Category Archives: UK Israeli Lobby

How the Guardian betrayed not only Corbyn but the Last Vestiges of British Democracy

It is simply astonishing that the first attempt by the Guardian – the only major British newspaper styling itself as on the liberal-left – to properly examine the contents of a devastating internal Labour party report leaked in April is taking place nearly four months after the 860-page report first came to light.

If you are a Labour party member, the Guardian is the only “serious”, big-circulation paper claiming to represent your values and concerns.

One might therefore have assumed that anything that touches deeply on Labour party affairs – on issues of transparency and probity, on the subversion of the party’s democratic structures, on abuses or fraud by its officials – would be of endless interest to the paper. One might have assumed it would wish both to dedicate significant resources to investigating such matters for itself and to air all sides of the ensuing debate to weigh their respective merits.

Not a bit of it. For months, the leaked report and its implications have barely registered in the Guardian’s pages. When they have, the coverage has been superficial and largely one-sided – the side that is deeply hostile to its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

That very much fits a pattern of coverage of the Corbyn years by the paper, as I have tried to document. It echoes the paper’s treatment of an earlier scandal, back in early 2017, when an undercover Al-Jazeera reporter filmed pro-Israel Labour activists working with the Israeli embassy to damage Corbyn from within. A series of shocking reports by Al-Jazeera merited minimal coverage from the Guardian at the time they were aired and then immediately sank without trace, as though they were of no relevance to later developments – most especially, of course, the claims by these same groups of a supposed “antisemitism crisis” in Labour.

Sadly, the latest reports by the Guardian on the leaked report –presented as an “exclusive” – do not fundamentally change its long-running approach.

Kicked into the long grass

In fact, what the paper means by an “exclusive” is that it has seen documents responding to the leaked report that were submitted by Corbyn and his team to the Forde inquiry – Labour’s official investigation into that report and the circumstances of its leaking. The deadline for submissions to Martin Forde QC arrived last week.

Setting up the Forde inquiry was the method by which Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, hoped to kick the leaked report into the long grass till next year. Doubtless Starmer believes that by then the report will be stale news and that he will have had time to purge from the party, or at least intimidate into silence, the most outspoken remnants of Corbyn’s supporters.

Corbyn’s submission on the leaked report is an “exclusive” for the Guardian only because no one in the corporate media bothered till now to cover the debates raging in Labour since the leak four months ago. The arguments made by Corbyn and his supporters, so prominent on social media, have been entirely absent from the so-called “mainstream”.

When Corbyn finally got a chance to air the issues raised by the leaked report in a series of articles on the Middle East Eye website, its coverage went viral, underscoring how much interest there is in this matter among Labour members.

Nonetheless, despite desperately needing clicks and revenue in this especially difficult time for the corporate media, the Guardian is still spurning revelatory accounts of Corbyn’s time in office by his former team.

One published last week – disclosing that, after winning the leadership election, Corbyn arrived to find the leader’s offices gutted, that Labour HQ staff refused to approve the hiring of even basic staff for him, and that disinformation was constantly leaked to the media – was relegated to the OpenDemocracy website.

That Joe Ryle, a Corbyn team insider, either could not find a home for his insights in the Guardian or didn’t even try says it all – because much of the disinformation he laments being peddled to the media ended up in the Guardian, which was only too happy to amplify it as long as it was harming Corbyn.

A political coup

Meanwhile, everything in the Guardian’s latest “exclusive” confirms what has long been in the public realm, via the leaked report.

Through its extensive documentation of WhatsApp messages and emails, the report shows conclusively that senior Labour officials who had dominated the party machine since the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown eras – and were still loyal to the party’s centre-right incarnation as New Labour – worked at every turn to oust Corbyn from the leadership. They even tried to invent ways to bar him from standing in a rerun leadership election a year later, in 2016, after Owen Smith, the Labour right’s preferred candidate, challenged him.

Corbyn and his supporters were viewed as dangerous “Trots” – to use a derisive term that dominates those exchanges.

The messages show these same officials did their level best to sabotage Labour’s 2017 general election campaign – an election that Corbyn was less than 3,000 votes from winning. Party officials starved marginal seats Corbyn hoped to win of money and instead focused resources on MPs hostile to Corbyn. It seems they preferred a Tory win if it gave momentum to their efforts to rid the party of Corbyn.

Or, as the submission notes: “It’s not impossible that Jeremy Corbyn might now be in his third year as a Labour prime minister were it not for the unauthorised, unilateral action taken by a handful of senior party officials.”

The exchanges in the report also show that these officials on the party’s right privately gave voice to horrifying racism towards other party members, especially black members of the party loyal to Corbyn.

And the leaked report confirms the long-running claims of Corbyn and his team that the impression of “institutional antisemitism” in Labour – a narrative promoted in the corporate media without any actual evidence beyond the anecdotal – had been stoked by the party’s right wing, Blairite officials.

They appear to have delayed and obstructed the handling of the small number of antisemitism complaints – usually found by trawling through old social media posts – to embarrass Corbyn and make the “antisemitism crisis” narrative appear more credible.

Corbyn’s team have pointed out that these officials – whose salaries were paid by the membership, which elected Corbyn as party leader – cheated those members of their dues and their rights, as well as, of course, subverting the entire democratic process. The submission rightly asks the inquiry to consider whether the money spent by Labour officials to undermine Corbyn “constituted fraudulent activity”.

One might go even further and argue that what they did amounted to a political coup.

The bogus ‘whistleblower’ narrative

Even now, as the Guardian reports on Corbyn’s submission to the Forde inquiry, it has downplayed the evidence underpinning his case, especially on the antisemitism issue – which the Guardian played such a key role in weaponising in the first place.

The paper’s latest coverage treats the Corbyn “claims” sceptically, as though the leaked report exists in a political vacuum and there are no other yardsticks by which the truth of its evidence or the plausibility of its claims can be measured.

