Opinion // Why Corbynism Is a Threat to Jews Throughout the Western World
By Anshel Pfeffer
Published Aug 03, 2018
Even his close advisors are astonished by the Labour leader’s refusal to act on the party’s crisis with British Jews. This is why Corbyn can’t and won’t face up to anti-Semitism on the left – and why it will have international consequences
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K. opposition Labour Party, listens to a speech at the party's annual conference in Brighton, U.K., on Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. Bloomberg
"The issue at stake," he wrote, on the basis of what he hears from well-placed sources in the party leadership, "is that Corbyn himself regards the row as a foreign policy issue, confined to the question of how Labour members can talk about Israel, while his critics primarily see it as a domestic issue, confined to the need to reassure British Jews of Labour’s intentions."
The critics, by this point, are not solely Corbyn’s opponents from what was once Labour’s mainstream, but include some of his staunchest supporters, astonished at how their leader has for weeks now refused to act to defuse an increasingly damaging political crisis.
You can tell a lot about a politician by the hills he is prepared to die on. For three weeks, as the relationship between Labour and the Jewish community has sunk to unprecedented depths, Corbyn has refused to be interviewed on the issue or do anything to personally reach out to the community.
Over recent weeks, Corbyn could easily have started mending bridges with the Jewish community. His obstinate refusal to do so indicates that this issue is much more fundamental to him than just the clauses in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism he insisted be omitted from the definition Labour adopted, despite the united opposition of the entire Jewish community and the entreaties of some of his own comrades.
Even more striking, for the head of the political opposition, is his apparent willingness to sacrificing the gains to be made at a time when Labour should be sticking it to the dysfunctional Conservative government, preparing for early elections and possibly forming its own government.
It is so astonishing to some of Corbyn’s closest allies, that they are already muttering about the need to somehow replace him, rather than jeopardize their chance of winning power.
The explanation, that he sees this as "a foreign policy issue," rather than something that British Jews have any right to be disturbed by, is hugely revealing.
What is his core motivation? Why is it so important to him? Why is Corbyn prepared to risk his own chances of entering Downing Street for this?
The answers to the question are important for Jews and non-Jews alike – and not only in Britain.
The talented British journalist Mehdi Hasan wrote in Haaretz this week that the joint editorial by three British Jewish newspapers warning that a Corbyn government would be an "existential threat" to UK Jewish life was "hysterical, offensive and plain wrong."
He pointed out that there are bigger threats to minorities, particularly Muslims, from the Trump administration in the U.S. and the far-right in Europe. But Hasan ignores the reason Corbyn’s rise is so threatening to Jews, not only in Britain. It goes to the heart of his political identity.
Protesters hold placards and flags during a Jewish community demonstration against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Parliament Square, London. March 26, 2018\ HENRY NICHOLLS/ REUTERS
Jeremy Corbyn is the only radical left-wing and truly socialist leader on the cusp of power in the West. If Labour under his leadership does win the next general election, his ideology will become hugely influential, across Europe and in America as well.
And it won’t only be his plans to nationalize the railways. It will be his views, informed by decades in the hard left, and those of many of his followers, towards Jews as well.
Corbyn is re-defining which Jews can be a target of anti-Semitism.
Corbyn will not and cannot alter these views, which his despairing apologists still call "blind spots," because he has spent his entire political career developing them in the hardcore anti-Western camp. He’s too dogmatic to change.
Put Israel and the Jews aside for a moment. Look at the rest of his "foreign policy" issues.
Corbyn is a man who cannot bring himself to condemn the murder of nearly half a million Syrians by the Assad regime and its Iranian helpers. Incapable of admitting that the disastrous policies of Chavism have reduced oil-rich Venezuela to hungry and violent chaos. He has no words of criticism for Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy, even when it carries out assassinations with nerve agents on British soil.
Those irresponsible responses to world events have hit the headlines since his election as Labour leader three years ago. Dig any deeper, to the days when he was a marginal and near-anonymous backbencher, and there is plenty more.
He supported the IRA when it was carrying out a bombing campaign on the British mainland; he took money from the Iranian regime’s Press TV propaganda channel as a regular commentator; he called Hamas murderers "brothers" and Hezbollah fighters "friends."
