Category Archives: UK Politics

The Fake News Nazi: Corbyn, Williamson And The Anti-Semitism Scandal

One of us had a discussion with an elderly relative:

He can’t be allowed to become Prime Minister.

Why not?

It’s so awful…

What is?

The way he hates the Jews.

The last comment was spoken with real anguish, the result of continuous exposure to just two main news sources: the Daily Mail and the BBC.

What is astonishing is that, just four years ago, essentially no-one held this view of Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn first became an MP in 1983. He stood for the Labour leadership 32 years later, in May 2015. We searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:

Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism before 1 May 2015 = 18 hits

Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism after 1 May 2015 = 11,251 hits

None of the 18 hits accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. For his first 32 years as an MP, it just wasn’t a theme associated with him.

We also searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:

Labour Party and anti-semitism before 1 May 2015 = 5,347 hits

Labour Party and anti-semitism after 1 May 2015 = 13,921 hits

The archive begins in 1980, which means that more than twice as many articles have included these terms in the last four years than in the 35 years from 1980 until May 2015 when Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership. A standard response to these findings runs along these lines:

Irrelevant backbencher gets less Press attention than Leader of The Opposition SHOCKER. What’s your next scoop, Water Wet, Sky Blue?

But, in fact, Corbyn was not an irrelevant backbencher. We found 3,662 hits for articles mentioning Corbyn before May 2015. Many of these are mentions in passing, but he had also long been a high-profile anti-war MP at a time of numerous wars. And he was frequently smeared, only not about his supposed anti-semitism. Consider, for example, an article that appeared in The Sun in 1999, under a typically cruel title:

Why did it take you so long to dump him, Mrs Corbyn?1

The story:

EXTREME Left MP Jeremy Corbyn has been dumped by his missus after an amazing bust-up over their son’s education.

The key issue, according to The Sun:

Now the question on everyone’s lips is: Why did it take her so long to leave the loathsome Lefty, and more importantly, why is she only moaning about his choice of schools?

Because there was, apparently, plenty to moan about. The Sun described Corbyn as ‘class crusader Jeremy – a rabid IRA sympathiser’ who ‘not only looks and dresses like a third-rate Open University lecturer, he thinks like one too. In 1984 the Provo stooge invited twice-convicted terrorist and bomber Linda Quigley to the House of Commons just 13 days after the IRA’s murderous attack on Tories staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton’.

This was pretty brutal stuff. The Sun added of Corbyn’s ex-wife:

Claudia’s saviour of the masses also suffers incredible delusions of grandeur. Communist states may be falling like dominoes, but raving Red Jeremy still believes his outdated views are relevant to modern-day Britain.

And:

Not only is Jeremy a political coward who backs terrorists, he is also a self-confessed big girl’s blouse.

And:

Jeremy’s mis-shapen suits, lumpy jumpers and nylon shirts are not exactly what the well-dressed radical is wearing in 1999… Claudia should be aware her ex is irredeemably, unforgivably, annoyingly stupid.

Given the no-holds-barred nature of the smear, it is amazing that The Sun made no mention at all of Corbyn’s vile anti-semitism, viewed as his most obvious and dangerous defect now.

The reason is that, as this shows, not even his worst enemies viewed him as an anti-semite. The extreme Tory press aside, the accepted view of Corbyn pre-2015 is indicated by a long, admiring piece in which Jewish journalist Deborah Ross, whose family members were murdered in Polish pogroms even before the Nazi Holocaust was unleashed, interviewed him for the Independent in 2005. Ross commented:

He is also, it is generally agreed, an exemplary constituency MP. Even my friend Rebecca, who recently sought his help on a local issue, and never usually has a nice word to say about anybody, which is why I like her, describes him as a “totally genuine mensch”.

Ross added:

As The Sun would have it, Mr Corbyn is a “beardy Bolshevik” and “loathsome lefty” but he does not come across as either. He has strong opinions but does not demand you listen to them, if you don’t want to.

He is scandal free, unless you count the hoo-ha a few years back when it was revealed that Jeremy’s oldest son would be attending a grammar school outside the borough.

Joseph Finlay is a former Deputy Editor of the Jewish Quarterly, who co-founded a range of grassroots Jewish organisations such as Moishe House London, Wandering Jews, Jewdas and The Open Talmud Project. On 2 March 2018, Finlay wrote in his blog under the title, ‘Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-racist, not an anti-Semite’:

Firstly we need to restore some perspective. The Labour party has thousands of Jewish members, many Jewish councillors, a number of prominent Jewish MPs and several Jewish members of its ruling council. Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences.

Finlay added:

Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983 – a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him. As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. He is close friends with the leaders of the Jewish Socialist Group, from whom he has gained a rich knowledge of the history of the Jewish Labour Bund, and he has named the defeat of Mosley’s Fascists at the Battle of Cable as a key historical moment for him. His 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day statement talked about Shmuel Zygielboym, the Polish Bund leader exiled to London who committed suicide in an attempt to awaken the world to the Nazi genocide. How many British politicians have that level of knowledge of modern Jewish history?

Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook notes that a recent Labour Party report ‘decisively undercut’ the claims of Corbyn’s critics ‘not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all’. Cook summarised:

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

He added:

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

In ‘Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel’ by the Jewish Institute for Policy Research, L. Daniel Staetsky found:

Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. Yet, all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum – including the “slightly left-of-centre,” the “fairly left-wing” and the “very left-wing” – exhibit higher levels of anti-Israelism than average. The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.

The report notes that ‘the prevalence of antisemitism on the far right is considerably higher than on the left and in the political centre’.

Noam Chomsky has commented:

The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.2

Suspending Chris Williamson

On February 27, a propaganda blitz was launched against anti-war Labour MP Chris Williamson who had been filmed saying that Labour Party responses to claims of anti-semitism had exacerbated the crisis:

I’ve got to say, I think our party’s response has been partly responsible… Because, in my opinion, we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.

Williamson added:

We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-semitism than any political party.

It is clear that Williamson was strongly endorsing the fight against anti-semitism and was proud of the Labour Party’s record. Actual anti-semites talk of ‘the scourge of Judaism’, Williamson talked of ‘the scourge of anti-semitism’. He was suggesting that the party had been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign attempting to destroy Corbyn by exploiting the issue of anti-semitism.

Others chose to see it differently. Guardian columnist Owen Jones responded to Williamson’s comments:

This is utterly out of order. When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry? Why is he, a non-Jew, right and Jon Lansman – a Jewish socialist who founded Momentum and ran Corbyn’s second leadership campaign – wrong about anti-Semitism?

We replied:

When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry?

He’s *endorsing* the fight against racism and bigotry. He’s saying Labour has been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign to destroy Corbyn in the name of anti-racism.

Ash Sharkar of Novara Media tweeted:

Chris Williamson has been had the Labour whip suspended pending investigation, which I think is the right decision. But much more work must be done to proactively confront and dismantle conspiratorial and antisemitic thinking on the left, and it goes much further than expulsions.

Aaron Bastani, also of Novara Media, wrote:

I think media coverage of the “Labour anti-semitism crisis” is completely disproportionate – primarily because it underplays problem more broadly across society.

Equally, hearing & reading the things I have in recent days I wouldn’t feel welcome in the party as a Jewish person.

In our latest book, Propaganda Blitz, we noted a key factor driving home these smear blitzes:

While a demonising propaganda blitz may arise from rightist politics and media, the propaganda coup de grace ending public doubt often comes from the “left-liberal” journalists at the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC and Channel 4; and also from non-corporate journalists who crave acceptance by these media. Again, the logic is clear: if even celebrity progressive journalists – people famous for their principled stands, and colourful socks and ties – join the denunciations, then there must be something to the claims. At this point, it actually becomes difficult to doubt it.3

Foreign Wars – Racism versus Speciesism

The truth of the corporate media’s ‘ethical concern’ becomes clearer when we consider Corbyn’s record on foreign wars. While the UK affects to care deeply about racism, Chomsky has noted that the West’s endless ‘interventions’ – all reflexively supported by the same media damning Corbyn now – are manifestations of a prejudice, beyond even racism, that is a kind of speciesism:

Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.4

Even if Corbyn was an anti-semite, a racist, he would still be a far safer ethical choice than Tory and Blairite speciesists who value human beings on the level of ants. After all, we find that Jeremy Corbyn:

Consistently voted against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Consistently voted against the Iraq war.

… voted to say that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established’.

… voted against a motion stating the Government should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Support for the motion by the majority of MPs led to the UK joining the US invasion of Iraq two days later.

Generally voted for investigations into the Iraq war.

… acted as teller for a vote on UK Air Strikes Against ISIL in Iraq.

… voted against the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya.

… voted against the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan.

… voted to decline to authorise UK military action in Syria.

… voted against UK airstrikes against ISIL in Syria.

Generally voted against replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system.

Consider, by contrast, the record of the Labour MPs who have left the Labour Party, supposedly in protest at the rise of anti-semitism, to form The Independent Group:

Chuka Umunna: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Angela Smith: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Mike Gapes: Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Chris Leslie: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Luciana Berger: Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Joan Ryan: Consistently voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas,  Consistently voted for the Iraq war, Consistently voted against investigations into the Iraq war.

Ann Coffey: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Gavin Shuker: Voted a mixture of for and against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Not even his most extreme critics are suggesting that Corbyn is offering the kind of threat to Jewish people consistently offered by Tory and Blairite MPs to millions of people in countries like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Yemen. Even if Corbyn had erred in failing to perceive the ugliness of a mural declared antisemitic by the press; even if had been lax in taking action against party racists, and so on, how do these failings compare to the destruction of whole countries in lie-based wars of aggression?

Why do corporate media never make this moral comparison? Because they are incapable of perceiving US-UK crimes against humanity as crimes; a wilful moral blindness that renders them completely unfit to pass judgment on Corbyn. Especially as they are themselves, of course, complicit in these same war crimes.

Conclusion

The claim that Corbyn is an anti-semite presiding over a surge in Labour Party anti-semitism is fake news; it is a scam of the utmost cynicism and brutality. It should be viewed as the latest in a long line of attempts to destroy Corbyn by all necessary means. He has been smeared for not bowing low enough, for not singing loudly enough, for hating women, for disrespecting gay people, for consorting with terrorists, for refusing to unleash a nuclear holocaust, for being a shambolic leader, for being a shambolic dresser, for leading Labour towards certain electoral disaster, for being a Putinite stooge, for aping Trump, and so on. Now, finally, someone widely admired for thirty years as a decent, socialist MP, has been transformed into an anti-semite; or as game show assistant and political commentator Rachel Riley implies, a ‘Nazi’.

Anti-semitism does exist in the Labour Party, as it exists throughout UK society, and, of course, these delusions should be resisted and exposed. But the smear campaign against Corbyn is not rooted in concern for the welfare of Jewish people; it is not even about blocking a political leader who cares about Palestinian rights. It is about preventing Corbyn from undoing Tony Blair’s great achievement of transforming the Labour Party into a second Tory Party, thus ensuring voters have no option challenging corporate domination, including the ‘humanitarian interventions’ for oil and other resources. The goal is to stop Corbyn letting democracy out of its box.

Stephen Law of Heythrop College, University of London, warns that cavalier accusations made ‘on the basis of obviously flimsy or nonexistent evidence’ are ‘disrespecting the memory of the millions who were slaughtered by real antisemitism during the Holocaust’. But, in fact, it is worse than that. State propagandists and their corporate media allies are exploiting the suffering of these millions as part of an attack on British democracy. This is obscene. But it is not particularly shocking after the campaigns of deceit which, as discussed, knowingly risked and then shattered the lives of millions of innocent human beings in US-UK wars of aggression.

One thing is certain, if Corbyn and his style of socialism can be made to disappear, we’ll hear no more about anti-semitism in the Labour Party, just as we heard no more about Iraqi democracy after Saddam Hussein, or human rights in Libya after Gaddafi; just as we will hear no more about press freedom in Venezuela, if Maduro is overthrown.

As this alert was being written, news emerged that Corbyn had been subjected to a physical assault in London, to muted concern from almost all corporate media and journalists (compare ‘mainstream’ reaction to news that Conservative MP Anna Soubry had been called a ‘Nazi’). Journalists claimed Corbyn had merely had an egg thrown at him. Labour MP Diane Abbott tweeted:

I was there. He punched Jeremy very hard. He happened to have an egg in his palm. But it could have been a knife. Horrible

Perhaps journalists couldn’t bear to express concern for a person they have so completely reviled for almost four years. Or perhaps they knew their smears of a thoroughly decent, well-intentioned man would be thrown back at them. More likely, they just didn’t care. And that, finally, is the truth of their ‘ethical concern’ – they don’t care.

  1. Ally Ross, The Sun, 13 May 1999.
  2. Noam Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018.
  3. David Edwards and David Cromwell, Propaganda Blitz, Pluto Press, 2018, pp.8-9.
  4. Chomsky ZNet blog, ‘Samantha Power, Bush & Terrorism,’ 31 July 2007.

Would railing at a Labour Saudi Lobby be Racist?

