arab professors and students in the US, as well as their supporters, have been living under a reign of terror from a shadowy website called Canary Mission.

The website’s goal is explicit: to subdue all campus activism promoting the rights of Palestinians by threatening to harm the career prospects of the thousands of people it lists. It regularly writes to universities or employers to “alert” them to supposed antisemitism from these academics and students.

So effective has the campaign been that some have been forced to write “apologies”, published on the website, to get themselves removed from the list.

Malicious complaint

Karmi’s treatment appears to be a disturbing hint that pro-Israel lobbyists hope to replicate the Canary Mission’s success in the UK. At the end of its statement on Karmi, the CAA calls on students “concerned about antisemitism on campus” to contact it for help.

However, in this case, its threatened complaint to Exeter University may prove ineffective. A spokesman said the university’s formal affiliation with Karmi ended some time ago.

The CAA’s claims against Karmi are as hollow and malicious as those typically directed by pro-Israel lobbyists against academics in the US. Perhaps not surprisingly, they focus on the most controversial of the examples included in the IHRA definition: that it is antisemitic to refer to Israel as a “racist endeavour”.

It is terrible enough that, based on the IHRA definition, a supposedly progressive political party such as Labour has proscribed all discussion of Israel’s political character and Zionist ideology. But the idea that it ought to be off-limits for academics too is not only preposterous, but downright Orwellian. It is as intellectually fraudulent as it would have been to deny academia back in the 1980s the right to debate whether apartheid South Africa was a “racist endeavour”.

It should be pointed out that even the IHRA definition – faulty as it is – never suggests that all references to Israel as a “racist endeavour” are proof of antisemitism. It notes that such comments may be antisemitic “taking into account the overall context”.

But pro-Israel lobbyists are no more interested in the nuances of debate about Israel than they are in free speech. The goal here is to protect Israel from scrutiny at all costs.

‘Terminating Zionism’

In fact, Karmi simply points out the glaring incompatibility between Israel’s declared, exclusive status as the state of the Jewish people – confirmed in its recent notorious nation-state law – and the rights of Palestinians to self-determination in their former homeland.

As she writes: “In apartheid South Africa, it was not possible to support apartheid and also black rights, and the conflict only ended with apartheid’s abolition. The same holds true for Zionism in Palestine. Terminating Zionism is the only way to a permanent peace.”

The CAA not only twists the IHRA definition’s intent, but then further weaponises it by stating that Karmi’s suggestion Israel is a “racist endeavour” – and that the ideology underpinning it should be “terminated” – is the equivalent of arguing that Israel “should be destroyed”.

The meaning of words is always imprecise, but not that imprecise. Karmi is calling for the termination of a political ideology, not the destruction of a country or its people. What would be replaced is an ideology, Zionism, that has justified the dispossession and oppression of her people, Palestinians, for many decades.

One can argue whether such an argument is right or wrong, good or bad – but it is clearly not antisemitic.

Israeli embassy’s role

There are similar flaws with the CAA’s other criticisms of Karmi. The organisation falsely makes two further claims: that, according to Karmi, the pro-Israel lobby in the UK was doing “Israel’s bidding” in undermining Corbyn; and that she attributes an “ulterior motive” to the lobby’s actions in describing its concerns about antisemitism as “smears”.

The CAA argues that she has thereby violated two other examples from the IHRA definition of antisemitism: “Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective” and “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”

Karmi does not refer to lobbyists such as the CAA as doing “Israel’s bidding”. Far more reasonably, she argues that the pro-Israel lobby’s campaign against Corbyn was “likely coordinated by the Israeli embassy”. In fact, far from being antisemitic, this statement is not even open to dispute.

Israel established a Ministry of Strategic Affairs more than a decade ago whose remit – widely discussed in the Israeli media – was to crush all support for the call made by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to launch a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel.

The ministry’s work assisting pro-Israel lobby groups abroad, including in the UK, was exposed in detail in an undercover, four-part documentary aired by Al Jazeera in early 2017.

Shai Masot, a member of the strategic affairs ministry working at the embassy in London, is shown repeatedly meeting with pro-Israel lobby groups to devise ways to undermine Corbyn. The only reason this coordination between the lobby and an Israeli government official is not widely known is because the UK establishment media, which also wanted Corbyn gone, barely bothered to report its stunning revelations of direct Israeli interference in UK politics.

To argue, as the CAA does, that Karmi’s claim of coordination between the lobby and the Israeli embassy is evidence of antisemitism makes sense only if telling the truth is antisemitic.

The lobby’s Israel prism

Finally, the CAA again twists the IHRA’s already problematic definition of antisemitism in claiming that Karmi suggests “the Jewish community has had an ulterior motive in pointing out anti-Jewish racism in Labour”.

Karmi did not ascribe any motives – ulterior or otherwise – to the “Jewish community”. She suggested that pro-Israel lobby groups sought to damage Corbyn because they perceived him to be a threat to Israel, a cause they explicitly champion. Only pro-Israel lobbyists, it seems, subscribe to the antisemitic notion that Jews are an indistinguishable, homogeneous bloc with a single view about Israel.

All lobbies weaponise political issues in ways that accord with their worldview. It is inherent in the idea of a lobby. That does not necessarily mean they always do so cynically; lobbies form because a group of people see the world chiefly through a prism they believe to be vitally – even existentially – important to themselves as individuals, or a group, or a nation, or a species. That applies equally to lobbies supportive of Israel, guns, the banking sector, the arms industry and the environment.

Karmi did not invent the idea that Israel is crucially important to pro-Israel lobbyists and has become an organising principle for the way they prioritise and express their political concerns. The lobbyists themselves did.

Defying evidence

The CAA has not changed its spots since it was established six years ago to defend Israel from critics appalled by the massacre of civilians in Gaza. Then, it was clear to everyone, even a parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism, that the group was weaponising the charge of antisemitism to prevent scrutiny of Israel.

The difference now is that the “irresponsible” methods and definitions used by the CAA have become routine for the much wider Israel lobby.

As Israel’s policies and actions on the ground against Palestinians have become ever more explicitly indefensible, the pro-Israel lobby has responded not by abandoning Israel but by digging in deeper, entrenching its support for Israel in defiance of all the real-world evidence.

That cognitive discomfort can only intensify so long as Palestinians and their supporters are able to tell of the cost and suffering caused by Israel’s continuing existence as a Jewish state.

Which is why, now that Corbyn is out of the way, Karmi and other outspoken Palestinians will find themselves directly in the firing line – transformed into antisemites simply because they call for equality and peace between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Smearing of Ken Loach and Jeremy Corbyn is the Face of our New Toxic Politics

Ken Loach, one of Britain’s most acclaimed film directors, has spent more than a half a century dramatising the plight of the poor and the vulnerable. His films have often depicted the casual indifference or active hostility of the state as it exercises unaccountable power over ordinary people.

Last month Loach found himself plunged into the heart of a pitiless drama that could have come straight from one of his own films. This veteran chronicler of society’s ills was forced to stand down as a judge in a school anti-racism competition, falsely accused of racism himself and with no means of redress.

Voice of the powerless

There should be little doubt about Loach’s credentials both as an anti-racist and a trenchant supporter of the powerless and the maligned.

In his films he has turned his unflinching gaze on some of the ugliest episodes of British state repression and brutality in Ireland, as well as historical struggles against fascism in other parts of the globe, from Spain to Nicaragua.

But his critical attention has concentrated chiefly on Britain’s shameful treatment of its own poor, its minorities and its refugees. In his recent film I, Daniel Blake he examined the callousness of state bureaucracies in implementing austerity policies, while this year’s release Sorry We Missed You focused on the precarious lives of a zero-hours workforce compelled to choose between the need to work and responsibility to family.

Inevitably, these scathing studies of British social and political dysfunction – exposed even more starkly by the current coronavirus pandemic – mean Loach is much less feted at home than he is in the rest of the world, where his films are regularly honoured with awards.

Which may explain why the extraordinary accusations against him of racism – or more specifically antisemitism – have not been more widely denounced as malicious.

Campaign of vilification

From the moment it was announced in February that Loach and Michael Rosen, a renowned, left-wing children’s poet, were to judge an anti-racism art competition for schools, the pair faced a relentless and high-profile campaign of vilification. But given the fact that Rosen is Jewish, Loach took the brunt of the attack.

The organisation behind the award, Show Racism the Red Card, which initially refused to capitulate to the bullying, quickly faced threats to its charitable status as well as its work eradicating racism from football.

In a statement, Loach’s production company, Sixteen Films, said Show Racism the Red Card had been the “subject of an aggressive campaign to persuade trade unions, government departments, football clubs and politicians to cease funding or otherwise supporting the charity and its work”.

“Pressure behind the scenes” was exerted from the government and from football clubs, which began threatening to sever ties with the charity.

More than 200 prominent figures in sport, academia and the arts came to Loach’s defence, noted Sixteen Films, but the charity’s “very existence” was soon at stake. Faced with this unremitting onslaught, Loach agreed to step down on March 18.

This had been no ordinary protest, but one organised with ruthless efficiency that quickly gained a highly sympathetic hearing in the corridors of power.

US-style Israel lobby

Leading the campaign against Loach and Rosen were the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement – two groups that many on the left are already familiar with.

They previously worked from within and without the Labour party to help undermine Jeremy Corbyn, its elected leader. Corbyn stepped down this month to be replaced by Keir Starmer, his former Brexit minister, after losing a general election in December to the ruling Conservative party.

Long-running and covert efforts by the Jewish Labour Movement to unseat Corbyn were exposed two years ago in an undercover investigation filmed by Al-Jazeera.

The JLM is a small, highly partisan pro-Israel lobby group affiliated to the Labour party, while the Board of Deputies falsely claims to represent Britain’s Jewish community, when, in fact, it serves as a lobby for the most conservative elements of it.

Echoing their latest campaign, against Loach, the two groups regularly accused Corbyn of antisemitism, and of presiding over what they termed an “institutionally antisemitic” Labour party. Despite attracting much uncritical media attention for their claims, neither organisation produced any evidence beyond the anecdotal.

The reason for these vilification campaigns has been barely concealed. Loach and Corbyn have shared a long history as passionate defenders of Palestinian rights, at a time when Israel is intensifying efforts to extinguish any hope of the Palestinians ever gaining statehood or a right to self-determination.

In recent years, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement have adopted the tactics of a US-style lobby determined to scrub criticism of Israel from the public sphere. Not coincidentally, the worse Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians has grown, the harder these groups have made it to talk about justice for Palestinians.

Starmer, Corbyn’s successor, went out of his way to placate the lobby during last month’s Labour leadership election campaign, happily conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism to avoid a similar confrontation. His victory was welcomed by both the Board and the JLM.

Character assassination

But Ken Loach’s treatment shows that the weaponisation of antisemitism is far from over, and will continue to be used against prominent critics of Israel. It is a sword hanging over future Labour leaders, forcing them to root out party members who persist in highlighting either Israel’s intensifying abuse of the Palestinians or the nefarious role of pro-Israel lobby groups like the Board and the JLM.

The basis for the accusations against Loach were flimsy at best – rooted in a circular logic that has become the norm of late when judging supposed examples of antisemitism.

Loach’s offence, according to the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement, was the fact that he has denied – in line with all the data – that Labour is institutionally antisemitic.

The demand for evidence to support claims made by these two bodies that Labour has an antisemitism crisis is now itself treated as proof of antisemitism, transforming it into the equivalent of Holocaust denial.

But when Show Racism the Red Card initially stood their ground against the smears, the Board and Jewish Labour Movement produced a follow-up allegation. The anti-racism charity appeared to use this as a pretext for extracting itself from the mounting trouble associated with supporting Loach.

The new claim against Loach consisted not so much of character assassination as of character assassination by tenuous association.

The Board and Jewish Labour Movement raised the unremarkable fact that a year ago Loach responded to an email from a member of the GMB union who had been expelled.

Peter Gregson sought Loach’s professional assessment of a video in which he accused the union of victimising him over his opposition to a new advisory definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which openly conflates antisemitism with criticism of Israel.

The IHRA definition was foisted on the Labour party two years ago by the same groups – the Jewish Labour Movement and the Board of Deputies – in large part as a way to isolate Corbyn. There was a great deal of opposition from rank and file members.