Let’s start with one illustrative matter. The Guardian, as with the rest of the corporate media, even now avoids drawing the most obvious conclusion from the leaked report.

Racism was endemic in the language and behaviours of Labour’s senior, right wing officials, as shown time and again in the WhatsApp messages and emails.

And yet it is these very same officials – those who oversaw the complaints procedure as well as the organisation of party headquarters – who, according to the corporate media narrative, were so troubled by one specific kind of racism, antisemitism, that they turned it into the biggest, most enduring crisis facing Corbyn during his five-year tenure as leader.

To accept the corporate media narrative on this supposed “antisemitism crisis”, we must ignore several things:

  • the lack of any statistical evidence of a specific antisemitism problem in Labour;
  • the vehement racism expressed by Labour officials, as well as their overt and abiding hostility to Corbyn;
  • moves by party officials forcing Corbyn to accept a new definition of antisemitism that shifted the focus from a hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel;
  • and the fact that the handling of antisemitism complaints dramatically improved once these right wing officials were removed from their positions.

And yet in its latest reporting, as with its earlier coverage, the Guardian simply ignores all this confirmatory evidence.

There are several reasons for this, as I have documented before, but one very obvious one is this: the Guardian, like the rest of the British media, had worked hard to present former officials on the right of the party as brave “whistleblowers” long before they were exposed by the leaked report.

Like the BBC’s much-criticised Panorama “investigation” last year into Labour’s alleged “antisemitism crisis”, the Guardian took the claims of these former staff – of their supposed selfless sacrifice to save the party from anti-Jewish bigots – at face value.

In fact, it was likely even worse than that. The Guardian and BBC weren’t just passive, neutral recipients of the disinformation offered by these supposed “whistleblowers”. They shared the Labour right’s deep antipathy to Corbyn and everything he stood for, and as a result almost certainly served as willing, even enthusiastic channels for that disinformation.

The Guardian hardly bothers to conceal where its sympathies lie. It continues to laud Blair from beyond the political grave and, while Corbyn was leader, gave him slots in its pages to regularly lambast Corbyn and scaremonger about Labour’s “takeover” by the supposedly “extreme” and “hard” left. The paper did so despite the fact that Blair had grown ever more discredited as evidence amassed that his actions in invading Iraq in 2003 were crimes against humanity.

Were the Guardian to now question the narrative it promoted about Corbyn – a narrative demolished by the leaked report – the paper would have to admit several uncomfortable things:

  • that for years it was either gulled by, or cooperated with, the Blairites’ campaign of disinformation;
  • that it took no serious steps to investigate the Labour right’s claims or to find out for itself what was really going on in Labour HQ;
  • that it avoided cultivating a relationship with Corbyn’s team while he was in office that would have helped it to ascertain more effectively what was happening inside the party;
  • or that, if it did cultivate such a relationship (and, after all, Seamas Milne took up his post as Corbyn’s chief adviser immediately after leaving the Guardian), it consistently and intentionally excluded the Corbyn team’s account of events in its reporting.

To now question the narrative it invested so much energy in crafting would risk Guardian readers drawing the most plausible conclusion for their paper’s consistent reporting failures: that the Guardian was profoundly opposed to Corbyn becoming prime minister and allowed itself, along with the rest of the corporate media, to be used as channel for the Labour right’s disinformation.

Stabbed in the back

None of that has changed in the latest coverage of Corbyn’s submission to Forde concerning the leaked report.

The Guardian could not realistically ignore that submission by the party’s former leader and his team. But the paper could – and does – strip out the context on which the submission was based so as not to undermine or discredit its previous reporting against Corbyn.

Its main article on the Corbyn team’s submission becomes a claim and counter-claim story, with an emphasis on an unnamed former official arguing that criticism of him and other former staff at Labour HQ is nothing more than a “mythical ‘stab in the back’ conspiracy theory”.

The problem is that there are acres of evidence in the leaked report that these officials did stab Corbyn and his team in the back – and, helpfully for the rest of us, recorded some of their subversive, anti-democratic activities in private internal correspondence between themselves. Anyone examining those message chains would find it hard not to conclude that these officials were actively plotting against Corbyn.

To discredit the Corbyn team’s submission, the Labour right would need to show that these messages were invented. They don’t try to do that because those messages are very obviously only too real.

Instead they have tried two different, inconsistent strategies. First, they have argued that their messages were presented in a way that was misleading or misrepresented what they said. This claim does not hold water, given that the leaked report includes very lengthy, back-and-forth exchanges between senior staff. The context of those exchanges is included – context the officials themselves provided in their messages to each other.

Second, the self-styled “whistleblowers” now claim that publication of their messages – documenting efforts to undermine Corbyn – violates their right to privacy and breaches data protection laws. They can apparently see no public interest in publishing information that exposes their attempts to subvert the party’s internal democratic processes.

It seems that these “whistleblowers” are more committed to data concealment than exposure – despite the title they have bestowed on themselves. This is a strange breed of whistleblower indeed, one that seeks to prevent transparency and accountability.

In a telling move, despite claiming that their messages have been misrepresented, these former officials want the Forde inquiry to be shut down rather than given the chance to investigate their claims and, assuming they are right, exonerate them.

Further, they are trying to intimidate the party into abandoning the investigation by threatening to bankrupt it through legal actions for breaching their privacy. The last thing they appear to want is openness and a proper accounting of the Corbyn era.

Shrugging its shoulders

In its latest reporting, the Guardian frames the leaked report as “clearly intended to present a pro-Corbyn narrative for posterity” – as though the antisemitism narrative the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media spent nearly five years crafting and promoting  was not clearly intended to do the precise opposite: to present an anti-Corbyn narrative for posterity.

Peter Walker, the paper’s political correspondent, describes the messages of former, right wing Labour officials as “straying” into “apparent” racism and misogyny, as though the relentless efforts revealed in these exchanges to damage and undermine prominent black MPs like Diane Abbott are open to a different interpretation.