Owen Jones has made a short video discussing Labour’s crisis over anti-semitism. There are some good elements to it, not least the warning against conspiratorial thinking, and an admission, admittedly a fairly limited one, that the Labour leadership should not be accused of being anti-semitic (and implicitly that the party is not “institutionally anti-semitic”.)

Sadly, however, there is little more to recommend. This is another example of how Jones has failed to grasp the larger issues involved, and how he views the anti-semitism issue through an astoundingly narrow lens – one that refuses to depart from a simplistic identity politics.

Given that Jones is supposed to be one of the very few prominent voices of support for Corbyn in the media, this is depressing indeed. And it is why I have taken the time to analyse a couple of the most glaring flaws in the video.

First, Jones makes a telling analogy, and one that highlights his confusion.

He objects to Labour members raising the issue of Israel when Jewish comrades want to talk about anti-semitism by noting that no one would think it acceptable to deflect the conversation to Saudi Arabia if Muslims sought to talk about Islamophobia.

However, Jones ignores a very serious difference between these two examples. The fact is that there is a very strong and vocal pro-Israel lobby in the Labour party – not least the Jewish Labour Movement, the sister organisation of the Israeli Labour party, and Labour Friends of Israel, which includes 80 MPs.

Imagine for a moment – if you can – what it would mean were the voice of Muslims in the party to be represented chiefly by a Labour Friends of Saudi Arabia and a Saudi Labour Movement.

How would ordinary members respond to these Saudi-affiliated Labour MPs and this pro-Saudi lobby vigorously defending and promoting Saudi Arabia in the party? Indeed, how would they feel about criticism of Riyadh being termed “Islamophobia”, and a section of Muslim Labour members, supported by a group of prominent non-Muslim MPs, complaining that criticism of Saudi Arabia amounted to an attack on their identity as Muslims?

Human rights abusers

Demands to respect their identification with Saudi Arabia would, I suspect, hold little sway with most Labour members. Members would rightly expect to be able to criticise not only Saudi Arabia, but also others in the party who openly supported Riyadh and lobbied on its behalf. And it is fair to assume they would object in very strong terms were they accused of Islamophobia for doing so.

Before I get told that any comparison between Israel and Saudi Arabia is anti-semitic (and I am sure I will), let me remind readers it was Jones, not me, who introduced this analogy. Nonetheless, I think it is clear that such a comparison is valid.

The fact is that both states are massive human rights abusers. Saudi Arabia’s head-chopping, women-oppressing theocracy is an abhorrent state; but so too is Israel’s anachronistic colonial-settler state, built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and a decades-long belligerent occupation. Both are shameful examples of the trampling of human rights to promote an extreme ideology that confuses politics and religion.

So Jones’ comparison is actually far more useful and revealing than he presumably realises.

Racism towards Palestinians

Labour’s real-life lobby groups are not only fanatically pro-Israel, they are also deeply hostile to Corbyn – and have been since he was elected leader. The reason is obvious. They oppose him not because he is anti-semitic (at least Jones concedes that much in Corbyn’s favour) but because he is genuinely anti-racist – that is, he is against all forms of racism.

They oppose him because he has been a long-time critic of Israel for its undeniable oppression of, and racism towards, Palestinians.

The Saudi Arabia comparison would again be telling. Were a Saudi Arabia lobby to vocally denounce Corbyn as Islamophobic for rejecting human rights abuses by Riyadh, domestically and in Yemen, Labour members would rightly come to Corbyn’s defence and highlight the cynical exploitation of Islamophobia to shield Saudi Arabia from criticism.

But the Labour lobby’s support for Israel is not theoretical. Despite their claims, most of these lobbyists are not supporting – at least in practice – efforts to realise a two-state solution, as Corbyn does. Their actions, if not always their words, support the far-right government of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and the systematic crimes his government commits against Palestinians.

They identify so fully with Israel that they would rather oust Corbyn – or even, it seems, destroy the Labour party – than let him reach power. In other words, they would rather override the democratic will of party members than risk Corbyn shifting Britain away from its unwavering support for the Netanyahu government, or a government of army generals if it takes his place after April’s election.

Plot against Corbyn

To state this is not to indulge in some kind of conspiratorial thinking, as Jones implies. We know that pro-Israel lobbyists in Labour like the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel have been plotting to rid Labour of Corbyn to protect a Netanyahu-led Israel.

How do we know? Because an undercover reporter from Al Jazeera spent months secretly filming the efforts of these lobby groups to damage Corbyn in collusion with an Israeli agent, Shai Masot, working out of the Israeli embassy in London.

It is significant that, like the rest of the British media, Jones, who comments so much on the supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour, rarely, if ever, refers to the resulting documentary, The Lobby.

One can understand why. It deeply damages his thesis, and suggests what he denies: that groups like the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel are conflating anti-Zionism with anti-semitism precisely to weaponise anti-semitism – to make it politically useful to them.

The documentary suggests that Labour’s problem isn’t so much anti-semitic tropes on the “hard left” as it is anti-Corbyn scheming among die-hard supporters of Israel.

Blair’s Great Game for Oil

Second, Jones wilfully ignores the wider political dimension to the anti-semitism furore in Labour.

He assumes, without any evidence, that “moderates” like former leader Tony Blair and current deputy leader Tom Watson care more about anti-semitism and racism than do Jeremy Corbyn and Chris Williamson, the MP who was recently suspended for publicly defending the party and its members against charges that anti-semitism in Labour was endemic.

(We will draw a veil over the problem that, disgracefully, Jones backed the suspension of Williamson, even though in the video Jones effectively echoes him by denying that the party suffers from institutional anti-semitism.)

Jones bases his assumption on zero evidence. Or rather he ignores the massive evidence suggesting that both Blair and Watson have a much weaker commitment to anti-racism than Corbyn and Williamson.

Blair waged an illegal war in Iraq that probably led to the preventable deaths of more than a million Iraqis, and turned many millions more into refugees. He acted as though these human beings were simply pawns on a chessboard that could be shuffled around in the Great Game for Oil played by himself and US President George W Bush.

Also, Blair has been fabulously remunerated by Saudi Arabia for working as a consultant to the head-chopping regime, one that has funded a militant Islamic extremism across the Middle East, destabilising the region and contributing to countless more deaths.

As for Labour’s deputy leader, consider these recent observations from veteran party member Graham Bash:

Watson is extremely unconcerned when it comes to racism against black people and Muslims. He went along with all New Labour’s anti-terrorism and Prevent measures. He also abstained on Theresa May’s 2014 Immigration Act which introduced the ‘hostile environment policy’ which led to the deportation of hundreds of black people.

Class privilege

Neither of these men has the authority to lecture the Labour leadership, or its members, on any kind of racism.

What is undeniable is that these Labour “moderates”, who represent the centrist impulses of the parliamentary party and have the sympathetic ear of the liberal corporate media, viscerally hate Corbyn. They regard his mildly socialist programme as a threat to the economic and social order that privileges them.

If it is now clear that we are in a class struggle, how is the multi-millionaire Blair, who owns a clutch of palatial homes, possibly on the right side of that struggle?

Similarly, the problem is less that Dame Margaret Hodge is a hardcore Zionist than that she is a hardcore supporter of capitalism – along with many other Labour MPs. Hodge enjoys the fortune of her family’s business empire, and married into even more money. Like most of the Labour parliamentary party, she has no understanding of the difficulties endured by austerity-hit Britain.

It is the very privileges enjoyed by most Labour MPs that make them unlikely champions for any serious redistribution of wealth.

Defending capitalism

It is also why a growing section of a supposedly socialist Labour party are trying to extend the meaning of an already weaponised anti-semitism into ever-more fanciful, and apparently self-sabotaging, realms.

Anti-semitism has rapidly gone from meaning hatred or fear of Jews, to opposition to Israel, to antipathy to capitalism, as starkly illustrated by another “moderate” Labour MP, Siobhan McDonagh. As Jones notes, she recently told Radio 4:

It’s very much part of their [Corbyn supporters’] politics, of hard left politics, to be against capitalists and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital. Ergo you are anti-Jewish people.

That line of argument has been emerging – unremarked – for some time from within parts of the Labour party, and it is proof in itself that many so-called “moderates” have been weaponising anti-semitism – not to protect Jews but to protect their class privilege.

What we see in Labour is a pincer movement utilising anti-semitism to try to fatally wound Corbyn and the movement behind him. Some oppose him because Israel is their issue, some because maintenance of the neoliberal order is their issue. Both groups, it seems, fear any change to the status quo, and have discovered the accusation of anti-semitism is a winning card.

But real socialists, recognising that western economies and the planet’s climate are moving closer to meltdown, know that change has to be a political priority – and an urgent one. For Labour party members, those who uphold either the right of Israel to be a racist oppressor state or the right of capitalism to destroy the planet stand in the way of efforts to prevent humankind from hurtling over the cliff edge.

Jones and other fairweather allies of a Corbyn-led Labour refuse to consider any of this when they agree to prioritise an anti-semitism “crisis” manufactured by the very opponents of a renewed socialist programme they say they support.

It is long past time for Jones to take off his blinkers and see what is happening to the Labour party.

Labour’s Civil War on Israel has been a Long Time Coming

An announcement this week by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) that it is considering splitting from the British Labour Party could not have come at a worse moment for Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is already besieged by claims that he is presiding over a party that has become “institutionally anti-semitic”.

The threats by the JLM should be seen as part of concerted efforts to oust Corbyn from the leadership. They follow on the heels of a decision by a handful of Labour MPs last month to set up a new faction called the Independent Group. They, too, cited anti-semitism as a major reason for leaving.

On the defensive, Corbyn was prompted to write to the JLM expressing his and the shadow cabinet’s “very strong desire for you to remain a part of our movement”. More than 100 Labour MPs, including members of the front bench, similarly pleaded with the JLM not to disaffiliate. They apologised for “toxic racism” in the party and for “letting our Jewish supporters and members down”.

Their letter noted that the JLM is “the legitimate and long-standing representative of Jews in the Labour party” and added that the MPs recognised the importance of “calling out those who seek to make solidarity with our Jewish comrades a test of foreign policy”.

That appeared to be a swipe at Corbyn himself, who is the first leader of a British political party to prioritise Palestinian rights over the UK’s ties to an Israeli state that has been oppressing Palestinians for decades.

Only this week the Labour leader renewed his call for Britain to halt arms sales to Israel following a UN report that said the Israeli army’s shooting of Palestinian protesters in Gaza’s Great March of Return could amount to war crimes.

Evidence ignored

Despite the media attention, all the evidence suggests that Labour does not have a problem of “institutional anti-semitism”, or even a problem of anti-semitism above the marginal racism towards Jews found in the wider British population. Figures show only 0.08 percent of Labour members have been disciplined for anti-semitism.

Also largely ignored by the British media, and Corbyn’s opponents, is the fact that a growing number of Jews are publicly coming out in support for him and discounting the claims of an “endemic” anti-semitism problem.

Some 200 prominent Jews signed a letter to the Guardian newspaper calling Corbyn “a crucial ally in the fight against bigotry and reaction. His lifetime record of campaigning for equality and human rights, including consistent support for initiatives against antisemitism, is formidable.”

At the same time, a new organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, has been established to underscore that there are progressive Jews who welcome Corbyn’s leadership.

On the back foot

In the current hysterical climate, however, no one seems interested in the evidence or these dissenting voices. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Corbyn and his supporters are on the back foot as they face losing from Labour an affiliate group of 2,000 members who represent a section of the UK’s Jewish community.

But paradoxically, the loss of the JLM may be inevitable if Labour is serious about becoming a party that opposes racism in all its forms, because the JLM has proved it is incapable of meeting that simple standard.

While the Labour Party has been dragged into an increasingly fractious debate about whether anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel as a Jewish state – equates to anti-semitism, everyone has been distracted from the elephant in the room.

Zionism as racism

In fact, it is political Zionism, at least in the hardline form adopted by groups such as the JLM, that is racism – towards Palestinians.

Zionism, we should recall, required the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians to engineer a “Jewish state” on the ruins of Palestinians’ homeland. It fuelled Israel’s hunger for an enlarged territory that led to it occupying the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and further dispossessing the Palestinians through illegal settlement building.

Zionism has made it impossible for any Israeli government to offer meaningful concessions to Palestinians on statehood to create the conditions necessary for peace. It has justified policies that view “mixing between the races” – between Jews and Palestinians – as dangerous “miscegenation” and “assimilation”.

Furthermore, Zionism has kept Israel’s Palestinian citizens a segregated minority, hemmed up in their own ghettoised communities, denied rights to almost all land in Israel, and corralled into their own separate and massively inferior school system.

Efforts to oust Corbyn

All of these policies were instituted by Israel’s Labor Party, the sister organisation of the JLM in Britain. The JLM not only refuses to oppose these policies, but effectively shields Israel from criticism about them from within Britain’s Labour Party.

The JLM has remained mute on the structural violence of Israel’s occupying army, and the systematic racism – encoded in Israel’s laws – towards the fifth of its population who are Palestinian citizens.

Meanwhile, the JLM’s mother body, the World Zionist Organization, has a division that – to this day – finances the establishment and expansion of settlements in the West Bank, in violation of international law.