Resisting new definition

Pro-Israel lobby group liked this new definition – seven of its 11 examples of antisemitism relate to Israel, not Jews – because it made it impossible for Corbyn and his supporters to critique Israel without running the gauntlet of claims they were antisemitic for doing so.

Loach was among the many Corbyn supporters who tried to resist the imposition of the IHRA definition. So it was hardly surprising, given Gregson’s claims and the parallels of his story to many others Loach has been documenting for decades, that the film maker replied, offering his critical opinion of the video.

Only later was Loach told that there were separate concerns raised about Gregson’s behaviour, including an allegation that he had fallen out with a Jewish member of the union. Loach distanced himself from Gregson and backed the GMB’s decision.

That should have been an end to it. Loach is a public figure who sees it as part of his role to engage with ordinary people in need of help – anything less, given his political views, would make him a hypocrite. But he is not omniscient. He cannot know the backstory of every individual who crosses his path. He cannot vet every person before he sends an email.

It would be foolish, however, to take the professions of concern about Loach from the Board and the Jewish Labour Movement at face value. In fact, their opposition to him relates to a much more fundamental rift about what can and cannot be said about Israel, one in which the IHRA definition serves as the key battleground.

Toxic discourse

Their attacks highlight an increasingly, and intentionally, toxic discourse surrounding antisemitism that now dominates British public life. Through the recent publication of its so-called 10 pledges, the Board of Deputies has required all future Labour leaders to accept this same toxic discourse or face Corbyn’s fate.

It is no coincidence that Loach’s case has such strong echoes of Corbyn’s own public hounding.

Both are rare public figures who have dedicated their time and energies over many decades to standing up for the weak against the strong, defending those least able to defend themselves.

Both are survivors of a fading generation of political activists and intellectuals who continue to champion the tradition of unabashed class struggle, based on universal rights, rather than the more fashionable, but highly divisive, politics of identity and culture wars.

Loach and Corbyn are the remnants of a British post-war left whose inspirations were very different from those of the political centre and the right – and from the influences on many of today’s young.

Fight against fascism

At home, they were inspired by the anti-fascist struggles of their parents in the 1930s against Oswald Moseley’s Brown Shirts, such as at the Battle of Cable Street. And in their youth they were emboldened by the class solidarity that built a National Health Service from the late 1940s onwards, one that for the first time provided health care equally for all in the UK.

Abroad, they were galvanised by the popular, globe-spannning fight against the institutional racism of apartheid in South Africa, a struggle that gradually eroded western governments’ support for the white regime. And they were at the forefront of the last great mass political mobilisation, against the official deceptions that justified the US-UK war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.

But like most of this dying left they are haunted by their generation’s biggest failure in international solidarity. Their protests did not end the many decades of colonial oppression suffered by the Palestinian people and sponsored by the same western states that once stood by apartheid South Africa.

The parallels between these two western-backed, settler-colonial projects, much obscured by British politicians and the media, are stark and troubling for them.

Purge of class politics

Loach and Corbyn’s demonisation as antisemites – and parallel efforts across the Atlantic to silence Bernie Sanders (made more complicated by his Jewishness) – are evidence of a final public purge by the western political and media establishments of this kind of old-school class consciousness.

Activists like Loach and Corbyn want a historical reckoning for the west’s colonial meddling in other parts of the world, including the catastrophic legacy from which so-called “immigrants” are fleeing to this day.

It was the west that pillaged foreign soils for centuries, then armed the dictators supposedly bringing independence to these former colonies, and now invade or attack these same societies in bogus “humanitarian interventions”.

Similarly, the internationalist, class-based struggle of Loach and Corbyn rejects a politics of identity that, rather than recognising the west’s long history of crimes committed against women, minorities and refugees, channels the energies of the marginalised into a competition for who may be allowed to sit at the top table with a white elite.

It is precisely this kind of false consciousness that leads to the cheering on of women as they head up the military-industrial complex, or the excitement at a black man becoming US president only to use his power to set new records in extrajudicial killings abroad and the repression of political dissent at home.

Loach and Corbyn’s grassroots activism is the antithesis of a modern politics in which corporations use their huge wealth to lobby and buy politicians, who in turn use their spin-doctors to control the public discourse through a highly partisan and sympathetic corporate media.

Hollow concern

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement are very much embedded in this latter type of politics, exploiting a political identity to win a place at the top table and then use it to lobby for their chosen cause of Israel.

If this seems unfair, remember that while the Board and the Jewish Labour Movement have been hammering on about a supposed antisemitism crisis on the left defined chiefly in terms of its hostility to Israel, the right and far-right have been getting a free pass to stoke ever greater levels of white nationalism and racism against minorities.

These two organisations have not only averted their gaze from the rise of the nationalist right – which is now embedded inside the British government – but have rallied to its side.

In particular, the Board’s leaders – as well as the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who publicly reviled Corbyn as an antisemite days before last year’s general election – have barely bothered to hide their support for the Conservative government and prime minister Boris Johnson.

Their professions of concern about racism and their attacks on the charitable status of Show Racism the Red Card ring all the more hollow, given their own records of supporting racism.

Both have repeatedly backed Israel in its violations of human rights and attacks on Palestinians, including Israel’s deployment of snipers to shoot men, women and children protesting against more than a decade of suffocating Gaza with a blockade.

The two organisations have remained studiously silent on Israel’s racist policy of allowing football teams from illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank to play in its football league in violation of FIFA’s rules.

And they have supported the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund in the UK, even as it finances racist settler projects and forestation programmes that are intended to displace Palestinians from their land.

Their hypocrisy has been boundless.

Truth turned on its head

The fact that the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement have been able to exercise such clout against Loach on allegations for which there is no evidence indicates how enthusiastically the Israel lobby has been integrated into the British establishment and serves its purposes.

Israel is a key pillar of an informal western military alliance keen to project its power into the oil-rich Middle East. Israel exports its oppressive technology and surveillance systems, refined in ruling over the Palestinians, to western states hungry for more sophisticated systems of control. And Israel has helped tear up the international rulebook in entrenching its occupation, as well as blazing a trail in legitimising torture and extrajudicial executions – now mainstays of US foreign policy.

Israel’s pivotal place in this matrix of power is rarely discussed because western establishments have no interest in having their bad faith and double standards exposed.

The Board and the Jewish Labour Movement are helping to police and enforce that silence about Israel, a key western ally. In truly Orwellian style, they are turning the charge of racism on its head – using it against our most prominent and most resolute anti-racists.

And better still for western establishments, figures like Loach and Corbyn – veterans of class struggle, who have spent decades immersed in the fight to build a better society – are now being battered into oblivion on the anvil of identity politics.

Should this perversion of our democratic discourse be allowed to continue, our societies will be doomed to become even uglier, more divisive and divided places.

How the “Bernie Bros” were invented as Sexist, Racist, Antisemitic and UnAmerican as Borscht

The Democratic presidential nomination race is a fascinating case study in how power works – not least, because the Democratic party leaders are visibly contriving to impose one candidate, Joe Biden, as the party’s nominee, even as it becomes clear that he is no longer mentally equipped to run a local table tennis club let alone the world’s most powerful nation.

Biden’s campaign is a reminder that power is indivisible. Donald Trump or Joe Biden for president – it doesn’t matter to the power-establishment. An egomaniacal man-child (Trump), representing the billionaires, or an elder suffering rapid neurological degeneration (Biden), representing the billionaires, are equally useful to power. A woman will do too, or a person of colour. The establishment is no longer worried about who stands on stage – so long as that person is not a Bernie Sanders in the US, or a Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

It really isn’t about who the candidates are – hurtful as that may sound to some in our identity-saturated times. It is about what the candidate might try to do once in office. In truth, the very fact that nowadays we are allowed to focus on identity to our heart’s content should be warning enough that the establishment is only too keen for us to exhaust our energies in promoting divisions based on those identities. What concerns it far more is that we might overcome those divisions and unify against it, withdrawing our consent from an establishment committed to endless asset-stripping of our societies and the planet.

Neither Biden nor Trump will obstruct the establishment, because they are at its very heart. The Republican and Democratic leaderships are there to ensure that, before a candidate gets selected to compete in the parties’ name, he or she has proven they are power-friendly. Two candidates, each vetted for obedience to power.

Although a pretty face or a way with words are desirable, incapacity and incompetence are no barrier to qualifying, as the two white men groomed by their respective parties demonstrate. Both have proved they will favour the establishment, both will pursue near-enough the same policies, both are committed to the status quo, both have demonstrated their indifference to the future of life on Earth. What separates the candidates is not real substance, but presentation styles – the creation of the appearance of difference, of choice.

Policing the debate

The subtle dynamics of how the Democratic nomination race is being rigged are interesting. Especially revealing are the ways the Democratic leadership protects establishment power by policing the terms of debate: what can be said, and what can be thought; who gets to speak and whose voices are misrepresented or demonised. Manipulation of language is key.

As I pointed out in my previous post, the establishment’s power derives from its invisibility. Scrutiny is kryptonite to power.

The only way we can interrogate power is through language, and the only way we can communicate our conclusions to others is through words – as I am doing right now. And therefore our strength – our ability to awaken ourselves from the trance of power – must be subverted by the establishment, transformed into our Achilles’ heel, a weakness.

The treatment of Bernie Sanders and his supporters by the Democratic establishment – and those who eagerly repeat its talking points – neatly illustrates how this can be done in manifold ways.

Remember this all started back in 2016, when Sanders committed the unforgivable sin of challenging the Democratic leadership’s right simply to anoint Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential candidate. In those days, the fault line was obvious and neat: Bernie was a man, Clinton a woman. She would be the first woman president. The only party members who might wish to deny her that historic moment, and back Sanders instead, had to be misogynist men. They were supposedly venting their anti-women grudge against Clinton, who in turn was presented to women as a symbol of their oppression by men.

And so was born a meme: the “Bernie Bros”. It rapidly became shorthand for suggesting – contrary to all evidence – that Sanders’ candidacy appealed chiefly to angry, young, entitled white men. In fact, as Sanders’ 2020 run has amply demonstrated, support for him has been more diverse than for the many other Democratic candidates who sought the nomination.

How contrived the 2016 identity-fuelled contest was should have been clear, had anyone been allowed to point that fact out. This wasn’t really about the Democratic leadership respecting Clinton’s identity as a woman. It was about them paying lip service to her identity as a woman, while actually promoting her because she was a reliable warmonger and Wall Street functionary. She was useful to power.

If the debate had really been driven by identity politics, Sanders had a winning card too: he is Jewish. That meant he could be the United States’ first Jewish president. In a fair identity fight, it would have been a draw between the two. The decision about who should represent the Democratic party would then have had to be decided based on policies, not identity. But party leaders did not want Clinton’s actual policies, or her political history, being put under the microscope for very obvious reasons.

Weaponisation of identity

The weaponisation of identity politics is even more transparent in 2020. Sanders is still Jewish, but his main opponent, Joe Biden, really is simply a privileged white man. Were the Clinton format to be followed again by Democratic officials, Sanders would enjoy an identity politics trump card. And yet Sanders is still being presented as just another white male candidate, no different from Biden.

(We could take this argument even further and note that the other candidate who no one, least of all the Democratic leadership, ever mentions as still in the race is Tulsi Gabbard, a woman of colour. The Democratic party has worked hard to make her as invisible as possible in the primaries because, of all the candidates, she is the most vocal and articulate opponent of foreign wars. That has deprived her of the chance to raise funds and win delegates.)

Sanders’ Jewish identity isn’t celebrated because he isn’t useful to the power-establishment. What’s far more important to them – and should be to us too – are his policies, which might limit their power to wage war, exploit workers and trash the planet.

But it is not just that Democratic Party leaders are ignoring Sanders’ Jewish identity. They are also again actively using identity politics against him, and in many different ways.

The ‘black’ establishment?

Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been complaining for some time – based on mounting evidence – that the Democratic leadership is far from neutral between Sanders and Biden. Because it has a vested interest in the outcome, and because it is the part of the power-establishment, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is exercising its influence in favour of Biden. And because power prefers darkness, the DNC is doing its best to exercise that power behind the scenes, out of sight – at least, unseen by those who still rely on the “mainstream” corporate media, which is also part of the power-establishment. As should be clear to anyone watching, the nomination proceedings are being controlled to give Biden every advantage and to obstruct Sanders.

