The British Jewish establishment’s attacks on Jeremy Corbyn


I have been writing about how the Israel lobby in the US is attempting to stifle criticism of Israel for its atrocious treatment of Palestinians, the latest move being to pass a law declaring the country as a Jewish state, placing into law what had been in practice already. One effort to stifle critics in the west is to formalize the definition of anti-Semitism, while at the same time expanding its definition to include legitimate criticisms of Israeli government policies. In the US, the lobby is going so far as to advance legislation to punish advocacy for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement that seeks to apply to Israel actions similar to those that led to the collapse of apartheid in South Africa. The reason for the lobby’s actions is the concern that an increasing number of Jews and non-Jews alike see the actions of the Israeli government as indefensible and are referring to its policies as apartheid.

I have been following reports from the UK in which the Jewish establishment in the UK has been attacking the Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn as being anti-Semitic because they did not adopt in full an expanded definition of anti-Semitism in party documents. It is clear that the Israel lobby in the UK is aligning itself with those forces who are alarmed that a progressive like Corbyn could well be the next prime minister, and are using this issue to discredit him.

Robert Cohen provides a much-needed explanation of what has been happening in the UK. He starts by warning of the danger of raising the charge of anti-Semitism too casually

Greetings from Britain, where the Jewish community is facing an “existential threat to Jewish life”. At least that’s according to an editorial shared by all three of our Jewish community newspapers this week – the Jewish Chronicle, The Jewish News, and the Jewish Telegraph.

You’re probably thinking that Her Majesty’s Government must have just introduced the equivalent of Hitler’s Nuremberg race Laws of 1935. Perhaps it’s worse. Perhaps the round-ups have already begun.

Don’t worry, you haven’t missed a major global news story. Britain remains one of the safest places to live as a Jew on the entire planet. That doesn’t mean there’s no anti-Jewish prejudice here. It’s just that there’s a great deal less of it than some people want you to believe. That’s true for now, but how long will it last?

Thanks to a Jewish communal leadership and a Jewish press which have merged Jewish interests in Britain with the need to defend the interests of the State of Israel, we are set on a path that risks turning fake antisemitism into real antisemitism. What we are witnessing could be an on-coming, self-inflicted tragedy for the Jewish community in Britain. Calling it out now is the best way to stop it happening.

So what exactly has caused these explosive charges to be raised by the Jewish establishment in the UK?

It all began three years ago soon after Corbyn’s election as Labour party leader. What started off as allegations that he was allowing antisemitism to fester in his party unchecked have evolved into direct accusations that Corbyn is himself antisemitic.

This week’s show of Jewish media unity was all about attacking Corbyn for failing to adopt “in full” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. This has become the pretext for all-out war against the Labour leader.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the IHRA document has now become the ‘gold standard’ for our Jewish establishment in determining exactly what antisemitism is in the 21st century. This despite the fact that the IHRA webpage itself describes the document as a ‘working definition’, that is to say it’s a work in progress and a document to be studied, not a statute of government or a piece of international law.

But this appears to be far too much nuance for the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council which have led the community to war against Jeremy Corbyn.

Two weeks ago, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) decided that the IHRA document might not be as perfect as the Jewish leadership and media think it to be.

While adopting the vast majority of the IHRA wording, and indeed tightening it up in places, the NEC thought it better to separate out those parts of the document that suggest that criticism of Israel could in certain circumstances become antisemitic.

Cohen says that the source of this hostility by the Jewish establishment is not hard to see.

It’s impossible to understand the hostility against Corbyn from the Jewish community without acknowledging Corbyn’s long standing support for the Palestinian people and the need for their rights to be respected and internal law implemented. Take this fact away and the last three years would have been very different.

Others including a Jewish Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, felt it justified to call her party leader “a fucking anti-Semite and racist” to his face. This despite Corbyn’s record on fighting racism which looks a whole lot more impressive than just about any other MP at Westminster, certainly Margaret Hodge, as this piece from David Rosenberg shows.

Cohen warns that this single-issue focus is dangerous.

If Labour runs a good campaign the election will also be fought on the issues that mattered long before the Brexit referendum – ending economic austerity, funding for the National Health Service, affordable housing, safer communities, and care for the elderly. As the most radical version of Labour for many decades, a Corbyn victory could well herald serious change and the reversal of the neo-liberal economic agenda pursued by Thatcher/Major/Blair/Cameron/May for the last thirty years. The quality of life for millions of people in this country is at stake. For a change, who wins the next election will actually make a difference.