According to Walker, the report’s evidence of election-scuppering in 2017 is “circumstantial” and “there is seemingly no proof of active obstruction”. Even assuming that were true, such a deficiency could easily be remedied had the Guardian, with all its staff and resources, made even the most cursory effort to investigate the leaked report’s claims since April – or in the years before, when the Corbyn team were trying to counter the disinformation spread by the Labour right.

The Guardian largely shrugs its shoulders, repeatedly insinuating that all this constitutes little more than Labour playground bickering. Starmer is presented as school principal – the one responsible adult in the party – who, we are told, is “no stranger to managing Labour factions”.

The Guardian ignores the enormous stakes in play both for Labour members who expected to be able to shape the party’s future using its supposedly democratic processes and for the very functioning of British democracy itself. Because if the leaked report is right, the British political system looks deeply rigged: there to ensure that only the establishment-loving right and centre-right ever get to hold power.

The Guardian’s approach suggests that the paper has abdicated all responsibility for either doing real journalism on its Westminster doorstep or for acting as a watchdog on the British political system.

Guardian hypocrisy

Typifying the hypocrisy of the Guardian and its continuing efforts to present itself a hapless bystander rather than active participant in efforts to disrupt the Labour party’s internal democratic processes and sabotage the 2017 and 2019 elections is its lead columnist Jonathan Freedland.

Outside of the Guardian’s editorials, Freedland’s columns represent the closest we have to a window on the ideological soul of the paper. He is a barometer of the political mood there.

Freedland was among the loudest and most hostile opponents of Corbyn throughout his time as leader. Freedland was also one of the chief purveyors and justifiers of the fabled antisemitism narrative against Corbyn.

He, and the right wing Jewish Chronicle he also writes for, gave these claims an official Jewish seal of approval. They trumpeted the narrow, self-serving perspective of Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies, whose leaders are nowadays closely allied with the Conservative party.

They amplified the bogus claims of the Jewish Labour Movement, a tiny, pro-Israel organisation inside Labour that was exposed – though the Guardian, of course, never mentions it – as effectively an entryist group, and one working closely with the Israeli embassy, in that detailed undercover investigation filmed by Al-Jazeera.

Freedland and the Chronicle endlessly derided Jewish groups that supported Corbyn, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, Just Jews and Jewdas, with antisemitic insinuations that they were the “wrong kind of Jews”. Freedland argued that strenuous criticism of Israel was antisemitic by definition because Israel lay at the heart of any proper Jew’s identity.

It did not therefore matter whether critics could show that Israel was constitutionally racist – a state similar to apartheid South Africa – as many scholars have done. Freedland argued that Jews and Israel were all but indistinguishable, and to call Israel racist was to malign Jews who identified with it. (Apparently unaware of the Pandora’s box such a conflation opened up, he rightly – if inconsistently – claimed that it was antisemitic for anyone to make the same argument in reverse: blaming Jews for Israel’s actions.)

Freedland pushed hard for Labour to be forced to adopt that new, troubling definition of antisemitism, produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, that shifted the focus away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel. Under this new definition, claims that Israel was “a racist endeavour” – a view shared by some prominent Israeli scholars – was treated as definitive proof of antisemitism.

One-party politics

If anyone gave the weaponisation of antisemitism against Corbyn an air of bipartisan respectability it was Freedland and his newspaper, the Guardian. They made sure Corbyn was hounded by the antisemitism claims while he was Labour leader, overshadowing everything else he did. That confected narrative neutralised his lifelong activism as an anti-racist, it polluted his claims to be a principled politician fighting for the underdog.

Freedland and the Guardian not only helped to breathe life into the antisemitism allegations but they made them sound credible to large sections of the Labour membership too.

The right wing media presented the Corbyn project as a traitorous, hard-left move, in cahoots with Putin’s Russia, to undermine Britain. Meanwhile, Freedland and the Guardian destroyed Corbyn from his liberal-left flank by portraying him and his supporters as a mob of left wing Nazis-in-waiting.

Corbynism, in Freedland’s telling, became a “sect”, a cult of dangerous leftists divorced from political realities. And then, with astonishing chutzpah, Freedland blamed Corbyn’s failure at the ballot box – a failure Freedland and the Guardian had helped to engineer – as a betrayal of the poor and the vulnerable.

Remember, Corbyn lost by less than 3,000 votes in a handful of Labour marginals in 2017. Despite all this, Freedland and the Guardian now pretend that they played no role in destroying Corbyn, they behave as if their hands are clean.

But Freedland’s actions, like those of his newspaper, had one inevitable outcome. They ushered in the only alternative to Corbyn: a government of the hard right led by Boris Johnson.

Freedland’s choice to assist Johnson by undermining Corbyn – and, worse, to do so on the basis of a disinformation campaign – makes him culpable, as it does the Guardian, in everything that flowed from his decision. But Freedland, like the Guardian, still pontificates on the horrors of the Johnson government, as if they share no blame for helping Johnson win power.

In his latest column, Freedland writes: “The guiding principle [of the Johnson government] seems to be brazen cronyism, coupled with the arrogance of those who believe they are untouchable and that rules are for little people.”

Why should the Tories under Johnson be so “arrogant”, so sure they are “untouchable”, that “rules are for little people”, and that there is no political price to be paid for “cronyism”?

Might it not have much to do with seeing Freedland and the Guardian assist so willingly in the corporate media’s efforts to destroy the only political alternative to “rule by the rich” Toryism? Might the Johnson government have grown more confident knowing that the ostensibly liberal-left media were just as determined as the right wing media to undermine the only politician on offer who stood for precisely the opposite political values they did?

Might it not reflect an understanding by Johnson and his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, that Freedland and the Guardian have played a hugely significant part in ensuring that Britain effectively has a one-party state – and that when it returns to being a formal two-party state, as it seems to be doing once again now that Starmer is running the Labour party, both those parties will offer the same establishment-worshipping agenda, even if in two mildly different flavours?