But the Democratic leadership is not only dismissing out of hand these very justified complaints from Bernie Sanders’ supporters but also turning these complaints against them, as further evidence of their – and his – illegitimacy. A new way of doing this emerged in the immediate wake of Biden winning South Carolina on the back of strong support from older black voters – Biden’s first state win and a launchpad for his Super Tuesday bid a few days later.

It was given perfect expression from Symone Sanders, who despite her surname is actually a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign. She is also black. This is what she wrote: “People who keep referring to Black voters as ‘the establishment’ are tone deaf and have obviously learned nothing.”

Her reference to generic “people” was understood precisely by both sides of the debate as code for those “Bernie Bros”. Now, it seems, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are not simply misogynists, they are potential recruits to the Ku Klux Klan.

The tweet went viral, even though in the fiercely contested back-and-forth below her tweet no one could produce a single example of anyone actually saying anything like the sentiment ascribed by Symone Sanders to “Bernie Bros”. But then, tackling bigotry was not her real goal. This wasn’t meant to be a reflection on a real-world talking-point by Bernie supporters. It was high-level gas-lighting by a senior Democratic party official of the party’s own voters.

Survival of the fittest smear

What Symone Sanders was really trying to do was conceal power – the fact that the DNC is seeking to impose its chosen candidate on party members. As occurred during the confected women-men, Clinton vs “Bernie Bros” confrontation, Symone Sanders was field-testing a similar narrative management tool as part of the establishment’s efforts to hone it for improved effect. The establishment has learnt – through a kind of survival of the fittest smear – that divide-and-rule identity politics is the perfect way to shield its influence as it favours a status-quo candidate (Biden or Clinton) over a candidate seen as a threat to its power (Sanders).

In her tweet, Symone Sanders showed exactly how the power elite seeks to obscure its toxic role in our societies. She neatly conflated “the establishment” – of which she is a very small, but well-paid component – with ordinary “black voters”.  Her message is this: should you try to criticise the establishment (which has inordinate power to damage lives and destroy the planet) we will demonise you, making it seem that you are really attacking black people (who in the vast majority of cases – though Symone Sanders is a notable exception – wield no power at all).

Symone Sanders has recruited her own blackness and South Carolina’s “black voters” as a ring of steel to protect the establishment. Cynically, she has turned poor black people, as well as the tens of thousands of people (presumably black and white) who liked her tweet, into human shields for the establishment.

It sounds a lot uglier put like that. But it has rapidly become a Biden talking-point, as we can see here:

The DNC’s wider strategy is to confer on Biden exclusive rights to speak for black voters (despite his inglorious record on civil rights issues) and, further, to strip Sanders and his senior black advisers of any right to do so. When Sanders protests about this, or about racist behaviour from the Biden camp, Biden’s supporters come out in force and often abusively, though, of course, no one is upbraiding them for their ugly, violent language. Here is the famous former tennis player Martina Navratilova showing that maybe we should start talking about “Biden Bros”:

Being unkind to billionaires

This kind of special pleading by the establishment for the establishment – using those sections of it, such as Symone Sanders, that can tap into the identity politics zeitgeist – is far more common than you might imagine. The approach is being constantly refined, often using social media as the ultimate focus group. Symone Sanders’ successful conflation of the establishment with “black voters” follows earlier, clumsier efforts by the establishment to protect its interests against Sanders that proved far less effective.

Remember how last autumn the billionaire-owned corporate media tried to tell us that it was unkind to criticise billionaires – that they had feelings too and that speaking harshly about them was “dehumanising”. Again it was aimed at Sanders, who had just commented that in a properly ordered world billionaires simply wouldn’t exist. It was an obvious point: allowing a handful of people to control almost all the planet’s wealth was not only depriving the rest of us of that wealth (and harming the planet) but it gave those few billionaires way too much power. They could buy all the media, our channels of communication, and most of the politicians to ring-fence their financial interests, gradually eroding even the most minimal democratic protections.

That campaign died a quick death because few of us are actually brainwashed enough to accept the idea that a handful of billionaires share an identity that needs protecting – from us! Most of us are still connected enough to the real world to understand that billionaires are more than capable of looking out for their own interests, without our helping them by imposing on ourselves a vow of silence.

But one cannot fault the power-establishment for being constantly inventive in the search for new ways to stifle our criticisms of the way it unilaterally exercises its power. The Democratic nomination race is testing such ingenuity to the limits. Here’s a new rule against “hateful conduct” on Twitter, where Biden’s neurological deficit is being subjected to much critical scrutiny through the sharing of dozens of videos of embarrassing Biden “senior moments”.

Yes, disability and age are identities too. And so, on the pretext of protecting and respecting those identities, social media can now be scrubbed of anything and anyone trying to highlight the mental deficiencies of an old man who might soon be given the nuclear codes and would be responsible for waging wars in the name of Americans.

Russian ‘agents’ and ‘assets’

None of this is to overlook the fact that another variation of identity politics has been weaponised against Sanders: that of failing to be an “American” patriot. Again illustrating how closely the Democratic and Republican leaderships’ interests align, the question of who is a patriot – and who is really working for the “Russians” – has been at the heart of both parties’ campaigns, though for different reasons.

Trump has been subjected to endless, evidence-free claims that he is a secret “Russian agent” in a concerted effort to control his original isolationist foreign policy impulses that might have stripped the establishment – and its military-industrial wing – of the right to wage wars of aggression, and revive the Cold War, wherever it believes a profit can be made under cover of “humanitarian intervention”. Trump partly inoculated himself against these criticisms, at least among his supporters, with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, and partly by learning – painfully for such an egotist – that his presidential role was to rubber-stamp decisions made elsewhere about waging wars and projecting US power.

Bernie Sanders has faced similar smear efforts by the establishment, including by the DNC’s last failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – in his case, painting him as a “Russian asset”. (“Asset” is a way to suggest collusion with the Kremlin based on even more flimsy evidence than is needed to accuse someone of being an agent.) In fact, in a world where identity politics wasn’t simply a tool to be weaponised by the establishment, there would be real trepidation about engaging in this kind of invective against a Jewish socialist.

One of the far-right’s favourite antisemitic tropes – promoted ever since the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion more than 100 years ago – is that Jewish “Bolsheviks” are involved in an international conspiracy to subvert the countries they live in. We have reached the point now that the corporate media are happy to recycle evidence-free claims, cited by the Washington Post, from anonymous “US officials” and US intelligence agencies reinventing a US version of the Protocols against Sanders. And these smears have elicited not a word of criticism from the Democratic leadership nor from the usual antisemitism watchdogs that are so ready to let rip over the slightest signs of what they claim to be antisemitism on the left.

But the urgency of dealing with Sanders may be the reason normal conventions are being discarded. Sanders isn’t a loud-mouth egotist like Trump. A vote for Trump is a vote for the establishment, if for one of its number who pretends to be against the establishment. Trump has been largely tamed in time for a second term. By contrast, Sanders, like Corbyn in the UK, is more dangerous because he may resist the efforts to domesticate him, and because if he is allowed any significant measure of political success – such as becoming a candidate for president – it may inspire others to follow in his footsteps. The system might start to throw up more anomalies, more AOCs and more Ilhan Omars.

So Sanders is now being cast, like Trump, as a puppet of the Kremlin, not a true American. And because he made the serious mistake of indulging the “Russiagate” smears when they were used against Trump, Sanders now has little defence against their redeployment against him. And given that, by the impoverished standards of US political culture, he is considered an extreme leftist, it has been easy to conflate his democratic socialism with Communism, and then conflate his supposed Communism with acting on behalf of the Kremlin (which, of course, ignores the fact that Russia long ago abandoned Communism).

Antisemitism smear at the ready

There is a final use of weaponised identity politics that the Democratic establishment would dearly love to use against Sanders, if they can get away with it. It is the most toxic brand – and therefore the most effective – of the identity-based smears, and it has been extensively field-tested in the UK against Jeremy Corbyn to great success. The dream of the DNC would be denounce Sanders as an antisemite.

There has been only one thing holding them back so far: the fact that Sanders is Jewish. That may not prove an insuperable obstacle, but it does make it much harder to make the accusation look credible. The other identity-based smears have been a second-best, a make-do until a way can be found to unleash the antisemitism smear.

The establishment has been testing the waters with implied accusations of antisemitism against Sanders for a while, but their chances were given a fillip recently when Sanders refused to participate in the annual jamboree of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent lobby group whose primary mission is to ring-fence Israel from criticism in the US. Both the Republican and Democratic establishments turn out in force to the AIPAC conference, and in the past the event has attracted keynote speeches from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

But Sanders has refused to attend for decades and maintained that stance this month, even though he is a candidate for the Democratic nomination. In the last primaries debate, Sanders justified his decision by rightly calling Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “racist” and by describing AIPAC as providing a platform “for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights”.

Trump’s Vice-President, Mike Pence, responded that Sanders supported “Israel’s enemies” and, if elected, would be the “most anti-Israel president in the history of this nation” – all coded suggestions that Sanders is antisemitic.

But that’s Mike Pence. More useful criticism came from billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who is himself Jewish and was until last week posing as a Democrat to try to win the party’s nomination. Bloomberg accused Sanders of using dehumanising language against a bunch of inclusive identities that, he improbably suggested, AIPAC represents. He claimed:

This is a gathering of 20,000 Israel supporters of every religious denomination, ethnicity, faith, color, sexual identity and political party. Calling it a racist platform is an attempt to discredit those voices, intimidate people from coming here, and weaken the US-Israel relationship.

Where might this head? At the AIPAC conference last week we were given a foretaste. Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi of the UK and a friend to Conservative government leader Boris Johnson, was warmly greeted by delegates, including leading members of the Democratic establishment. He boasted that he and other Jewish leaders in the UK had managed to damage Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral chances by suggesting that he was an antisemite over his support, like Sanders, for Palestinian rights.

His own treatment of Corbyn, he argued, offered a model for US Jewish organisations to replicate against any leadership contender who might pose similar trouble for Israel, leaving it for his audience to pick up the not-so-subtle hint about who needed to be subjected to character-assassination.

Establishment playbook

For anyone who isn’t wilfully blind, the last few months have exposed the establishment playbook: it will use identity politics to divide those who might otherwise find a united voice and a common cause.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating one’s identity, especially if it is under threat, maligned or marginalised. But having an attachment to an identity is no excuse for allowing it to be coopted by billionaires, by the powerful, by nuclear-armed states oppressing other people, by political parties or by the corporate media, so that they can weaponise it to prevent the weak, the poor, the marginalised from being represented.

It is time for us to wake up to the tricks, the deceptions, the manipulations of the strong that exploit our weaknesses – and make us yet weaker still. It’s time to stop being a patsy for the establishment.

How the “Bernie Bros” were invented as Sexist, Racist, Antisemitic and UnAmerican as Borscht

The Democratic presidential nomination race is a fascinating case study in how power works – not least, because the Democratic party leaders are visibly contriving to impose one candidate, Joe Biden, as the party’s nominee, even as it becomes clear that he is no longer mentally equipped to run a local table tennis club let alone the world’s most powerful nation.

Biden’s campaign is a reminder that power is indivisible. Donald Trump or Joe Biden for president – it doesn’t matter to the power-establishment. An egomaniacal man-child (Trump), representing the billionaires, or an elder suffering rapid neurological degeneration (Biden), representing the billionaires, are equally useful to power. A woman will do too, or a person of colour. The establishment is no longer worried about who stands on stage – so long as that person is not a Bernie Sanders in the US, or a Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

It really isn’t about who the candidates are – hurtful as that may sound to some in our identity-saturated times. It is about what the candidate might try to do once in office. In truth, the very fact that nowadays we are allowed to focus on identity to our heart’s content should be warning enough that the establishment is only too keen for us to exhaust our energies in promoting divisions based on those identities. What concerns it far more is that we might overcome those divisions and unify against it, withdrawing our consent from an establishment committed to endless asset-stripping of our societies and the planet.

Neither Biden nor Trump will obstruct the establishment, because they are at its very heart. The Republican and Democratic leaderships are there to ensure that, before a candidate gets selected to compete in the parties’ name, he or she has proven they are power-friendly. Two candidates, each vetted for obedience to power.