But none of this is of the slightest concern to the Jewish community’s leadership or its media. They only have one issue on their mind – Israel, and how best to protect it from criticism. On this basis they are willing to brand the main opposition party in Britain as irredeemably antisemitic under Corbyn’s leadership. The Jewish Chronicle has already called for Jewish Labour MPs to break away from the party.

This is where you end up when you allow antisemitism to become mixed up with Israel and Zionism. This is where the merger between Zionism, Judaism and modern Jewish identity leaves you: fighting racism with both hands tied behind you back.

Expressing support for the rights of the Palestinian people, expressing concern for the appalling conditions in which they live under Israeli occupation and control, and criticizing the apartheid polices of the state of Israel often triggers charges of anti-Semitism. But the more frequently and unjustifiably that charge is leveled, the less seriously it is taken. But as a result the danger is, as the story of the boy who cried wolf illustrates, that warning signs of real anti-Semitism may then also be dismissed. We see that right now in the US with the rise of neo-Nazi groups who are being coddled by right-wing politicians and evangelical leaders who use their reflexive support for Israeli government actions as a shield against charges that they are creating the conditions for anti-Semitism to flourish.

Comments

  1. says

    My Google feed alerted me to this story late last week and, according to +972, these are the points of the IHRA’s definition that were ommitted:
    – Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
    – Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
    – Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
    – Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

    I can think of contexts in which these would not be anti-Semitic, so I find it wise to leave these off the list. I think the first two and the last one are rather obvious. For the third, I can envision a scenario where a Jewish individual wants to hold Israel to a higher standard for the purpose of setting a good example for the rest of the world. +972 also notes, “the issue is not whether Israel is held to different standards compared to other democratic states, but rather that it is held to any international legal standard at all. Israel has been criticized and condemned by numerous international bodies and foreign governments, yet there has been absolutely no sanctions or consequences for its illegal actions.” As for the other items on that list that were kept, I have a difficult time envisioning contexts where they would not be anti-Semitic. Sure, there could be some, but would they be common? Maybe I lack imagination?

  2. sonofrojblake says

    Per the 2001 census, Jews in Britain are outnumbered three to two by Jedi. They represent, in their entirety, slightly more than one third of one percent of the UK population.

    Remind me why the Labour party, I, or anyone else should give a flying fuck what they think? Or why Labour should tolerate being abused like this even from within its own ranks?

    I just wish Corbyn had the ‘nads to refer the Board of Deputies and all these newspapers to the response given in the case of Arkell vs. Pressdram, and watch their heads explode.

    It is clear that the Israel lobby in the UK is aligning itself with those forces who are alarmed that a progressive like Corbyn could well be the next prime minister

    Careful – that’s tantamount to a claim of there being a vast Jew conspiracy something something the media something something politicians something something anti-Semite!

    What we are witnessing could be an on-coming, self-inflicted tragedy for the Jewish community

    I don’t like that phrasing. This tragedy, if it happens, will NOT be self-inflicted, because “the Jewish community” is not some monolithic bloc, and there are plenty within it who abhor this nonsense. If it comes, it will have been inflicted by the Jews in charge of those newspapers, and their indefensible decision to use the phrase “existential threat”.

  3. Mano Singham says

    sonofrojblake,

    The fact the the number of Jewish people in the UK is minuscule is irrelevant as to whether statements as to their condition should be taken seriously. Genuine anti-Semitism, like any other form of bigotry, has to be fought against, however small the targeted population.

  4. mvdwege says

    @Leo,

    The same document was used in Amsterdam, where municipal policiticians were pressured into signing it under threat of being labeled anti-semites.

    And if you look at the points you quote (assuming you quote them literally), there’s quite some sleight of hand going on:

    Point 1, conflating Jewish loyalties to Israel with ‘international Jewish conspiracies’. Most Jews abroad will have some sympathy for Israel as a nation, even if they disagree with the current State. Pointing that out is now the same as believing in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

    Point 2, another bait and switch. Denying the legitimacy of the current State of Israel is tantamount to denying Jewish self-determination just how? Unless of course Israel is the only guarantor of Jewish self-determination, and then every right-thinking Jew and ally should support it. How to do that without triggering point 1? They don’t tell you.

    Point 3 is merely the ‘tu quoque’ fallacy.

    It seems the IHRA has been taken over by the Likudniks and is now engaging in wholesale spreading of hasbara, with a nice helping of trying to guilt non-Jews and Jews alike into non-critical support of Israel.

