Wrong type of Jew
The right has succeeded in ridding ‘anti-Semitism’ of any coherent meaning, says Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists
“An anti-Semite used to be somebody who does not like Jews. Now it is somebody who Jews do not like.” This little saying - slightly simplistic, like all catchy ones - has been doing the rounds recently on social media and it is easy to see why. Clearly, we are currently witnessing what must be one of the biggest and most successful smear campaigns against a leader of the Labour Party in the history of the British media.
Of course, anti-Semitism exists in society. It would be foolish to claim otherwise. And, of course, this will find reflection in the Labour Party - especially as we have seen more than 300,000 people join the organisation in the last two and a half years. Many of them are rather inexperienced politically and there will be some who do not necessarily recognise an anti-Semitic trope when they see one - or even write one.
But, rather than fostering open discussion and debate, which is surely the best way to educate people, the Labour Party is now engulfed in a culture of fear, persecution and self-censorship. As should be clear to most commentators with a brain between their ears, the rightwingers inside and outside the Labour Party who are pushing this campaign have very little interest in fighting anti-Semitism or any other kind of oppression. Their campaign is aimed at a certain Jeremy Corbyn.
Owen Jones, however - on the wrong side politically, as has become his habit over the last two years - ticks off “those Labour elements - they know who they are - who believe anti-Semitism is a useful device to undermine the left: your net contribution is to undermine the struggle against anti-Semitism, nothing else.”1 Quite the opposite is true, Owen. The right has succeeded in ridding anti-Semitism of any coherent meaning.
Take comrades like Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone and Tony Greenstein, who were suspended on charges of anti-Semitism (in comrade Greenstein’s case, he was eventually expelled), when clearly nothing they did or said expressed in any way “hostility or prejudice against Jews”. Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, was temporarily suspended from the Labour Party for anti-Semitism for merely belonging to a group on Facebook where somebody said something that somebody else felt was anti-Semitic.
Now we have the latest ‘scandal’: Jeremy Corbyn shared a passover seder with a group of Jews … but unfortunately, he picked the wrong type of Jews. Jewdas is a semi-anarchistic organisation based mainly in Corbyn’s constituency of Islington. It describes itself as “radical voices for the alternative diaspora” and likes to employ satire: in 2006, it organised a party entitled ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Hackney’ - obviously a pun on the fraudulent anti-Semitic document, ‘The protocols of the elders of Zion’.The police did not quite get the joke: four people who distributed leaflets for the event were arrested and held under section 19 of the Public Order Act.
They are, if you will, modern orthodox Jews, who have no desire to live in Israel and therefore strongly criticise it (apparently it is a “steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of”). Apparently, at the seder, somebody held up a beetroot and shouted, “Fuck capitalism”.2 What’s not to like? Corbyn’s attendance at this event reminds us why so many people continue to like him.
Those outraged by Corbyn’s decision to pick the wrong Jews fail to mention that Corbyn cannot yet sit down for a nice cup of tea with the concerned citizens of the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council, who organised the cynical March 26 rally, ‘Enough is enough’. The BoD has given him a long list of conditions he will have to meet first, including expelling Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker from the Labour Party. Corbyn has just rejected any preconditions, many of which he actually cannot meet, in any case - expulsions, for example, are decided on by the party’s National Constitutional Committee.
Unfortunately, however, Corbyn and his allies have clearly made the decision not to challenge the entirely cynical narrative, according to which the Labour Party is “engulfed by”, “overrun by” or “awash with” anti-Semites. The first mistake Corbyn made was to commission Shami Chakrabarti to produce a report on the issue in April 2016. He thought the allegations would go away. No such luck. The report was seen as an admission of guilt, despite the fact that its first sentence states: “The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.”3 Corbyn showed his adversaries that he is pliable on the issue and so they have kept piling on the pressure.
Of course, in the early stages of Labour’s civil war, we saw other types of attacks on Corbyn and his supporters on the left. Remember Tom Watson’s embarrassing ‘Reds under the bed’ dossier?4 Or the 11,000 complaints and allegations made in the first 12 months of Corbyn’s leadership, “as a result of complaints sent in to the party by other members with an axe to grind”, when “well-resourced rightwing hit squads scented a golden opportunity and began trawling through known Corbynistas’ Facebook and Twitter accounts”, as Christine Shawcroft reported.5
We are sorry to break this to Owen Jones, but at this initial stage of the anti-Corbyn campaign most of the allegations were not about anti-Semitism, but about using rude words (remember Catherine Starr, who was suspended for writing on Facebook: “I fucking love the Foo Fighters”?6) or for members having supported other organisations - for example, at election time: Corbyn’s senior policy advisor, Andrew Fisher, was temporarily suspended for having tweeted his support for a Class War member, who was standing against rightwinger Emily Benn in the 2015 general election.7 Some 52% of those 11,000 complaints resulted in no action being taken, which still leaves a staggering 5,280 cases where some action was taken. Of course, at that time witch-hunter general Iain McNicol was in charge of the compliance unit and the National Executive Committee had a clear rightwing majority.
