From Peterborough to Pompeo
With every new victim of the witch-hunt, the requirements to qualify as an ‘anti-Semite’ are substantially lowered, says Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists
It is fair to say that Lisa Forbes has saved Jeremy Corbyn’s bacon. Until the very last moment, it looked like we might have to witness the election of the first ever Brexit Party MP, which, considering the massively unfavourable conditions of the June 6 by-election in Peterborough, would have been entirely feasible. And, considering how negatively Labour’s victory has been presented, we can only guess how bad the media coverage would have been if Labour had lost the seat.
Firstly, there was the fact that the constituency saw the first ever application of the Recall of MPs Act of 2015, which stipulates that any MP who receives a prison sentence of a year or less is subject to a recall petition (MPs who are sentenced to more than a year are automatically forced to step down). Fiona Onasanya lost her appeal on March 5 and on March 19 the petition was opened, quickly garnering the support of a whopping 27.6% of the local eligible electorate, thereby vastly exceeding the 10% required. True, Jeremy Corbyn had called on Onasanya to step down voluntarily, but her desperate clinging on to her very lucrative job will have no doubt seriously impacted on the Labour Party’s electoral appeal.
Secondly, following on so quickly from the EU elections, Brexit Party candidate Mike Green was riding quite a wave - especially when one considers that 60.9% in Peterborough voted ‘leave’ in the 2016 referendum. Forbes’ victory is an answer to all those who are convinced that Jeremy Corbyn “must” come out strongly in favour of Brexit and even “campaign” for it, as the Communist Party of Britain’s Morning Star recently demanded. But, of course, it will not stop them.
Just like it will not shut up those up who are certain that only coming out for a second referendum will improve Labour’s electoral chances: witness the elevation of the Labour MP Marie Rimmer, who used this week’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party to slap down Corbyn over the “lack of leadership over Europe”, stating “it was not easy for me to vote Labour” in the EU elections (needless to say, she wants a second referendum). Apparently, this made it Corbyn’s “worst meeting as leader”, because this “ally of Jeremy Corbyn”1 had apparently “never spoken out” against him before.2 Er, not quite. In 2016, she participated in the coup against Corbyn and publicly backed Owen Smith.3 True, since then she kept her mouth shut when it comes to Corbyn (and much else), confirming perhaps that her chief loyalty is to her job.
Despite renewed reports that Jeremy Corbyn was about to come out publicly for a second referendum (no doubt written in order to push him in that direction), it seems he is still sticking to his position of ‘studied ambiguity’. How else should we interpret his public put down of Emily Thornberry, who has been, we are told, “demoted” after calling for a second referendum and was not allowed to deputise for him at prime minister’s question time last week. There are rumours she will be demoted to the back benches soon - indicating that perhaps behind the scenes there has been quite a falling out (after all, Keir Starmer is not being demoted). In any case, we certainly will not be shedding any tears for this member of the Labour Friends of Israel.4
From a limited electoral perspective, Corbyn’s position still makes a lot of sense. Coming out firmly on either side of the binary debate will do nothing to increase Labour’s chances at the ballot box. The ‘remain’ side is well covered by the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Scottish National Party, while the Brexit Party is successfully scooping up the hard-core Brexit vote. From a Marxist point of view, however, Labour’s outlook is seriously limited. Where is the plan for a radically democratised Europe and its institutions? Where is the vision of the working class across Europe (and globally) taking matters into their own hands? Where is the plan to take on international capitalism? Unfortunately, while Corbyn quite rightly refuses to pick a side, he has also not attempted to break out of this false ‘in or out’ dichotomy.
Back to Peterborough, where Lisa Forbes won despite having been declared an anti-Semite by large sections of the bourgeois press, as well as plenty of voices within the Labour Party. It seems that, with every new victim of the witch-hunt, the requirements to qualify as an anti-Semite are substantially lowered.
We learned that Forbes had ‘liked’ a video on Facebook that expressed solidarity with the victims of the Christchurch terror attack. The problem was that Forbes seemed not to have read the slightly rambling intro of the person sharing the video, in which he wrote about Theresa May having a “Zionist slavemaster agenda”.
She also commented: “I have enjoyed reading this thread so much. So much that tries to divide us, but there is far much more that unites us all” - underneath a rather long post by the same person. His first language clearly is not English and her comment was no doubt aimed at his worry about the perception of “Islam being a threat to the UK”, when it really is a “peace-loving religion”.5 He also wrote - and this is the bone of contention - that “now with evidence in hand of the funding and the creation of such extremists [Islamic State, etc] by the CIA and Mossad supported by British imperialism we don’t get these same people making condemnations to your leaders”. It is certainly a historic, if inconvenient, fact that organisations like al Qa’eda were armed and financially supported by the US and Saudi Arabia when they were fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
For Labour MP Wes Streeting, these two very limited Facebook engagements by Lisa Forbes constitute “anti-Semitic media activity”. The equally revolting Jess Phillips MP complained that “Lisa ignored and endorsed anti-Semitic things”, which means that, sadly, Jess could not be “as gleeful or proud as I’d want to be [at the Peterborough result], because of how it shows that anti-Semitism is becoming normal in the party.” Not to be outdone, Margaret Hodge MP has “formally raised concerns with the party’s leadership.”6
It is a sad testament to the current state of play in the party that these rightwingers can make such utterly baseless accusations without any repercussions. Forbes did not say or write anything anti-Semitic - even the posts she briefly engaged with can hardly be described as such.