The Guardian, like the rest of the corporate media, has derided and vilified as “populism” the emergence of any real political alternative.

The leaked report offered a brief peek behind the curtain at how politics in Britain – and elsewhere – really works. It showed that, during Corbyn’s time as leader, the political battle lines became intensely real. They were no longer the charade of a phoney fight between left and right, between Labour and Conservative.

Instead, the battle shifted to where it mattered, to where it might finally make change possible: for control of the Labour party so that it might really represent the poor and vulnerable against rule by the rich. Labour became the battleground, and the Guardian made all too clear where its true loyalties lie.

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.

Israel’s New UK Ambassador will Expose Delusions of Britain’s Jewish Leaders

After years of successfully drawing attention away from Israel’s intensifying crimes against the Palestinian people by citing a supposedly growing “antisemitism crisisin Britain’s Labour Party, Jewish community leaders in the UK are exasperated to find themselves unexpectedly on the defensive.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled the rug out from under leading British Jewish organisations by appointing Tzipi Hotovely as Israel’s next ambassador to the UK. She is expected to take up her position in the summer.

Recently made Israel’s first settlements minister, Hotovely does not appear to have a diplomatic bone in her body. She is a rising star in Netanyahu’s Likud Party – and at the heart of the Israeli far-right’s ascendancy over the past decade.

‘This land is ours’

She is openly Islamophobic, denying the history of the Palestinian people. She supports hardline racial purity groups, such as Lehava, that try to stop relationships between Jews and non-Jews. And she flaunts a religious Jewish supremacism that claims title to all of historic Palestine.

In a 2015 speech on her appointment as deputy foreign minister, she rejected a two-state solution, saying: “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

She was given responsibility as settlements minister for overseeing what is widely feared will be the imminent annexation of up to a third of the West Bank promised by Netanyahu, destroying any last hope of a Palestinian state.

But she goes further. She favours full West Bank annexation, implying support either for Israel’s explicit and direct apartheid rule over millions of Palestinians or renewed mass ethnic cleansing operations to remove Palestinians from their homes.

Hotovely also supports Israel’s takeover of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, one of the most important Islamic sites in the world. Such a move could set the Middle East on fire.

Embassy interference

Hotovely is an undoubted rupture from recent ambassadors.

From 2007 until 2016, the post was held successively by career diplomats Ron Prosor and Daniel Taub. They followed the traditional embassy playbook: rhetorical efforts to take the spotlight off Israel and its systematic oppression of Palestinians.

They focused instead on a two-state solution that no one in the Israeli government was actually interested in, and blamed the lack of progress on supposed Palestinian intransigence and Hamas “terrorism”.

In early 2016, another diplomat, Mark Regev, was appointed, though in a more politicised capacity. He had previously served as Netanyahu’s most trusted spokesman.

Regev’s arrival coincided with a much more aggressive – if covert – role for the London embassy in interfering directly in British politics. He had to deal with the recently elected leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who was seen as a major threat to Israel because of his outspoken support for Palestinians.

An undercover investigation aired by Al Jazeera in early 2017 revealed that an Israeli embassy official was secretly coordinating with Jewish organisations to undermine Corbyn. One such group, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), had been recently revived inside the Labour Party to oppose Corbyn.

Evidence emerged to suggest that the embassy’s efforts to damage Corbyn were being directed from Israel, by the strategic affairs ministry. The ministry’s main mission has been to discredit overseas solidarity with Palestinians, especially the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel.

Zionism and antisemitism

As the documentary underscored, one of the main weapons in Israel’s arsenal has been to tar Palestinian solidarity activists as antisemites.

This has been achieved by muddying the differences between antisemitism and opposition to Zionism, an extreme political ideology that – even in its secular varieties – assumes that Jews have a biblically inspired right to dispossess the native Palestinian population.

Corbyn found himself increasingly under attack from the JLM and the UK’s main Jewish leadership organisation, the Board of Deputies, for supposedly unleashing a “plague” of antisemitism in Labour. While antisemitism in the UK has been rising overall in recent years, statistics revealed this accusation against the Labour Party in particular to be entirely groundless.

Eventually, the party was forced to accept a new definition of antisemitism – devised by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – that classified serious criticism of Israel, as well as support for Palestinian rights, as racist.

Keir Starmer, Corbyn’s successor as Labour leader, gives every impression of having learned from Corbyn’s devastating run-in with the Israel lobby. He has declared himself a Zionist and signed up to “10 Pledges” from the Board of Deputies that take meaningful criticism of Israel off the table.

Late last month he sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet for supposedly indulging an antisemitic “conspiracy theory” after she retweeted an article that criticised Israel’s well-documented involvement in training US police forces.

Empty threats

Netanyahu now appears confident that the political threat to Israel from the UK has been neutralised, and that neither of Britain’s two main parties will pay more than lip service to Palestinian rights.

That has been underscored by the fact that Hotovely’s appointment coincides with the expected move by Netanyahu to annex swaths of the West Bank over the coming weeks under licence from US President Donald Trump’s recent “peace” plan.

Last month, some 50 United Nations human rights experts described Israel’s proposed annexation as the harbinger of “21st century apartheid”.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, has voiced opposition to annexation, as has Starmer. But neither has indicated that he would take any meaningful retaliatory action.

The fact that Hotovely, a champion of maximalist annexation, will represent Israeli government policy in the UK suggests that Netanyahu understands that British party leaders will offer no more than empty threats.

Palestinians erased

But while Netanyahu may be happy to have Hotovely selling West Bank annexation to the British public and defending Israel’s ever-greater abuses of Palestinians, prominent Jewish figures in the UK are up in arms.

They have spent the past five years changing the optics in the UK. Zionism – Israel’s settler-colonial ideology – has been repackaged as innocuous, even wholesome: a benevolent political movement that simply empowers Jews, liberating them from antisemitism.