Added to this, an Al Jazeera undercover documentary broadcast in 2017 showed that the JLM was covertly working with an Israeli government official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn because of his pro-Palestinian positions.

Israel, remember, has for the last decade equated to the ultra-nationalist government of Benjamin Netanyahu. His coalition allies seek not a two-state solution, but the takeover of most of the occupied territories and ultimately their annexation, again in violation of international law.

Ella Rose was appointed director of the JLM in 2016, straight from a post at the Israeli embassy.

Relic of old politics

Times – and politics – move on. The JLM is a relic of a period when it was possible to claim to be anti-racist while turning a blind eye to the oppression of the Palestinian people. Social media and Palestinians armed with camera phones – not just Corbyn – have made that evasion no longer possible.

Labour giving pride of place to groups such as the JLM or Labour Friends of Israel – to which 80 of its MPs proudly belong – is, in the current circumstances, as obscene as it would have been 40 years ago for British parties to host their own Friends of South Africa groups.

The Labour Party bureaucracy is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern world by its members, who have felt liberated by Corbyn’s leadership and his history of supporting all kinds of anti-racism struggles, including the Palestinian one.

While Britain has major and pressing issues to tackle, from dealing with its exit from Europe to imminent climate collapse, Labour’s energies have been sidetracked into a civil war about Israel, of all things.

The old guard want to be allowed to support Israel, even as it heads towards full-blown fascism, while much of the membership want to dissociate from what looks increasingly like another apartheid state – and one whose leaders are seeking to stoke conflict across a volatile region.

Redefining anti-semitism

Israel’s most ardent supporters, and Corbyn’s enemies, in Labour will play dirty to protect Israel and their own role from scrutiny, as they have been doing all along.

The JLM led moves last year intended to divide the party by insisting that Labour redefine anti-semitism to include criticism of Israel.

Rumblings of dissatisfaction from the JLM will be cited as further evidence of the membership’s anti-semitism, because that is the most powerful weapon they have to silence criticism of Israel and deflect attention away from their role in shielding Israel from proper scrutiny within Labour.

Politics is about choices and values. Labour has for many decades sided exclusively with Israel and ignored the rights of Palestinians.

Support for ethnic cleansing

In 1944 – four years before Israel’s creation – Labour’s annual conference recommended that the natives of Palestine, a large majority population, be ethnically cleansed to advance the goals of European Zionists colonising their land. The resolution declared: “Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in.”

That is exactly what Israel did by expelling 750,000 Palestinians, more than 80 percent of the Palestinian population, in events we now call the Nakba (Catastrophe).

For decades after Israel’s creation, Labour Party members happily travelled to Israel to toil in agricultural communes, such as the kibbutz, that were built on stolen Palestinian land and which, to this day, refuse to allow any of the country’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens to live in them.

In a speech in 1972, after Israel seized yet more Palestinian lands, including East Jerusalem, Labour leader Harold Wilson urged Israel to hold on to these conquered territories: “Israel’s reaction is natural and proper in refusing to accept the Palestinians as a nation.”

Dark underbelly of racism

This is the dark, dishonourable underbelly of Labour racism, and the party’s decades-long support for colonialism in the Middle East.

Labour created a hierarchy of racisms, in which concern about hatred towards Jews enjoyed star billing while racism towards some other groups, most especially Palestinians, barely registered.

Under Corbyn and a much-expanded membership, these prejudices are being challenged in public for the first time – and that is justifiably making the party an “unsafe” space for groups such as the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel, which hang on to outdated, hardline Zionist positions.

The JLM’s claim to speak for all Jews in Labour has been challenged by anti-racist Jews like those of the Jewish Voice for Labour. Their efforts to defend Corbyn and Labour’s record have been widely ignored by the media or, encouraged by JLM, dismissed as “downplaying” anti-semitism.

History catching up

The JLM’s discomfort may be unfortunate, but it cannot be avoided. It is the price to be paid for the continuing battle by progressives to advance universal rights and defeat racism. This battle has been waged since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was published in 1948 – paradoxically, the year Israel was established by violating the core principles of that declaration.

Israel’s racism towards Palestinians has been indulged by Labour for too long. Now history is catching up with Israel, and with groups such as the JLM.

Labour MPs have a choice. They can stand on the wrong side of history, battling the tide like some modern King Canute, or they can recognise that it is time to fully enter the modern era – and that means embracing a programme of anti-racism that encompasses everyone, including Jews and Palestinians.

• A version of this article first published in Middle East Eye

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

John Harris, a columnist who by the Guardian’s current dismal standards is considered on the newspaper’s left, has added his voice to the paper’s endless contributions on Labour’s supposed “anti-semitism crisis”. Sadly, his is typical of the paper’s misrepresentations of the issue.

It is easy – and lazy – to accuse those who peddle these distortions of acting solely in bad faith. But speaking as someone who was himself once deeply immersed as a journalist in the corporate culture of the Guardian, I know how simple it is from within that culture to fail to scrutinise one’s most fundamental and cherished assumptions. In fact, it’s often a requirement for remaining employed.

Nonetheless, Harris is such a good journalist by conventional standards and his work here is so lamentable, so lacking in awareness of even basic human psychology, that it cries out for some deeper analysis.

A lot has been written about how we now live in information silos. But that was true even before the arrival of social media for those like Harris whose job in the corporate media is to shore up a largely consensual view of the world, if only out of fear of the consequences should that consensus break down. In the wake of Brexit, we have heard liberal journalists grow louder in their suggestions that there is now “too much democracy”. As the consensus crumbles, their authoritarian instincts are becoming ever clearer.

No one from the Daily Mail to the Guardian departs from the “Labour is institutionally anti-semitic” narrative. That in itself is quite extraordinary. But the dearth of evidence for this narrative offers an opportunity to shake us out of our complacent belief that a state-corporate media, one reliant on profits from advertising corporations, can ever represent more than a narrow spectrum of thought – thought that helps those in power to maintain their power.

Moral panics and self-delusions

‘Harris begins his article by noting a Jewish woman’s experience of what she sees as an increasingly “abusive relationship” with the Labour party after 40 years as a member. Reporting her concerns, Harris lists a few recent incidents witnessed by this woman that she cites as proof of a rising tide of anti-semitism in Labour.

Absolutely no details are provided beyond her interpretations of what took place. (One should note that this lack of evidence is a staple of the media’s narrative about “institutional anti-semitism” in Labour.) So let us weigh as best we can the interpretations put forward by Harris’s anonymous interviewee as our gateway into examining the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative itself.

First some background. Most liberal journalists are aware of the problem of what are called “moral panics”. Harris’s Guardian colleague Nick Davies wrote an influential book, Flat Earth News, whose first chapter was dedicated to the way the media and public can end up in a narrative tailspin, entering a world of mutually reinforcing self-delusions.

When such delusions serve an establishment agenda, they can be particularly pernicious and difficult to root out. And beating Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into submission – or into the dust – before he can reach No 10 is definitely high on the political and media establishments’ agenda.

Moral panics work this way: Journalists stoke up emotions or fears over an issue that then runs rampant through public discourse to the point at which it no longer bears any resemblance to the real problem.

A famous example cited by Davies is the outpouring of concern, as the millennium approached, with a supposed Year 2000 computer bug. Through 1999, the media stoked an apocalyptic mood about the imminent meltdown of our newly computerised world, leaving us without basic goods, medicines and transport because computers would not be able to cope with a numerical change in the date. (For those too young to remember those events, the doomsday scenarios around Brexit pale in comparison.) The bug, of course, never materialised.

Once you are persuaded that something is true, however implausible it is, everything is likely to be filtered through that lens. And when everyone says Labour is institutionally anti-semitic, everything – from real hatred of Jews to vague or clumsy phrasing about anti-semitism, or criticism of Israel – will seem anti-semitic to you.

Two sides to every story

So when Harris’s interviewee says she was “jeered” by her Labour constituency general committee for raising the issue of anti-semitism, we cannot be sure that she actually was “jeered” rather than that she faced objections from committee members, possibly valid ones, about what she was claiming.

Similarly, we cannot know – beyond her claim – that she raised the issue of anti-semitism rather than that she labelled members of her constituency anti-semites for matters that had nothing to do with anti-semitism, such as their being highly critical of Israel or disagreeing with the claim that the Labour party is institutionally anti-semitic.

All of this is necessarily speculative on my part because Harris has allowed his interviewee to pass on her (possibly self-serving) interpretation of these events as the only one. And as we all know, life tends not to work like that. There are usually two sides to any story.

If it sounds like I’m being unfair to Harris’s interviewee, let’s remember that she would be very far from alone in perpetrating such misrepresentations, consciously or otherwise.

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

In fact, Harris himself, a well-trained journalist of impeccable liberal credentials, makes precisely this kind of misrepresentation a few paragraphs later on in his article, when he discusses the case of MP Chris Williamson.

Williamson, an ally of Corbyn’s, was suspended by Labour last week after the media reported that he had told a group of Labour members that the party had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism. The media, as well as “moderate” Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn, were outraged that Williamson thought it was possible to be “too apologetic” about bigotry towards Jews.

For them, the incident also usefully proved the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative they are so invested in because Williamson’s racism was warmly applauded by all those present.

Except none of that is true. You don’t even need to take my word for it. It is all recorded on video. You can listen to what Williamson said yourself and see why the audience cheered.

What Williamson actually said makes no sense to the corporate media or the Labour rightwing because it conflicts with their narrative, with a worldview that presupposes Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic”. They cannot conceive of any interpretation of his speech that might undermine that narrative.

Defending Labour from smears

Williamson wasn’t telling Labour members to stop apologising about anti-semitism in Labour, and that wasn’t why they applauded him. He was telling them that there is no evidence to justify calling Labour institutionally anti-semitic, or even especially anti-semitic.

He was also saying that the endless focus on anti-semitism in Labour, and the apologies for incidents that were misunderstandings or smears rather than examples of Jew hatred, had painted a false picture of the Labour party. He was calling for Labour to stop being in default apologetic mode and start defending Labour’s reputation for anti-racism.

The members applauded because it was the the first time a Labour leader had stood up for them. Every day they hear the Guardian and Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, who is angling for Corbyn’s job, conducting a conversation over their heads that assumes they are either racists or that they turn a blind eye to racism. They are fed up with it. They know the narrative is nonsense and they are angry. When Williamson defended them, rather than those who smear them, they were delighted.

So how did Harris manage to cite this clip as further proof of Labour “institutional anti-semitism”, as he does here:

Just watch the video that eventually led to Derby North MP Chris Williamson being suspended from the party, and consider not what he said about Labour’s approach to antisemitism (“We’ve given too much ground – we’ve been too apologetic”), but the loud applause that followed.

How is it possible that everything I’ve just summarised of Williamson’s speech, and the audience’s response, passed so far above Harris’s head that he failed even to acknowledge it? He doesn’t have to agree with Williamson or those applauding him, but he has to be fair to them about how they viewed the meeting. To simply erase from the record what Williamson meant and what his audience’s applause meant is to perpetrate a deception. It’s to assist in promoting a moral panic.

Unlike many of those commenting, Harris is supposed to be a close observer of the Labour rank and file. He spends a lot of time, it appears, travelling the UK meeting ordinary people. How could he have missed this groundswell of anger among party members at being endlessly defamed – and not only missed it, but joined in the defamation himself?

Blind to other narratives

This isn’t just about Labour and anti-semitism. The Guardian, the paper of the liberal-left, has missed or misunderstood all the major political shifts of the last five years. It couldn’t imagine Corbyn being elected leader or understand the significance of the membership’s vote after it had happened. The Guardian also didn’t foresee the massive surge in support for a Corbyn-led Labour party at the last election. Instead it has led the media pack trying to undermine Corbyn, typically by promoting gross misrepresentations like this latest one echoed by Harris.

The Guardian’s incomprehension at Brexit is starkly on show too. Its commentaries rarely rise above denunciations of anti-immigrant racism. Its singleminded cheerleading of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders was as boneheaded as its continuing bafflement at the victory of Donald Trump.

The Guardian is a huge media outfit, employing many hundreds of journalists. And yet online pundits have regularly produced much more insightful analyses than the paper.

Harris’s article is yet more confirmation that even the best corporate journalists end up being blinded by media groupthink, leaving them unable to make sense of the world around them. They literally can’t see or hear what is staring them in the face. Harris is so immersed in a “consensus” anti-semitism narrative that he interprets the blinding dazzle of the sun as darkness, he perceives white as a diabolical black.

Filming an anti-semitism smear

This problem isn’t restricted to the media, of course. Politicians are equally blinkered about events that cannot be fitted into their worldview.

Take the case of Joan Ryan, a non-Jewish Labour MP who chairs Labour Friends of Israel and recently defected to the Independent Group over the anti-semitism issue. Perhaps not surprisingly given her emotional investment in defending Israel, apparently at all costs and whatever the evidence of its oppression of Palestinians, she is deeply opposed to Labour being led by Corbyn, a champion of the Palestinian cause.

