Jeremy Corbyn fails at Labour Friends of Israel fringe meeting – David Hirsh

Labour leaders usually address both Labour Friends of Palestine and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) fringe meetings at Conference.  Corbyn had a particular job to do at LFI: he needed to reassure the Jewish community and antiracists that he understands what it is about his record that is so concerning:

He has presented a show on Press TV, Iran’s propaganda channel.  Iran wants Israel wiped off the map and has a public policy of Holocaust Denial.

Corbyn is a Patron of the “Palestine Solidarity Campaign” whose main business is to fight for a boycott of Israel.  Corbyn has reaffirmed his support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel as recently as August 2015.

Corbyn has referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” and he said that they are dedicated to the good of the Palestinian people and to social and political justice in the Middle East.

Corbyn has jumped to the defence of antisemites, Raed Salah who indulged in medieval blood libel and Stephen Sizer who said that Israel was behind 9/11. He continued to support “Deir Yassin Remembered” even when it was well known that it was run by a Holocaust Denier.  He has said that those who have raised these issues are making personal smears, not political criticism.

Corbyn sometimes says that he is for a two state solution but he also says, in a coded disavowal of such a solution, that the Palestinian right to return was “the key” to a solution.

So what did he say at the LFI meeting?

He refused to utter the word “Israel”.  He refused to say that he was for the right of Israel to exist, even within the ’67 borders.

He said:  “I want us as a party, to be a party for peace and progress in the Middle East in the best way that we can, by linking up with all those groups in the Middle East that want peace and progress.”  But he also said that he wants to “talk to everybody”.  In this way he avoided saying anything about his previous stated support for Hamas and Hezbollah, both antisemitic, both terroristic, both annihilationist of Israel.

Corbyn said that the “situation is dire in many ways”, he talked about the “siege of Gaza”, he talked about the plight of refugees “across the region”.  He veered from talking about Palestine to talking about the region, maybe Syria, maybe Iraq – there was, more than once, a studied ambivalence; some of what he said could be interpreted to relate to Israel and Palestine, or it could be interpreted to relate to anywhere else in the Middle East.

He articulated his clear opposition to Antisemitism.  But:

  1. he couldn’t utter the word without first mentioning all racisms and Islamophobia
  2. he illustrated his opposition to antisemitism only by talking about the threat of the far-right
  3. he failed to concede the existence of antisemitism on the left or in the world of Palestine solidarity; he failed to oppose it.

Corbyn did not show that he understands why the campaign to boycott Israel is so menacing to Jews in the UK; he did not reassure us that he understands the, albeit complex, relationship between campaigning to boycott Israel and antisemitism.

h/t Shlomo Anker for the video


Jeremy Corbyn Supports BDS

Appearing on a panel in August 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was asked:

“Can the panel give hope to the people of Palestine by supporting the movement for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel?”

Corbyn answered as follows:

“I think the boycott campaign, divestment campaign, is part and parcel of a legal process that has to be adopted.” [6.55]

Corbyn also says

“I believe that sanctions against Israel, because of its breach of the trade agreement, are the appropriate way of promoting [the] peace process. ”  [9.42]

Mr Corbyn, time to say you were wrong

This piece, by David Hirsh, is in the Jewish Chronicle.

Dear Mr Corbyn,

You want a fairer and more equal society. You want us to look after each other. You want a society of freedom, justice and reason.

But there is something preventing your message from getting a fair hearing. You seem ambivalent about democratic values.

You worked for Press TV, the Iranian regime’s propaganda channel and you recommend Russia Today, Putin’s version. You appear in cosy pictures with Hugo Chavez, with Hamas, with Gerry Adams (days after the Brighton bombing) and with Hezbollah. You said that Nato is the aggressor in Ukraine and that Daesh is no worse than the USA. You were the national chair of Stop the War even when it appeared to endorse the killing of British soldiers. You celebrated the anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

If you want to neutralise the accusations that you cosy up to dictators, and to antisemites, then let me help. What you need to do is simple.

You need to reassure us that you understand the problem and that you have put it behind you.

Be for warmer relations with Russia and for the deal with Iran if you want, but don’t embrace the murderous authoritarians who rule them.

Reassure us that you value self-determination for every nation, including Ukraine, including Israel. Show that you understand why working for Press TV was wrong.

