There were predictable reactions to the election of Jeremy Corbyn in the Middle Eastern media. Amir Parviz Pouyan reports
The pro-Saudi and Israeli press have been competing with each other in their scaremongering. The Times of Israel, under the headline, “Anti-Israel Jeremy Corbyn is new UK Labour leader”, claimed that the “far-left MP has empathised with Hezbollah, Hamas” and that British Jews were “alarmed by his ties to ‘holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright anti-Semites’”.1
All false accusations, as explained by Jewish supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. For example, Jews for Jeremy, which has almost 300 members and was launched in response to what its founders say were “unscrupulous” attacks from the media, comments:
“Some members of the group live in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency, some have worked with him on various campaigns, and many know him from his reputation and his tireless work for the disadvantaged in society, including migrants and asylum-seekers …. Members applaud his efforts to bring together opposing parties to many conflicts in dialogue in a constructive way, and are dismayed that in some cases this has been held against him.2”
The Jewish Leadership Council, which claims to represent more than 30 community groups, including Jewish charities, synagogues as well as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has adopted a more cautious approach. It released the following press statement soon after the declaration of the votes:
“The Jewish Leadership Council will, as we always have, find ways of working with her majesty’s opposition on matters relevant to us. Over the course of the leadership campaign, we had a number of concerns regarding some of Mr Corbyn’s past connections, and his stances on policy areas of great significance to the Jewish community. It is important that the legitimate concerns of the community are addressed.
“We look forward to meeting with Mr Corbyn at the first available opportunity to discuss our concerns, but also ways in which the Labour Party and the Jewish community can continue to work together in a spirit of cooperation and understanding. We hope that the labour movement remains a welcoming environment for members of the Jewish community, many of whom have lifelong commitments to it.3”
For its part, the influential English-language daily, Arab News, which is published in London, relies on an article by veteran rightwing Iranian columnist Amir Taheri:
“Corbyn admires Ali Khamenei because he is supposed to be ‘standing against the Americans’. Corbyn could not have invited Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein to dinner. If he sheds tears over their demise, it is because they fell victim to American ‘imperialism’. For Corbyn, Israel is a hate object not because it is Jewish or even ‘usurper of Palestinian land’, but because it is supposed to be an ally of the US.4”
Absolute nonsense. Jeremy Corbyn has no illusions about the Iranian clergy. In the 1980s he was the first and for many years the only British MP raising the issue of political prisoners in Iran and opposing the execution of leftwing activists in Iranian jails. He regularly met exiled activists and often raised the issue of repression in the Islamic Republic in parliament.
In the early 2000s he opposed war and sanctions against Iran, but he has no time for forces like Iran’s royalists, who advocate ‘regime change from above’, courtesy of Saudi, US and Israeli funds.
And Corbyn’s close ally John McDonnell has played a crucial role in supporting Iranian workers and political prisoners in his role as honorary president of Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi).
In 2011 this is what he wrote in a joint call written with Yassamine Mather:
“At this current time of enormous political and economic crisis, continued UN sanctions and war threats, Iranian workers are in a very difficult situation. This is why it is absolutely vital that the workers’ movement in this country organises material and ideological solidarity with workers’, women’s and students’ struggles in Iran – they are our natural allies and a true beacon of hope for genuine democracy and freedom.5”
This is what comrade McDonnell wrote in 2011 on the launch of a campaign to free all political prisoners in Iran:
“We formed Hopi at a time when there was a real danger of imminent attack on Iran, right after the war on Iraq. While opposing any imperialist attacks, we positioned ourselves in clear, active solidarity with the people of Iran, who are fighting against their theocratic regime. That also led us to clearly oppose all sanctions on the country, because in our view that is just another form of imperialism attacking the people of Iran. I think we have successfully engaged others in that discussion ….
“However, at the moment there is a certain quietude. Partially this has to do with other activities in their spheres of influence that the imperialists are anxious about, for example, in Afghanistan. And there is an acceptance that, as long as the Iranian regime is quiet, ‘maybe we can turn a blind eye’. And that is why we have not had any major political leader in the west take on the question of Iranian political prisoners in a serious way …
“There is a certain acquiescence that the barbarity will go on and, as long as this barbarity in Iran does not affect the rest of the Middle East or the rest of the world, it is almost acceptable – very much in line with what goes on in other barbaric countries in that region. There is a real vacuum on the question of human rights in Iran, whereby those who look can easily discover the brutality of the executions, the hangings, the tortures, the arrests, the denials of human rights. But the media and mainstream politicians are not interested.
“Just as Hopi had to stand up and put forward a principled position against war and against the theocratic regime, we now have to stand up and fight for the freedom of all political prisoners. The responsibility falls on our shoulders, because nobody else is doing it.6”
In fact. with the exception of one rightwing newspaper, where a reporter compared Corbyn’s dress style with the refusal of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wear fashionable clothes (!), the Iranian media have concentrated on Corbyn’s anti-war position and his support for the Palestinians. As far as I can see, unlike Amir Taheri, no-one within the Islamic regime is claiming Corbyn is a supporter, let alone an ‘admirer’, of the Iranian supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The pro-government news station, Press TV, reminds everyone of a short-term but well publicised association Jeremy Corbyn had with it in 2010, when he chaired one of its programmes. However, even Press TV cannot produce anything other than general comments about, say, the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
The Middle East Eye sums up the feelings of most progressive, secular forces in the region:
“Here’s the reality. Reality is four civil wars – four fires raging out of control, which are consuming Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Possibly five if security in Egypt deteriorates further. Reality is the strategic failure of every intervention since the first Gulf War. Reality is 432,761 refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean so far this year, already double last year’s total. Reality is the loss of power and influence of the US, Britain and France, not least over their traditional allies – Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt – who are taking decisions on their own. What is it about this reality that is worth preserving? The fact that it could get a lot worse? It already is.
“Credibility: the accolade is awarded to every leader who makes a ‘brave and principled stand’, but who subsequently does everything in his power to avoid accountability for his actions. David Cameron wants to force a vote in parliament which would allow the RAF to bomb Islamic State (IS) in Syria, despite his defeat on a similar vote to bomb Bashar al-Assad after the chemical attack in Damascus. British pilots have already been caught using US planes, and now RAF drones have been involved …
“Credibility or consistency is not a word often applied to policy. British government policy on Syria has lurched one way and then another. It started by encouraging the rebels to believe that Assad’s overthrow was imminent at both Geneva conferences. It has now morphed into one in which Assad could stay in a transitional government. Cameron’s policy on Egypt is to engage the dictator in power, without having any traction over him or any hope of moderating his rule. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is going to be Cameron’s next guest in Downing Street.7”
Note early day motion 279 protesting against the Sisi visit. Tabled on July 9 2015 it calls on the prime minister to: “rescind the invitation, to put pressure on the Egyptian government to take immediate steps to demonstrate its commitment to democratic freedoms and human rights, including the revocation of all death sentences, and to stop licensing equipment for export to the Egyptian military and security forces.”8 Its primary sponsor is Green MP Caroline Lucas and amongst its five other sponsors we find the signatures of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
In other words, it is not comrades Corbyn and McDonnell who are on the side of dictators. It is David Cameron l