A photograph recently emerged of Jeremy Corbyn making the four-fingered rabbi’ah or Muslim Brotherhood salute at the Finsbury Park Mosque. A Muslim counter-extremist commentator compared Corbyn’s activist-Salafist salutation to a right-wing politician offering his solidarity for the British National Front. Rod Liddle, writing in the Spectator, wondered whether the current leader of the British Labour Party was “either deeply sinister—or a total idiot”. The correct answer is both, and then some more. The tragedy of Jeremy Corbyn, like the tragedy of so many social-justice warriors, is that he believes his modern-day leftist ideology places him on the unassailable moral high ground. It does nothing of the sort—and that is a calamity for him and his supporters and apologists, and something worse for the local Jewish population.
This essay appears in the November edition of Quadrant.
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Jeremy Corbyn, let us recognise, is one of the most successful left-wing or progressive characters in Europe right now. In the 2017 British general election, for instance, the Labour Party under his stewardship increased its voting share from 30.4 per cent to 40 per cent. Is there any other mainstream European social democratic (or democratic socialist) party that can, in the past few years, match that kind of accomplishment? Membership of Labour has doubled to significantly more than half a million, and the party faithful are overwhelmingly in support of their unapologetic champion. The ethical disaster for Jeremy Corbyn is that he has been co-opted, along with the British Labour Party and the latter-day Left in general, by Islamist-inspired anti-Semitism. Detractors will say the Opposition Leader is a polarising force in British politics, but Jeremy Corbyn happens to be an effective politician in today’s intemperate electoral climate—not despite his boundless radical provocation but because of it.
A growing majority of British Jews are alarmed by the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn government. On July 25, 2018, the three main Jewish newspapers in Britain, the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph, each produced front pages warning of “the existentialist threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government”. Two of the pillars of Jewish public life, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, voiced a corresponding concern. Why this particular reproach? Labour’s National Executive Committee, controlled by Corbyn’s faction, had just announced it was going to deviate from the definition/explanation of anti-Semitism submitted by the intergovernmental agency International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and accepted by the British government. The refusal to simply accept the IHRA’s definition/explanation of anti-Semitism and move on was considered especially galling, since the frequency of Labour officials, members, councillors and even parliamentarians making crude anti-Semitic jibes has skyrocketed during Corbyn’s tenure as leader.
The rising tide of anti-Jewish hatred in the Labour Party necessitated Corbyn initiating an investigation into itself. The 2016 Chakrabarti Inquiry is now remembered more for the fact that the “impartial” Shami Chakrabarti joined the Labour Party once her investigation commenced, and was promoted by Corbyn to the House of Lords—the only Labour-nominated peer in that year—shortly after the completion of her “independent” work. Her conclusion, naturally, suggested that British Jews have nothing to fear from the Labour Party on the anti-Semitic front. Whew! Meanwhile, Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, was restored to the party ranks despite the anti-Semitic/anti-Israel crack that helped initiate the Chakrabarti Inquiry in the first place. Since then, Shah has obtained a number of promotions despite “liking” a tweet that parodied the plight of the girls raped by Islamic gangs in Rotherham. In April 2018, Shah also tweeted a quotation credited to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela on the occasion of the latter’s death: “Together, hand in hand, with our matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country.” That is an incitement to terrorism, folks. In July this year, Corbyn promoted Naz Shah to Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities.
Paradoxically, the Labour Party’s bona fides as the original home of British Jewry are hard to dispute. Part of this has to do with the working-class people of Jewish heritage who populated Leeds and the outer regions of northern London. Even today, the supporters—Jewish and non-Jewish—of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club are passionate about the Jewish connection with the club. Martin Cloake and Alan Fisher’s 2016 article, “Spurs and the Jews: The how, the why and the when”, published in the Jewish Chronicle, provides a fascinating overview. While only an estimated 5 per cent of current Spurs fans might be Jewish, followers are proud of the long working-class Jewish connection with the club. It is less a tale of Jewish particularism than Anglicised integration. Many Spurs devotees sunnily refer to their beloved team as “the Yids” without any suggestion of racism or bigotry. They are simply acknowledging that an influx of Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe in the early decades of the twentieth century coincided with and boosted the advancement of Tottenham Hotspur FC.