Not only does Corbyn still believe in all those things he said when he was a fringe figure. He is convinced that he can continue in the same vein as leader of the opposition and prime-minister-in-waiting. It is integral to his ideology.
And he was on all those platforms with conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers and outright anti-Semites because he simply doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with attacking Jews when it is in the context of the global struggle against imperialism.
A woman walks past a Jeremy Corbyn mural in Camden, London. June 1, 2017Frank Augstein/AP
The fallacy in Corbyn’s worldview is that he believes that the causes he supports are not just fundamentally just, but that they are purifying.
Anti-Western regimes, failed communist and socialist systems, "freedom fighters" and the fight for justice for the Palestinians cannot, in his view, be contaminated. He therefore believes that no-one who fervently believe in these causes - like him - can hold abhorrent beliefs at the same time.
In Corbyn’s simplistic black-and-white world, you can’t be a communist or true socialist and an anti-Semite as well. You can’t truly support justice for the Palestinians and be an anti-Semite, because the former innoculates you from the latter.
But in the real world, that makes about as much sense as saying that you can’t be Jewish and racist at the same time. Or that a man who wrote such wonderful music as Wagner did, could not really have been a foul anti-Semite. Or for that matter, that Adolf Hitler could have been a vegetarian animal-lover.
There is no ideology or cause, no matter how just, that can safeguard its adherents from being despicable people at the same time. Yet Corbyn has lived his entire adult life under the illusion that his causes are too pure to be sullied. Certainly not by a trivial form of racism such as anti-Semitism.
That’s why Hamas are his brothers and Hezbollah his friends and it’s OK to take money from the Iranian regime to be their propaganda shill. They are, as Corbynists like to say of their leader, "on the right side of history," simply by merit of being against the West and Israel and therefore cannot be suspected of being racists or aggressors or oppressors of their own people’s rights.
And that’s why Corbyn had no problem in 2010 organizing an event in Parliament, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, whose title equated Israel’s policy in Gaza to the Nazi extermination of Jews. This week, Corbyn belatedly realized it was time for him to issue a very qualified apology for "the concerns and anxiety that this has caused" and said that he had simply "on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject."
His defenders claimed that it was actually a Holocaust survivor, not Corbyn, who had made the comparison. But they know full well that the entire event hosted by Corbyn had been under the headline "Auschwitz to Gaza," other speakers had made similar comparisons, as had Corbyn himself separately.
And that most damningly, other Jews, including Holocaust survivors were not allowed to speak at the event and even removed at Corbyn’s instruction. A year later Corbyn went on to sponsor a motion in Parliament to change the name of Holocaust Memorial Day, to remove the word "Holocaust."
Which is exactly why Corbyn not only had the claim that Israel is a "racist endeavor" removed from Labour’s definitions of anti-Semitism, but also the comparison of Israel to Nazism.
Being anti-Zionist does not necessarily make you an anti-Semite by any means. But if you can’t make the argument that Zionism is racism without comparing the Jewish state to the murder of six million Jews, then you probably are. There are, after all, so many other forms of racism that are closer in scale and intent to Israel’s misdeeds than the industrialized slaughter of European Jewry.
But Corbyn couldn’t countenance that. In his mind, any statement, any comparison, is valid if it’s used against Israel - and therefore cannot be anti-Semitic.
Another omission that Corbyn directed from the original IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was the "downgrading" of accusations of dual loyalties against Jews, once a classic slur coming from the racist far-right, from "anti-Semitic," to just "wrong."
If Corbyn regards Jewish concerns, specifically British Jews who support Israel, as matters of "foreign policy," that carries a distinct insinuation of double loyalties, as well as the suggestion they’re regarded as just a bit more as foreign rather than fully-fledged equal citizens.
It’s not only the Palestinian issue that is sacrosanct. The Corbyn camp have another problem with the overwhelming majority of British Jews. They’re capitalists as well.
Kalen Ockerman's mural, 'Freedom for Humanity, depicting caricatures of Jewish financiers and defended on free speech grounds by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, near Brick Lane in London’s East EndKalen Ockerman
There was nothing about Israel in the anti-Semitic mural painted in 2012 in London’s East End. It showed Jewish bankers literally making money off the backs of the downtrodden masses. Yet Corbyn rushed to defend the artist who painted it and condemn its removal by the (Labour-controlled) local council. The council, at least, had immediately understood why it was offensive.
