While some on the Labour right still hope to force Corbyn to resign, writes Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists, others are aiming to change the man and his politics
If you do not already hate Facebook for selling your data to rightwing companies who manipulate elections and blackmail politicians, for keeping copies of all your messages and phone conversations or just for generally stealing your time and life energy, last week should have given you plenty of reason to start doing so.
Not only has Jeremy Corbyn been ‘outed’ as having been a member of a third Facebook group in which some people posted shite (although he never posted anything there himself): but Luciana Berger MP, parliamentary chair of the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, was said to have dug up a six-year-old, now infamous ‘mural comment’ he did make on another Facebook group. In reality, of course, she did no such thing: somebody else pointed it out to her. One of those, we are guessing, who have been reporting, smearing, outing and witch-hunting Corbyn supporters as anti-Semitic for the last two and a half years.
Now, finally, they got the man himself. Of course, he did not “defend an anti-Semitic mural”, as the bourgeois media have fumed. He asked why it was being removed: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”
One can argue over the artistic value of the rather crude depiction, angry-student-style, of bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of oppressed black people. And one can certainly argue about how obviously anti-Semitic the dodgy painting is; many on the left are engaged in this rather futile debate. But blogger Jonathan Cook reminds us of the bigger picture:
Interestingly, the issue of Corbyn’s support for the mural – or at least the artist – originally flared in late 2015, when the Jewish Chronicle unearthed his Facebook post. Two things were noticeably different about the coverage then.
First, on that occasion, no one apart from the Jewish Chronicle appeared to show much interest in the issue. Its ‘scoop’ was not followed up by the rest of the media. What is now supposedly a major scandal – one that raises questions about Corbyn’s fitness to be Labour leader – was a non-issue two years ago, when it first became known.
Second, the Jewish Chronicle, usually so ready to get exercised at the smallest possible sign of anti-Semitism, wasn’t entirely convinced back in 2015 that the mural was anti-Semitic. In fact, it suggested only that the mural might have “anti-Semitic undertones” – and attributed even that claim to Corbyn’s critics.
Both points are fascinating. They show how dramatically the narrative around anti-Semitism has changed in the last two and a half years; how successful the right has been in portraying the Labour Party as being awash with anti-Semites. Now the gutter press, along with The Guardian, have become such experts on the matter that they are certain the mural was “obviously anti-Semitic”. This shift also includes the views of a certain Jeremy Corbyn (see below).
What is indeed “obvious” is the fact that this latest faux outrage was clearly orchestrated – building up ammunition for an upping of the witch-hunts of Corbyn supporters. He had already been hammered for his ‘unpatriotic’ response to the ‘Russian agent’ crisis – surely everyone supports another cold war with Russia?
Crucially, local elections are taking place in less than six weeks time, on May 3. The hope of the right is that we will not see a repeat of the surprisingly good result for Labour that we witnessed in the 2017 snap general election, which brought Corbyn some reprieve. The right in the party is clearly prepared to risk a bad election result in order to put pressure on him.
None of this is surprising. Only the most naive will believe the nonsense about the new-found ‘unity’ behind Corbyn in the Labour Party. The right will continue to fight the genuine left, the socialists and the Marxists in the Labour Party to the bitter end. They could split, but the first-past-the-post British electoral system punishes such attempts. The disastrous failure of the Social Democratic Party serves Labour’s right as a reminder of that.
March 26 demo
The March 26 demonstration in Parliament Square has to be firmly seen in this context. It had nothing to do with any mural, Facebook group or anti-Semitism. Trying to get rid of Corbyn has so far proved futile. As long as the man remains popular among Labour members, they just cannot get shot of him. Having weathered a storm of attacks at the beginning of his leadership with admirable aplomb, he is also unlikely to resign.
Hence we are in the middle of phase two of operation anti-Corbyn: tame him to become a reliable manager of British capitalism and pliable ally of the US when it comes to the politics of the Middle East.
As an aside, we note in this context that Donald Trump’s newly appointed security advisor, John Bolton, has proposed a ‘three-state solution’ for the Middle East, where Gaza would be given to Egypt, and the West Bank to Jordan. It is a mad plan, but not so mad that somebody like Trump would not go for it under the right conditions – especially as it would solve the problem of Jerusalem: “The contentious issue of Jerusalem’s status as the purported capital of ‘Palestine’ would disappear, since Amman would obviously be the seat of government for an enlarged Jordan.” Problem solved!
Both the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), which called the demo, are, of course, far from the ‘independent community organisations’ that they have been portrayed as. The BoD’s president is Jonathan Arkush, a member of the Conservative Party. The chair of the JLC is Jonathan Goldstein, a director of M&C Saatchi – an advertising agency network owned by Maurice Saatchi, former chair of the Conservative Party.