The British Labour Party was a beneficiary of the Jewish immigrants’ thankfulness for the opportunity to find a new life far from the anti-Jewish pogroms of the Russian empire. The etymology of the term pogrom has its basis in the Russian term “to destroy, to wreak havoc, to demolish violently”. The 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof, notwithstanding some sanitising of the horrors of Jewish life in imperial Russia, is not a bad place to begin understanding why so many Jewish immigrants were grateful for the liberality of life in Edwardian and inter-war England. Tsarist Russia, circa 1903, was the source of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabricated text that purported to contain the minutes of a secret meeting of Jewish leaders conspiring to achieve global Jewish hegemony by subverting the morals of Gentiles and controlling the international press and the global economy. A comparable European anti-Jewish myth was the medieval “blood libel”, which avowed that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children in order to use their blood to make wine or matzah (unleavened bread) for Passover. The British Labour Party, unfussy and accepting, down-to-earth, rough-at-the-edges, irreligious, friend of the browbeaten, must have seemed like a warm-hearted protector for Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
What went wrong? In the 1920s, when Labour, the working class, English football and assimilation were almost interchangeable concepts, the party of equity may have received as much as 90 per cent of the Jewish vote. In the ensuing decades that figure fell to something less than 70 per cent, but now it is in freefall. Why doesn’t Labour care about its absconding Jewish supporters? As journalist Angela Epstein points out, there are only 270,000 Jews in the United Kingdom compared to more than 4 million Muslims, a figure expected to triple over the next thirty years. Jeremy Corbyn, cognisant of which way the demographic wind is blowing, has snubbed a dwindling minority in order to capture the hearts and minds (and prejudices) of a larger constituency. But won’t the political organisation that has always “championed religious minorities, workers’ rights and condemned racism and anti-Semitism” lose respect amongst the wider electorate for refusing to assuage the fears of the Jewish community? The problem, frankly, is that Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Zionism (which is now an integral part of left-wing populism) has mainstreamed. Today Corbyn is neither on the fringe of Labour—after all, he and his faction now control the party—nor on the periphery of progressive opinion.
The anti-Zionists in the British Labour Party, and increasingly on the Left everywhere in the West, are no less dangerous for believing they are exempt from the bigotry of anti-Semitism. They know the medieval blood libel was a monstrous lie and that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a forgery, while almost nobody on the modern-day Left (except in France) could be considered a Holocaust denier. So, the anti-Semitic charge strikes them as little more than an Israeli ploy—particularly a Likudist ploy—to impede unhindered debate about the colonialist nature of the Zionist project, the ethnic cleansing of the 1947–49 war, the intrinsic racialism of the Jewish state, the occupation of West Bank, the punitive campaigns against the Gazans, and so on ad infinitum. The Left, almost by definition—or, at least, by self-identification—is progressive, non-discriminatory and anti-fascist and so could not possibly be racist. Some of the leading figures of the Left are Jewish or of Jewish background. How are they anti-Semitic? But perhaps Western apologists for latter-day anti-Zionism have things skew-whiff. Maybe it is not so much a matter of anti-Israel activists being unfairly accused of anti-Semitism, but the very same anti-Israel activists hiding their anti-Semitism behind the mask of anti-Zionism.
Take, for instance, the case made in Robert Wistrich’s From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews and Israel, which I reviewed in November 2012 for Quadrant in the article “How the Left Became Anti-Semitic”. Wistrich’s contention, in brief, was that the original European leftists were mostly ambivalent about Jewish identity, with Marx himself anticipating that after a proletarian revolution Judaism, an “antiquated religion of the ego” would be redundant: “Under socialism or communism, there was no need for Jews as Jews to maintain their existence.” Marx died before Zionism as a contemporary national undertaking appeared. His acolyte Karl Kautsky, though, was present to apply a fairly orthodox Marxian analysis of nascent Zionism. He concluded that a Jewish national liberation movement was a non-starter because Jews were “not a race, a nation, or even a people, but a ‘caste’ with certain quasi-national attributes”. Radical leftist thinkers, from the Jewish Rosa Luxemburg to the Jewish Leon Trotsky, were of a similar opinion.