When Corbyn’s ideological soulmate, the former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, was challenged in 2012 by a group of Jewish Labour members over his repeated gratuitously offensive remarks towards Jews, Livingstone explained that he didn’t expect the Jewish community to vote Labour anyway, and wasn’t seeking their vote, as Jews are rich.
For the likes of Corbyn and Livingstone, Jews, unless they are ideological comrades, are too privileged to be real victims of racism. They oppose anti-Semitism in principle, but they simply cannot conceive of the overwhelming majority of Jews ever being victims.
The political left, in its broadest sense, laid the foundations for the battle against racism and protection of minorities. But this inclusivist duty of protection has undergone a kind of transfiguration for the hard left.
Once upon a time, when fascism was stronger, most Jews were poor and working-class, and Israel didn’t exist, things were different. But that was over 70 years ago. Nearly all Jews today, in his worldview, are too rich, too white, too Zionist, to be real targets of anyone but neo-Nazis.
Corbyn himself has two constant refrains whenever he is forced to discuss the allegations of anti-Semitism. One is that he has "fought racism all my life," and the other is that "my parents were at Cable Street."
If indeed we can take him for his word, and his parents were indeed at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when Jews, anarchists and socialists fought together against British fascists who tried to march through the Jewish East End, then the parameters of how Corbyn defines racism, when it’s directed against Jews are pretty clear.
Not every socialist believes this, by any means. But the stakes are high. For many people, the fact that a true radical socialist like Corbyn has improbably captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Britons, who have joined the Labour Party and support him with a cultish devotion, is just too good an opportunity to miss. And with Britain wracked by the crisis of Brexit and led by a shambolic and divided Conservative party, the chances of Corbyn’s Labour forming the next government are pretty good.
Not everyone is a member of the Corbyn cult. Many decent socialists are dismayed, even horrified by the torrent of anti-Jewish abuse unleashed under Corbyn and by his indifference. But their eyes are on the prize.
So they dismiss his anti-Semitism "blind-spot" as a regrettable, but forgivable, aberration. They try to minimize it and blame the right-wing for harboring more anti-Semites; and while they admit that they do exist on the left as well, claim that much of the media reports are "hysteria" and aimed at "smearing" Corbyn.
Corbyn supporters counter-protest a rally organised by the British Board of Jewish Deputies to oppose anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.Parliament Square, London. March 26, 2018.\ HENRY NICHOLLS/ REUTERS
Senior members of this group, including Jewish socialists, remain silent when they hear anti-Semitic remarks made in closed rooms. They did not react three weeks ago, during a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee, when one of Corbyn’s supporters, ranted about Jewish "Trump fanatics" who were concocting allegations of anti-Semitism.
Socialists in other countries, who normally would never dream of condoning such talk, are also excited by the prospect of a rare victory for a true believer like Corbyn. They look to his movement as a harbinger and template and are prepared to ignore its more sinister undertones.
Even the most prominent socialist in the United States, the Jewish Bernie Sanders, has spoken approvingly of Corbyn - and completely failed to mention the anti-Semitism issue.
Anti-Semitism according to Corbyn, Livingstone and their allies exists, but only when its victims are the tiny proportion of Jews who are both anti-Zionist and truly socialist. Then you deserve solidarity. If you have some kind of affinity to the "ethnocratic racist Zionist endeavor" or simply just prefer some version of capitalism, then you are fair game.
This is the classic anti-Semitic ploy of dividing us in to good and bad Jews, and on a moral level, is no different to the way white supremacist Richard Spencer separates liberal Diaspora Jews, whom he hates, and the good Jewish nationalists who live in Israel.
The Corbynists are thus no better than the alt-right – they both object to being labeled as anti-Semites. They both have the good Jews they support.
If decent socialists are so eager to see a true socialist in power, and are prepared to overlook his new division of the Jews, then at the very least they should openly recognize his attitude for what it is and admit their willingness to strike this bargain. But they won’t. They will continue to ignore, dissemble and make apologies for Corbyn.
And this is why Corbyn is a threat to Jews, not just in Britain, but throughout the West. He is popularizing within the left, that historical defender of minorities, the concept that only Jews who disavow both Zionism and capitalism are worthy not only of "comradeship" but also of protection from bigotry, discrimination and exclusion.
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