Although a pretty face or a way with words are desirable, incapacity and incompetence are no barrier to qualifying, as the two white men groomed by their respective parties demonstrate. Both have proved they will favour the establishment, both will pursue near-enough the same policies, both are committed to the status quo, both have demonstrated their indifference to the future of life on Earth. What separates the candidates is not real substance, but presentation styles – the creation of the appearance of difference, of choice.

Policing the debate

The subtle dynamics of how the Democratic nomination race is being rigged are interesting. Especially revealing are the ways the Democratic leadership protects establishment power by policing the terms of debate: what can be said, and what can be thought; who gets to speak and whose voices are misrepresented or demonised. Manipulation of language is key.

As I pointed out in my previous post, the establishment’s power derives from its invisibility. Scrutiny is kryptonite to power.

The only way we can interrogate power is through language, and the only way we can communicate our conclusions to others is through words – as I am doing right now. And therefore our strength – our ability to awaken ourselves from the trance of power – must be subverted by the establishment, transformed into our Achilles’ heel, a weakness.

The treatment of Bernie Sanders and his supporters by the Democratic establishment – and those who eagerly repeat its talking points – neatly illustrates how this can be done in manifold ways.

Remember this all started back in 2016, when Sanders committed the unforgivable sin of challenging the Democratic leadership’s right simply to anoint Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential candidate. In those days, the fault line was obvious and neat: Bernie was a man, Clinton a woman. She would be the first woman president. The only party members who might wish to deny her that historic moment, and back Sanders instead, had to be misogynist men. They were supposedly venting their anti-women grudge against Clinton, who in turn was presented to women as a symbol of their oppression by men.

And so was born a meme: the “Bernie Bros”. It rapidly became shorthand for suggesting – contrary to all evidence – that Sanders’ candidacy appealed chiefly to angry, young, entitled white men. In fact, as Sanders’ 2020 run has amply demonstrated, support for him has been more diverse than for the many other Democratic candidates who sought the nomination.

How contrived the 2016 identity-fuelled contest was should have been clear, had anyone been allowed to point that fact out. This wasn’t really about the Democratic leadership respecting Clinton’s identity as a woman. It was about them paying lip service to her identity as a woman, while actually promoting her because she was a reliable warmonger and Wall Street functionary. She was useful to power.

If the debate had really been driven by identity politics, Sanders had a winning card too: he is Jewish. That meant he could be the United States’ first Jewish president. In a fair identity fight, it would have been a draw between the two. The decision about who should represent the Democratic party would then have had to be decided based on policies, not identity. But party leaders did not want Clinton’s actual policies, or her political history, being put under the microscope for very obvious reasons.

Weaponisation of identity

The weaponisation of identity politics is even more transparent in 2020. Sanders is still Jewish, but his main opponent, Joe Biden, really is simply a privileged white man. Were the Clinton format to be followed again by Democratic officials, Sanders would enjoy an identity politics trump card. And yet Sanders is still being presented as just another white male candidate, no different from Biden.

(We could take this argument even further and note that the other candidate who no one, least of all the Democratic leadership, ever mentions as still in the race is Tulsi Gabbard, a woman of colour. The Democratic party has worked hard to make her as invisible as possible in the primaries because, of all the candidates, she is the most vocal and articulate opponent of foreign wars. That has deprived her of the chance to raise funds and win delegates.)

Sanders’ Jewish identity isn’t celebrated because he isn’t useful to the power-establishment. What’s far more important to them – and should be to us too – are his policies, which might limit their power to wage war, exploit workers and trash the planet.

But it is not just that Democratic Party leaders are ignoring Sanders’ Jewish identity. They are also again actively using identity politics against him, and in many different ways.

The ‘black’ establishment?

Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been complaining for some time – based on mounting evidence – that the Democratic leadership is far from neutral between Sanders and Biden. Because it has a vested interest in the outcome, and because it is the part of the power-establishment, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is exercising its influence in favour of Biden. And because power prefers darkness, the DNC is doing its best to exercise that power behind the scenes, out of sight – at least, unseen by those who still rely on the “mainstream” corporate media, which is also part of the power-establishment. As should be clear to anyone watching, the nomination proceedings are being controlled to give Biden every advantage and to obstruct Sanders.

But the Democratic leadership is not only dismissing out of hand these very justified complaints from Bernie Sanders’ supporters but also turning these complaints against them, as further evidence of their – and his – illegitimacy. A new way of doing this emerged in the immediate wake of Biden winning South Carolina on the back of strong support from older black voters – Biden’s first state win and a launchpad for his Super Tuesday bid a few days later.

It was given perfect expression from Symone Sanders, who despite her surname is actually a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign. She is also black. This is what she wrote: “People who keep referring to Black voters as ‘the establishment’ are tone deaf and have obviously learned nothing.”

Her reference to generic “people” was understood precisely by both sides of the debate as code for those “Bernie Bros”. Now, it seems, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are not simply misogynists, they are potential recruits to the Ku Klux Klan.

The tweet went viral, even though in the fiercely contested back-and-forth below her tweet no one could produce a single example of anyone actually saying anything like the sentiment ascribed by Symone Sanders to “Bernie Bros”. But then, tackling bigotry was not her real goal. This wasn’t meant to be a reflection on a real-world talking-point by Bernie supporters. It was high-level gas-lighting by a senior Democratic party official of the party’s own voters.

Survival of the fittest smear

What Symone Sanders was really trying to do was conceal power – the fact that the DNC is seeking to impose its chosen candidate on party members. As occurred during the confected women-men, Clinton vs “Bernie Bros” confrontation, Symone Sanders was field-testing a similar narrative management tool as part of the establishment’s efforts to hone it for improved effect. The establishment has learnt – through a kind of survival of the fittest smear – that divide-and-rule identity politics is the perfect way to shield its influence as it favours a status-quo candidate (Biden or Clinton) over a candidate seen as a threat to its power (Sanders).

In her tweet, Symone Sanders showed exactly how the power elite seeks to obscure its toxic role in our societies. She neatly conflated “the establishment” – of which she is a very small, but well-paid component – with ordinary “black voters”.  Her message is this: should you try to criticise the establishment (which has inordinate power to damage lives and destroy the planet) we will demonise you, making it seem that you are really attacking black people (who in the vast majority of cases – though Symone Sanders is a notable exception – wield no power at all).

Symone Sanders has recruited her own blackness and South Carolina’s “black voters” as a ring of steel to protect the establishment. Cynically, she has turned poor black people, as well as the tens of thousands of people (presumably black and white) who liked her tweet, into human shields for the establishment.

It sounds a lot uglier put like that. But it has rapidly become a Biden talking-point, as we can see here:

The DNC’s wider strategy is to confer on Biden exclusive rights to speak for black voters (despite his inglorious record on civil rights issues) and, further, to strip Sanders and his senior black advisers of any right to do so. When Sanders protests about this, or about racist behaviour from the Biden camp, Biden’s supporters come out in force and often abusively, though, of course, no one is upbraiding them for their ugly, violent language. Here is the famous former tennis player Martina Navratilova showing that maybe we should start talking about “Biden Bros”:

Being unkind to billionaires

This kind of special pleading by the establishment for the establishment – using those sections of it, such as Symone Sanders, that can tap into the identity politics zeitgeist – is far more common than you might imagine. The approach is being constantly refined, often using social media as the ultimate focus group. Symone Sanders’ successful conflation of the establishment with “black voters” follows earlier, clumsier efforts by the establishment to protect its interests against Sanders that proved far less effective.

Remember how last autumn the billionaire-owned corporate media tried to tell us that it was unkind to criticise billionaires – that they had feelings too and that speaking harshly about them was “dehumanising”. Again it was aimed at Sanders, who had just commented that in a properly ordered world billionaires simply wouldn’t exist. It was an obvious point: allowing a handful of people to control almost all the planet’s wealth was not only depriving the rest of us of that wealth (and harming the planet) but it gave those few billionaires way too much power. They could buy all the media, our channels of communication, and most of the politicians to ring-fence their financial interests, gradually eroding even the most minimal democratic protections.

That campaign died a quick death because few of us are actually brainwashed enough to accept the idea that a handful of billionaires share an identity that needs protecting – from us! Most of us are still connected enough to the real world to understand that billionaires are more than capable of looking out for their own interests, without our helping them by imposing on ourselves a vow of silence.

But one cannot fault the power-establishment for being constantly inventive in the search for new ways to stifle our criticisms of the way it unilaterally exercises its power. The Democratic nomination race is testing such ingenuity to the limits. Here’s a new rule against “hateful conduct” on Twitter, where Biden’s neurological deficit is being subjected to much critical scrutiny through the sharing of dozens of videos of embarrassing Biden “senior moments”.

Yes, disability and age are identities too. And so, on the pretext of protecting and respecting those identities, social media can now be scrubbed of anything and anyone trying to highlight the mental deficiencies of an old man who might soon be given the nuclear codes and would be responsible for waging wars in the name of Americans.

Russian ‘agents’ and ‘assets’

None of this is to overlook the fact that another variation of identity politics has been weaponised against Sanders: that of failing to be an “American” patriot. Again illustrating how closely the Democratic and Republican leaderships’ interests align, the question of who is a patriot – and who is really working for the “Russians” – has been at the heart of both parties’ campaigns, though for different reasons.

Trump has been subjected to endless, evidence-free claims that he is a secret “Russian agent” in a concerted effort to control his original isolationist foreign policy impulses that might have stripped the establishment – and its military-industrial wing – of the right to wage wars of aggression, and revive the Cold War, wherever it believes a profit can be made under cover of “humanitarian intervention”. Trump partly inoculated himself against these criticisms, at least among his supporters, with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, and partly by learning – painfully for such an egotist – that his presidential role was to rubber-stamp decisions made elsewhere about waging wars and projecting US power.

Bernie Sanders has faced similar smear efforts by the establishment, including by the DNC’s last failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – in his case, painting him as a “Russian asset”. (“Asset” is a way to suggest collusion with the Kremlin based on even more flimsy evidence than is needed to accuse someone of being an agent.) In fact, in a world where identity politics wasn’t simply a tool to be weaponised by the establishment, there would be real trepidation about engaging in this kind of invective against a Jewish socialist.

One of the far-right’s favourite antisemitic tropes – promoted ever since the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion more than 100 years ago – is that Jewish “Bolsheviks” are involved in an international conspiracy to subvert the countries they live in. We have reached the point now that the corporate media are happy to recycle evidence-free claims, cited by the Washington Post, from anonymous “US officials” and US intelligence agencies reinventing a US version of the Protocols against Sanders. And these smears have elicited not a word of criticism from the Democratic leadership nor from the usual antisemitism watchdogs that are so ready to let rip over the slightest signs of what they claim to be antisemitism on the left.

But the urgency of dealing with Sanders may be the reason normal conventions are being discarded. Sanders isn’t a loud-mouth egotist like Trump. A vote for Trump is a vote for the establishment, if for one of its number who pretends to be against the establishment. Trump has been largely tamed in time for a second term. By contrast, Sanders, like Corbyn in the UK, is more dangerous because he may resist the efforts to domesticate him, and because if he is allowed any significant measure of political success – such as becoming a candidate for president – it may inspire others to follow in his footsteps. The system might start to throw up more anomalies, more AOCs and more Ilhan Omars.

So Sanders is now being cast, like Trump, as a puppet of the Kremlin, not a true American. And because he made the serious mistake of indulging the “Russiagate” smears when they were used against Trump, Sanders now has little defence against their redeployment against him. And given that, by the impoverished standards of US political culture, he is considered an extreme leftist, it has been easy to conflate his democratic socialism with Communism, and then conflate his supposed Communism with acting on behalf of the Kremlin (which, of course, ignores the fact that Russia long ago abandoned Communism).

Antisemitism smear at the ready

There is a final use of weaponised identity politics that the Democratic establishment would dearly love to use against Sanders, if they can get away with it. It is the most toxic brand – and therefore the most effective – of the identity-based smears, and it has been extensively field-tested in the UK against Jeremy Corbyn to great success. The dream of the DNC would be denounce Sanders as an antisemite.

There has been only one thing holding them back so far: the fact that Sanders is Jewish. That may not prove an insuperable obstacle, but it does make it much harder to make the accusation look credible. The other identity-based smears have been a second-best, a make-do until a way can be found to unleash the antisemitism smear.