This intrinsic antipathy to the Zionist project felt by radical leftists would help to explain the work of the Trotskyist writer Lenni Brenner. His Zionism in the Age of Dictators (1983) accused the German Zionist Federation of collaborating with the Nazis in the 1930s. Brenner’s “scholarship”, we should point out, has been entirely discredited. There is no evidence Adolf Hitler ever had any understanding with the Zionists; there was no meeting of the minds between the Master Race and the Chosen Race. On the contrary, the Nazis campaigned against the call for a Jewish state and insisted that the land of Mandatory Palestine belonged exclusively to Arabs. Moreover, if the Wehrmacht had made it to Jerusalem, the local Jewish population would have been exterminated and Amin al-Husseini appointed to any regional leadership council. None of this, of course, prevented Ken Livingstone, Labour Mayor of London from 2000 to 2008, citing Brenner in 2016 to support the defamatory claim that Hitler had a favourable opinion of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews”. Livingstone’s outburst, along with Naz Shah’s anti-Jewish missives, helped trigger the 2016 Chakrabarti Inquiry. Unlike Shah, however, Livingstone never retracted his anti-Zionist slur, and insisted that Labour’s rank-and-file regularly stopped him on the street with the words, “Don’t give in”.
Surprisingly, it was the Marxist-Leninist Motherland that welcomed the State of Israel into the community of nations with open arms in 1948. Stalin hoped the new Jewish state, given the Zionists’ difficult relationship with the British authorities in Mandatory Palestine, would turn out to be a long-term anti-British ally in the Cold War. But Israel, during the era of David Ben-Gurion, built an enduring parliamentary democracy and aligned itself with the West, much to the chagrin of the Soviets. Late communism, under the auspices of Leonid Brezhnev, was the first left-wing European entity to advance the unholy trinity of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Israel. The crushing defeat of Brezhnev’s allies, Syria and Egypt, in the Six-Day War only added to the unbound hostility. Already in 1964, the KGB in co-ordination with Romania’s Securitate had gathered a discordant collection of anti-Israel Arab militias and fashioned the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), with Yasser Arafat, principal leader of Fatah (“Conquest”), at its head.
The objective of the Soviet-sponsored PLO terrorists was to destroy the State of Israel in the name of the “nation of Palestine”, notwithstanding the fact that no such nation had ever existed. The PLO’s immediate predecessor, Amin al-Husseini’s Arab Higher Committee, fought the 1947–49 war in the cause of a “Greater Syria” (the Arab Republic of Syria) and not for an Arab Republic of Palestine. The relevance of this to the discussion is that the PLO can be properly described as a stalking horse for the ruination of the State of Israel. Its promotion, in 1994, to the status of Palestine National Authority (PNA), the de facto potentate in the West Bank and Gaza, was either a brave leap of faith on the part of Israel’s left-wing Rabin government or an act of madness. For Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, the “Palestinian cause”—deeply problematic on an historical, terrorist, economic, political, moral, geopolitical, democratic, philosophical, racialist, religious and even archaeological level—is nevertheless the basis of Labour’s anti-Zionist fervour, and is what binds together Corbyn’s millennial-millennialist supporters. This is the unfolding tragedy of British Labour and the unfolding tragedy for British Jews.
Corbyn’s Labour Party acknowledges no connection between their adoption of the “Palestinian cause” and anti-Semitism. The two things, to their way of thinking, have no connection, and yet they are totally interrelated. If the PLO and Hamas are good at anything—apart from denying democracy to the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza—it is indoctrinating gullible Westerners with their anti-Zionist mendacity, a narrative that borrows from every classical anti-Semitic trope to slander the Jewish state. Many scholars, not least Bernard Lewis, have insisted that although Jewish people were treated as second-class subjects during the time of the Ottoman empire, it was a muted form of Judeophobia compared to the bigotry prevailing in Europe over the centuries. Notions such as deicide, the blood libel, civilisational parasites and traitors, worldwide conspirators and agents of the apocalypse, were introduced into Islamic revivalist discourse from Europe, starting with the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna, and his associate, Amin al-Husseini.