To what terrible misdeeds that might lead her was laid bare when she made up an accusation of anti-semitism out of whole cloth against a Labour party member. Remember that accusing someone falsely of anti-semitism is as bad as making an anti-semitic statement. It has the same power to do terrible emotional damage to its victim, it can isolate them from friends and family, and it can result in them losing their job.

In 2016, Jean Fitzpatrick privately challenged Ryan on the margins of the party conference over the MP’s lack of support for the Palestinians. Ryan immediately accused Fitzpatrick of using anti-semitic tropes about Jews and bankers.

Fitzpatrick would have found herself one of those “anti-semites” hounded out of the party had she not been very lucky. Al Jazeera was making an undercover documentary about the collusion between the Israeli embassy and groups like Labour Friends of Israel, both of them intent on ousting Corbyn from the leadership. Unknown to Ryan, the exchange with Fitzpatrick was caught on film and shows that there was nothing about Jews or bankers, or anything anti-semitic, in what she said.

Ignoring the statistics

Unlike those smearing the Labour party as institutionally anti-semitic, I’m happy to put the most charitable interpretation possible on Ryan’s behaviour.

The fact is that, once people are invested strongly in a worldview, evidence that threatens to undermine it is usually ignored. Such evidence, if it dangerously challenges their inner narrative, can even be reinterpreted and distorted by the proponent to shore up their crumbling perception of right and wrong. The truth of the evidence simply doesn’t register, or it is turned upside down.

And that is an important part of what is happening in the crafting of the Labour anti-semitism narrative.

The statistics simply don’t bear out the accusation that Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic”, or even that it has what might loosely be termed an “anti-semitism problem” – beyond a problem of racism on its margins of the kind that can be found in all organisations and communities, including the Jewish community.

Labour has found 0.08% of its members responsible either for unthinking prejudice towards Jews or conscious bigotry. The evidence suggests this is much, much lower than in the general population.

What has been happening in Labour under Corbyn, however, is that for the first time party members have been able to articulate critical views of Israel, as well as their support for Palestinians suffering under Israeli oppression. That is a new and important freedom and to ignore the part it is playing in the anti-semitism narrative is to be wilfully blind – to cling on to a narrative that refuses to deal with the world as it really is.

Berger and her constituency

Harris quotes another colleague, Rachel Shabi, to bolster his argument. Referring to Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP who also recently defected to the Independent Group, Shabi writes:

A Jewish MP left Labour because of the tide of antisemitism directed at her and I don’t think the terrible significance of this has sunk in for chunks of the left.

There are all sorts of assumptions in this short statement that need unpacking. True, Berger claims that anti-semitism is the reason she left the party. It may well be that she really believes that she is facing a tide of anti-semitism from Labour members. But the evidence needs to be produced, not simply taken for granted.

The examples of anti-semitism invariably cited in Berger’s case refer to undoubtedly anti-semitic attacks from the far-right, not from Labour members; or to online abuse whose provenance is rarely identifiable; or to the opposition she faced from her local constituency party in Liverpool.

There are lots of reasons why Berger is disliked by a significant section of her constituency party, and the wider Labour membership, that have nothing to do with anti-semitism. One is that she was parachuted into the constituency by Tony Blair (she once dated his son Euan), even though her Blairite politics do not fit with many of the people she supposedly represents. Another is that her constant and generalised complaints about anti-semitism in Labour are seen as an insult to party members. They have taken against her because she openly defames Corbyn – and them for supporting him. Yet others are unhappy that she emphasises her support for Israel over the rights of Palestinians.

A battle of political values

Some British Jews like Berger (as well as non-Jews like Ryan) identify strongly with Israel, even as it swings ever further to the ultra-nationalist right. Some, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland among them, appear to believe that criticism of Israel is equivalent to anti-semitism. Some make this conflation wilfully and maliciously, some do it out of ignorance. Either way, those making this conflation do so to prevent Israel being criticised because they genuinely cannot bear to hear such criticism. They feel it as a personal attack.

That is regrettable. In an ideal world where politics did not involve having to make tough choices, it might even be avoidable. But politics in the real world isn’t actually like that.

And so allowing hard-line Zionist Jews in Labour the right to make support for Israel a priority is one political value that must compete with the right of other Jews in Labour and the right of non-Jewish members to oppose Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. For most of Labour’s history, Zionist Jews had the upper hand in this struggle between political values. Now, under Corbyn, they don’t.

That may make hard-line Zionist Jews in Labour like Berger, and hardline Zionist non-Jews like Ryan, angry and upset, but it very obviously doesn’t make their opponents in the party anti-semites.

The reality is that those who adopt a Zionist identity – one enmeshed in a belligerent, highly militarised state oppressing Palestinians for many decades – should not deserve any kind of special protection for their political views, least of all in the Labour party.

These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.

It is deeply immoral of Israel’s supporters – Jews and non-Jews alike – to try to win a political argument, about Israel, by silencing their opponents with a deceit about racism: that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism. The fact that harsh criticism of Israel wounds Zionist Jews does not give Zionist Jews a right to wound others by conflating their criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews.

Low point in public discourse

These points ought to be so obvious that they do not need stating. And yet we have reached such a low point in public discourse – made far worse by the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative – that just saying this makes one vulnerable to accusations of anti-semitism.

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

A few days ago I spoke to another Jewish Labour member, who talked about a sundered bond between the party and British Jews, and how Labour had once nurtured a precious Jewish political tradition that was now close to breathing its last.

For Harris, it seems, it is inconceivable that any other Jewish narrative might exist. Insultingly, he erases non-Zionist Jews. And, of course, he makes no allowance at all for other Labour political traditions in which an anti-racism struggle, on behalf of Palestinians, might conflict with Zionism.

That Harris, like all his colleagues, has bought unquestioningly into the “institutionally anti-semitic” Labour narrative and the equally ridiculous “anti-Zionism equals anti-semitism” narrative is highlighted by this passage about Corbyn:

He has talked in the past about ‘the hand of Israel’ subtly and secretly acting from a distance. And from there it is only a short hop to two ideas which seem to have spread from a small hard core rooted in the anti-imperialist far left out into the wider party. First, that Israel – and by extension Jewish people – must have something do with many of the “smears”. And second, that accusations of antisemitism usually have a concealed agenda.

No, only Harris and those talking of a supposed “institutional anti-semitism” crisis in Labour are generalising about Jews and claiming that they all speak with one voice.

On the other hand, those highlighting the “anti-semitism smears” recognise that we are talking only about Zionists, Jews and non-Jews alike, who have a self-confessed emotional investment in shielding Israel from criticism, as I have outlined above. Many Labour members concerned about these smears are themselves Jewish. They even have their own organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, a group the Guardian largely ignores because it undermines the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative.

Further, the idea that only the tinfoil brigade could believe Israel has had any hand in framing this debate, or in reshaping the definition of anti-semitism to include Israel, is rich indeed coming from a newspaper that has dedicated acres of newsprint to impute a supposedly secret campaign by the Kremlin to undermine the west and its electoral processes.

Unlike many of the claims made against Russia, there is very well documented evidence that Israel, or more specifically Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, has been working behind the scenes both to bolster the “anti-semitism problem under Corbyn” narrative (that was precisely what the Al-Jazeera documentary proved) and to change the definition of anti-semitism to conflate it with anti-Zionism (I’ve written about that here).

That Harris doesn’t know about this evidence is the mark both of his failure to understand the larger picture and of the lack of coverage of these issues in the corporate media – not proof of conspiracy theories or anti-semitism.

Driving to the edge of the cliff

Finally, let me note yet again (I’ve been doing this for the past year) that the anti-semitism narrative is readily morphing into an attack on all left wing politics. Harris is no exception in this regard:

At the heart of the various strands of populism that have taken root in many countries over the past five years, you will find not just a supposed divide between ‘the people’ and an elite, but a deep conviction that the latter is mired in corruption and globe-spanning skulduggery that is never made public. …

It [the Labour party] now tends to present the very real failings of modern capitalism not as a matter of anything systemic, but the work of a small group of people who are ruining things for the rest: what Corbyn calls a ‘self-serving elite’, who ‘monopolise the wealth that should be shared by each and every one of us’. …

Here is where the anti-semitism smears ultimately lead. The “moderate” left degrades political discourse, as it has since the Blair era, by refusing to countenance any criticism of capitalism that is prepared to get down and dirty with it, that descends from the lofty heights of the abstract to grapple with why ordinary people have been failed by the political and economic system.

Harris and so many other “moderates” want to treat neoliberalism as though it is some kind of immutable, if unfortunate, force of nature. As if those people forced to use food banks, those being deported, those suffering under an asymmetrical austerity forced on us by the bankers who played the economy as though it were a giant Ponzi scheme are simply victims of a natural disaster, needing only humanitarian aid.

But this is political evasion. The problems of capitalism may be systemic, but the people who rule our lives are flesh and blood. Those politicians devising austerity policies and bailing out the banks are people. Those well-paid journalists manipulating the way we see the world to benefit the 1% are people. Those CEOs despoiling the planet as they plunder its riches and heat up our climate are people. They are an elite and they need to be exposed and fought as a tiny group looking out only for their own interests, not ours.

In the guise of slaying a conspiracy theory, Harris promotes the biggest one imaginable: that the left doesn’t really care about the poor when it speaks of elites and a lack of accountability for the powerful, but is instead trying to revive the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the modern age.

Only in the imagination of Harris and purveyors of the Labour “anti-semitism crisis” narrative are the elites Jews. The reality is that this elite are not united by a religion or an ethnicity but by two things: their greed for wealth and power, and their indifference to the future.

While we waste our political energies flaying each other over marginal examples of anti-semitism in Labour, that elite will get on with the business of driving us all over the edge of an economic and environmental cliff.

UPDATE:

I had just pressed the “Publish” button when I was sent another example from within Labour of the argument that being anti-capitalism is the same as being anti-semitic. This one is from “moderate” Labour MP Siobhain McDonough, who made these remarks during an interview with John Humphrys on Radio 4:

McDonough: It’s very much part of their politics, of hard left politics, to be against capitalists and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital. Ergo you are anti-Jewish people.

Humphrys: In other words, to be anti-capitalist you have to be antisemitic?

McDonough: Yes. Not everybody, but there is a certain… there’s a certain strand of it. These people are not Labour, have never been Labour, but we now find them in our party.

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

John Harris, a columnist who by the Guardian’s current dismal standards is considered on the newspaper’s left, has added his voice to the paper’s endless contributions on Labour’s supposed “anti-semitism crisis”. Sadly, his is typical of the paper’s misrepresentations of the issue.

It is easy – and lazy – to accuse those who peddle these distortions of acting solely in bad faith. But speaking as someone who was himself once deeply immersed as a journalist in the corporate culture of the Guardian, I know how simple it is from within that culture to fail to scrutinise one’s most fundamental and cherished assumptions. In fact, it’s often a requirement for remaining employed.

Nonetheless, Harris is such a good journalist by conventional standards and his work here is so lamentable, so lacking in awareness of even basic human psychology, that it cries out for some deeper analysis.

A lot has been written about how we now live in information silos. But that was true even before the arrival of social media for those like Harris whose job in the corporate media is to shore up a largely consensual view of the world, if only out of fear of the consequences should that consensus break down. In the wake of Brexit, we have heard liberal journalists grow louder in their suggestions that there is now “too much democracy”. As the consensus crumbles, their authoritarian instincts are becoming ever clearer.

No one from the Daily Mail to the Guardian departs from the “Labour is institutionally anti-semitic” narrative. That in itself is quite extraordinary. But the dearth of evidence for this narrative offers an opportunity to shake us out of our complacent belief that a state-corporate media, one reliant on profits from advertising corporations, can ever represent more than a narrow spectrum of thought – thought that helps those in power to maintain their power.

Moral panics and self-delusions

‘Harris begins his article by noting a Jewish woman’s experience of what she sees as an increasingly “abusive relationship” with the Labour party after 40 years as a member. Reporting her concerns, Harris lists a few recent incidents witnessed by this woman that she cites as proof of a rising tide of anti-semitism in Labour.

Absolutely no details are provided beyond her interpretations of what took place. (One should note that this lack of evidence is a staple of the media’s narrative about “institutional anti-semitism” in Labour.) So let us weigh as best we can the interpretations put forward by Harris’s anonymous interviewee as our gateway into examining the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative itself.

First some background. Most liberal journalists are aware of the problem of what are called “moral panics”. Harris’s Guardian colleague Nick Davies wrote an influential book, Flat Earth News, whose first chapter was dedicated to the way the media and public can end up in a narrative tailspin, entering a world of mutually reinforcing self-delusions.

When such delusions serve an establishment agenda, they can be particularly pernicious and difficult to root out. And beating Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into submission – or into the dust – before he can reach No 10 is definitely high on the political and media establishments’ agenda.

Moral panics work this way: Journalists stoke up emotions or fears over an issue that then runs rampant through public discourse to the point at which it no longer bears any resemblance to the real problem.