But this illusion has depended on erasing Palestinians – and their oppression – from view.

So successful has the campaign been that those who try to remind Britons of the circumstances of Israel’s establishment and its subsequent history have been decried as antisemites.

The creation of Israel, sponsored by British governments starting more than a century ago, depended on the ethnic cleansing of some 80 percent of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and the continuing exclusion of millions of their descendants. Israel still subjects millions more to a belligerent occupation.

Hotovely threatens to disrupt all of these achievements, and expose the pro-Israel lobby – as well as some of the biggest names in Britain’s Jewish community – as charlatans.

Passionate about Israel

Jewish leaders in the UK were already panicking over Netanyahu’s promises to annex parts of the West Bank. That would bring into sharp focus a decades-long Zionist programme of Palestinian dispossession they have quietly supported.

Early last month, before Hotovely’s appointment had been announced, around 40 of Britain’s most prominent Jews, including historians Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore, philanthropist Vivien Duffield and former Conservative cabinet minister Malcolm Rifkind, wrote to Regev urging the Israeli government to rethink annexation.

They observed that, as “committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel”, they had worked hard to “nurture a more sympathetic environment for Israel” in the UK. But annexation, they warned, would tear apart the country’s Jewish community and “pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain”.

It was notable that key figures in the campaign to oust Corbyn over his support for Palestinian rights signed the letter, including former Labour MP Luciana Berger; Trevor Chinn, a major donor to Starmer’s campaign; Daniel Finkelstein, associate editor at the Times newspaper; Julia Neuberger, a prominent rabbi; and Anthony Julius, a celebrated lawyer.

Annexation is not new

But annexation is not a new policy, as these Jewish notables suggest. Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, in violation of international law, condemning more than 370,000 Palestinian residents to permanent Israeli apartheid rule. Israel did the same to the Syrian Golan Heights a year later.

And is annexation really worse than the mass ethnic cleansing operations Israel carried out not only in 1948, but again in 1967? Ever since, Israel has pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing by stealth in the occupied territories – the flip 0side of its “creeping annexation” policy – as it has taken over more Palestinian land to settle it with Jews.

Did these war crimes not lead Jewish community leaders in Britain to rethink their “passionate commitment” to Israel?

And why is it only this latest phase of annexation that makes them question “Israel’s status as a liberal democracy” – not the legal structures codified in dozens of laws that privilege the citizenship rights of Jews over Israel’s 1.8 million-strong Palestinian minority, a fifth of its population?

Formal annexation is simply the logical conclusion of more than a century of Zionist colonisation of Palestine, one that was always premised on the replacement of the native population with Jews. Getting the jitters at this late stage in Israel’s settler-colonial mission, as though some imaginary red line has suddenly been crossed, is self-delusion of the highest order.

Sparing allies’ blushes

But if annexation poses a severe blow to the image these “passionate Zionists” have of themselves as fair-minded, sensitive liberals, Hotovely’s appointment as ambassador may yet sound the death knell.

Earlier Israeli governments were aware of the need to put a rhetorical gloss on their oppression of Palestinians to spare the blushes of supporters in western states. That was one of the tasks of Israel’s foreign ministry and its diplomatic corps. It was also the aim of the Israeli hasbara industry – state propaganda masquerading as neutral “information”.

Successive Netanyahu governments have found propping up such deceptions increasingly untenable in an era in which Palestinians have phone cameras that can document their abuse. The resulting videos are all over YouTube.

Many British Jews have averted their eyes, claiming instead that strenuous criticism of Israel is demonisation motivated by antisemitism. But the self-deceptions so beloved by many in overseas Jewish communities are increasingly unpalatable to the Israeli right’s Jewish supremacist instincts. Hotovely is simply the latest choice of envoy who cares little for indulging the cognitive dissonance of local Jewish allies.

Back in 2015, before the ultra-nationalist Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s president, Netanyahu tried to foist a settler leader, Dani Dayan, on Brasilia. Notably, Hotovely, who was then Israel’s deputy foreign minister, was outspokenin defending Dayan’s appointment, even threatening to downgrade relations with Brazil.

After a diplomatic row, Dayan was eventually reassigned as Israel’s consul general in New York.

Losing friends

Some in the UK’s Jewish community appear to believe they can enjoy similar success. Many hundreds of British Jews have signed a petition launched by an anti-occupation group, Na’amod, urging the UK to reject Hotovely as ambassador. Others appear to be contemplating a boycott if she is accredited.

Liberal Jewish community leaders have joined them in opposition. Labour peer Lord Beecham told the Jewish Chronicle that Hotovely’s appointment would “do nothing to win friends in the UK – or indeed any other reasonable country”.

Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi of the Reform Movement, echoed him: “[Hotovely’s] political views on Palestinians, annexation and religious pluralism clash with our core values.”

Except that all the recent evidence suggests Janner-Klausner is wrong. Yes, Hotovely’s unadorned “values” are ugly and openly racist. She does not veil her Jewish supremacist worldview; she wears it proudly.

But her policies in support of Jewish settlement on Palestinian land have been the bedrock policy of every Israeli government since 1967, when the occupation began. And the logical endpoint of the ever-expanding settlements was always annexation, either by legal fiat or by creating a mass of facts on the ground.

The majority of Britain’s Jewish community, as its leaders keep reminding us, are fervent Zionists. Jewish publications described Na’amod, which launched the petition against Hotovely, as a “fringe” group because it “campaigns against the occupation and [is] in favour of Palestinian rights”.

Living a lie

For many years, some in the British Jewish community have served as cheerleaders for the settlements. One such group, the Jewish National Fund UK, welcomed Hotovely’s appointment, noting what they called her “many positive attributes and achievements”.

Others have cynically turned a blind eye to developments in the occupied territories over more than half a century. The Board of Deputies – the nearest the UK’s Jewish community has to an establishment – has said it will work with Hotovely. Concerning annexation, it has said: “We don’t take sides in Israeli politics.”