To make it easier for Western dupes such as Corbyn to the peddle activist-Salafists as fighters for freedom, Hamas revised its charter last year. No longer are these Muslim Brotherhood militants pursuing a religious war against Jews but, instead, an anti-colonial struggle against Zionist occupiers. In this not-so-subtle adjustment, we see exactly how Islamic anti-Semitism masquerades as a humanist emancipatory project so latter-day leftists, like Corbyn, can pass themselves off as humanitarians. In reality, they have been morally undone by their relationship with homicidal fanatics. The Jew-hatred of PNA President Mahmoud Abbas is hardly any less diabolical than that of Hamas. Abbas, as recently as April this year, claimed that the Holocaust was caused, not by Nazi anti-Semitism but by the “social behaviour” of the Jews, which included money-lending.
The PNA television network has showcased children reciting the following messages: Jews are “monkeys and pigs”, Jews are “enemies of Allah”, Jews are the “most evil of creations” and “Zion is Satan without a tail”. Palestinian spokesman employ every kind of anti-Jewish slander, from the fabrications of Nakba Day and the Battle of Jenin hoax to the calumny that no Jewish temple ever existed in Jerusalem. The “secular” Yasser Arafat—according to eyewitness Dennis Ross—coolly informed President Clinton at the 2000 Camp David Summit, in which the terrorist-statesman rejected the two-state solution, that “Solomon’s Temple was not in Jerusalem, but in Nablus.” To assist or promote the kind of anti-Zionist fabrications disseminated by Hamas and the PLO/PNA is to repackage old anti-Jewish tropes in a new form. An obvious example of this is Holocaust inversion and the perverse notion that Palestinian Arabs are today’s equivalent of the Holocaust Jews (see “The Ideology of Holocaust Inversion”, Quadrant, May 2014).
Holocaust inversion is not only the theme of Hamas and Fatah polemicists and cartoonists but also of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the West. The BDS movement campaigns around the world to delegitimise and demonise Israel by claiming it is an apartheid state, despite the fact that Israeli Arabs enjoy full citizenship. Even the accusation that Jerusalem opposes Arab self-determination in the West Bank is undercut by the historical reality that Arab Palestinian leaders rejected a two-state solution in 1936, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1967, 2000-01, 2008 and 2013-14. Nevertheless, useful idiots in the West see nothing wrong with the BDS photoshopping Anne Frank in the keffiyeh, a chequered scarf traditionally worn by local farmers and adopted by Yasser Arafat, in order to equate Nazism with Zionism.
If Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is now a safe space for anti-Israel activists hiding their anti-Semitism behind the mask of anti-Zionism, then it makes perfect sense that the National Executive Committee would reject the last four of eleven examples of anti-Semitism specified by the IHRA, since each of these deals with demonising the Jewish state, such as “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis” and “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”. Jeremy Corbyn’s faction of the Labour Party does not want this blatantly anti-Semitic anti-Zionism proscribed because that is what, for the most part, they actually believe. British Jews can either embrace the Corbynites and eschew their sympathies for Israel or earn the opprobrium of “Nazi Zionists” in an increasingly Muslim Britain.
We need look no further than the Labour Party’s 2018 Annual Conference, held in late September, to know that Corbyn’s takeover of the party has resulted in a triumph for the pro-Palestinian fanatics. Instead of apologising for the disturbing revelations that materialised during Britain’s long, hot summer, including an old photograph of Jeremy Corbyn appearing before a grotesque Judeophobic mural and a rediscovered 2013 speech in which he accuses “British Zionists” of having no sense of “English irony”, the British Labour Party went on the offensive. Corbyn’s apologists rejected the torrent of online Jewish-hatred perpetrated by young Labour enthusiasts as irrelevant and, at the same time, dismissed the accusation the party has adopted an anti-Semitic stance as “McCarthyism”. While party apparatchiks prohibited the presence of European Union flags at the grand finale—intended as a rebuke to Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations—not only was the brandishing of PLO/PNA flags encouraged but, according to eyewitnesses, the flags were provided by Corbynites for the occasion.
Daryl McCann has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au, and he tweets at @dosakamccann.