The campaign to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has accelerated. We must oppose the attacks and defend the left, argues Kara Bryan.
Chris Williamson’s suspension from the Labour Party - for saying it had ‘given too much ground’ to claims that it is institutionally racist - marked a significant acceleration in the attacks on the leadership. What he said was taken out of context and was not antisemitic (nor were the accusations against him necessarily made in good faith). After a number of recent concessions, this has not been a good week for Labour. The weaponisation of antisemitism, driven by a political agenda, is in overdrive.
There is evidence of antisemitism among Labour Party members, as there is in wider society, and a marked rise in antisemitic content on social media. In particular, there has been an increase in conspiracy theories demonising Jews, which claim they have systematically enslaved the world for economic and political gain, such as the Rothschild banks conspiracy. These conspiracy theories are not new but have proliferated in the digital age. This can be largely attributed to the rise of ‘alternative’ right-wing media post 9/11, which offer simple solutions to complex problems, gaining currency in a context where western governments have repeatedly lied to sell war and trust in our politicians is at an unprecedented low.
In 2017 the Institute for Jewish Policy Research conducted the largest and most detailed survey of attitudes towards the Jewish community and found that levels of antisemitism in Great Britain were among the lowest in the world. Similarly, the 2017 Chakrabarti report concluded that antisemitism was ‘not endemic’ in the Labour Party.
The more recent findings by Labour’s General Secretary, Jennie Formby, have been even more revealing. She has examined 1,106 cases of alleged antisemitism. Her findings are as follows. Out of 1,106 reported allegations only 673 directly involved party members. 220 of those were dismissed due to lack of evidence. That left 453 cases out of a total membership of 540,000. To clarify, that’s 0.08%. Formby’s findings confirm that incidents of antisemitism in the Labour Party are isolated cases and that the issue has been massively exaggerated.
The weaponising of antisemitism as a political tool demonstrates a disregard for victims of real antisemitic attacks and desecrates the memory of the Holocaust. The supposition asserted as fact that ‘Jews no longer feel safe’ in the Labour Party is disingenuous. Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), for example, has repeatedly challenged the allegations of systemic antisemitism in the Labour Party. It was opposed to the Labour Party’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which extended the definition of antisemitism to include anti-Zionism. JVL has come out in defence of Chris Williamson.
Anti-Zionism is the opposition to Israel as a colonial power and an exclusive Jewish state on the basis of the subjugation of its indigenous population: the illegal settlements, the displacement of Palestinians, unlawful detention, killings and frequent human rights violations. It is not ‘Jew hatred’. Most anti-Zionists are in point of fact anti-racist, which underlines their opposition to the flagrant and daily violation of the rights of the Palestinian community.
Although Britain has not occupied Palestine in more than seventy years, in British politics Palestine is still the elephant in the room. Israel, as an allied occupying force, is a valuable strategic asset in the Middle East and as such has a strong following of both Conservative and Labour MPs, many of whom are levying accusations of rampant antisemitism in the Labour Party. The IHRA definition of antisemitism adopted by the Labour Party provides a ‘get out of jail free’ card by silencing legitimate criticism of Israeli apartheid. But the tide is turning against Israel and, much like South Africa before it, it faces growing isolation in the world. The BDS movement and growing Palestinian solidarity awareness around the world represent a profound challenge to Israeli apartheid in its current form as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking election for a fifth term, faces indictment for bribery, corruption and fraud.
Author Jocelyn Hurndall, mother of Tom Hurndall, a young photojournalist who was killed by a gunshot wound to the head defending Palestinian children from Israeli gunfire in 2003, told me she was not surprised public opinion towards Israel sank during the ‘atrocious’ attacks on Gaza but said, “It is absolutely crucial to separate criticism of Israeli policy from accusations of antisemitism. The conflation, intentional as it is, has caused untold damage.”
Those who have been subjected to disciplinary action in the Labour Party have included veteran anti-racism campaigners like Chris Williamson, Ken Livingstone and Marc Wadsworth, who have voiced support for Jeremy Corbyn as well as expressing opposition to the Israeli occupation. One journalist described the supposed ‘crisis’ of antisemitism in the Labour Party as a ‘campaign by racists to call anti-racists, racist.’
The Al Jazeera exposé, ‘The Lobby’, uncovered efforts by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs to undermine the Corbyn project through Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). Revealing that both groups had worked closely with intelligence officer Shai Masot, who was expelled from the UK in 2017 after being secretly filmed by an undercover reporter asking, ‘Can I give you some MPs that I would suggest you would take down?’ Yet these sensational revelations caused barely a ripple in the British media. Emily Thornberry called for an investigation into the ‘improper interference’ of the lobby in British politics. Yet, two years later, no investigation has ever taken place.
The propaganda campaign against Corbynism is now in overdrive. Its objective: to eviscerate any possibility of a socialist British Prime Minister, sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle. Jeremy Corbyn has an impeccable record. Trawling through his comments over the last thirty years is unlikely to yield results for those who seek to assassinate his character and de-legitimise his leadership.
Unable to find antisemitic comments from Corbyn himself, the witch hunt has been forced to resort to guilt by association and a smear campaign intended to isolate Corbyn, picking off his allies one by one and intimidating those who might take their place. It has already identified its next victim in key Corbyn ally and main advisor Seumas Milne, who former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove is currently attempting to frame as a Kremlin asset. This is a witch hunt that would make even Senator McCarthy blush - and it will not stop until Corbyn’s leadership is confined to history.
Further concessions and futile apologies will not placate an ideological enemy, but will only embolden their attacks. But grass roots support for the Corbyn project has always been at its strongest when Corbyn comes out fighting, and the stakes have never been higher. The battle for the British Labour Party is on. There is much to lose, but there is much to fight for.
The Labour Party currently has over 540,000 members. The majority of them will support Corbyn, but the leadership must go on the offensive, call out the smear campaign for what it is, stop apologising for allegations made in bad faith, and start organising. Take the fight from the dark corridors of Parliament outside into the streets, breathe new life into the rallies and re-animate the working class inspired by the 2017 Manifesto. In the end: we are many, they are few.
Kara Bryan is a writer and activist and regular contributor to the Counterfire website. She is a member of Counterfire and Stop the War
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