If you are for democracy, stop being soft on those who hate democracy. Kurds, Christians, gay people, women, secularists and socialists in Iraq and Syria have no choice but to fight Daesh; you should support them.

You think we were right to fight the Nazis in the past; why can’t you oppose the kind of fascism that we face here and now?

You don’t have to be for starting a war with Daesh and Assad; but you do have to make it clear that in principle you side with those struggling against fascism and for democracy. If you do side with them, say it now, say it clearly and put the ambivalence behind you.

And then there is the issue of antisemitism.

We know you don’t hate Jews and you do hate Nazis. But you do have a history of leaping to the defence of blood libellers and conspiracists, consorting with Holocaust deniers and politically embracing antisemitic organisations.

Antisemitism is an indicator of something wrong at the heart of any world view that tolerates it. It is not a parochial issue only of concern to Jews.

There has always been a temptation to imagine Jews as powerful, selling the oppressed to the exploiters for silver. The image of Jews as enablers of injustice, twisters of words and doers of evil runs deep; it is old and emotionally virulent; it lurks still in the collective subconscious. Antisemitism mobilises around vile myth instead of around rational critique. The anger at injustice that powers democratic movements can resemble the radical resentment that fuels totalitarian movements; but they are profoundly different.

So far, you have treated allegations of antisemitism as a dirtier trick than antisemitism itself.

The assumption is that those who raise the issue do so because it will damage your campaign against austerity, not because they are really concerned about antisemitism. In any case, people increasingly downplay the importance of antisemitism, seeing it as an understandable response to Israeli cruelty.

The result is that we are taught to think of Jews who raise concerns about antisemitism as being enemies of the progressive movement.

It is in your power to neutralise this issue by showing that you understand the distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism.

Put the defence of blood libellers and conspiracists behind you; take notice in future, when people warn you that there are Holocaust deniers running campaigns you support. Thank the people who told you, instead of accusing them of being Zionist smearers. Tell us you now understand what you did wrong.

You are a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign so you will know that the PSC’s main business is boycotting Israel. Show us that you understand the menace of the campaign to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global community.

Show us that you understand how the campaign against ordinary Israelis is also a campaign against Jews here in Britain.

Sometimes you do say you are for a two-state solution; you say you hate antisemitism. So support those who fight for peace, not Hamas and Hezbollah who fight for victory over the Jews rather than peace with Israel.

Be clear and unambiguous about this and it will go away as an issue.

Please don’t calculate that a little antisemitism among your supporters will buoy you along.

At the moment, lots of Jews feel locked out of the party; both the Labour Party and also the carnival of joy and optimism. Your new Labour Party does not feel like a safe place for Jews. Imagine how that feels.

I remember my dad telling me that no Jew in the East End, when he was a boy, voted Tory. If you choose, you can bring lots of us back. You wouldn’t look weak for your new clarity on democracy and on antisemitism. You would look like a new kind of politician, able to listen and able to learn.

Maybe you can’t do it. Maybe you have supported and defended dictators, terrorists and antisemites because doing so really is core to your politics.

David Hirsh is a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London

This piece, by David Hirsh, is in the Jewish Chronicle.

25 Things you should know about Jeremy Corbyn – David Hirsh

We have a Labour leader who:

1. Said that the 7/7 attacks were the result of UK creating insecurity around the world

2. Presented a show on Press TV, Iran’s propaganda channel

3. Praised and appeared on Russia Today, Putin’s propaganda channel

4. Is National Chair of “Stop the War”

5. Is a Patron of the “Palestine Solidarity Campaign” which fights for a boycott of Israel.

6. Says that Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated to the good of the Palestinian people and to social and political justice.