A famous example cited by Davies is the outpouring of concern, as the millennium approached, with a supposed Year 2000 computer bug. Through 1999, the media stoked an apocalyptic mood about the imminent meltdown of our newly computerised world, leaving us without basic goods, medicines and transport because computers would not be able to cope with a numerical change in the date. (For those too young to remember those events, the doomsday scenarios around Brexit pale in comparison.) The bug, of course, never materialised.

Once you are persuaded that something is true, however implausible it is, everything is likely to be filtered through that lens. And when everyone says Labour is institutionally anti-semitic, everything – from real hatred of Jews to vague or clumsy phrasing about anti-semitism, or criticism of Israel – will seem anti-semitic to you.

Two sides to every story

So when Harris’s interviewee says she was “jeered” by her Labour constituency general committee for raising the issue of anti-semitism, we cannot be sure that she actually was “jeered” rather than that she faced objections from committee members, possibly valid ones, about what she was claiming.

Similarly, we cannot know – beyond her claim – that she raised the issue of anti-semitism rather than that she labelled members of her constituency anti-semites for matters that had nothing to do with anti-semitism, such as their being highly critical of Israel or disagreeing with the claim that the Labour party is institutionally anti-semitic.

All of this is necessarily speculative on my part because Harris has allowed his interviewee to pass on her (possibly self-serving) interpretation of these events as the only one. And as we all know, life tends not to work like that. There are usually two sides to any story.

If it sounds like I’m being unfair to Harris’s interviewee, let’s remember that she would be very far from alone in perpetrating such misrepresentations, consciously or otherwise.

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

In fact, Harris himself, a well-trained journalist of impeccable liberal credentials, makes precisely this kind of misrepresentation a few paragraphs later on in his article, when he discusses the case of MP Chris Williamson.

Williamson, an ally of Corbyn’s, was suspended by Labour last week after the media reported that he had told a group of Labour members that the party had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism. The media, as well as “moderate” Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn, were outraged that Williamson thought it was possible to be “too apologetic” about bigotry towards Jews.

For them, the incident also usefully proved the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative they are so invested in because Williamson’s racism was warmly applauded by all those present.

Except none of that is true. You don’t even need to take my word for it. It is all recorded on video. You can listen to what Williamson said yourself and see why the audience cheered.

What Williamson actually said makes no sense to the corporate media or the Labour rightwing because it conflicts with their narrative, with a worldview that presupposes Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic”. They cannot conceive of any interpretation of his speech that might undermine that narrative.

Defending Labour from smears

Williamson wasn’t telling Labour members to stop apologising about anti-semitism in Labour, and that wasn’t why they applauded him. He was telling them that there is no evidence to justify calling Labour institutionally anti-semitic, or even especially anti-semitic.

He was also saying that the endless focus on anti-semitism in Labour, and the apologies for incidents that were misunderstandings or smears rather than examples of Jew hatred, had painted a false picture of the Labour party. He was calling for Labour to stop being in default apologetic mode and start defending Labour’s reputation for anti-racism.

The members applauded because it was the the first time a Labour leader had stood up for them. Every day they hear the Guardian and Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, who is angling for Corbyn’s job, conducting a conversation over their heads that assumes they are either racists or that they turn a blind eye to racism. They are fed up with it. They know the narrative is nonsense and they are angry. When Williamson defended them, rather than those who smear them, they were delighted.

So how did Harris manage to cite this clip as further proof of Labour “institutional anti-semitism”, as he does here:

Just watch the video that eventually led to Derby North MP Chris Williamson being suspended from the party, and consider not what he said about Labour’s approach to antisemitism (“We’ve given too much ground – we’ve been too apologetic”), but the loud applause that followed.

How is it possible that everything I’ve just summarised of Williamson’s speech, and the audience’s response, passed so far above Harris’s head that he failed even to acknowledge it? He doesn’t have to agree with Williamson or those applauding him, but he has to be fair to them about how they viewed the meeting. To simply erase from the record what Williamson meant and what his audience’s applause meant is to perpetrate a deception. It’s to assist in promoting a moral panic.

Unlike many of those commenting, Harris is supposed to be a close observer of the Labour rank and file. He spends a lot of time, it appears, travelling the UK meeting ordinary people. How could he have missed this groundswell of anger among party members at being endlessly defamed – and not only missed it, but joined in the defamation himself?

Blind to other narratives

This isn’t just about Labour and anti-semitism. The Guardian, the paper of the liberal-left, has missed or misunderstood all the major political shifts of the last five years. It couldn’t imagine Corbyn being elected leader or understand the significance of the membership’s vote after it had happened. The Guardian also didn’t foresee the massive surge in support for a Corbyn-led Labour party at the last election. Instead it has led the media pack trying to undermine Corbyn, typically by promoting gross misrepresentations like this latest one echoed by Harris.

The Guardian’s incomprehension at Brexit is starkly on show too. Its commentaries rarely rise above denunciations of anti-immigrant racism. Its singleminded cheerleading of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders was as boneheaded as its continuing bafflement at the victory of Donald Trump.

The Guardian is a huge media outfit, employing many hundreds of journalists. And yet online pundits have regularly produced much more insightful analyses than the paper.

Harris’s article is yet more confirmation that even the best corporate journalists end up being blinded by media groupthink, leaving them unable to make sense of the world around them. They literally can’t see or hear what is staring them in the face. Harris is so immersed in a “consensus” anti-semitism narrative that he interprets the blinding dazzle of the sun as darkness, he perceives white as a diabolical black.

Filming an anti-semitism smear

This problem isn’t restricted to the media, of course. Politicians are equally blinkered about events that cannot be fitted into their worldview.

Take the case of Joan Ryan, a non-Jewish Labour MP who chairs Labour Friends of Israel and recently defected to the Independent Group over the anti-semitism issue. Perhaps not surprisingly given her emotional investment in defending Israel, apparently at all costs and whatever the evidence of its oppression of Palestinians, she is deeply opposed to Labour being led by Corbyn, a champion of the Palestinian cause.

To what terrible misdeeds that might lead her was laid bare when she made up an accusation of anti-semitism out of whole cloth against a Labour party member. Remember that accusing someone falsely of anti-semitism is as bad as making an anti-semitic statement. It has the same power to do terrible emotional damage to its victim, it can isolate them from friends and family, and it can result in them losing their job.

In 2016, Jean Fitzpatrick privately challenged Ryan on the margins of the party conference over the MP’s lack of support for the Palestinians. Ryan immediately accused Fitzpatrick of using anti-semitic tropes about Jews and bankers.

Fitzpatrick would have found herself one of those “anti-semites” hounded out of the party had she not been very lucky. Al Jazeera was making an undercover documentary about the collusion between the Israeli embassy and groups like Labour Friends of Israel, both of them intent on ousting Corbyn from the leadership. Unknown to Ryan, the exchange with Fitzpatrick was caught on film and shows that there was nothing about Jews or bankers, or anything anti-semitic, in what she said.

Ignoring the statistics

Unlike those smearing the Labour party as institutionally anti-semitic, I’m happy to put the most charitable interpretation possible on Ryan’s behaviour.

The fact is that, once people are invested strongly in a worldview, evidence that threatens to undermine it is usually ignored. Such evidence, if it dangerously challenges their inner narrative, can even be reinterpreted and distorted by the proponent to shore up their crumbling perception of right and wrong. The truth of the evidence simply doesn’t register, or it is turned upside down.

And that is an important part of what is happening in the crafting of the Labour anti-semitism narrative.

The statistics simply don’t bear out the accusation that Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic”, or even that it has what might loosely be termed an “anti-semitism problem” – beyond a problem of racism on its margins of the kind that can be found in all organisations and communities, including the Jewish community.

Labour has found 0.08% of its members responsible either for unthinking prejudice towards Jews or conscious bigotry. The evidence suggests this is much, much lower than in the general population.

What has been happening in Labour under Corbyn, however, is that for the first time party members have been able to articulate critical views of Israel, as well as their support for Palestinians suffering under Israeli oppression. That is a new and important freedom and to ignore the part it is playing in the anti-semitism narrative is to be wilfully blind – to cling on to a narrative that refuses to deal with the world as it really is.

Berger and her constituency

Harris quotes another colleague, Rachel Shabi, to bolster his argument. Referring to Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP who also recently defected to the Independent Group, Shabi writes:

A Jewish MP left Labour because of the tide of antisemitism directed at her and I don’t think the terrible significance of this has sunk in for chunks of the left.

There are all sorts of assumptions in this short statement that need unpacking. True, Berger claims that anti-semitism is the reason she left the party. It may well be that she really believes that she is facing a tide of anti-semitism from Labour members. But the evidence needs to be produced, not simply taken for granted.

The examples of anti-semitism invariably cited in Berger’s case refer to undoubtedly anti-semitic attacks from the far-right, not from Labour members; or to online abuse whose provenance is rarely identifiable; or to the opposition she faced from her local constituency party in Liverpool.

There are lots of reasons why Berger is disliked by a significant section of her constituency party, and the wider Labour membership, that have nothing to do with anti-semitism. One is that she was parachuted into the constituency by Tony Blair (she once dated his son Euan), even though her Blairite politics do not fit with many of the people she supposedly represents. Another is that her constant and generalised complaints about anti-semitism in Labour are seen as an insult to party members. They have taken against her because she openly defames Corbyn – and them for supporting him. Yet others are unhappy that she emphasises her support for Israel over the rights of Palestinians.

A battle of political values

Some British Jews like Berger (as well as non-Jews like Ryan) identify strongly with Israel, even as it swings ever further to the ultra-nationalist right. Some, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland among them, appear to believe that criticism of Israel is equivalent to anti-semitism. Some make this conflation wilfully and maliciously, some do it out of ignorance. Either way, those making this conflation do so to prevent Israel being criticised because they genuinely cannot bear to hear such criticism. They feel it as a personal attack.

That is regrettable. In an ideal world where politics did not involve having to make tough choices, it might even be avoidable. But politics in the real world isn’t actually like that.

And so allowing hard-line Zionist Jews in Labour the right to make support for Israel a priority is one political value that must compete with the right of other Jews in Labour and the right of non-Jewish members to oppose Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. For most of Labour’s history, Zionist Jews had the upper hand in this struggle between political values. Now, under Corbyn, they don’t.

That may make hard-line Zionist Jews in Labour like Berger, and hardline Zionist non-Jews like Ryan, angry and upset, but it very obviously doesn’t make their opponents in the party anti-semites.

The reality is that those who adopt a Zionist identity – one enmeshed in a belligerent, highly militarised state oppressing Palestinians for many decades – should not deserve any kind of special protection for their political views, least of all in the Labour party.

These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.

It is deeply immoral of Israel’s supporters – Jews and non-Jews alike – to try to win a political argument, about Israel, by silencing their opponents with a deceit about racism: that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism. The fact that harsh criticism of Israel wounds Zionist Jews does not give Zionist Jews a right to wound others by conflating their criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews.

Low point in public discourse

These points ought to be so obvious that they do not need stating. And yet we have reached such a low point in public discourse – made far worse by the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative – that just saying this makes one vulnerable to accusations of anti-semitism.

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

A few days ago I spoke to another Jewish Labour member, who talked about a sundered bond between the party and British Jews, and how Labour had once nurtured a precious Jewish political tradition that was now close to breathing its last.

For Harris, it seems, it is inconceivable that any other Jewish narrative might exist. Insultingly, he erases non-Zionist Jews. And, of course, he makes no allowance at all for other Labour political traditions in which an anti-racism struggle, on behalf of Palestinians, might conflict with Zionism.

That Harris, like all his colleagues, has bought unquestioningly into the “institutionally anti-semitic” Labour narrative and the equally ridiculous “anti-Zionism equals anti-semitism” narrative is highlighted by this passage about Corbyn:

He has talked in the past about ‘the hand of Israel’ subtly and secretly acting from a distance. And from there it is only a short hop to two ideas which seem to have spread from a small hard core rooted in the anti-imperialist far left out into the wider party. First, that Israel – and by extension Jewish people – must have something do with many of the “smears”. And second, that accusations of antisemitism usually have a concealed agenda.

No, only Harris and those talking of a supposed “institutional anti-semitism” crisis in Labour are generalising about Jews and claiming that they all speak with one voice.

On the other hand, those highlighting the “anti-semitism smears” recognise that we are talking only about Zionists, Jews and non-Jews alike, who have a self-confessed emotional investment in shielding Israel from criticism, as I have outlined above. Many Labour members concerned about these smears are themselves Jewish. They even have their own organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, a group the Guardian largely ignores because it undermines the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative.

Further, the idea that only the tinfoil brigade could believe Israel has had any hand in framing this debate, or in reshaping the definition of anti-semitism to include Israel, is rich indeed coming from a newspaper that has dedicated acres of newsprint to impute a supposedly secret campaign by the Kremlin to undermine the west and its electoral processes.

Unlike many of the claims made against Russia, there is very well documented evidence that Israel, or more specifically Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, has been working behind the scenes both to bolster the “anti-semitism problem under Corbyn” narrative (that was precisely what the Al-Jazeera documentary proved) and to change the definition of anti-semitism to conflate it with anti-Zionism (I’ve written about that here).