    I’ve been running into this quite a bit lately, as the acts of the State of Israel, and especially the Israeli Nationalist politicians, are becoming ever more unforgivable, their organs in the rest of the world are really stepping up the ‘Antisemites!’ propaganda.

  5. says

    As usually, several things can be true at the same time. Yes, Labour does have an anti-semitism problem and yes, the passages that are struck out are problematic in that respect.

    – Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

    I mean, seriously? I don’t see how such behaviour can be anything but anti-semitic. It’s demanding that Jews be more British than everybody else, that they actively show a satisfactory amount of patriotism, that they actually don’t really belong to their home country. We obviously understand this behaviour as racist when it’s levelled at other minorities.

    – Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

    Again, highly problematic. Denying Israel the right to exist as such IS anti-semitic and echoes the worst of the worst. How would anybody end the state of Israel except by slaughtering Jews in masses and once again driving them into the diaspora across the globe? That doesn’t mean that criticising the current state of Israel as racist is anti-semitic, but denying it#s very right to exist is.

    – Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

    This one’s more ambiguous, because it’s a club that is wielded by both sides. Anti-semites do try to delegitimize Israel as a whole by criticising things Israel does that they don’t criticise in other countries, for example they will criticise Israel for isolating the Gaza strip and brutally enforcing that border but are supportive of Trump building a wall and paramilitaries guarding the US border.
    Supporters of Israel’s brutal enforcement OTOH will say “all countries guard and protect their borders, therefore criticising Israel for shooting unarmed paramedics in the back is anti-semitic.

    – Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

    I’m not sure it’s necessarily anti-semitic, but it’s definitely something you just. don’t. do. Because of the damn splash damage it deals out to Holocaust survivors and their families. There’s a million other ways to criticise Israel’s politics and a million other comparisons to make, so forgive me for being a bit damn suspicious of anybody who really neeeeeeeeeeds to go down that road because yes, it smells of “but you’ve got to be allowed to say that” and of retroactively blaming the Jews for the Holocaust, which is then, indeed, anti-semitic.

    What is also true: these issues are used to discredit a progressive politician while Conservatives often get away with much worse anti-semitism. there’s an unholy alliance between white ethno-nationalists in Europe and reactionary Israeli politicians. Orban is a died in the wool anti-semite, but he’s Netanyahu’s BFF because a) they both hate Muslims b) think that all Jews should be in Israel.
    It is true that many Jews are fed up with the anti-semitism in their western home countries so they move to Israel because their identity here is permanently marked (see the first point that was omitted) and in Israel they can simply be without having their identity questioned 24/7. Which in turn is used for the expansionist politics of the Israeli government.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    @Mano, 3:

    Genuine anti-Semitism, yes. Rather the point here is that a tiny minority within the tiny minority have self-appointed themselves judges of whether the Labour party is sufficiently on-message by the standards of the Israeli government.

    You’d have a point if these people were in any way remotely as concerned about the genuine bigotry in the Conservative Party – the party of government. But they are strangely silent on the issue.

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Heh. A few days ago, I said that Israel was a fascist apartheid state, and someone called me a Nazi. Fun times. I just laughed it off, and welcomed them to commenting on Ed Brayton’s blog, and expressed a wish that they hopefully learn a thing or two.

    by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

    Again, highly problematic. Denying Israel the right to exist as such IS anti-semitic and echoes the worst of the worst.

    So, I say that Israel as it currently exists is a racist endeavor, and that’s not anti-semitic, and yet, I bet people would use that bullet point against me and say that my claim right here is anti-semitic. Israel needs to either accept reasonable borders and full Palestinian state autonomy and power ala the two-state solution, or they need to make Israel and Palestine into a single secular state. Those are the available morally-acceptable options, and the hardliners in Israel refuse either, and instead they are slowly performing ethnic cleansing and land grabs.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    People would say it’s anti-Semitic to express or imply that there’s a shadowy cabal of powerful Jews who are basically in charge of all routes to power, Jews who secretly control even the major political parties practically none of them vote for.

    In the light of today’s news (Labour Party adopts IHRA anti-Semitism definition in full), it is a demonstrated fact that there’s a famous group of powerful Jews who are basically in charge of all routes to power, Jews who openly conspire and successfully control even the major political parties practically none of them vote for.

    It’s a disappointing day when a bunch of oligarchs can force their will on a progressive party of which none of them are members.

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