7. Says that NATO is the aggressor in Eastern Europe and that Russia has a legitimate claim over Ukraine

8. Jumped to the defence of antisemites, Raed Salah who indulged in medieval blood libel and Stephen Sizer who said that Israel was behind 9/11

9. Is not offended by the suggestion that the execution of Bin Laden and the sentencing of Eichmann are both illegitimate and illegal

10. Does not argue with somebody who suggests that Bin Laden is not dead

11. Does not say anything when a 911 truther and associate of David Duke, who he’s sharing a platform with, defends Palestinian suicide bombing

12. Is pictured, all smiles, with Hugo Chavez

13. Campaigned against Britain taking military action against Assad

14. Campaigned against the RAF giving air support to those defending Kobane

15. Thinks that ISIS is bad in Syria in the same way as the US is bad in Iraq

16. Continued to support “Deir Yassin Remembered” even when it was well known that it was run by a Holocaust Denier

17. Hosted and sat next to on a platform Dyab Abou Jahjan, who believes that the killing of each British soldier is a victory

18. Agreed to speak alongside Carlos Latuff, 2nd prize winner in Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial cartoon competition

19. Agreed to speak alongside Azzam Tamimi, who said that he’d like to have been a suicide bomber against Israel

20. Hosted Gerry Adams at Westminster three weeks after the IRA tried to kill the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

21 . Addressed a LaRouche front organisation in Australia.

22. Called for an official inquiry into “pro-Israel” influence in the Foreign Office

23. Spoke at the Cairo Conference which resolved to encourage Iraqis to engage in military struggle against coalition forces

24.  Celebrated the anniversary of the Iranian revolution at an event called to “commemorate the auspicious anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran”.

25. Replies to all these points by saying that they are Tory smears

Antisemitism, not the accusation of antisemitism, is the dirty trick – David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from Jewish News.d

Today’s anti-semitism is difficult to pin down. It doesn’t come in a Nazi uniform. The most threatening anti-Semitism in Britain today is carried by people who believe they are opponents of all racism.

Today’s anti-Semitism thinks Israel is a key evil on the planet and Israelis need to be excluded from the global community. It thinks Israel murders Palestinian children out of evil and that Israel is a false nation, founded to steal and occupy other people’s land. Today’s anti-Semitism thinks Israel is powerful and controls opinion and governments around the world.

These opinions constitute part of the natural “common sense” of people who believe themselves to be good and progressive in today’s Britain.

Many believe that those who do hate Jews, who march in London with anti-Semitic banners or who shoot Jews in Paris supermarkets or in Brussels museums are simply over-reacting to Israeli provocation.

But there is something else. Today’s anti-Semitism comes with in-built protection against accusations of anti-Semitism.

When good people today hear an accusation of it, they have learnt to recognise the accusation, not the anti-Semitism, as the dirty trick; an attack made by right-wingers and “Zionists”, to smear and silence people who criticise Israel.

Today’s anti-Semitism incorporates the notion that those who complain about anti-Semitism are the racists. Opponents of anti-Semitism, not anti-Semites, it says, are the cynical ones; opponents of anti-Semitism, not anti-Semites, it says, are the powerful ones.

People who hold anti-Semitic views may not be aware they hold them, and so there is nothing to exclude Jews from feeling part of this community of the good and the progressive. In fact, a small minority of Jews play an important role in legitimising, for example, the campaign to boycott Israel, as being not anti-Semitic. There is nothing to prevent Jews from participating in contemporary anti-Semitism.

Some Jews have lost their nose for antiSemitism and they are eager to denounce fellow Jews who are still able to sniff it.

Jeremy Corbyn thinks of himself as an opponent of anti-Semitism and he seems to have no personal dislike of Jews. But he warmly supports Hamas and Hezbollah, organisations set up to kill Jews as a strategy to prevent a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine; Corbyn leaps to the defence of anti-Semites, blood libellers and conspiracists, saying they aren’t anti-Semitic and they aren’t dangerous. He heads the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is dedicated to the boycott of Israel. Corbyn has presented a show on the Iranian propaganda channel, Press TV.

Jack Mendel (Jewish News Online, 24 August) wrote as though those Jews who raise questions about Corbyn’s political anti-Semitism are playing a game. He wrote as though what the anti-Semites say is true; that Jews are engaged in a conspiracy to pretend to be worried about anti-Semitism when really they are concerned with mobilising its victim power for their own benefit. He described it all as a game. “We” have not picked our battles well. “We’ve relied on character assassination”. Mendel said we’re like a community which has cried “Wolf!” so many times when there wasn’t really a wolf that when there is one, we’ll be eaten alive.