That Harris doesn’t know about this evidence is the mark both of his failure to understand the larger picture and of the lack of coverage of these issues in the corporate media – not proof of conspiracy theories or anti-semitism.

Driving to the edge of the cliff

Finally, let me note yet again (I’ve been doing this for the past year) that the anti-semitism narrative is readily morphing into an attack on all left wing politics. Harris is no exception in this regard:

At the heart of the various strands of populism that have taken root in many countries over the past five years, you will find not just a supposed divide between ‘the people’ and an elite, but a deep conviction that the latter is mired in corruption and globe-spanning skulduggery that is never made public. …

It [the Labour party] now tends to present the very real failings of modern capitalism not as a matter of anything systemic, but the work of a small group of people who are ruining things for the rest: what Corbyn calls a ‘self-serving elite’, who ‘monopolise the wealth that should be shared by each and every one of us’. …

Here is where the anti-semitism smears ultimately lead. The “moderate” left degrades political discourse, as it has since the Blair era, by refusing to countenance any criticism of capitalism that is prepared to get down and dirty with it, that descends from the lofty heights of the abstract to grapple with why ordinary people have been failed by the political and economic system.

Harris and so many other “moderates” want to treat neoliberalism as though it is some kind of immutable, if unfortunate, force of nature. As if those people forced to use food banks, those being deported, those suffering under an asymmetrical austerity forced on us by the bankers who played the economy as though it were a giant Ponzi scheme are simply victims of a natural disaster, needing only humanitarian aid.

But this is political evasion. The problems of capitalism may be systemic, but the people who rule our lives are flesh and blood. Those politicians devising austerity policies and bailing out the banks are people. Those well-paid journalists manipulating the way we see the world to benefit the 1% are people. Those CEOs despoiling the planet as they plunder its riches and heat up our climate are people. They are an elite and they need to be exposed and fought as a tiny group looking out only for their own interests, not ours.

In the guise of slaying a conspiracy theory, Harris promotes the biggest one imaginable: that the left doesn’t really care about the poor when it speaks of elites and a lack of accountability for the powerful, but is instead trying to revive the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the modern age.

Only in the imagination of Harris and purveyors of the Labour “anti-semitism crisis” narrative are the elites Jews. The reality is that this elite are not united by a religion or an ethnicity but by two things: their greed for wealth and power, and their indifference to the future.

While we waste our political energies flaying each other over marginal examples of anti-semitism in Labour, that elite will get on with the business of driving us all over the edge of an economic and environmental cliff.

UPDATE:

I had just pressed the “Publish” button when I was sent another example from within Labour of the argument that being anti-capitalism is the same as being anti-semitic. This one is from “moderate” Labour MP Siobhain McDonough, who made these remarks during an interview with John Humphrys on Radio 4:

McDonough: It’s very much part of their politics, of hard left politics, to be against capitalists and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital. Ergo you are anti-Jewish people.

Humphrys: In other words, to be anti-capitalist you have to be antisemitic?

McDonough: Yes. Not everybody, but there is a certain… there’s a certain strand of it. These people are not Labour, have never been Labour, but we now find them in our party.

The Witchfinders are now ready to burn Corbyn

“McCarthyism” is a word thrown around a lot nowadays, and in the process its true meaning – and horror – has been increasingly obscured.

McCarthyism is not just the hounding of someone because their views are unpopular. It is the creation by the powerful of a perfect, self-rationalising system of incrimination – denying the victim a voice, even in their own defence. It presents the accused as an enemy so dangerous, their ideas so corrupting, that they must be silenced from the outset. Their only chance of rehabilitation is prostration before their accusers and utter repentance.

McCarthyism, in other words, is the modern political parallel of the witch hunt.

In an earlier era, the guilt of women accused of witchcraft was tested through the ducking stool. If a woman drowned, she was innocent; if she survived, she was guilty and burnt at the stake. A foolproof system that created an endless supply of the wicked, justifying the status and salaries of the men charged with hunting down ever more of these diabolical women.

And that is the Medieval equivalent of where the British Labour party has arrived, with the suspension of MP Chris Williamson for anti-semitism.

Revenge of the Blairites

Williamson, it should be noted, is widely seen as a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, a democratic socialist who was propelled unexpectedly into the Labour leadership nearly four years ago by its members. His elevation infuriated most of the party’s MPs, who hanker for the return of the New Labour era under Tony Blair, when the party firmly occupied the political centre.

Corbyn’s success has also outraged vocal supporters of Israel both in the Labour party – some 80 MPs are stalwart members of Labour Friends of Israel – and in the UK media. Corbyn is the first British party leader in sight of power to prefer the Palestinians’ right to justice over Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinians.

For these reasons, the Blairite MPs have been trying to oust Corbyn any way they can. First through a failed re-run of the leadership contest and then by assisting the corporate media – which is equally opposed to Corbyn – in smearing him variously as a shambles, a misogynist, a sympathiser with terrorists, a Russian asset, and finally as an “enabler” of anti-semitism.

This last accusation has proved the most fruitful after the Israel lobby began to expand the definition of anti-semitism to include not just hatred of Jews but also criticism of Israel. Labour was eventually forced to accept a redefinition, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, that conflates anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel’s violent creation on the Palestinians’ homeland – with anti-semitism.

Guilt by association

Once the mud stuck through repetition, a vocal group of Labour MPs began denouncing the party for being “institutionally anti-semitic”, “endemically anti-semitic” and a “cesspit of anti-semitism”. The slurs continued relentlessly, even as statistics proved the accusation to be groundless. The figures show that anti-semitism exists only in the margins of the party, as racism does in all walks of life.

Meanwhile, the smears overshadowed the very provable fact that anti-semitism and other forms of racism are rearing their head dangerously on the political right.

But the witchfinders were never interested in the political reality. They wanted a never-ending war – a policy of “zero tolerance” – to root out an evil in their midst, a supposed “hard left” given succour by Corbyn and his acolytes.

This is the context for understanding Williamson’s “crime”.

Despite the best efforts of our modern witchfinder generals to prove otherwise, Williamson has not been shown to have expressed hatred towards Jews, or even to have made a comment that could be interpreted as anti-semitic.

One of the most experienced of the witchfinders, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, indulged familiar McCarthyite tactics yesterday in trying to prove Williamson’s anti-semitism by association. The MP was what Freedland termed a “Jew baiter” because he has associated with people whom the witchfinders decree to be anti-semites.

‘Too apologetic’

Shortly before he found himself formally shunned by media commentators and his own parliamentary party, Williamson twice confirmed his guilt to the inquisitors.

First, he dared to challenge the authority of the witchfinders. He suggested that some of those being hounded out of Labour may not in fact be witches. Or more specifically, in the context of constant claims of a Labour “anti-semitism crisis”, he argued that the party had been “too apologetic” in dealing with the bad-faith efforts of those seeking to damage a Corbyn-led party.

In other words, Williamson suggested that Labour ought to be doing more proactively to promote the abundant evidence that it was dealing with what he called the “scourge of anti-semitism”, and thereby demonstrate to the British public that Labour wasn’t “institutionally anti-semitic”. He believed Labour members ought not to be forced to keep quiet as they were being endlessly slandered.

As Jewish Voice for Labour, a Jewish group supportive of Corbyn, noted:

The flood of exaggerated claims of antisemitism make it harder to deal with any real instances of antisemitism. The credibility of well-founded allegations is undermined by the less credible ones and real perpetrators are more likely not to be held to account. Crying wolf is dangerous when there are real wolves around the corner. This was the reality that Chris Williamson was drawing attention to.

As with all inquisitions, however, the witchfinders were not interested in what Williamson actually said, but in the threat he posed to the narrative they have created to destroy their enemy, Corbynism, and reassert their own power.

So his words were ripped from their context and presented as proof that he did indeed support witches.

He was denounced for saying what he had not: that Labour should not apologise for its anti-semitism. In this dishonest reformulation of Williamson’s statement, the witchfinders claimed to show that he had supported anti-semitism, that he consorted with witches.

No screening for documentary

Second, Williamson compounded his crime by publicly helping just such a readymade witch: a black Jewish woman named Jackie Walker.

He had booked a room in the British parliament building – the seat of our supposed democracy – so that audiences could see a new documentary on an earlier Labour witch hunt. More than two years ago the party suspended Walker over anti-semitism claims.

The screening was to inform Labour party members of the facts of her case in the run-up to a hearing in which, given the current atmosphere, it is likely she will be expelled. The screening was sponsored by Jewish Voice for Labour, which has also warned repeatedly that anti-semitism is being used malevolently to silence criticism of Israel and weaken Corbyn.

Walker was seen as a pivotal figure by those opposed to Corbyn. She was a co-founder of Momentum, the grassroots organisation established to support Corbyn after his election to the leadership and deal with the inevitable fallout from the Blairite wing of MPs.

Momentum expected a rough ride from this dominant faction, and they were not disappointed. The Blairites still held on to the party machinery and they had an ally in Tom Watson, who became Corbyn’s deputy.

Walker was one of the early victims of the confected claims of an Labour “anti-semitism crisis”. But she was not ready to roll over and accept her status as witch. She fought back.

From lynching to witch hunt

First, she produced a one-woman show about her treatment at the hands of the Labour party bureaucracy – framed in the context of decades of racist treatment of black people in the west – called The Lynching.

And then her story was turned into a documentary film, fittingly called Witch Hunt. It sets out very clearly the machinations of the Blairite wing of MPs, and Labour’s closely allied Israel lobby, in defaming Walker as part of their efforts to regain power over the party.

For people so ostensibly concerned about racism towards Jews, these witchfinders show little self-awareness about how obvious their own racism is in relation to some of the “witches” they have hunted down.

But that racism can only be understood if people have the chance to hear from Walker and other victims of the anti-semitism smears. Which is precisely why Williamson, who was trying to organise the screening of Witch Hunt, had to be dealt with too.

Party in disrepute

Walker is not the only prominent black anti-racism activist targeted. Marc Wadsworth, another longtime ally of Corbyn’s, and founder of the Anti-Racist Alliance, was “outed” last year in another confected anti-semitism scandal. The allegations of anti-semitism were impossible to stand up publicly, so finally he was booted out on a catch-all claim that he had brought the party “into disrepute”.

Jews who criticise Israel and support Corbyn’s solidarity with Palestinians have been picked off by the witchfinders too, cheered on by media commentators who claim this is being done in the service of a “zero tolerance” policy towards racism. As well as Walker, the targets have included Tony Greenstein, Moshe Machover, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.

But as the battle in Labour has intensified to redefine anti-Zionism as anti-semitism, the deeper issues at stake have come to the fore. Jon Lansman, another founder of Momentum, recently stated: “I don’t want any Jewish member in the party to be leaving. We are absolutely committed to making Labour a safe space.”

But there are a set of very obvious problems with that position, and they have gone entirely unexamined by those promoting the “institutional anti-semitism” and “zero tolerance” narratives.

Lobby’s covert actions exposed

First, it is impossible to be a home to all Jews in Labour, when the party’s Jewish members are themselves deeply split over key issues like whether Corbyn is a force for good and whether meaningful criticism of Israel should be allowed.

A fanatically pro-Israel organisation like the Jewish Labour Movement will never tolerate a Corbyn-led Labour party reaching power and supporting the Palestinian cause. To pretend otherwise is simple naivety or deception.

That fact was demonstrably proven two years ago in the Al Jazeera undercover documentary The Lobby into covert efforts by Israel and its UK lobbyists to undermine Corbyn from within his own party through groups like the JLM and MPs in Labour Friends of Israel. It was telling that the party machine, along with the corporate media, did its best to keep the documentary out of public view.

The MPs loudest about “institutional anti-semitism” in Labour were among those abandoning the party to join the Independent Group this month, preferring to ally with renegade Conservative MPs in an apparent attempt to frustrate a Corbyn-led party winning power.

Institutional racism on Palestinians

Further, if a proportion of Jewish Labour party members have such a heavy personal investment in Israel that they refuse to countenance any meaningful curbs on Israel’s abuses of Palestinians – and that has been underscored repeatedly by public comments from the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel – then keeping them inside the party will require cracking down on all but the flimsiest criticism of Israel. It will tie the party’s hands on supporting Palestinian rights.

In the name of protecting the “Israel right or wrong” crowd from what they consider to be anti-semitic abuse, Labour will have to provide institutional support for Israel’s racism towards Palestinians.

In doing so, it will in fact simply be returning to the status quo in the party before Corbyn, when Labour turned a blind eye over many decades to the Palestinians’ dispossession by European Zionists who created an ugly anachronistic state where rights accrue based on one’s ethnicity and religion rather than citizenship.

Those in Labour who reject Britain’s continuing complicity in such crimes – ones the UK set in motion with the Balfour Declaration – will find, as a result, that it is they who have no home in Labour. That includes significant numbers of anti-Zionist Jews, Palestinians, Muslims and Palestinian solidarity activists.

Safe space for whom?

If the creation of a “safe space” for Jews in the Labour party is code, as it appears to be, for a safe space for hardline Zionist Jews, it will inevitably require that the party become a hostile environment for those engaged in other anti-racism battles.