A dozen or so of Tory MPs attended the demo, including Eric Pickles, as did a number from the Democratic Unionist Party, including loyalist hardliner Ian Paisley junior, who was posing happily for selfies with Norman Tebbit. They were joined by quite an assortment of nasties: we spotted David Collier, one of the people behind the vile and racist blog, GnasherJew; and Emma Feltham and Jonathan Hoffman, both from the no less vile Labour Against Anti-Semitism.
Among the Labour traitors at the demo were pretty much all the usual suspects, including MPs Chukka Umunna (who was literally rubbing shoulders with Tory cabinet member Sajid Javid), Luciana Berger, John Mann, Stella Creasy, Liz Kendall, John Woodcock, Chris Elmore and Wes Streeting. The latter promised in his speech to “drain the cesspit of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party” and has announced on Twitter – somewhat ironically – that his campaign will also target supporters of Labour Against the Witchhunt.
We did not spot Harriet Harman at the protest, but she tweeted: “Standing with Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council. Anti-Semitism represents everything that @UKLabour is against.” The demo was also supported by BAME Labour (run by Keith Vaz MP).
However, former Labour MP Chris Mullin took a different view in his comments on Twitter:
I am not a Corbynista, but I can see what’s going on here … Alleged anti-Semitism [is] yet another stick with which to beat Corbyn – along with Corbyn, “friend of the IRA, Hezbollah, Hamas, Czech spy, Soviet spy …” You name it. Whatever next?
Mullin gave us some possible answers to that question in his fascinating novel A very British coup, which imagines the tools the British state might employ in order to get rid of a leftwing prime minister. In short, it will stop at nothing. Monday’s demonstration was only a little taster – much, much more is to come. The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has already called for a demonstration “against anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn” in London on April 8.
Not surprisingly, with that kind of crowd, frequent calls for Corbyn’s resignation from the speakers were interjected with shouts of him being a racist and worse. Speaker after speaker said former London mayor Ken Livingstone had “no place in the Labour Party” and placards were held aloft, bearing the slogan, “Labour for the many, not the Jews”, amid chants of “Enough is enough”. They shouted “Shame on you” at the counterdemonstrators – organised with eight hours notice by Jewish Voice for Labour and supported by Labour Party Marxists, Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Jewish Socialists Group and Free Speech on Israel. Former Socialist Workers Party leader Lindsey German, now of Counterfire, was among those addressing them. Her former comrades, who usually jump on anything that moves, were absent, however: The SWP probably still have their knickers in a twist, having allied themselves with hardcore Zionists in their front campaign Stand up to Racism.
Corbyn and IHRA
Most conspicuous by its absence (and general silence) was, however, Momentum. This is an organisation that has been set up explicitly to defend and support Jeremy Corbyn – yet it does nothing in the middle of the latest attack against him. The dozen or so employees at Momentum HQ have not even managed a single Facebook post or tweet since March 20 (apart from sharing a couple of posts put out by Corbyn’s office).
Momentum owner Jon Lansman has published one singe tweet on the subject, in which he writes: “We need a serious proactive programme of education and training about anti-Semitism within @UKLabour but we should also recognise the seriousness of the determination to stamp it out by @JeremyCorbyn.”
Is this lack of public support payback for Corbyn not backing him for the post of Labour general secretary, as some have speculated? But his closest supporters in the Parliamentary Labour Party – Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Chris Williamson – have remained silent on the issue too. So the real answer is unfortunately more simple: Corbyn has, quite simply, folded on the question.
He has not only accepted the false narrative of the right – that the Labour Party indeed has a serious problem with anti-Semitism that needs to be “stamped out”. He has now gone a rather dramatic step further. In the crucial paragraph of his March 26 letter to the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies, published just before their demo, he writes:
Newer forms of anti-Semitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli governments. Criticism of Israel, particularly in relation to the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people, cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as ‘Zio’ all constitute aspects of contemporary anti-Semitism.
Firstly, we note Corbyn’s strange phrase that criticism of Israel “cannot be avoided”. That sounds very apologetic. I wish I could avoid it, but … No, criticism of the actions of the state of Israel is, in fact, essential for any socialist with a democratic bone in their body.
The rest of the paragraph is clearly inspired by the controversial ‘Working definition of anti-Semitism’, published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The definition itself, adopted by the Labour Party at last year’s conference, is not the problem. But now Corbyn also seems to have accepted the disputed list of examples that shows what the definition is really about: conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and support for the rights of the Palestinian people.
For example, Corbyn’s assertion that the mere use of the word ‘Zio’ constitutes anti-Semitism, is, frankly, absurd. ‘Zio’ is simply a – yes, highly critical – abbreviation of the word ‘Zionist’. Zionism is not a religion or a nationality: it is an ideology. You are not born a Zionist – you choose to believe in the right of Israel to oppress another people. And if you do, hell, you deserve to be criticised.