For the Jewish Labour Movement (which disgracefully is allowed to remain affiliated to the Labour Party), the worst of Lisa’s offences, however, was her support for one of the many open letters and petitions that called on the Labour Party’s NEC “to resist calls to adopt all 11 examples accompanying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism into the party’s code of conduct on anti-Semitism”.7
According to the JLM, it is this that warrants Forbes’ suspension: “The [Parliamentary Labour Party] called for the party to adopt the IHRA definition. Given her previous rejection of IHRA, Ms Forbes should have the whip suspended immediately.”8 The open letter quite rightly stated that some of the examples might “be used to silence discussion” - this ridiculous reaction by the JLM underlines exactly how right Forbes and the other 2,000 people were to sign it. While Forbes has apologised for not reading the two Facebook posts properly, we understand that she has not backtracked on her support for the IHRA letter. Good.
We also welcome the fact that Jeremy Corbyn has rejected the claim that she is an anti-Semite. It is difficult though not to think of the fate of all the other Corbyn supporters who have been left high and dry by the leader’s office, despite the charges against them being as ridiculous as those against Forbes. Where is Corbyn’s public support for Chris Williamson, Pete Willsman, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein and all the others who have been smeared as anti-Semites?
Of course, Corbyn himself is now firmly in that category. Witness the current health secretary and Tory leadership contender, Matt Hancock, who outrageously warned at a Westminster hustings event that “we could end up with the first anti-Semitic leader of a western nation since the Second World War”.9
The latest intervention on the issue of anti-Semitism has come from Peter Hain. In a 3,000-word document he is calling for “a debate on the issue” of Israel and Palestine (including “the abhorrent treatment of Palestinians by successive Israeli governments”), rather than focussing “upon process - are those charged with anti-Semitic behaviour being properly disciplined by the party’s leadership or not?”10
That sounds reasonable enough. But dig a little deeper and this intervention can, predictably enough, be safely filed under ‘anti-Corbyn propaganda’. Hain’s collaborator in the 3,000-word document is Daniel Levy, a former advisor to the Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin, and a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
As a former minister with responsibility for the Middle East, Peter Hain faithfully voted for Tony Blair’s war on Iraq. He is about as qualified to make this intervention as Blair was when he was appointed ‘Middle Eastern peace envoy’ after having been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. While Hain is a tad more critical about Israel’s actions, they are actually singing from the same anti-Corbyn hymn sheet.
“The curse of anti-Semitism is paralysing the Labour Party,” Hain and Levy write and now the “serious problem has become a crisis”, in which “somehow the party has managed to alienate the vast majority of Jewish members and the Jewish community, while doing nothing to advance the debate on Israel/Palestine, let alone justice for Palestinians”. And, while they’re at it, those two brave campaigners are doing their best to also label anti-capitalism as anti-Semitic: “Classic leftwing anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic tropes of global conspiratorial capitalist cabals and class enemies has further poisoned the debate.”
Describing the phrase “class enemies” as an “anti-Semitic trope” does sum up rather neatly the whole ‘anti-Semitism’ debate in the Labour Party. It is an entirely manufactured and fabricated scandal to keep Corbyn out of 10 Downing Street. After all, the man and his supporters believe that there are diametrically opposed classes in society! Burn the witch!
Sadly, the incredible success of the campaign to falsely equate anti-Zionism (and anti-capitalism) with anti-Semitism has much to do with Jeremy Corbyn himself. Needless to say, there are some members of a party with over half a million members who hold racist views (as there will probably be some who hold the view that the earth is flat). But the claim that that there is an “institutional”, “widespread” or “massive” problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is an outright lie. Had Corbyn called this out from the start, it would not have become such a huge crisis. Had he shrugged or laughed it off like all the other accusations (terrorist-lover, IRA sympathiser, Czech spy), the Labour left would today be in a much stronger position.
Instead, he and his advisors accepted the charge, thereby fuelling the fire and encouraging all those set on getting rid of him. In the foolish belief that he could appease his critics and the PLP right, he allowed them to pick off his most ardent supporters one by one - be it over anti-Semitism, bringing the party into disrepute or for having supported this or that small leftwing group.
In the process, he has allowed the right to become hugely emboldened and strengthened, while Labour members - still overwhelmingly supportive of Corbyn - have been denied the opportunity to remake the party. Overdue plans to democratise the Labour Party during the so-called Corbyn Review were first watered down and then reduced to nothing at last year’s conference. The popular proposal to reintroduce the mandatory reselection of all MPs was scrapped in favour of a reform of the trigger ballot - and even this is now deemed too radical and too much of a declaration of war on the majority of rightwing MPs, who quite rightly fear that the local membership might give them their marching orders.
We are, of course, still waiting for the overdue implementation of the trigger ballot reform, which was first announced in January this year. It seems to us that exaggerated reports of this week’s PLP rebellion have a lot to do with this issue - ie, Corbyn and Labour HQ are once again being warned not to implement the reform, which is currently the only method by which Constituency Labour Parties can get rid of a sitting MP. Unfortunately, however, it is only groups such as Labour Against the Witchhunt and Labour Party Marxists which are campaigning on trigger ballots.
That this civil war is not just confined to the Labour Party and is indeed an international issue was once again underlined this week: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has kindly reminded us what a blow to the international ruling class the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was - and, most importantly, how far it will go to stop him becoming prime minister.
In a secretly recorded meeting Pompeo said:
It could be that Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected. It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard, once it’s already happened.11
As Jonathan Cook tweeted, “Hard … not to suspect that the US is already helping to ensure Corbyn doesn’t become PM l”
. The Times June 12.↩
. The Guardian June 11.↩
. Daily Mirror June 6 2019.↩
. The Guardian June 11.↩