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:
- he couldn’t utter the word without first mentioning all racisms and Islamophobia
- he illustrated his opposition to antisemitism only by talking about the threat of the far-right
- 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