The establishment has been testing the waters with implied accusations of antisemitism against Sanders for a while, but their chances were given a fillip recently when Sanders refused to participate in the annual jamboree of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent lobby group whose primary mission is to ring-fence Israel from criticism in the US. Both the Republican and Democratic establishments turn out in force to the AIPAC conference, and in the past the event has attracted keynote speeches from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

But Sanders has refused to attend for decades and maintained that stance this month, even though he is a candidate for the Democratic nomination. In the last primaries debate, Sanders justified his decision by rightly calling Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “racist” and by describing AIPAC as providing a platform “for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights”.

Trump’s Vice-President, Mike Pence, responded that Sanders supported “Israel’s enemies” and, if elected, would be the “most anti-Israel president in the history of this nation” – all coded suggestions that Sanders is antisemitic.

But that’s Mike Pence. More useful criticism came from billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who is himself Jewish and was until last week posing as a Democrat to try to win the party’s nomination. Bloomberg accused Sanders of using dehumanising language against a bunch of inclusive identities that, he improbably suggested, AIPAC represents. He claimed:

This is a gathering of 20,000 Israel supporters of every religious denomination, ethnicity, faith, color, sexual identity and political party. Calling it a racist platform is an attempt to discredit those voices, intimidate people from coming here, and weaken the US-Israel relationship.

Where might this head? At the AIPAC conference last week we were given a foretaste. Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi of the UK and a friend to Conservative government leader Boris Johnson, was warmly greeted by delegates, including leading members of the Democratic establishment. He boasted that he and other Jewish leaders in the UK had managed to damage Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral chances by suggesting that he was an antisemite over his support, like Sanders, for Palestinian rights.

His own treatment of Corbyn, he argued, offered a model for US Jewish organisations to replicate against any leadership contender who might pose similar trouble for Israel, leaving it for his audience to pick up the not-so-subtle hint about who needed to be subjected to character-assassination.

Establishment playbook

For anyone who isn’t wilfully blind, the last few months have exposed the establishment playbook: it will use identity politics to divide those who might otherwise find a united voice and a common cause.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating one’s identity, especially if it is under threat, maligned or marginalised. But having an attachment to an identity is no excuse for allowing it to be coopted by billionaires, by the powerful, by nuclear-armed states oppressing other people, by political parties or by the corporate media, so that they can weaponise it to prevent the weak, the poor, the marginalised from being represented.

It is time for us to wake up to the tricks, the deceptions, the manipulations of the strong that exploit our weaknesses – and make us yet weaker still. It’s time to stop being a patsy for the establishment.

The Brooklyn Yeshiva Anthem Protest And Why It Is Not Antisemitic

An anti-Semite used to be a person who disliked Jews. Now it is a person who Jews dislike.

Hajo Meyer, Jewish German-born Dutch physicist and Auschwitz survivor.

Antisemitism is a trick we always use.

Shulamit Aloni, Jewish Israeli, former Israeli Minister of Education, longtime member of the Israeli parliament.

On Sunday, February 23 before a match at Yeshiva University, two brave young Muslim Brooklyn College volleyball players “took a knee” during the playing of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem.  Omar Rezika (Soph.) and Hunnan Butt (Fr.) following the example of NFL football player, Colin Kaepernick, who protested the police brutality in the US African-American community, were protesting the brutality of the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies toward its non-Jewish residents.  The Nation sports journalist Dave Zirin wrote me that he learned this was the reason for the protest from sources close to the team.

The Jewish press, Jewish organizations and social media were quick to cry antisemitism.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center, The Algemeiner, and StopAntiSemitism.org (has short video of the protest) were just a few who rallied their readers against the protesting students.  The antisemitism charges were easily refuted by the fact that the protest was a legitimate political protest against Israel and had not been directed at Jews, as Jews, nor specifically at the members of the Yeshiva community because of their ethnicity or religion.  Of course, just about every Yeshiva student, faculty member and administrator is a supporter of Israel and is also an active apologist for Israeli transgressions.

The Yeshiva University President, Ari Berman, boasted of the wide (some would add “mindless”) support Zionism has in the United States, and called the actions of Rizika and Butt “unfortunate.”  In saying this he ignored the acceptance free speech and peaceful protest have in American culture and especially in academia.  The Yeshiva University newspaper, The Observer, quotes Berman as saying:

It is unfortunate that some members of the opposing team disrespected Israel’s national anthem. We are proud to be the only university who sings both the American and Israeli national anthems before every athletic competition and major event. Nothing makes me prouder to be an American than living in a country where our religious freedom, our Zionism and our commitment to our people will never be impeded and always be prized.

One salient element that differentiates this protest from Kaepernick’s NFL anthem protests, and indeed most protests, is that it can be credibly argued that it was Yeshiva University, not the protesters themselves, that initiated the confrontation. What university makes the visiting team stand for a foreign national anthem?  And this is not just any foreign national anthem.  It is a national anthem whose words specifically exclude more than 20% of Israeli citizens and more than 50% of persons subject to Israeli rule because they are not Jewish. The anthem also celebrates what most Muslims and many progressives, backed by international law, consider to be a brutal, illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Even the Zionist political lobby group, JStreet, which supports a kinder, gentler and better-concealed Israeli occupation, featured an alternative, more democratic version of a possible Israeli anthem in the entertainment program of one of its recent conferences.

The American Jewish blogger, Richard Silverstein, who has tweeted about the anthem protest, sent me his reaction:

Unfortunately, the courageous act of dissent performed by these two young volleyball players has been transformed into a act of anti-Semitism, when it was nothing of the sort.  They simply sought to engage in a cherished American tradition of free speech and standing up for the oppressed.  No university that I know plays both the Star Spangled Banner and the national anthem of a foreign country before sporting events…except Yeshiva University.

A Brooklyn College spokesperson issued a brief statement which was quoted in the Yeshiva Observer that began by assuring those who took offense from the anthem protest that ““Brooklyn College strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism and hatred…. Their kneeling is protected by the First Amendment.”  The spokesmen did not defend the students against the charges of antisemitism  from the Jewish press, nor against the criticism of President Berman.

Interestingly, the Yeshiva University Observer did not bother to even mention the reason Rezika and Butt were protesting. However, its article copiously catalogs the consternation of the Yeshiva community at the temerity of two visiting students to disrespect the Israeli national anthem and the anguish that their kneeling caused in the Yeshiva community.

Conflating Judaism and Zionism is a staple in the bag of tricks of American Zionists.  They claim that a vast majority of Jews are Zionists (something with which I concur and most pro-Palestinian activists strongly deny, especially Jewish pro-Palestinian activists).  Thus they claim an attack against Zionism is an attack against the core beliefs of most Jews.  It is hateful to them, and thus antisemitic.  Yet the same people who justify their claim of antisemitism by the belief that most Jews are Zionists (in an almost religious sense) will also tell you, when it is in their interest to do so, that it is antisemitic to protest in front of a synagogue (or at a Jewish university) because Jews have very diverse opinions on Israel, and to generally assume the synagogue members support Israel is wrongly generalizing about Jews and is in itself antisemitic.  This flawed but convenient logic makes any real criticism of Zionism equal to antisemitism.

In the United States there is a taboo in criticizing Israel in or around any place that is Jewish.  Such protests get little or no mention even in the progressive press and on websites run by both activist Palestinians or Jews.  What is surprising is that a number of sites and well-known activists did not run from this story.  The story was carried by The Nation, Middle East Eye, and the PalestineChronicle.  Yousef “Strange Parenthesis” Munayyer, the Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, gave a statement of support for the anthem protest to Middle East Eye.  All of this is both unusual and encouraging.  Many others, as expected, avoided the story despite the fact that flashy protests against Israel are the bread and butter of their outlets.

In Amy Kaplan’s brilliant analysis of the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel she asks the following question:

How did Zionism, a European movement to establish a homeland for a particular ethno-religious group, come to resonate with citizens of a nation based on the foundation, or at least the aspiration, of civic equality and ethnic diversity?

She states that her book, Our American Israel:  The Story Of An Entangled Alliance, “aims to recover the strangeness [emphasis mine, IG] in an affinity that has come to be seen as self-evident. … How in other words, did so many come to feel that the bond between the United States and Israel was historically inevitable, morally right, and a matter of common sense?”

Four Questions That May Be Difficult To Easily Passover

How strange is the received wisdom about Israel?  Here are four examples that come to mind.

  1. Why is it unthinkable to protest in front of a synagogue even when that synagogue openly supports Israeli occupation and apartheid, when it is acceptable to protest in front of a church? There have been numerous protests at Catholic churches over charges of priests sexually abusing young church members.    My friends Ed Kinane and Ann Tiffany were accused of antisemitism when they protest against the siege of Gaza in a Jewish neighborhood, partly because the protest is at a busy intersection near a synagogue.  However, when they protested in front of a Catholic Church, demanding the new bishop be more sensitive than his predecessor to the problems of American capitalism and empire, nobody complained that it was inappropriate to protest in front of a church.
  2. Why have so many states passed anti Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) legislation, when that legislation clearly violates the right of free speech?
  3. Why is talking about the use of money in order to influence the US Congress by Jews or Jewish groups verboten when it is generally accepted as a simpe statement of fact? Remember, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby?” from the twitter feed of Representative Ilhan Omar?  That tweet has been deleted, by the way.
  4. “To raise a memorial to a European genocide on the secular but sacred space of the National Mall required enormous cultural work – nothing less than the transformation of the Holocaust into an element of American heritage” (from Our American Israel). How was this accomplished, especially considering there is no museum or even a memorial dedicated to American slavery or the genocide of Native Americans on the National Mall?

The answers to these questions, as the Jewish-American rock idol Bob Dylan sang, “is blowing in the wind.” Ironically, after living briefly on a kibbutz in northern Israel, he also sang Neighborhood Bully, which is an apologia for Israeli war crimes.

Just asking these questions is enough to get you accused of being an antisemite, even if you are Jewish, like I am.  So I am going to stop here.  One good thing about being old, though, is that no one can call my employer to “expose” me as an antisemite.

One last thing, if you want some answers about all of this, I strongly recommend you read Amy Kaplan’s book.  It is brilliant.

Labour’s Next Leader has Already betrayed the Left

In recent years the British Labour party has grown rapidly to become one of the largest political movement in Europe, numbering more than half a million members, many of them young people who had previously turned their backs on national politics.

The reason was simple: a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had shown that it was possible to rise to the top of a major party without being forced to sacrifice one’s principles along the way and become just another machine politician.

But as Corbyn prepares to step down after a devastating election defeat, statements by the three contenders for his crown – Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer – suggest that his efforts to reinvent Labour as a mass, grassroots movement are quickly unravelling.

Politics of cynicism

A politics of cynicism – dressed only loosely in progressive garb – has returned to replace Corbyn’s popular democratic socialism. Leadership candidates are once again carefully cultivating their image and opinions – along with their hairstyles, clothes and accents – to satisfy the orthodoxies they fear will be rigidly enforced by a billionaire-owned media and party bureaucrats.

Labour’s lengthy voting procedure for a new leader begins this weekend, with the winner announced in early April. But whoever takes over the party reins, the most likely outcome will be a revival of deep disillusionment with British politics on the left.

The low-point of the candidates’ campaigning, and their betrayal of the movement that propelled Corbyn on to the national stage, came last week at a “hustings” jointly organised by the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel. These two party organisations are cheerleaders for Israel, even as it prepares to annex much of the West Bank, supported by the Trump administration, in an attempt to crush any hope of a Palestinian state ever being established.

Asked if they were Zionists, two of the candidates – Nandy, the climate change secretary, and Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, who is widely touted as representing “continuity Corbynism” – declared they indeed were. The third candidate – Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, and the man favoured by the party machine – stated only slightly less emphatically that he supported Zionism.

Nandy’s response was particularly baffling. She is the current chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, while the other two are supporters of the group. It is exceedingly difficult to find a Palestinian Zionist. And yet the Palestinian cause is now officially represented in the Labour parliamentary party by someone who has declared herself a Zionist.

Ethnic politics

This is no small matter. For good reason, Zionism is rarely defined beyond the vaguest sentiment about creating a safe haven for Jews following the Nazi genocide committed in Europe. Zionism’s political implications are little understood or analysed, even by many who subscribe to it. By the standards of modern politics, it is an extremist ideology.

For decades western states have preferred to promote an inclusive, civic nationalism that embraces people for where they live, not who they are. Zionism, by contrast, is diametrically opposed to the civic nationalism that is the basis of modern liberal democracies.