If Mendel knew anything about what it is like to fight anti-Semitism, he wouldn’t write this belittling stuff. If he remembered how Jews in Czechoslovakia were found guilty of ‘bourgeois Jewish nationalism’ for opposing state anti-Semitism; if he remembered campaigning for Soviet Jewry with the Stalinists denouncing him as a fifth columnist; if he remembered how feminists of the Spare Rib collective were confronted with demands to denounce their Israeli sisters; if he remembered opposing the banning of university Jewish societies; if he experienced fighting anti-Semitism in the University and College Union only to be told by a judge he was crying wolf; if he had warned the government and the Church of England about the danger of Raed Salah and Stephen Sizer, only to see Corbyn leap to their defence, then he would not write like this.

It isn’t Jews who are responsible for the fact that Corbyn can win in the Labour Party in spite of his record of overlooking anti-Semitic politics.

It isn’t Jews who are responsible for the fact the three other candidates feel raising the issue of anti-Semitism will make them look vulgar.

It isn’t Jews who are responsible for the fact that allegations of anti-Semitism do Corbyn no harm.

These things happen because of anti-Semitism, not because of the Jews who oppose it.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from Jewish News.

Refusing the dichotomy

What if we’re wrong: litmus tests on Israel and Palestine by Penina Eilberg-Schwartz, which I’m posting in the spirit of paying attention to bridge builders and thoughtful people.

‘Parts of it are excellent’: Owen Jones’ article on antisemitism

Jones makes some good points in his latest piece in the Guardian. In condemning antisemitism he manages to go beyond mere assertions of the awfulness of racism. Although he invokes the Holocaust he doesn’t do so in isolation, but usefully situates it within the long and complex history of antisemitism in Europe.

And it wasn’t some mid-20th century aberration that came out of nowhere, a bafflingly horrific episode in human history resulting from sudden mass insanity. This was the culmination of hundreds of years of antisemitism: pogromsblood libel, scapegoating.

He also correctly identifies different kinds of antisemites – far right fascists, Islamist fundamentalists, and more subtle examples on the left as well as the right.

Several common tropes of antisemitic discourse are pinpointed effectively. Those who raise semantic quibbles about the term ‘antisemitism’ are rightly dismissed, as are those who blame antisemitism on the actions of Israel or mutter about the ‘Jewish lobby’. And Jones succinctly describes the Livingstone formulalation, the way in which those concerned about antisemitism are accused of acting in bad faith:

[S]ome passionate supporters of Palestinian justice deny antisemitism exists and regard all accusations of it as an attempt to shut down criticism of Israel. While they would never dream of denying the existence of racism against, say, black people or Muslims, they treat antisemitism as a political device constructed by militant supporters of Israeli occupation. And in doing so, they fail to properly scrutinise it within their own ranks; there are those who are soft on it.

But there are also problems here. It felt as though Jones was (in part) instrumentalising his eloquent and well informed critique of antisemitism in order to defuse criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn. The very many well documented and much discussed problems are glossed over as mere chance encounters. Corbyn is implicitly excluded from those leftists who ‘fail to properly scrutinise it within their own ranks … those who are soft on it.’

The article closes with a call to all on the left to recognize and stamp out antisemitism.

It is a menace: not just in its overt forms, but in subtler, pernicious forms too. There’s no excuse for the left to downplay it, or to pretend it doesn’t exist within its own ranks. Rather than being defensive, the left should seize any opportunity to confront the cancer of antisemitism and eradicate it for good.

Very forthright. But it’s rather undermined by the preceding sentence.

Antisemitism is too serious to become a convenient means to undermine political opponents.

This could be seen as a variant on the Livingstone formulation Jones dissected just a few paragraphs earlier. Presumably he is targeting those on the right or centre-left rather than (primarily) Israel advocates here. But the dynamic is still the same.   Those who articulate concerns about Corbyn’s associations are acting in bad faith. (Another problem is that the casual reader who hasn’t been following this closely would assume that Corbyn had been widely accused of being personally antisemitic.)

When I first read that sentence from Jones I immediately thought of Alan Johnson, someone who supports many of Corbyn’s ideas but is very troubled by his record on this issue. Expressing those concerns was certainly not, for him, ‘a convenient means to undermine political opponents’. What about those on the centre right? They’ll take a dim view of Corbyn’s whole programme of course, but that doesn’t mean that their anxieties about this issue are insincere or unwarranted. Jones engages directly with no specific criticism of Corbyn. And instead of trying to demonstrate that his detractors are mistaken he accuses them of dishonesty and of trivialising antisemitism.


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