Instead of standing up to this culture, Corbyn turned a blind eye. And so, the rightwing snitches kept on snooping. It soon turned out that allegations of anti-Semitism were by far the best weapon in this struggle. Considering how important it has been to contemporary
British culture to present World War II as a crusade against the Nazis (and not a fight over the spoils of imperialism), the charge of anti-Semitism is, of course, a highly emotive one.
It also fits in beautifully with the agenda of the pro-Israel lobby. The campaign against Corbyn has, most recently, pushed coverage of the murder of 17 unarmed Arab demonstrators in Gaza, who were taken out by Israeli snipers, to the back pages. Clearly, one aim of the campaign is to stop any criticism of the actions of the state of Israel. And, unless Corbyn signs up to this pledge like previous Labour leaders have done, he will be attacked, attacked and attacked again.
Anti-Semitism is also a charge that is clearly very flexible. Ken Livingstone has been suspended for over two years now for daring to state that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazi government. But the Ha’avara agreement of 1933 between the Zionist movement and the Nazis - which broke the non-Zionist, Jewish-led call for an economic boycott - is an historic fact. Credit to Livingstone, who has refused numerous demands to apologise for the comments (even though it might have got him back into the party).
Corbyn should have defended his fellow leftwinger. But, when he just stood by, the right wing saw this as an open door and proceeded to suspend Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein and many more. The case against Greenstein shows though what most of these allegations are: nonsense. Despite an investigation lasting over 18 months, the compliance unit could not prove that comrade Greenstein had actually said or written anything anti-Semitic. And so he was expelled for being “abusive” (ie, rude) to people on social media - those ‘offences’ happening after his actual suspension.
But, of course, the appetite of the witch-hunters grows with the eating. Corbyn will never be able to get rid of enough socialists or enough principles. We are not sure if he or his advisors really thought that his ‘letter of apology’ to the Tories running the British Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council would stop the smears against him. His second letter will certainly have helped make it worse. In it, he gives the witch-hunters more grounds to keep on fingering people: he describes as examples of “aspects of contemporary anti-Semitism” the use of the word ‘Zio’ and “comparing Israel or the actions of the state of Israel to the Nazis”.8 That could easily get a few more hundred people suspended.
We also saw Corbyn collapsing over the ‘scandal’ around Christine Shawcroft. She had sent an email to Sam Matthews of the compliance unit, in which she called for the suspension of one Alan Bull to be overturned. Bull, a council candidate in Peterborough, has the rather infantile habit of posting ‘shocking’ articles on Facebook without any comment. Two years ago, he thought it would be fun to see how his 5,000 Facebook friends would react to an article entitled ‘International Red Cross report confirms that the Holocaust of 6m Jews is a hoax’.
The screenshot sent to the Labour Party compliance unit - which it helpfully forwarded to all national newspapers - had been doctored, says Bull:
The more accurate and considerably less shocking subheading of this title was excluded by the screenshotter for maximum impact. As were all of the 46 comments, including a short exchange I had with a Jewish friend, who commented: “Can I ask the intent of this article? Are you denying the holocaust?” To which I replied, “Not at all - just posting for discussion and debate, as usual. Best wishes, Alan.”9
The man is clearly rather childish and has posted other problematic material. But it almost does not matter if he holds deep-seated anti-Semitic views or not. Thanks to the media jumping on the story with relish, he will from now on be known as ‘Alan, the anti-Semite’.
Christine Shawcroft stuck her neck out for Bull, but had to peddle back when the bourgeois media picked up on her email, which was probably leaked by Sam Matthews - ‘head of disputes’ and willing henchman of Iain McNicol. First, she resigned as chair of the disputes panel and then from the NEC itself, claiming officially that she had not seen that the article was accompanied by a picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Why on earth would that matter? It’s bullshit. Now we know it was Jeremy Corbyn himself who asked comrade Shawcroft to resign from both positions.