Others have paid lip service to opposition to the settlements, while living a lie they concealed even from themselves. The more Israel moved to the right and the more it expanded settlements to displace Palestinians, the more these “liberals” entrenched their support for Israel, and the more they refused to countenance dissent.

Blind support for Israel became a measure of whether they would back a political party, as Ed Miliband, himself Jewish and Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader, found to his cost.

An ultra-nationalist id

The Labour Party was lost to the majority of Britain’s Jewish community long ago – long before Corbyn. Anything but uncritical support for Israel – even as Israel moved ever further into an ultra-nationalism bordering on what Israeli experts have described as fascism – was denounced as proof of left-wing “antisemitism”.

“Antisemitism” became a way to avoid thinking about Israel and what it stood for. It became a way to reject Israel’s critics without addressing their arguments. It served as a comfort blanket, reassuring many British Jews that their politics were defensive, rather than ideologically extreme and offensive.

Now, Hotovely will serve as the Israeli ultra-nationalist id to their liberal egos. With Corbyn the bogeyman gone, liberal British Jews will finally have to face truths about Israel they have deeply buried.

It is a moment of reckoning – and one long overdue.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The JNF’s Sordid History: Tower and Stockades, Forests and Jim Crow Vetting Committees

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) rightly presents itself as the most venerable of the Zionist institutions:

  • It stands at the heart of a state-building project launched more than a century ago;
  • It is an organisation that is today deeply embedded in the structures of the Israeli state;
  • It is the guardian of the Israel’s most precious resource – land;
  • And it is the bridge connecting Jews abroad to Israel, allowing them to become practically and emotionally involved in its continuing national mission of colonisation.

Created in 1901, the JNF was the earliest of the major institutions established by the international Zionist movement to build a state in Palestine. The Jewish Agency, the Zionist movement’s government-in-waiting and migration service, and the Haganah, its embryonic military force, would have to wait another two and three decades to make a proper appearance.

New ambassador

No institution stands at the heart of the Zionist mission more squarely than the JNF. And for that reason, if no other, it is not only the most pre-eminent but also the most zealous of those organisations.

If that seems unfair, notice a recent statement by the JNF-UK that hints at the organisation’s extremism even by the standards set by a Jewish community leadership in Britain that has grown increasingly fanatical in its support of Israel and actively hostile to Palestinian rights.

The statement was issued last month, as it was confirmed that Tzipi Hotovely, a rising star in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, had been appointed Israel’s new ambassador to the UK. Hotovely makes the Israeli prime minister seem moderate by comparison.

She is a proud Jewish supremacist and Islamophobe. She supports Israel’s annexation of the entire West Bank and the takeover of Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. She is happy to lift the veil from Israel’s apartheid rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories.

That fact has made her appointment a deeply unappealing prospect for most of Britain’s Jewish community. It has prompted many hundreds to sign a petition calling on the UK government to block her apppointment. Prominent liberal Jews and Jewish organisations have either quietly lamented the decision or remained publicly silent. They are fearful that her outspoken views will tear the mask from ugly Israeli policies they have long supported.

But the JNF-UK broke ranks with this consensus. In a statement it insisted:

The British Jewish community will gladly and respectfully endorse Mrs Hotovely as the new Israeli Ambassador to the UK. She is a leader with many positive attributes and achievements, and we wish her the best of luck in her new position.

Tower and stockade

We can trace the JNF’s current zealotry, as well as its indifference to those who have paid the price for its colonisation project, to its earliest years. Its aims were twofold.

First, it sought to impose residential segregation as a way to expand the resources available to Jews and to diminish those available to the native population. This was what we might term its apartheid-enforcing role.

And second, it hoped to remove the natives from their homeland by depriving them of the resources they needed to subsist. What we might term its ethnic cleansing role.

These twin prongs of what soon came to be called “Judaisation” were Zionism’s particular expression of settler colonialism.

Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, foreshadowed the JNF’s transformative mission back in 1895, six years before the organisation had been created:

We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless [local] population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our country.

To clarify how this model worked, I want to take a moment to step back and examine the first significant tool of land dispossession developed by the JNF in the pre-state years, in the 1930s. This was when Zionism began to develop its incremental – or creeping – ethnic cleansing model.

A half-hour drive from my home in Nazareth is a replica of a tower and stockade, next to Kibbutz Beit Alpha in the Beit She’an Valley. It was only the second tower and stockade built in Palestine, in 1936. Soon there would be dozens of them marching across the landscape.

The tower and stockades were simple structures. They were wooden enclosures, fortresses with a tall watchtower at their centre. (Imagine, if you will, one of those cavalry outposts you may remember from old Westerns featuring John Wayne as he bravely battled the marauding “Red Indians”.)

Hebrew labour

In its land-buying role, the JNF secured the lands around Beit Alpha in the early 1930s from an absentee landlord in Lebanon. In line with Herzl’s proposal, each kibbutz not only took charge of the lands of local Palestinian sharecroppers but then refused to let them work the land or to employ them. There was a strict policy of “Hebrew labour” to deprive the native population of the ability to subsist and “spirit them across the border”.

Such land purchases – as well as the expulsion of Palestinian tenants from lands they had farmed for generations – began to awaken ordinary Palestinians to Zionism’s colonial nature. In 1936 the Palestinians launched an uprising, known by the British as the Arab Revolt. It lasted three years.

The Zionist movement, however, did not simply rely on British force to quell the Revolt. It took matters into its own hands. Its policy of “gentle” ethnic cleansing turned much more aggressive. It began building dozens of tower and stockades – each the nucleus of a future kibbutz – to forcibly drive the natives off the lands they depended on for their livelihoods.

Ethnic cleansing

Beit Alpha’s tower and stockade, named Tel Amal, was assigned a militia. Its members would take turns in the tower to keep watch over their comrades working the fields that until recently had been farmed by Palestinians. (Beit Alpha would later forge close ties to the apartheid regime in South Africa, selling anti-riot vehicles for Pretoria to use against black protesters in the townships.)