Stripped bare, what Lansman and the witchfinders are saying is that Zionist Jewish sensitivities in the party are the only ones that count, that anything and everything must be done to indulge them, even if it means abusing non-Zionist Jewish members, black members, Palestinian and Muslim members, and those expressing solidarity with Palestinians.

This is precisely the political black hole into which simplistic, kneejerk identity politics inevitably gets sucked.

Right now, the establishment – represented by Richard Dearlove, a former head of the MI6 – is maliciously trying to frame Corbyn’s main adviser, Seumas Milne, as a Kremlin asset.

While the witchfinders claim to have unearthed a “pattern of behaviour” in Williamson’s efforts to expose their smears, in fact the real pattern of behaviour is there for all to see: a concerted McCarthyite campaign to destroy Corbyn before he can reach No 10.

Corbyn’s allies are being picked off one by one, from grassroots activists like Walker and Wadsworth to higher-placed supporters like Williamson and Milne. Soon Corbyn will stand alone, exposed before the inquisition that has been prepared for him.

Then Labour can be restored to the Blairites, the members silenced until they leave and any hope of offering a political alternative to the establishment safely shelved. Ordinary people will again be made passive spectators as the rich carry on playing with their lives and their futures as though Britain was simply a rigged game of Monopoly.

If parliamentary politics returns to business as usual for the wealthy, taking to the streets looks increasingly like the only option. Maybe it’s time to dust off a Yellow Vest.

Labour: anti-Semitic or just resisting occupation?

Today there’s an important addition to the group of MPs defecting from the UK Labour Party: Joan Ryan.

Important because Ryan is Chair of Labour Friends of Israel. She recently lost a no-confidence vote in her constituency so her days as an MP are probably numbered anyway.

Are we beginning to see an orchestrated drip-drip of resignations following the departure of ‘The Insignificant Seven’, as the Morning Star called them, at the start of the week? Their destructive intent is clear for all to see from their dizzy remarks.

In a statement Labour Friends of Israel said:

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, anti-Jewish hatred and demonisation of the world’s only Jewish state has been allowed to flourish. The politics of the hard left represent a threat to the security of the UK, to our traditional alliances and to the stability of the Middle East and its only democracy, the state of Israel.

We will continue to work both within the Labour party and with like-minded, independent MPs on the left and centre left to promote a two-state solution, to combat anti-Zionist antisemitism and counter the delegitimisation of Israel. Joan Ryan MP will remain in her position as our Parliamentary Chair.

Israel, of course, is no Western-style democracy. It’s an ethnocracy, that is a deeply ethnic power structure behind a thin democratic veneer.

Joan Ryan leaves with a long, ranting attack on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Over the past three years, she says, the Labour party under Corbyn “has become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism. This problem simply did not exist in the party before his election as leader…. I have been horrified, appalled and angered to see the Labour leadership’s dereliction of duty in the face of this evil….

“I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while its leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed, have their motives questioned, and their integrity called into doubt.

“I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while its leadership singles out for demonization and delegitimization the world’s only Jewish state.

“And I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while this requires me to suggest that I believe Jeremy Corbyn – a man who has presided over the culture of anti-Jewish racism and hatred for Israel which now afflicts my former party – is fit to be Prime Minister of this country. He is not.”

This “singling out” of Israel for criticism is an old refrain. Israel does a good job of delegitmizing itself by its contempt for international law and cruel subjugation of Palestinians whose lands they have stolen – and continue to steal. And people of conscience single out Israel because these unforgivable crimes are going on in the Holy Land, territory which is sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. It was also a British mandate and in 1948 we abandoned it in an unholy mess. We have a responsibility to make amends.

Ms Ryan complains about “a revolving door disciplinary policy with those accused of antisemitism briefly suspended and then quietly readmitted to the party”. Ken Livingstone will be interested to hear that. He was suspended “indefinitely” from the party nearly 3 years ago. Those accused of anti-Semitism are typically subjected to administrative suspension for around 6 months during which their reputation and public standing are shattered and they are hampered in their work if councillors or MPs. Life is made hell. And if the disciplinary hearing finds the charges baseless there are no consequences for the vexatious accuser.

And she grumbles about the party’s refusal to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. “Jeremy Corbyn had but one priority: to preserve the right of antisemites to label Israel a ‘racist endeavour’. That priority tells me all I need to know about his fitness to lead the Labour party and our country.” This remark is particularly stupid. Several legal experts have pointed out how the IHRA definition contradicts existing laws and conventions guaranteeing freedom of expression and would cause endless trouble if used in an attempt to punish.

Furthermore the Israel project was from the start – before Balfour even – unashamedly racist in purpose as demonstrated yet again only a few months ago when Israel enacted nation state laws that make its non-Jewish citizens distinctly second-class.

The Ryan rant goes on to include remarks like these:

  • “The Jewish community has made clear that it believes a Jeremy Corbyn government would be an existential threat to it. I will not campaign to put such a government into office.”
  • The mindset that tolerates antisemitism “is one that would ostracise the Middle East’s only democracy in favour of the Ayatollahs in Tehran: a regime which tramples on human rights, has the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians on its hands, and seeks to dominate and subjugate the region and impose its theocratic brutal rule.”
  • “And it is one that would abandon our friends in Europe in favour of appeasing Vladimir Putin….”
  • “Nine years of Tory government have caused enormous damage to my constituency and the country. Held hostage by the hard right of her party, the Prime Minister is now preparing to inflict a crippling hard Brexit – one that will rob the young of their future. Jeremy Corbyn and the Stalinist clique that surrounds him offers no real opposition to any of this.”

Under the influence

So, of the eight ex-Labour MPs now huddled together in the Independence Group six are signed up Friends of Israel. Why would any politician in receipt of a salary from the British taxpayer wish to promote the interests of a foreign military power – and a belligerent, racist one at that? Why are they allowed to? After all, doesn’t that breach the second of the Seven Principles of Public Life, namely Integrity – “Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.”?

But put that to the watchdog, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and you’ll get nowhere. Eleven years ago twenty senior professionals wrote to the CSPL about the undue influence of the Israel lobby at the heart of British government. They reminded the Standards Committee how Friends of Israel had embedded itself in the British political establishment with the stated purpose of promoting Israel’s interests in our Parliament and bending British policy.  The various Friends of Israel groups had gone to great lengths to influence those in power a good many of whom, it seemed, had reached their high positions with FoI help. The network acted as a sort of parliamentary freemasonry. The political director of Conservative Friends of Israel at the time claimed that with over 2,000 members and registered supporters alongside 80 percent of the Conservative MPs, it was the largest affiliated group in the party.

Its website stated that the CFI “strives to support the Conservative Party at all available opportunities. In the run up to the 2005 General Election… CFI supported candidates up and down the country. As candidates are now being continuously selected for target seats, CFI has developed a special programme of weekly briefings, events with speakers and a chance to participate in delegations to Israel.” It also had a ‘Fast Track’ group for Conservative parliamentary candidates fighting target marginal seats. The political director himself was seeking election to Parliament. If successful where would his loyalty lie?

Senior Conservatives tried to justify these activities by insisting that Israel was “a force for good in the world” and “in the battle for the values that we stand for, for democracy against theocracy, for democratic liberal values against repression – Israel’s enemies are our enemies and this is a battle in which we all stand together” [my emphasis].

Eleven years on, we can see what “good” Israel has been in the world and what impact the British government’s “viewpoint” ever had on the Israeli government’s criminal conduct.

The best thing Corbyn could do is shut down the Labour Party’s Friends of Israel operation. If people want to form such associations let them do it outside Westminster. They should not be allowed to flourish within any parliamentary party.

As for the Conservative Party’s flag-waving for Israel, words fail.

Anti-semitism is Cover for a Much Deeper Divide in Britain’s Labour Party

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour.

On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow.

With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit.

The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, however, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit.

Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Sickeningly racist’?

Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”.

She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”. Berger has suffered online abuse and death threats from rightwing extremists and neo-Nazis.

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, the former Labour MP said the Independent Group would provide the Jewish community with a “political home that they, like much of the rest of the country, are now looking for”.

In a plea to keep the party together, deputy leader Tom Watson issued a video in which he criticised his own party for being too slow to tackle anti-semitism. He added: “Time is short for us to confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences, to keep others from leaving”.

Ruth Smeeth, another Jewish Labour MP who may yet join a later wave of departures, was reported to have broken down in tears at a parliamentary party meeting following the split, as she called for tougher action on anti-semitism.

Two days later, as she split from Labour, Ryan accused the party of being “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.

Hatred claims undercut

The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”.

And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all.

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

It is, therefore, worth briefly examining what the Labour Party’s investigation discovered.

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

Intemperate language

Those figures, it should be remembered, have almost certainly been inflated by the efforts of Corbyn’s opponents to trawl through Labour members’ social media accounts in search of comments, some of them predating Corbyn’s leadership, that could be portrayed as anti-semitic.

Intemperate language flared especially in 2014 – before Corbyn became leader – when Israel launched a military operation on Gaza that killed large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including many hundreds of children

Certainly, it is unclear how many of those reportedly anti-semitic comments concern not prejudice towards Jews, but rather outspoken criticism of the state of Israel, which was redefined as anti-semitic last year by Labour, under severe pressure from MPs such as Berger and Ryan and Jewish lobby groups, such as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Seven of the 11 examples of anti-semitism associated with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition adopted by Labour concern Israel. That includes describing Israel as a “racist endeavour”, even though Israel passed a basic law last year stripping the fifth of its population who are not Jewish of any right to self-determination, formally creating two classes of citizen.

Illustrating the problem Labour has created for itself as a result, some of the most high-profile suspensions and expulsions have actually targeted Jewish members of the party who identify as anti-Zionist – that is, they consider Israel a racist state. They include Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.

Another Jewish member, Moshe Machover, a professor emeritus at the University of London, had to be reinstated after a huge outcry among members at his treatment by the party.

Unthinking prejudice

Alan Maddison, who has been conducting statistical research on anti-semitism for a pro-Corbyn Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Labour, put the 0.08 percent figure into its wider social and political context this week

He quoted the findings of a large survey of anti-semitic attitudes published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in 2017. It found that 30 percent of respondents from various walks of society agreed with one or more of eight anti-semitic views, ranging from stereotypes such as “Jews think they are better than other people” to Holocaust denial.

However, lead researcher Daniel Staetsky concluded that in most cases this was evidence of unthinking prejudice rather than conscious bigotry. Four-fifths of those who exhibited a degree of anti-semitism also agreed with at least one positive statement about Jewish people.

This appears to be the main problem among the tiny number of Labour Party members identified in complaints, and is reflected in the predominance of warnings about conduct rather than expulsions and suspensions.

Far-right bigotry

Another of the institute’s findings poses a particular problem for Corbyn’s opponents, who argue that the Labour leader has imported anti-semitism into the party by attracting the “hard left”. Since he was elected, Labour membership has rocketed.

Even if it were true that Corbyn and his supporters are on the far-left – a highly questionable assumption, made superficially plausible only because Labour moved to the centre-right under Tony Blair in the late 1990s – the institute’s research pulls the rug out from under Corbyn’s critics.

It discovered that across the political spectrum, conscious hatred of Jews was very low, and that it was exhibited in equal measure from the “very left-wing” to the “fairly right-wing”. The only exception, as one might expect, was on the “very right-wing”, where virulent anti-semitism was much more prevalent.

That finding was confirmed last week by surveys that showed a significant rise in violent, anti-semitic attacks across Europe as far-right parties make inroads in many member states. A Guardian report noted that the “figures show an overwhelming majority of violence against Jews is perpetrated by far-right supporters”.

Supporters of overseas war

So what is the basis for concerns about the Labour Party being mired in supposed “institutional anti-semitism” since it moved from the centre to the left under Corbyn, when the figures and political trends demonstrate nothing of the sort?

A clue may be found in the wider political worldview of the eight MPs who have broken from Labour.

All but two are listed as supporters of the parliamentary “Labour Friends of Israel” (LFI) faction. Further, Berger is a former director of that staunchly pro-Israel lobby group, and Ryan is its current chair, a position the group says she will hold onto, despite no longer being a Labour MP.

So extreme are the LFI’s views on Israel that it sought to exonerate Israel of a massacre last year, in which its snipers shot dead many dozens of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza in a single day. Faced with a social media backlash, it quietly took down the posts.

The eight MPs’ voting records – except for Gavin Shuker, for whom the picture is mixed – show them holding consistently hawkish foreign policy positions that are deeply antithetical to Corbyn’s approach to international relations.

They either “almost always” or “generally” backed “combat operations overseas”; those who were MPs at the time supported the 2003 Iraq war; and they all opposed subsequent investigations into the Iraq war.

Committed Friends of Israel

In one sense, the breakaway group’s support for Labour Friends of Israel may not be surprising, and indicates why Corbyn is facing such widespread trouble from within his own party. Dozens of Labour MPs are members of the group, including Tom Watson and Ruth Smeeth.

Smeeth, one of those at the forefront of accusing Corbyn of fostering anti-semitism in Labour, is also a former public affairs director of BICOM, another stridently pro-Israel lobby group.