That was politically inept, to put it mildly. It means Eddie Izzard has taken her seat, which rather dramatically changes the balance of forces on the NEC. It is again almost evenly split between the pro- and anti-Corbyn forces. And, needless to say, sacrificing her will not stop the onslaught. We are told to prepare for a comment by the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis who, according to TheDaily Telegraph, has “grave concerns” about Jeremy Corbyn’s conduct.10 As do we, but we presume they differ somewhat from Mirvis’s.
Momentum owner Jon Lansman has been on a rather embarrassing media offensive, presumably in order to support Corbyn. But he also ended up giving the right more ammunition. For example, he went one step further than Corbyn: not content with demanding that ‘Zio’ should be banned, he stated that people should also stop using the full word, ‘Zionism’, because “to the Jew in the street it might only mean the Jewish state of Israel, safe and secure, nothing more than that, not a separate ideology.” Instead, we should “attack Netanyahu, nothing wrong with that.”11
No, Jon. we should attack ‘Zionism’, in the same way as we should attack any chauvinist, reactionary ideology. From the start modern Zionism fought for the foundation of an exclusive colonial-settler state, which had to be based on the violent displacement of the native Arab population, that or their savage oppression. It is not the word ‘Zionism’ that is the problem - it is the reality of an ongoing colonial-settler project. By attempting to remove the right to criticise Zionism by name, Lansman is actually attempting to undermine the fight against systematic national oppression.
Lansman stated: “… what Ken Livingstone said, whether it was anti-Semitic or not, caused a great deal of offence to many Jewish people” and was therefore wrong. He also called for Labour Party members - including Corbyn - to undergo “training” to be able recognise such “unconscious bias against Jews”. It sounds to us like this kind of “training” could involve some serious rewriting of history: if there is a chance something might be perceived as offensive by some Jewish people, you are not allowed to say it. And let’s abolish all critical thought while we’re at it, shall we, Jon?
Some leftwingers claim that Lansman has been stabbing Corbyn in the back, perhaps out of revenge for not helping him become general secretary. Regular Weekly Worker author Tony Greenstein writes that Lansman should be removed as leader of Momentum, because, “if it accepts the false anti-Semitism narrative, then it is accepting the legitimacy of a campaign whose only purpose is to get rid of Corbyn”.12
He is right, of course. But the fish rots from the head. Corbyn is singing from the same hymnsheet as Lansman on this one, unfortunately. Rather than fighting false accusations, he tries to sneak around them. It is not working. And, as if to prove the point, the vile Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has now rather ironically demanded Jon Lansman’s scalp, too: his comment of “unconscious bias” was belittling the problem!13 But the whole campaign has become absurd and almost entirely removed from any rational reason.
Still, this will not be the end of the witch-hunt against Corbyn or his allies. It has been way too successful. And, despite what the Daily Mail’s political commentator, Peter Oborne, claims, the ‘moderates’ will not do us the favour and split from the Labour Party.14 After Labour’s successful result in the 2017 snap election, they are painfully aware of the fact that joining with the Liberal Democrats to form a “centrist party” will not easily present them with hundreds of parliamentary seats.
No, for rightwing careerists the best bet is to stay in the Labour Party. They have already successfully convinced Corbyn and Lansman to give up the fight for mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates, so there is no imminent danger of losing their seats. They will keep attacking him, they will keep demanding he drops this principle or expels that person - until either he calls it a day or is tamed enough to become a reliable manager of British capitalism. They have made good progress already. Wait until we see concerted demands on prime minister Corbyn to increase the defence budget, renew Trident (with actual nuclear warheads).
All the more important that the left stands up and criticises Corbyn’s suicidal attitude to the witch-hunt. We defend Corbyn when he is attacked by the right, of course. But our support for him has to become far more critical. Labour Against the Witchhunt, for example, has published an open letter to Corbyn “and the left on the NEC”.15 As we go to press, it has been signed by almost 5,000 people, in less than 60 hours. The letter makes some entirely supportable points, but is rather soft politically.
Nevertheless, even this gentle criticism was too much for some groups on the left - like, unfortunately, Jewish Voice for Labour. The comrades have done great work - for example, by demonstrating that there is no such thing as a politically homogenous ‘Jewish community’. But they seem to think that by criticising Corbyn in public, we give the right ammunition to further attack him. Quite the opposite, comrades. If we are serious about transforming the Labour Party, this cannot be done by staying silent about Corbyn’s dangerous current trajectory.
1. The Guardian April 4.
2. Daily Mail April 4.
10. The Daily Telegraph April 4.
11. Today Radio 4, April 3 (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09xcsdb).
14. Mail on Sunday April 1.