Calling out the smear merchants for what they are is step one in ending this appalling and unprecedented witch-hunt, argues Lindsey German
I cannot remember a sustained witch-hunt of the sort set in train against Jeremy Corbyn over the summer. Starting with Margaret Hodge’s despicable slur on him back in July, it has continued on a daily basis. In the course of the witch-hunt, the focus has increasingly moved from alleged incidents of antisemitism in Britain to questions of Israel and Palestine. As many have long predicted, the witch-hunts against individual party members have been overtaken by increasing attacks on Labour’s leader himself.
There can be no doubt about what this represents - the serious attempt to remove a twice-elected Labour leader who has left wing politics, who supports a range of causes and movements including those for the Palestinians, who is committed to redistribution of wealth and power, who wants more money spent on decent public services, and whose election as prime minister would inspire working people around the world.
Such a vista is so horrifying to those who control our society that there is now an alliance of right wing Labour MPs, the print and broadcast media, the Tories and indeed Benjamin Netanyahu - all united on finding ways in which every day they can spread lies, innuendo, misunderstandings and misquotes which paint Corbyn as the devil incarnate, so filled with hatred that he represents an ‘existential threat’ to British Jews, according to some Jewish papers.
The latest attack is about a meeting where Corbyn was obviously making a joking remark about a group of Zionists at a meeting not understanding ‘English irony’. The remark refers to specific people and is in the context of saying that the Palestinian ambassador understands this English irony better. Yes, that really is it, yet it has caused MPs Luciana Berger and Mike Gapes to question their membership of Labour.
It has also brought the most astonishing intervention from Tory Home Secretary Sajid Javid - yes he of the party of Boris Johnson and the burka insults, and of the hostile environment to immigrants which brought us the Windrush scandal. He demonstrates his total ignorance on the matter when he suggests that making this remark about Zionists makes Corbyn antisemitic against all Jews. He says that any similar remark about other groups such as Asians would be deemed unacceptable.
But he is the one who is here making the racist assumption. Not all Jews are Zionists - and indeed not all Zionists are Jews. Zionism is a political movement with a history, established in the late 19th century as antisemitism grew in Europe and aimed at securing a homeland for Jews. It was long a minority view among European Jews, until the events of the Holocaust understandably led to it gaining more support and to the establishment of the state of Israel. Today, extreme Zionists are emigrating to Israel and settling on Palestinian land in settlements deemed illegal under international law, but encouraged by Netanyahu and his friend Donald Trump.
The comparison Javid makes is wrong - a comparable reference would be to an Islamic political organisation or to Islamic extremism, a term used very frequently. When people refer to Zionists they refer not to all Jews but to a political movement - and are quite right to make the distinction. This is a fabricated row which takes a casual remark from a speech and turns it into an attack on all Jews. While it seems that the left can distinguish between Jews and Zionists, it seems that the right wing media can’t.
These arguments about antisemitism are being used to try to damage Corbyn and to rehabilitate Israel’s reputation at the exact time when it is threatening war with Iran, attacking Palestinians, trying to claim Jerusalem as its capital and increasing the illegal settlements, all egged on by Trump
The argument has become intertwined with Middle East politics and divisions within Labour. Reports of a barbecue hosted by Peter Mandelson where 20 MPs including deputy leader Tom Watson discussed this issue, Brexit and a new party are all too believable. A de facto split looks more and more likely to me, with antisemitism being heralded as the ostensible reason, although this has long been about major political differences. I for one am totally fed up with those MPs and journalists who claim they all thought Corbyn was a really good guy until all this. No, they didn’t, they always opposed him, but this gives them a rationale.
I helped organise and spoke at a London meeting last week where 400 people packed into the hall and another 100 were turned away. The speakers all made clear their opposition to antisemitism and all racism, but also to the oppression of Palestinians which is a fact of life in Israel. The audience was very militant, very annoyed at the slurs and very committed to organising against them. This anger is a reflection of feelings inside and outside Labour across the country. It may be true, as some Labour members argue, that most people see through it, but it is corrosive nonetheless. And its aim is not just to demoralise the left, but to defeat it, and to defeat the broader Palestine solidarity movement which is so strong in Britain.
One question we should all ask is why, when there have been weeks of these lies and slanders towards Jeremy, has there been so little from Labour MPs defending him? Or Momentum? There has to be a concerted fightback and everyone needs to step up and argue against this witch-hunt. It isn’t going to go away, with the IHRA definition of antisemitism likely to be adopted by the NEC. That, in turn, will lead to further attacks on the left. Central to fighting back has to be a determination to have serious debates - in the Labour Party, in the movements, in the media - on what Israel has done and what it is doing.
The constant slurs, lies and innuendo are the enemy of such debate. They have to stop. And we have nothing to fear from such debates. Perhaps those attacking Jeremy Corbyn do?
Time to isolate the fascists
It’s very good news that the anti-racist movement led by Stand up to Racism is calling a mass demonstration against fascism and racism for November 17th. This is likely to unite very large sections of society, the majority of whom oppose racism. There is a worrying growth of racism and fascism in Europe - with widespread racism against Muslims and migrants, and a resurgence of antisemitism in central and Eastern Europe. Instead of blaming Labour’s left for this rise, we should recognise that Corbyn’s politics help to provide an antidote to it. We should also recognise that the fascists and far right are vile, but are massively strengthened by various forms of state racism, including immigration controls, anti-Muslim laws, Prevent and the like.
Here, Tommy Robinson threatens to build a fascist movement along with the dregs of UKIP. We cannot allow this to happen. This demo can’t be built as routine. It needs the big unions and organisations, but we have to drill down into working class areas, into every housing estate, workplace, college and school. We have to mobilise in imaginative and inventive ways, and we have to link our anti-racism with the need to change capitalist society which is leading to racism and scapegoating. The stakes are high, and we need the left to get out on the streets.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Marxism, the family and women's oppression - video
- Marxism and feminism - Marxism and Women's Liberation extract
- Tiers of a clown – weekly briefing
- Engels: giant of the socialist movement - video
- Engels: a working class hero
- No money for school meals but Johnson found £16.5bn extra for the military
- The left’s Trump card – weekly briefing