None of these MPs were concerned enough with the LFI’s continuing vocal support for Israel as it has shifted to the far-right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have stepped down from the group.

Nor was their committed support for Labour Friends of Israel shaken by a 2017 undercover Al-Jazeera documentary investigating the Israel lobby’s tactics in the UK. It revealed that the LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement were both covertly working closely with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn.

In fact, the secret filming recorded Ryan inventing a false claim of anti-semitism against a Labour party member.

She also admitted on camera that she was in almost daily contact with Masot, and was filmed speaking to Masot about £1 million he had secured on the LFI’s behalf to fly Labour MPs on junkets to Israel as part of recruiting them to the Israeli cause.

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

Anti-semitism has taken centre stage in the manoeuvring against Corbyn, despite there being no evidence of significant hatred against Jews in the party. Increasingly, it seems, tangible abuse of Jews is of little interest unless it can be related to Corbyn.

The markedly selective interest in anti-semitism in the Corbyn context among the breakaway MPs and supposed anti-semitism watchdogs has been starkly on show for some time.

Notably, none expressed concern at the media mauling of a left-wing, satirical Jewish group called Jewdas when Corbyn was widely attacked for meeting “the wrong kind of Jews”. In fact, leading Labour figures, including the Jewish Labour Movement, joined in the abuse.

And increasingly in this febrile atmosphere, there has been an ever-greater indulgence of the “right kind of anti-semitism” – when it is directed at Corbyn supporters.

A troubling illustration was provided on the TV show Good Morning Britain this week, when Tom Bower was invited on to discuss his new unauthorised biography of Corbyn, in which he accuses him of anti-semitism. The hosts looked on demurely as Bower, a Jewish journalist, defamed fellow Jewish journalist Michael Segalov as a “self-hating Jew” for defending Corbyn on the show.

Revenge of the Blairites

So what is the significance of the fact that the Labour MPs who have been most outspoken in criticising Corbyn – those who helped organise a 2016 leadership challenge against him, and those who are now rumoured to be considering joining the breakaway faction – are heavily represented on the list of MPs supporting LFI?

For them, it seems, vigorous support for Israel is not only a key foreign policy matter, but a marker of their political priorities and worldview – one that starkly clashes with the views of Corbyn and a majority of the Labour membership.

Anti-semitism has turned out to be the most useful – and damaging – weapon to wield against the Labour leader for a variety of reasons close to the hearts of the holdouts from the Blair era, who still dominate the parliamentary party and parts of the Labour bureaucracy.

Perhaps most obviously, the Blairite wing of the party is still primarily loyal to a notion that Britain should at all costs maintain its transatlantic alliance with the United States in foreign policy matters. Israel is a key issue for those on both sides of the Atlantic who see that state as a projection of Western power into the oil-rich Middle East and romanticise Israel as a guarantor of Western values in a “barbaric” region.

Corbyn’s prioritising of Palestinian rights threatens to overturn a core imperial value to which the Blairites cling.

Tarred and feathered

But it goes further. Anti-semitism has become a useful stand-in for the deep differences in a domestic political culture between the Blairites, on one hand, and Corbyn and the wider membership, on the other.

A focus on anti-semitism avoids the right-wing MPs having to admit much wider grievances with Corbyn’s Labour that would probably play far less well not only with Labour members, but with the broader British electorate.

As well as their enthusiasm for foreign wars, the Blairites support the enrichment of a narrow neo-liberal elite, are ambivalent about austerity policies, and are reticent at returning key utilities to public ownership. All of this can be neatly evaded and veiled by talking up anti-semitism.

But the utility of anti-semitism as a weapon with which to beat Corbyn and his supporters – however unfairly – runs deeper still.

The Blairites view allegations of anti-Jewish racism as a trump card. Calling someone an anti-semite rapidly closes down all debate and rational thought. It isolates, then tars and feathers its targets. No one wants to be seen to be associated with an anti-semite, let alone defend them.

Weak hand exposed

That is one reason why anti-semitism smears have been so maliciously effective against anti-Zionist Jews in the party and used with barely a murmur of protest – or in most cases, even recognition that Jews are being suspended and expelled for opposing Israel’s racist policies towards Palestinians.

This is a revival of the vile “self-hating Jew” trope that Israel and its defenders concocted decades ago to intimidate Jewish critics.

The Blairites in Labour, joined by the ruling Conservative Party, the mainstream media and pro-Israel lobby groups, have selected anti-semitism as the terrain on which to try to destroy a Corbyn-led Labour Party, because it is a battlefield in which the left stands no hope of getting a fair hearing – or any hearing at all.

But paradoxically, the Labour breakaway group may have inadvertently exposed the weakness of its hand. The eight MPs have indicated that they will not run in by-elections, and for good reason: it is highly unlikely they would stand a chance of winning in any of their current constituencies outside the Labour Party.

Their decision will also spur moves to begin deselecting those Labour MPs who are openly trying to sabotage the party – and the members’ wishes – from within.

That may finally lead to a clearing out of the parliamentary baggage left behind from the Blair era, and allow Labour to begin rebuilding itself as a party ready to deal with the political, social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Britain lurches Deeper into Brexit Crisis as its Population Remains Deeply Alienated from the Political Establishment

The British political establishment is experiencing an unprecedented crisis over the issue of exiting the European Union. The Conservative government staggers from crisis to crisis over its Brexit deal while politicians of all colours bicker and argue as the UK lurches towards a potentially devastating No Deal scenario. This had lead to a huge distrust in the political class amongst the long suffering public.

As the clock ticks down towards the 29 March exit date it is worth while recalling how this crisis came about in the first place. Regardless of which Brexit option the UK takes over the next period it will not detract from the fact that there is a huge chasm between large sections of a bitterly discontented population and the political establishment that does not bode well for the future stability of a key American ally.

A recent poll of 33,000 people revealed that an overwhelming majority felt that whatever Brexit option is adopted it will not address the rampant inequalities, political alienation and disenchantment that lay behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

In June 2016 the UK vote to exit the EU shocked the financial and political elites and led to turmoil on global stock markets. The corporate media was full of shocked pundits lamenting the democratic decision of British people for Brexit. Brexit voters were being blamed for everything from the rise in racism against immigrant families to the increased dangers of terrorist attacks.

The corporate media both in Britain and internationally was and still are furious with the British electorate for voting for Brexit. They never saw it coming and still don’t fully understand why ordinary people voted for Brexit. More than this, they still don’t understand how the Brexit vote reveals how completely out of touch the corporate media and the political/financial elites are with the millions of working class people who voted for Brexit.

Let’s be very clear about this: the vote for Brexit was a working class rebellion against the financial and political elites of Britain who have presided over a massive redistribution of wealth in favour of the super rich leaving a fifth of the population in poverty. Analysis of the referendum vote shows how the poorer an area was the higher the vote was for Brexit.

The working class stood up to massive pressure from the Bremain camp that included: all of the mainstream political parties, the Bank of England, CBI, IMF, ECB, Obama, the World Bank and the trade union bureaucrats.

The vote for Brexit revealed how out of touch the establishment advocates of the EU are with working class people. Millions of working class people are struggling to get by with low wages, incessant benefit cuts, zero hour contracts, food banks and poor housing that are putting their families and communities under intense strain. On top of this, working class people suffer the most from the cuts to the welfare state and the incessant cuts to local council services.

Working class people are not stupid they can see how the EU is a fundamentally undemocratic organisation that is completely unaccountable to them. The secret negotiations that took place between the EU and the Obama administration over TTIP, which members of the European Parliament had no say over, proved conclusively how this is an organisation run for the benefit of the too big to fail banks and the multi-national corporations.

They can see how the undemocratic EU has bludgeoned the people of Greece into living in permanent austerity and mass poverty despite a referendum last year that decisively rejected austerity measures. Obama’s favourite economist Paul Krugman called the EU’s intervention into Greece in 2015 a ‘coup d’etat’.

The advocates of Bremain in 2016 such as Mark Carney (ex-Goldman Sachs), then Prime Minister Cameron (from a tax avoiding banker family) then Chancellor George Osborne (son of a Baronet) warned working class people that Brexit would lower their living standards more than any other group in UK society.

However, millions of working class people were not taken in by the crocodile tears coming from those responsible for creating a massively unequal society. Quantitative easing and ZIRP have made the super rich fabulously richer as they have benefited from the massive bubbles on the stock market and in property. The top 10% of society own 45% of all wealth totalling over £5 trillion while the bottom 50% of society own a pathetic 9% of the wealth.

Prime Minister Cameron’s government presided over a savage attack upon welfare benefits which have led to one and half million benefit sanctions leaving people totally destitute and leading to hundreds of people committing suicide. The attack on welfare benefits for disabled people has been so severe it prompted the UN to launch an investigation into the human rights violations of disabled people. In 2018 the UN accused the UK government of ‘’systematic violations’’ of disabled people’s rights..

The political and financial elites who advocated that Britain should stay in the EU were puzzled as to why so many working class people stubbornly supported Brexit in 2016. They were and still are incapable of comprehending the anger, pain and suffering of millions of working class people who feel increasing contempt towards a political and financial elite that has no understanding of their daily lives. Over 13 million live in poverty (1 in 5 of the population) while 15 million live in inadequate housing conditions.

This inchoate anger at the daily reality that confronts them has few outlets in life. The EU referendum provided working class people with a means of sticking two fingers up at the political and financial establishment which now presides over a very divided country along lines of class and geography. This sense of alienation and disenchantment with the political establishment has only increased in the two and half years since the Brexit referendum.

The Brexit vote has led to unprecedented turmoil in both of the main political parties in Britain, particularly the Conservative Party.

The financial and political elites suffered a major defeat in 2016 Brexit vote. The Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most successful political parties in history and has served the British ruling class well for over two hundred years. Now it faces an unprecedented crisis and is unable to effectively govern.

Regardless of which Brexit option the Conservative government takes over the next period the UK will face huge challenges as the world economy continues to slow down and heads towards another devastating recession.

This will pose major challenges for the stability of the UK, whose manufacturing base continues to weaken while its financial services sector loses its dominant position in European capital markets due to Brexit. A discontented population may take inspiration from its yellow vested neighbours across the English Channel.

Trial and Error

Nick Boles, an MP previously loyal to Britain’s Tory party, recently made himself very unpopular with his own constituency activists. Why? Because he dared to state that he would not support any move that might result in Britain quitting the European Union without a deal. In a recent column in his local newspaper he listed several points that explain his position concerning the disastrous Brexit fiasco. One of those points stated his adamant rejection of any support for holding a second referendum because, he says, it would “Increase cynicism about the honesty and competency of politicians”.

Well, what can you say? Anything that helps people to become cynical about the honesty and competence of politicians has to be good thing, doesn’t it?

But seriously, I understand the point he makes, and even agree with it at a very superficial level: you can’t ask people to decide something and then ignore their decision and do something else. But I think it might be helpful for him, and others with a similar view, to think about the Brexit referendum, or any referendum, not so much as some divine eternal proclamation, but more like a court verdict.

Our justice system has an essential device, an appeals process, which prevents or reduces countless miscarriages of justice. Many court cases which produce one type of verdict when they’re first heard often produce an entirely different verdict when the case is appealed at a later stage. This is because new evidence is usually heard at an appeal which was not initially available and which, if ignored through the absence of an appeal system, would result in grotesque injustices.

A similar and desperately serious situation exists with Brexit. Very few people who voted for Brexit had any idea of the mayhem that was about to be unleashed – and that was even before we actually left the EU. Very few people knew about the immense problem that would arise about the Irish border, for example, and very few people knew how much they were lied to in the months, and years, leading up to the referendum.

And how many people knew the great champions of Brexit would be the first to head for the hills as soon as the Brexiteers won the day? How many expected Nigel Farage to quit UKIP within days of the result, leaving others to sort out the mess he created? How many expected the likes of arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg to expand his multi-billion pound hedge fund operation, not in Britain, but in Ireland? Or anticipated arch-Brexiteer James Dyson to move the headquarters of his multi-billion pound empire out of the UK to Singapore? If all these leading lights of the “Leave” campaign were so confident about a rosy future for post-Brexit Britain, why did they behave like rats leaping off the sinking ship?

No referendum result should be treated like the word of God. It should be seen as fallible as a court verdict which could and should be changed if new compelling evidence is produced. Adhering blindly to a referendum result just because it’s a referendum is a bit like someone being convicted on phoney evidence in some kangaroo court by a bloodthirsty lynch-mob, denied any chance of appeal, and then brutally executed – all O.K. because some pseudo-court said so. Referendums are just as capable of returning wrong decisions as any courtroom and, just like court decisions in moderately civilised countries, should be able to be changed if sufficient evidence is forthcoming.

Generally speaking, the judicial system is not too bad. It possibly produces more good verdicts than bad ones. But everyone knows it’s fallible. It makes lots of mistakes, even when it isn’t being cynically rigged or manipulated. Without an appeals system it would be much, much worse.

There is a mountain of new evidence to support a re-trial of this case. The accused, Britain’s partnership with the European Union, has been wrongly convicted. The case must be appealed, and another referendum, based on all the new evidence, held as soon as possible.