Rather, it is an ethnic nationalism that confers rights on people based on their blood ties or tribal identity. Such nationalisms were at the root of a divisive European racial politics in the first half of the last century that led to two cataclysmic world wars and the Holocaust.

In the Middle East, Zionism has fuelled a racial politics that was once familiar across Europe. It has rationalised the mass dispossession of the Palestinians of their homeland through ethnic cleansing and illegal settlement-building. It has also conferred superior rights on Jews, turning Palestinians into an ethnic underclass – segregated from Jews – both inside Israel and in the occupied territories.

‘Clash of civilisations’

Progressive post-war politics of the kind one might assume the Labour party should uphold has sought to rid the West of the menace of ethnic nationalism. It is true that race politics is reviving at the moment in the US and parts of Europe, under figures such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. But ethnic nationalism is – and always has been – the preserve of right-wing, authoritarian politicians.

It should be an abhorrence to the left, which subscribes to universal rights, opposes racism and promotes principles of equality. But Labour politicians have long made an exception of Israel and Zionism.

Originally, that blind spot was fuelled by a mix of Holocaust guilt and a starry-eyed excitement over Israel’s brief experiments with socialist-inspired – though exclusively Jewish – collectivist agricultural communities like the kibbutz, built on stolen Palestinian land.

Then, as Labour fully abandoned socialism, culminating in its reinvention as New Labour under Tony Blair in the 1990s, the party began to champion Israel for additional, even more cynical, reasons. Labour leaders dressed up colonial ideas – of projecting western power into the oil-rich Middle East – in modern attire, as a supposed Judeo-Christian “clash of civilisations” against Islam in which Israel was on “our” side.

Pilloried by media

Corbyn never accepted the exception made for Israel. Consistent with his universalist principles, he long championed the Palestinian cause as an enduring colonial injustice, instituted by the British government more than a century ago with the Balfour Declaration.

It is worth recalling, after years of being pilloried by a hostile media, the wider reasons why Corbyn was unexpectedly and twice elected by an overwhelming majority of Labour members – and why that provoked such a backlash. Decades on the backbenches – choosing to represent the concerns of ordinary people – had made it clear Corbyn would not pander to establishment interests.

His track record on offering the right answers to the great questions of the day spoke for itself, from decrying South African apartheid in the early 1980s to opposing Britain’s leading role in the 2003 war of aggression against Iraq.

He refused to bow to neoliberal orthodoxies, including the “too big to fail” rationalisations for the bank bailouts of 2008, that nearly bankrupted the global economy. He had long campaigned a more equitable society, and one accountable to working people rather than inherited wealth and a self-serving corporate elite.

He was genuinely anti-racist, but not in the usual lip-service way. He cared about all oppressed people whatever their skin colour and wherever they lived on the planet, not just those that might vote for him or his party in a UK election. For that reason he was also fiercely against the legacy of western colonialism and its endless resource wars against the global south. He had long been a prominent figure in the Stop the War movement.

But equally, though it did not fit the narrative that was being crafted against him and so was ignored, he had been a committed supporter of Jewish causes and his Jewish constituents throughout his career on the backbenches.

Campaign of smears

In declaring their support for Zionism – or worse, saying they were Zionists – Long-Bailey, Nandy and Starmer betrayed the left.

They did so at a time when the foundations of the explicit racism of the resurgent right needs confronting and challenging, not accommodating. After all, the white supremacists who are the key to this resurgence are also among the biggest supporters of Israel and Zonism.

Everyone understands why the three candidates signed up enthusiastically as Zionists at the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel’s hustings. They have watched Corbyn slowly destroyed by a four-year campaign of smears promoted by these two groups – and echoed by the corporate media – claiming the party has become “institutionally antisemitic” on his watch.

Each candidate has faced demands that they distance themselves from Corbyn. That culminated last month in an ultimatum from the Board of Deputies of British Jews that they sign “10 pledges” or face the same onslaught Corbyn was subjected to.

The pledges

The 10 commitments are designed to ensure that successful moves made in the Labour Party by the board and the Jewish Labour Movement to redefine antisemitism will become irreversible. That is because the pledges also make these two Israel advocacy groups judge and jury in Labour’s antisemitism cases.

They have already foisted on the party a retrograde and ahistorical definition of antisemitism – formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – that is specifically designed to ring-fence Zionism from any debate about what it means as an ideology.

It shifts the focus of antisemitism from a hatred of Jews to strong criticism of Israel. Seven of the IHRA’s 11 examples of antisemitism refer to Israel, including this one: “Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.

And yet the Zionist movement designed Israel to be a racist state – one that privileged Jewish immigrants to Palestine over the native Palestinian population. And if that wasn’t clear from its founding as an ethnic nationalist “Jewish state” on the Palestinians’ homeland, it was made explicit two years ago when those founding principles were set out in a Basic Law.

That law defines Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people” – that is, all Jews around the world, rather than the people who live in its territory, including a fifth of the population who are Palestinian by heritage.

Executioner-in-waiting

The three leadership candidates all hurried to back the Board of Deputies’ pledges. But these 10 commitments do more than just make serious criticism of Israel off-limits. They create a self-rationalising system that stretches the idea of antisemitism well beyond what should be its breaking point.

Under these new terms, anyone can be automatically denounced as an antisemite if they try to challenge the changed definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israel, or if they acknowledge that a pro-Israel lobby exists. In fact, this was exactly why Chris Williamson, an MP close to Corbyn, was expelled from the party last year.

How McCarthyite this has become was again illustrated this week when a candidate for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) elections, Graham Durham, was suspended for antisemitism over comments in which he accused Long-Bailey of “cuddling up to the Jewish Labour Movement and the chief rabbi, a well-known Tory.”

As explained here, Durham’s “antisemitic” comment was barely more than a statement of fact. It included an additional reference to the efforts of Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, a public supporter of Boris Johnson, to damage Corbyn’s chances in the run-up to December’s general election by accusing the Labour leader of being an antisemite.

The decision by Long-Bailey and the other two candidates to back the Board’s pledges has effectively turned the pro-Israel lobby into an executioner-in-waiting. It empowers these groups to destroy any of one of them who becomes leader and tries to promote a Corbyn-style progressive platform.

Two parties of capital

Neither the Board nor the JLM could have imposed these demands on Labour in a vacuum. It would not have been possible without the support both of a corporate media that wishes Labour cowed and of the Labour bureaucracy, which wants the status quo-embracing, Blairite wing of the party back in charge, even if that means alienating a large section of the new membership.

For all three – the Israel lobby, the media and the party machine – the goal is to have a Labour leader once again entirely beholden to the current western economic and imperialist order. A candidate who will once again commit to business as usual and ensure voters are offered a choice limited to two parties of capital.

And the simplest and most double-dealing way to achieve that end is by holding the antisemitism sword over their heads. Corbyn could not be tamed so he had to be destroyed. His successors have already demonstrated how ready they are to be brought to heel as the price for being allowed near power.

At another hustings, this time staged by the BBC, all three candidates agreed that their top priority, were they to become party leader, would be to tackle Labour’s supposed “antisemitism crisis”. That’s right – the top priority. Not changing the public discourse on austerity, or exposing the Tory government’s incompetence and its catastrophic version of a hard Brexit, or raising consciousness about an impending climate catastrophe.

Or tackling the rising tide of racism in British society, most obviously targeting Muslims, that is being fomented by the right.

No, the priority for all three is enforcing a so-called “zero tolerance” policy on antisemitism. In practice, that would mean a presumption of guilt and a fast-track expulsion of members accused of antisemitism – as recently redefined to include anything but softball criticism of Israel.

Approval of eugenics

It hardly bears repeating – so hard-set is the media narrative of an “institutionally antisemitic” Labour party – that there is a complete absence of evidence, beyond the anecdotal, to support the so-called “crisis”.

Much less than 0.1 percent of members have been found guilty of antisemitism even given the new, much-expanded definition designed to entrap anti-racists who criticise Israel or question the good faith of the pro-Israel lobby. That is far less than the prevalence of old-school antisemitism – the kind that targets Jews for being Jews – found in the wider British population or in the Conservative Party, where all types of racism are publicly indulged.

So confident is Boris Johnson’s government that it won’t suffer Corbyn’s fate, either from the media or from pro-Israel lobby groups, that this week it stood by an adviser who was revealed to have approved of eugenics and argued that black people have lower IQs. Notably, Andrew Sabisky was not sacked by the party after his views were outed. He stepped down to avoid becoming a “distraction”.

Nor were there headlines that his employment by Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, proved the Conservative Party was “institutionally racist”. In fact, Sabisky’s worldview has become increasingly mainstream in the Tory party as it lurches rightwards.

Subversion from within

Conversely, though rarely mentioned by the media, several prominent incidents of antisemitism in Labour that caused problems for Corbyn relate to Jews and Jewish party members who are staunch critics of Israel or define themselves as anti-Zionists.

There has been little attention paid to the prejudice faced by these Jews, who have set up a group inside the party called Jewish Voice for Labour to counter the disinformation. It has been maligned and ignored in almost equal measure.

These Jewish party members who support Corbyn are regularly dismissed as the “wrong kind of Jews” – paradoxically, an example of real antisemitism that those peddling the antisemitism smears against Labour have depended on to maintain the credibility of their claims.

Also unreported by the British media is the documented role of the party’s pro-Israel partisans in the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel in seeking to foment a revolt against Corbyn – filmed by an undercover reporter for Al-Jazeera – over his strong support for the Palestinian cause.

This incontrovertible evidence of efforts to subvert the party from within has been ignored by Labour Party bureaucrats too.

Weaponising antisemitism

The assumption of some who bought into the antisemitism “crisis” was that once the Labour party was rid of Corbyn the smears would fizzle out. They would become unnecessary. But that was to misunderstand what was at stake and what role the accusations served.

The antisemitism allegations were never really about antisemitism, except presumably in the minds of some members of the Jewish community whose perceptions of events were inevitably skewed by the media coverage and the hostility from Jewish leadership organisations that have made Israel their chief cause.

Antisemitism was a tool – one for preventing Corbyn from reaching power and threatening the interests of the ruling elite. His opponents – in the media, inside his own party and among pro-Israel groups – chose antisemitism as the battlefield because it is much easier to defeat a principled opponent in a dirty war than in a fair fight.

Antisemitism served a purpose and continues to do so. In Corbyn’s case, it tarnished him and his general policies by turning reality on its head and making him out to be a racist posing as an anti-racist.

Now the same allegations can be used as a stick to tame his successor. Antisemitism can be wielded as threat to make sure none contemplates following his path into a principled, grassroots politics that champions the weak over the powerful, the poor over the fabulously wealthy.

Mischievious conflation

This week the antisemitism allegations surfaced again in a leadership TV debate staged by Channel 4.

Perhaps aware of how craven they risk appearing by backing Israel and Zionism so enthusiastically, and of how many party members may conclude that the Palestinians are being thrown under the proverbial bus, all three stated that there was no contradiction between opposing antisemitism and standing up for Palestinian rights.

In theory that is true. But it is no longer true in the case of Long-Bailey, Nandy and Starmer. They have accepted the ugly, false premises of the pro-Israel lobby, which require one to make just such a choice.

The lobby requires that, like the candidates, one must declare one’s support for Zionism, and Israel as a Jewish state, or be denounced as an antisemite. This is the flipside of the mischievous conflation of anti-Zionism – opposition to a political ideology – with antisemitism – hatred of Jews.

That conflation is based on the quite obviously false assertion that Israel represents all Jews, that it speaks for all Jews and that its actions – including its war crimes against the Palestinians – are the responsibility of all Jews. The pro-Israel lobby’s intentional conflation is not only deeply problematic, it is deeply antisemitic.

A choice must be made

One cannot stand up for a Palestinian right to self-determination while also embracing a political ideology, Zionism, that over more than 70 years, and as shared by every shade of Israeli government, has worked tirelessly to deny the Palestinians that right.

The fact that so many people in the West – Jews and non-Jews alike – have for so long evaded making that choice does not alter the fact that a choice has to be made. The lobby has made its choice. And now it has forced the Labour Party’s leadership candidates – as it tried to force Corbyn himself – into making the same choice.