From the tower, the colonists would be able to shoot at any Palestinian who tried to return to his fields. Unable to harvest their crops, these Palestinian farmers faced a choice between starvation and moving further down the valley to find new land. But the Zionist colonisers were always close behind.

Once the lands around Tel Amal had been secured, a new kibbutz was built around it called Nir David. Its inhabitants then built a new outpost further down the valley with its own tower and stockade. And the process of dispossessing the Palestinians would begin all over again. It was relentless, incremental ethnic cleansing.

At the time, Moshe Sharrett, who would become one of Israel’s first prime ministers, explained the purpose of the tower and stockade in zero-sum terms. The stockades, he argued, would “make it as difficult as possible to solve the problems of this land by means of division or cantonisation”. In other words, the Zionist leadership intended to “solve the problems of this land” through force of arms and expulsion.

Yosef Weitz, the director of the JNF’s settlements division, was a similarly outspoken, early proponent of expulsion. In 1940, in the immediate aftermath of the so-called Arab Revolt, he wrote in his diary: “There is no other way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries. To transfer all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left.”

In April 1948, in the midst of the Nakba, he observed: “I have drawn up a list of Arab villages which in my opinion must be cleared out in order to complete Jewish regions.”

That list was the blueprint for the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Zionist movement through 1948. During the Nakba, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, appointed Weitz to a secretive Transfer Committee to direct the ethnic cleansing operations.

Outposts and trees

The JNF’s tower and stockade mentality never went away – very obviously in the case of the occupied territories. It is represented today in the militarised architecture of the West Bank’s main settlements – fortified houses, circled like wagons, on hillsides overlooking Palestinian farming villages in the valleys below.

It is even more evident in the dozens of so-called “illegal outposts” in the West Bank. There settler militias, armed by the state, live in caravans atop yet more hills. They target key resources – the wells and the olive groves – of Palestinian farmers, terrifying them off their farmland so they depart for the relative safety of the Palestinian cities, freeing up the land for Jewish settlement.

But the legacy of the tower and stockade also resides more subtly in the architecture of citizenship and residency inside Israel – despite Israel’s claims to being a democratic, western-style state.

Weitz, the JNF official who had helped mastermind the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba, was appointed to head the JNF’s Forestry Department. Ben Gurion wanted a billion trees planted in a decade. The JNF fell short – it managed only 250 million.

Forestry was at the heart of the new Judaisation programme in Israel after statehood. Israel did not have enough immigrants to crowd out the Palestinians with Jewish bodies, so it used “Jewish” trees instead – especially the fast-growing pine.

The most pressing goal was to smother the lands of the recently expelled Palestinian refugees with forests. Their villages that had just been destroyed by Israel – more than 500 of them – would be covered with Judaisation trees.

The forests made it impossible to realise a Palestinian right of return that had recently been enshrined in international law. The trees were a physical obstacle to rebuilding the refugees’ destroyed homes or replanting the crops they subsisted on. Each tree was a weapon of war, a bayonet enforcing the ethnic cleansing of 1948.

But forestry also provided a cover for Israel’s malign intentions towards the Palestinians. The planting of trees was presented to the outside world as environmentalism, as the introduction of European order and civilisation, as Biblical redemption, as the Zionist realisation of its mission to make the desert bloom.

Blockaded by forests

The JNF’s forests were not just planted over the many hundreds of Palestinian villages Israel had destroyed.

They were also a vital weapon in the war against the minority of Palestinians who had managed to remain on their lands inside what was now Israel, despite the ethnic cleansing. They were eventually given a very degraded Israeli citizenship. Today these Palestinians comprise one-fifth of the Israeli population – what the historian Ilan Pappe calls the Forgotten Palestinians.

Many of the millions of trees planted by the JNF were in forests that pressed up tightly against the 120 or so Palestinian communities in Israel that survived the Nakba. These towns and villages were blockaded by forests, denied the chance to expand or use their lands for productive purposes, either housing or farming.

Palestinian communities in Israel, stripped of their historic lands by forests, would soon become overcrowded, de-developed spaces. Their working populations would be forced to abandon agricultural traditions and instead become casual labourers – a new precariat – in a larger Jewish economy.

The JNF’s forestation programmes are not just a relic of its early years. Trees are still being planted to this day to ethnically cleanse Israel’s Palestinian citizens. That is most obvious in Israel’s south, in the Negev (Naqab), where they are used to enforce the ethnic cleansing of Bedouin communities.

One such village, al-Araqib, is being wiped off the map by the JNF with the active complicity of the international community. The organisation is planting an Ambassadors Forest, in honour of the foreign diplomats stationed in Israel, to evict dozens of families from their ancestral lands.

Back in 2013, at the height of the campaign against al-Araqib and other Bedouin communities, Avigdor Lieberman, who was then foreign minister, made a telling comment. He said the fight to displace the Bedouin from their historic villages in the Negev proved that “nothing has changed since the tower and stockade days. We are fighting for the lands of the Jewish people and there are those [Palestinian citizens] who intentionally try to rob and seize them.”

Citizenship vs nationality

But the JNF’s tools of dispossession go far beyond the use of trees, into the very idea of what Israel is and who it belongs to.

The JNF was given a quasi-govermmental status that allowed it to function with the legal powers of a government agency but none of the legal restraints. Its role was formalised early on, in the Jewish National Fund Law of 1953.

Today, the state owns 93 percent of Israel’s recognised territory, serving as trustee. Defined as “national lands”, this territory is reserved not for Israel’s citizens, which would include Israel’s Palestinian minority, but for the Jewish people around the world.

Once again, the JNF has been principally responsible for advancing residential segregation with the aim of incremental ethnic cleansing. Judaisation, this time, takes place not through guns but through the law.