The next leader of the Labour Party is already a prisoner to the “institutional antisemitism” narrative. That means their hands are chained not only to support for Israel, but to the reactionary politics in which Israel as a Jewish state makes sense – a worldview that embraces its style of ethnic, chauvinist, militaristic, segregationist politics.

A world, in fact, not so unlike the one we are being driven towards by the right-wing parties of Europe and the US.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Antisemitism threats will keep destroying Labour

If there is one issue that denotes the terminal decline of Labour as a force for change – desperately needed social, economic and environmental change – it is not Brexit. It is the constant furore over an “antisemitism crisis” supposedly plaguing the party for the past five years.

The imminent departure of Jeremy Corbyn as leader will not end the damage that has been done to Labour by such claims. Soon Brexit will become a messy fait accompli. But the shadow of Labour’s so-called “antisemitism problem” will loom over it darkly for the foreseeable future, making sure that Corbyn’s successor dare not incur the same steep price for pursuing a radical political programme. The fear of being smeared as an antisemite will lead, as it was meant to do, to political and economic timidity from whoever takes on the mantle of leader.

In fact, as we shall examine in detail in a moment, the candidates for the Labour leadership are demonstrating just how cowed they already are. But first let’s recap on how we got to the current situation.

Led into a trap

Personifying the political paranoia that now grips Labour is the party’s one-time wunderkind, Owen Jones – possibly the only early champion of Corbyn in the corporate media. He used his Guardian column to fight back against the first wave of slurs – that Corbyn was unpatriotic, unstatesmanlike, a former Soviet spy, and so on.

But then, as the smears failed to inflict significant damage on Corbyn, a second line of attack was pursued. It claimed that Corbyn’s lifelong and very prominent activism as an anti-racist was, in fact, a cover story. Depending on who was spinning the narrative, Corbyn was either a secret Jew hater or a man who endlessly indulged antisemitism within his inner circle and in the wider party. Jones’ colleagues at the Guardian joined the rest of the corporate media mob in baying for Corbyn’s blood. Long wedded to a rigid form of identity politics, Jones was soon publicly wavering in his support for Corbyn. Then, as an election neared in 2017, he abandoned him entirely.

Unfortunately for the corporate media, the election result did not follow their shared predictions. Far from presiding over an unprecedented electoral disaster, Corbyn came within a hair’s breadth of overturning the Tory parliamentary majority. He also increased the party’s share of the vote by the largest margin of any post-war Labour leader. Jones changed his tune once again, promising to be more wary of the group-think of his corporate media colleagues. Of course, his new-found resolution soon crumbled.

Like a mouse chasing the scent of cheese, Jones headed into the trap set for him. He refused to accuse Corbyn himself of antisemitism, unlike many of his colleagues. Instead he gave his blessing each time a Labour activist was targeted as an antisemite – oftentimes, over their support for Palestinian rights.

Forced onto the back foot

As the media attacks on Labour for supposedly welcoming antisemites into the party’s ranks intensified (flying in the face of all the evidence), Jones acquiesced – either actively or through his silence – in the resulting wave of suspensions and expulsions, even of Jewish members who were hounded out for being too critical of Israel. Jones’ hands may have looked personally clean but he acted as lookout for those, like Labour MP Jess Phillips, who were determined to carry out their promise to “knife Corbyn in the front”.

Undoubtedly, the polarised debate about Brexit – and the increasingly unhinged atmosphere it produced – was the main reason Corbyn crashed in December’s election. But the confected “antisemitism row” played a very significant supporting role. The disastrous consequences of that row are still very much being felt, as Labour prepares to find a new leader.

The issue of antisemitism was probably not much of a priority for most voters, especially when the examples cited so often seemed to be about a state, Israel, rather than Jews. Nonetheless, the smears against Corbyn gradually undermined him, even among supporters.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, the antisemitism furore served chiefly as a shadow war that obscured much deeper, internal ideological divisions. Polarisation over whether Labour was convulsed by antisemitism concealed the real struggle, which was over where the party should head next and who should lead it there.

The party’s Blairite faction – supporters of the former centrist leader Tony Blair – knew that they could not win a straight fight on ideological issues against Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands of members who supported him. The Blairites’ middle-of-the-road, status-quo-embracing triangulation now found little favour with voters. But the Blairites could discredit and weaken Corbyn by highlighting an “antisemitism crisis” he had supposedly provoked in Labour by promoting Palestinian rights and refusing to cheerlead Israel, as the Blairites had always done. Identity politics, the Blairites quickly concluded, was the ground that they could weaponise against him.

As a result, Corbyn was forced endlessly on to the back foot, unable to advance popular left wing policies because the antisemitism smears sucked all oxygen out of the room. Think of Corbyn’s interview with Andrew Neil shortly before the December election. Not only did Corbyn not get a chance to explain the party’s progressive platform to floating voters, but much worse he was forced into abandoning the very personal traits – openness, honesty, modesty – that had made him unexpectedly popular in the 2017 election. Accusations of antisemitism – like those of being a wife-beater – are impossible to face down in TV soundbites. Corbyn was left looking evasive, shifty and out of touch.

Caught in a vicious spiral

These confrontations over an “antisemitism problem” in Labour – repeated every time Corbyn gave an interview – also helped to make him look feeble. It was a winning formula: his constant apologies for a supposed “plague of antisemitism” in Labour (for which there was no evidence) suggested to voters that Corbyn was incapable of exercising control over his party. If he failed in this simple task, they concluded, how could he be trusted to deal with the complexities of running a country?

The smears isolated him within Labour too. His few prominent allies on the left, such as Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, were improbably picked off as anti-semites, while others went to ground for fear of being attacked too. It was this isolation that forced Corbyn to make constant and damaging compromises with the Blairites, such as agreeing to a second referendum on Brexit. And in a vicious spiral, the more he compromised, the more he looked weak, the more his polling numbers fell, the more he compromised.

All of this was happening in plain view. If the rest of us could see it, so could Owen Jones. And so, of course, could those who are now standing for election to become the next leader of the Labour party. All of them learnt the lessons they were supposed to draw from the party’s “antisemitism crisis”.

Three lessons

Lesson one: Some crises can be engineered without the need for evidence. And smears can be much more damaging than facts – at least, when the corporate media builds a consensus around them – because the fightback cannot be won or lost on the battlefield of evidence. Indeed, facts become irrelevant. It is about who has the biggest and best battalion of propagandists. And the simple truth is that the billionaires who own the corporate media can buy the most skilled propagandists and can buy the largest platforms to spread their misinformation.

Lesson two: Even if antisemitism is of peripheral interest to most voters – especially when the allegations concern contested “tropes”, often about Israel rather than Jews – claims of antisemitism can still inflict serious damage on a party and its leader. Voters judge a party leader on how they respond to such accusations, especially if they are made to look weak or untrustworthy. And as there is no good way to face down wall-to-wall accusations of antisemitism from the media, however confected, it is wise not to get drawn into this particular, unwinnable fight.

Lesson three: The British ruling class does not especially care about antisemitism, or any other form of racism. The establishment uses its power to uphold class privilege, not to promote equality, after all. But that does not mean it has no interest in antisemitism. As with its support for a more general identity politics, the ruling class knows that antisemitism has instrumental uses – it can be exploited to manipulate public discourse and deflect ordinary people from a powerful class struggle into divisive identity and culture wars. Therefore, any Labour leader who wants to engage in the politics of class struggle – a struggle against the billionaire class – is going to face not a fair fight on the terrain of their choosing but a dirty war on the terrain chosen by the billionaires.

The Board’s 10 diktats

Labour’s leadership challengers learnt those lessons so well because they watched for five years as Corbyn sank ever further into the mire of the antisemitism smears. So when the deeply Conservative (with a capital C) Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) issued a diktat to the candidates last month veiled as “10 Pledges to End the Antisemitism Crisis” they all hurried to sign up, without bothering to read the small print.

The Board’s 10 points were effectively their red lines. Overstep the mark on any one of them, they warned the leadership contestants, and we will lend our considerable credibility to a corporate media campaign to smear you and the party as anti-semitic. You will become Corbyn Mark II, and face the same fate.

The 10 demands have one purpose only. Once accepted, and all the candidates have accepted them, the pledges ensure that the Board – and what it defines as the Jewish community’s “main representative groups” – will enjoy an exclusive and incontestable right to decide what is antisemitic, as well as who is allowed to remain in the Labour party and who must be removed.

The pledges create a division of labour between the Board and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), a small faction in Labour of Jews and non-Jews who are vocal advocates for Israel. First, the Board stands surety, supposedly on behalf of Britain’s Jews, for the credibility of the highly controversial redefinition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Seven of its 11 examples of antisemitism refer to Israel, not hatred of Jews. Then, the JLM’s task is to enforce the IHRA definition: identifying which party members are antisemites and determining their fate, either contrition and re-education or expulsion.

Judge and jury

The 10 Pledges are actually part of a campaign by Jewish leadership groups like the Board to pervert a well-established principle regulating investigations into racism. The Board and JLM have regularly cited the so-called Macpherson principle, derived from a judicial inquiry into the failings in the 1990s of an institutionally racist British police force as it investigated the murder of a black teenager, Stephen Lawrence.

The Guardian has been among those peddling the Board and the JLM’s mischievous reinterpretation of that principle to suggest that an incident is defined as racist if the victim perceives it to be racist. Therefore, Jews – or in this case, “representative” Jewish organisations like the Board – get to decide exclusively whether Labour has an antisemitism problem and how it manifests itself – for example, by including criticism of Israel.

Except that is not what Sir William Macpherson decided at all. His principle was simply that institutions like the police were under an obligation to investigate incidents as racist in nature if that is what the victim believed them to be. In other words, Macpherson called on institutions to listen to victims and to take account of the victims’ interpretation of an event.

Very obviously, he did not argue that anyone accused of racism was guilty of it, or that anyone making an accusation of racism must be believed. The accusation had to be investigated on the assumption of racism until the evidence proved whether the accusation was true or not, and whether or not it was motivated by racism.

Further, while the Macpherson principle called for the victim to be given a fair hearing about how they perceived an incident, the Board and the JLM do not want simply to be heard. The 10 Pledges demand that these organisations alone decide what is antisemitism and who is guilty – that they act as judge and jury.

And not only that.

The Board and the JLM also demand an exclusive prerogative to define antisemitism as a new kind of racism – almost unheard of a decade or more ago – that may have nothing to do with hatred or fear of Jews, as it was once defined. The Board and the JLM insist Labour adopt a patently ridiculous – and overtly antisemitic – position that treats many kinds of criticism of Israel as antisemitic because, they argue, Israel represents all Jews. An attack on Israel therefore amounts to an attack on Jews and their identity. (The Board’s argument is itself antisemitic because it requires us to hold all Jews, not just the Israeli government, responsible for Israel’s actions, including its documented war crimes against Palestinians.)

Circular proof

But the problem with the 10 Pledges runs deeper still. The intended effect of the pledges in their entirety is to create a circular, self-reinforcing proof of antisemitism against anyone who dares to disagree with the Board and the JLM. In other times, such circular proofs have been identified for what they are: as witch-hunts and McCarthyism.

The Board not only intends to silence any non-Jews who disagree with its views on antisemitism and Israel, but it also insists on denying a voice to any Jews or Jewish organisations that disagree with it. According to Pledge 8, all Jewish “fringe organisations and individuals” are denied any say on what constitutes antisemitism. Why are they “fringe”? Because they disagree with the Board of Deputies’ definition of antisemitism.

Several writers have noted that the Board’s claim to be “representative” of the “Jewish community” is entirely bogus. It can claim only to be representative of those parts of the 280,000-strong Jewish community it seeks to represent. That amounts to no more than the 56 per cent of Jewish households who belong to a synagogue. These are the most conservative elements of a wider Jewish community. Surveys show that for many years – and long before Corbyn became leader – the vast majority of this section of the Jewish community – those the Board represents – vote for the Conservative party in elections. They also identify very strongly with Israel – and seemingly whatever its does in terms of violating Palestinian rights.

The Board’s very function is to sideline the 44 per cent of Jews it does not represent – including secular, socialist and anti-Zionist Jews – as not really belonging to the “Jewish community”. It thereby silences their views. As Jo Sutton-Klein observes, “While the [Jewish organisational] establishment can’t un-Jewish any person or community, they can invalidate their Jewishness if they decide that their opinions are no longer kosher.” That is precisely what the Board has sought to do with its 10 Pledges.