This goal has been achieved through a separation of the concepts of “citizenship” and “nationality”, which has provided a thin veneer of legality to segregation and institutionalised discrimination.

Israel has created two kinds of rights – “citizenship rights” and “national rights” – that accrue different privileges to Israeli citizens based on their ethnicity. Citizenship rights apply to all Israeli citizens equally – at least in theory – but national rights are based on each citizen’s national belonging, as either a “Jew” or as an “Arab”.

Importantly, national rights – for Jews – take precedence over citizenship rights for all Israelis. The JNF is one major mechanism by which superior rights in access to land can be guaranteed for “Jewish nationals” (including Jews who are not Israeli citizens) rather than Israel’s so-called “Arab nationals”. This distinction lies at the heart of Israel’s version of apartheid.

‘No equality’

In fact, this separation in Israel between citizenship rights and national rights is rooted in an idea central to the JNF’s charter, which promotes collective ownership of the “Land of Israel” by the Jewish people.

For this reason, many of the lands stolen from the Palestinian refugees in 1948 were hurriedly transferred by Israel to the JNF for a pittance, so they could never again be claimed by their original owners.

Today the JNF owns 13 percent of Israeli territory, some of Israel’s most prized lands, which it holds in trust for all Jews around the world. Only Jews can lease or mortgage its lands. As the JNF explained when it was challenged about its charter in 2004, it is

not a public body that works for the benefit of all citizens of the state. The loyalty of the JNF is given to the Jewish people – and only to them is the JNF obligated. The JNF, as the owner of the JNF land, does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state.

But the JNF’s influence extends beyond the 13 percent of Israeli land it owns. Since 1960 it has played a decisive role – through the Israel Lands Authority, a government agency – in overseeing the further 80 percent of land owned by the Israeli state.

In fact, the JNF appoints 10 of the Israel Lands Authority’s 22 directors. Effectively, the JNF controls the Israeli state’s land policy in accordance with its own apartheid mission, making land available for Jews alone, including Jews who are not Israeli citizens.

Planning and Building Law

The JNF’s Judaisation model also underpins Israel’s planning system. Israel has created a web of planning bodies in which Palestinian citizens are almost never represented. That means that Palestinian communities struggle to get their master plans recognised, and as a result their residents are denied permits for new buildings.

Central to this planning system is a largely overlooked piece of legislation: the Planning and Building Law of 1965. It was legislated shortly before Israel’s Palestinian minority emerged from nearly two decades of harsh military rule.

The Planning Law determined whether Palestinian communities that survived the Nakba would be recognised by the state. The law retrospectively “unrecognised” dozens of small, largely Bedouin villages, many in the Negev (Naqab), such as al-Araqib, which is being subsumed by Ambassadors Forest. The law criminalised these villages overnight, and to this day denies them all services.

The law’s other important function was in fixing the expansion area of every Israeli community. Jewish communities were given generous allowances for future growth and natural expansion, whereas Palestinian communities – the 120 that were recognised – were confined tightly to their built-up area in 1965. The development area has rarely changed since, even though the Palestinian population in Israel has grown eightfold.

Palestinian communities have become overcrowded ghettos. Furthermore, tens of thousands of their homes have been built without permits and are therefore under threat of demolition. Families spend years paying large fines to the authorities to ward off destruction – effectively a form of extra taxation on Palestinian housing – and may still find their house eventually being demolished.

The Israeli authorities want Palestinian communities overcrowded. That is underlined by Israel’s refusal to build a single new Palestinian community since 1948. Planning rules are designed to intensify the pressure on Palestinian citizens to leave.

The kibbutz and moshav

These planning restrictions would not be so critical if Israel was not enforcing the same kind of residential segregation embodied in the tower and stockade, back in the 1930s.

Today, the tower and stockades are gone – except for a few reconstructions, like the one at Nir David, that are visited by schoolchildren learning about the glories of their forebears’ history.

The tower and stockade was succeeded by the kibbutz and moshav – originally collectivised agricultural communities. After the Nakba, many were built on the lands of Palestinian refugees. Hundreds of them exist today and are known as “cooperative associations”.

The kibbutzim and moshavim control about half of the 93 percent of the land the JNF oversees through the Israel Lands Authority. Most no longer rely on agriculture for their livelihood. They are now bedroom communities, with the residents travelling to jobs in larger towns. But they are still key enforcers of residential segregation and ethnic cleansing.

The function of the kibbutz and moshav is still to Judaise land: not only in a historic sense, by continuing to ensure that Palestinian refugees cannot return to reclaim their lands; but in a contemporary sense too, by preventing Palestinian citizens – a fifth of Israel’s population – from living on those lands.

Both literally and figuratively, these “cooperative associations” are gated communities – exclusive clubs, where you must be a member to belong. And Palestinian citizens are always denied membership.

Admissions committees

This is achieved primarily through the admissions committee, vetting bodies operating in some 900 communities across Israel. Each has the power to decide who will be allowed to live within their borders. These committees are guided by the JNF’s charter, and true to its spirit they always bar Palestinian citizens.

Years ago the admissions committees were explicit that no Palestinian citizens were welcome. It was Israel’s Jim Crow. But a legal challenge in the landmark Kaadan case reached the Israeli supreme court in 2000. Embarrassed by the bad publicity abroad, the admissions committees redefined the grounds for exclusion. This was formalised into the Admissions Committee Law in 2011.

Today Palestinian citizens are excluded because they are “not suitable for the social life of the community” or are found to be incompatible with the “social-cultural fabric.”

In short, Palestinian citizens are denied a place in these 900 communities because they are not Zionists, because they do not support Judaisation, and because they do not approve of their own exclusion, dispossession and ultimately expulsion from their homeland.

The JNF has been advancing its ugly, settler-colonial agenda on the ground for more than century. It is long past time that the JNF was held to account for its nefarious activities and that your campaign succeeds in stripping the JNF of its charitable status.

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.