But if the Board’s representative status is highly doubtful, the Jewish Labour Movement’s is even more so. In fact, there is plenty of evidence – including from a 2017 documentary filmed by an undercover reporter for Al Jazeera – that the JLM was a dormant organisation until 2015. As an investigation by journalist Asa Winstanley discovered, it was refounded specifically to bring down Corbyn shortly after he won the leadership election. The JLM was apparently afraid of what Corbyn’s support for the Palestinians might entail for Israel. While claiming to represent Jewish interests in the Labour party, it excludes from membership any Jews that are not Zionist – that is, enthusiastic supporters of Israel.

That should not be surprising. The JLM was originally an ideological offshoot of the Israeli Labour party, which oversaw the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, launched the first settlements in the territories it occupied in 1967, and created a system of severe institutionalised racial discrimination against Israel’s large non-Jewish population, its Palestinian citizens. Despite proclaiming its left wing credentials, the JLM’s ideological outlook closely mirrors the ethnic supremacist worldview of the Israeli Labour Party.

The JLM lacks transparency, but most estimates are that its membership numbers are in triple digits, even after it has allowed non-Jews and non-Labour members to join.

‘Wrong kind of Jew’

In fact, there is no reason to believe the JLM is any less fringe – and probably more so – than Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a group of Jewish Labour party members who created the organisation to support Corbyn and counter the JLM’s claims that it spoke for Jews in the Labour party.

As I have pointed out many times before, the Board’s position that it alone gets to decide which Jews count is not only deeply ugly but also antisemitic. It dismisses a whole swath of the Jewish community as the “wrong kind of Jews”; it treats their views on the racism they face as of no value; and it strips them of any agency inside the Labour party, leaving the field clear to the JLM. Instead of a necessary dialogue within the Jewish community about what antisemitism means, the Board confers on itself the right to oppress and silence another group of Jews who disagree with it.

There are two main reasons why the Board wishes to turn these so-called “fringe” groups into outcasts, into political pariahs. First, their very existence reminds us that this is a highly contested political debate, and one taking place inside the Jewish community, about what Jewish identity is and whether Israel has a place in that identity. But at the same time, the existence of socialist Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Labour also disrupts a narrative jointly promoted by the Board, the JLM and Labour’s Blairite faction to discredit the radical social and economic programmes of the left by entwining them with allegations of antisemitism. Severe criticism of neoliberalism, it is implied, is of a piece with severe criticism of Israel. Both are evidence of antisemitism.

The weaponising by the Board and the JLM of the Macpherson principle is easily exposed. This month Labour suspended Jo Bird reportedly over allegations of antisemitism. Bird, who is openly anti-Zionist and on the left wing of the party, had been the only Jewish candidate contesting Labour’s National Executive Committee elections. She is the latest prominent left-wing Jewish party member to have been targeted as an antisemite both for strongly criticising Israel and for challenging the Board and the JLM’s right to speak for all British Jews.

How obscene this all is may be easier to grasp if we do a small thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that a small group of black Labour party activists insist on the expulsion of other black party members as racists for their opposition to an African state accused of war crimes. Would we be comfortable with a largely white Labour party bureaucracy adjudicating as a matter of racism on what is clearly an ideological and political dispute within the black community? Would we want to condone one black group stigmatising another group as racists to silence its political arguments? And would we be happy to expel as racists white Labour party members who sided with one black group against the other in a political debate about an oppressive state?

With the witchfinders

Which brings us back to Owen Jones. Last week Asa Winstanley – the investigative reporter who has done more than anyone to expose what really lies behind the antisemitism smear campaign against Corbyn – resigned from the Labour Party. Like Jo Bird, he has found himself in hot water for questioning the antisemitism narrative promoted by the Board and the JLM. He wrote that he had given up any hope of a fair hearing from party officials who say his journalism championing justice for Palestinians and challenging the Israel lobby’s role in the Labour party amounts to antisemitism.

Jones, as ever, stood squarely with the witchfinders against Winstanley. He argued, as he has done many times before, that is possible both to fight for Palestinian rights and to fight against antisemitism.

Except Jones is plainly wrong – so long as we accede, as he has done, to the Board and the JLM’s demand that anyone who goes further than the most softball criticism of Israel must be defined either as an antisemite, like Winstanley, or as the ‘wrong kind of Jew’, like Bird.

If we are only allowed to gently chide Israel in ways that cannot meaningfully advance Palestinian rights, if we are prevented from discussing the strategies of staunchly pro-Israel lobbyists to silence Israel’s critics, if we are denied the right to push for an international boycott of Israel of the kind that helped blacks in South Africa end their own oppression, then nothing is going to change for the Palestinians. If those are the unreasonable terms imposed on us by the Board, the JLM and Owen Jones, then no, we cannot do both. We must choose.

The truth is that the support Owen Jones offers Palestinians is worthless. It is no more than virtue signalling – because it is immediately negated by his support for bodies like the JLM that actively terrorise party members, including Jewish members, into silence on crucial debates about Palestinian rights and about how we might deter Israel in future.

The reality is that, if Jewish organisations like the Board and the JLM choose to put the Israeli state as it currently exists at the very heart of their Jewish identity and make proper scrutiny of it off-limits, then they have also chosen to make themselves complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people, made themselves opponents of peace in the Middle East, and have abetted in the erosion of international law. And if we side with them, then we become complicit too.

Antisemitism has been used to smear the Left, while the Right targets Jews

The year ended with two terrible setbacks for those seeking justice for the Palestinian people.

One was the defeat in the British election of Jeremy Corbyn – a European leader with a unique record of solidarity with Palestinians. He had suffered four years of constant media abuse, recasting his activism as evidence of antisemitism.

The Labour Party’s electoral collapse was not directly attributable to the antisemitism smears. Rather, it was related chiefly to the party’s inability to formulate a convincing response to Brexit.

But the antisemitism allegations succeeded in stoking deep divisions within Corbyn’s party, making him look weak and, for the first time, evasive. Unfairly, it planted a seed of doubt, even among some supporters: if he was incapable of sorting out this particular mess in his party, how could he possibly run the country?

Any future political leader, in Britain or elsewhere, contemplating a pro-Palestinian position – or a radical economic programme opposed by the mainstream media – will have taken note. Antisemitism is a fearsomely difficult smear to overcome.

Defining antisemitism

The second setback was a new executive order issued by US President Donald Trump that embraces a controversial new definition of antisemitism. It seeks to conflate criticism of Israel, Palestinian activism and the upholding of international law with hatred of Jews.

The lesson of where this is intended to lead was underscored by Corbyn’s experience. Earlier, his party was forced to swallow this very same definition, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), in an attempt to placate his critics. Instead, he found that it gave them yet more ammunition with which to attack him.

Trump’s executive order is designed to chill speech on campuses, one of the few public spaces left in the US where Palestinian voices are still heard. It blatantly violates the First Amendment, which privileges free speech. The federal government is now aligned with 27 states where Israel lobbyists have managed to push through legislation penalising those who support Palestinian rights.

These moves have been replicated elsewhere. This month, the French parliament declared anti-Zionism – or opposition to Israel as a Jewish state that denies Palestinians equal rights – as equivalent to antisemitism.

And before it, the German parliament passed a resolution that deemed support for the growing international movement urging a boycott of Israel – modelled on moves to end apartheid in South Africa – as antisemitism. German MPs even compared the boycott movement’s slogans to Nazi propaganda.

Looming on the horizon are more such curbs on basic freedoms, all to assist Israel.

Shutting down criticism

Britain’s Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson, has promised to ban local authorities from supporting a boycott of Israel, while John Mann, his so-called antisemitism czar, is threatening to shut down online media outlets critical of Israel, again on the pretext of antisemitism. Those are the very same media that were supportive of Corbyn, Johnson’s political opponent.

The irony is that all these laws, orders and resolutions – made supposedly in the name of human rights – are stifling the real work of human rights organisations. In the absence of a peace process, they have been grappling with Israel’s ideological character in ways not seen before.

While Trump, Johnson and others were busy redefining antisemitism to aid Israel, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report this month revealing that Israel – a state claiming to represent all Jews – has used military orders for more than half a century to flout the most fundamental rights of Palestinians. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are denied “such basic freedoms as waving flags, peacefully protesting the occupation, joining all major political movements, and publishing political material”.

At the same time, the UN’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination broke new ground by berating Israel for its abuses towards all Palestinians under its rule without distinction, whether those under occupation or those with degraded citizenship inside Israel.

The panel of legal rights experts effectively acknowledged that Israel’s abuses of Palestinians were embedded in the Zionist ideology of the state, and were not specific to the occupation. It was a not-so-veiled way of declaring that a state structurally privileging Jews and systematically abusing Palestinians is a “racist endeavour” – wording now ludicrously decreed by the IHRA as evidence of antisemitism.

Egregious failures

Commenting on HRW’s latest report, Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson observed: “Israel’s efforts to justify depriving Palestinians of basic civil rights protections for more than half a century based on the exigencies of its forever military occupation just don’t fly anymore.”

But that is precisely what the new wave of laws and executive orders is designed to ensure. By silencing criticism of Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights, under the pretext that such criticism is veiled antisemitism, Western governments can pretend those abuses are not occurring.

In fact, there are two very different political constituencies backing the current crackdown on Palestinian solidarity – and for very different reasons. Neither is concerned with protecting Jews.

One faction includes Western centrist parties that were supposed to have been overseeing a quarter-century of peacemaking in the Middle East. They wish to obstruct any criticism that dares to hold them to account for their egregious failures – failures only too visible now that Israel is no longer prepared to pretend it is interested in peace, and seeks instead to annex Palestinian territory.

Not only did the centrists’ highly circumscribed, Israel-centric version of peace fail, as it was bound to, but it achieved the precise opposite of its proclaimed goal. Israel exploited Western passivity and indulgence to entrench and expand the occupation, as well as to intensify racist laws inside Israel.

That was epitomised in the 2018 passage by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of the nation-state law, which declares not just the state of Israel, but an undefined, expansive “Land of Israel” as the historical home of the entire Jewish people.

Exposing hypocrisy

Now, centrists are determined to crush those who wish to expose their hypocrisy and continuing alliance with an overtly racist state implacably opposed to self-determination for the Palestinian people.

So successfully have they weaponised antisemitism that human rights scholars this month accused the International Criminal Court in the Hague – the supposed upholder of international law – of endlessly dragging its feet to avoid conducting a proper war crimes investigation of Israel. ICC prosecutors appear to be fearful of coming under fire themselves.

The other faction behind the clampdown on criticism of Israel is the resurgent, racist right and far-right, who have been increasingly successful in vanquishing the discredited centrists of US and European politics.

They love Israel because it offers an alibi for their own white nationalism. In defending Israel from criticism – by characterising it as antisemitism – they seek a moral gloss for their own white supremacism.

If Jews are justified in laying claim to being the chosen people in Israel, why can’t whites make a similar claim for themselves in the US and Europe? If Israel treats Palestinians not as natives but as immigrants trespassing on Jewish land, why can’t Trump or Johnson similarly characterise non-whites as infiltrators or usurpers of white land?

The more the right whips up white nationalist, anti-immigrant fervour, the more it is able to undermine political solutions offered by its opponents on the centre and left.

Reckless miscalculation

Perhaps most astounding of all, much of the Jewish leadership in the US and Europe has been actively assisting the right in this political project, so blinded they are by their commitment to Israel as a Jewish state.

So where does this take Western politics? The centrists have let the antisemitism genie out of the bottle in order to damage the left, but it is the populist right that will now work to refine the weaponisation to further their own ends. They will stoke fear and hatred of minorities, including Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, all to Israel’s ideological benefit.

Jews in the West will pay a price too, however. Trump’s speeches have repeatedly imputed nefarious motives, greed and dual loyalties to American Jews. Nonetheless, faced with Israel’s staunch backing of Trump, conservative Jewish leaders in the US have preferred to stay largely silent about the president stoking nativist sentiment.

That is a reckless miscalculation. The mock battle of fighting a supposed left-wing antisemitism has already diverted attention and energy away from the struggle against an all-too-real revival of right-wing antisemitism.

Israel may emerge stronger by playing politics with antisemitism, but Western Jews may as a result find themselves more exposed to hatred than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

• First published in Middle East Eye