According to Corbyn, it is now also anti-Semitic to compare “Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis”. We wonder if he has read a newspaper recently. The heroics of Britain in World War II (with a tiny bit of help from the Soviet Union and the US) are utterly ingrained in British culture. Comparing anything and anybody nasty to the Nazis is a short-hand for ‘bad’. Just last week, Labour MP Ian Austin called for the England football team to pull out of the World Cup, because “Putin is going to use it in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics.” Boris Johnson replied: “Yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right.” Bombastic PR from both of them, obviously. But clearly, it is a common feature in British politics.
So should only Israel be immune from comparisons to the Nazis? They are said to be offensive to Jews, who were victims of the holocaust. What about the Roma? After all, hundreds of thousands of Roma people were killed by the Nazis. Or do only those countries currently involved in systematically oppressing another people get this special status? It is nonsense and Corbyn knows it. His son, Tommy, has posted a comment on his Facebook page, pointedly asking, “Why is it that I can criticise my own or any other government, but criticism of the Israeli state is immediately branded anti-Semitic?” Yep, ask your dad about that one.
We also fear that the formulation could be used to discipline Labour Party members who commit the crime of pointing out that in the 1930s the Zionist movement cooperated with leading Nazis in the attempt to persuade German Jews to migrate to Palestine. This is historic fact. But it is an unpleasant one that the Israeli government and its Zionist supporters in Britain do not want to be reminded of. Ken Livingstone has been suspended for two years now after pointing it out. After Labour’s national executive committee made noises that Livingstone might soon regain his full membership, the right seized on the case and demanded his permanent exclusion.
After all, Corbyn had already proven with this entirely unnecessary public “apology” over ‘Muralgate’ that he is indeed prepared to give even more ground on the issue of false and exaggerated allegations of anti-Semitism. So why not kick him while he’s down?
After the March 26 demo, Jonathan Arkush, director of the Board of Deputies – and a Tory, remember – has let it be known that before “Jewish community leaders” can “sit down” with Jeremy Corbyn to discuss the matter, a list of “their demands” needs to be met: “Ken Livingstone really cannot remain. His views are shameful and disreputable. He will have to go.” The Guardian speculates in the same article that
demands for the expulsion of Jackie Walker, a former vice-chair of Momentum, were also expected. Walker has been suspended after being filmed saying there was no definition of anti-Semitism ‘that she could work with’ [she actually meant ‘in that meeting’].
Arkush also said he would like
action to be taken against those who minimise reports of anti-Semitism, including Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who suggested it was “mood music” to undermine the leadership; and Labour MP Chris Williamson, who claimed the Labour right was “weaponising” anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately, judging by Corbyn’s own grovelling apologies, we are far from certain that he will not jump to the tune of the right and at least urge that the NEC permanently expel Livingstone and Walker. That would truly be a scandal and has to be opposed by all socialists.
We are not surprised that somebody like Keir Starmer uses the opportunity to stick the knife in – he is a Blairite at heart, after all. Ditto Chuka Umunna, who complains to the British media about the “shameful” way Corbyn has behaved. More problematic and telling are the comments by shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, a Corbyn ally. She has echoed the comments of Jon Lansman, promising “education” and “a zero-tolerance approach” on the question of anti-Semitism, stating that it was “devastating to realise that the Jewish community had lost faith in our approach to anti-Semitism”. Nonsense, of course – there is no homogenous “Jewish community”, as should have been clear from the two mobilisations on March 26 and the success of groups like Jewish Voice for Labour.
We hear that the shadow cabinet “informally” agreed on March 26 – in Corbyn’s absence – that the recommendations from Shami Chakrabarti’s report should be implemented in full, which apparently “will require a significant overhaul of party machinery, including appointing a general counsel, and an in-house team of lawyers to ensure procedure is followed properly”.
It goes without saying that we are all in favour of disciplinary cases being handled much more quickly and efficiently, to avoid good comrades being unable to get involved in party work for years, while they are suspended. But we fear that, in the current climate, this call may not necessarily be the good news it appears. It could be used to institutionalise the witch-hunt against leftwingers and pro-Palestine campaigners.
In this context, we note with great concern in the same Guardian article the reported demand “to establish specific accounts on social media platforms that would identify and call out supporters using anti-Semitic language”.
So instead of the Zionists from Labour Against Anti-Semitism and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism reporting people to the compliance unit, it should be the Labour Party itself hunting down its own members! Monitor them to make sure they behave like good children.
This is a slippery slope into a very undemocratic culture of thought crime and (self-)censorship. This is exactly the opposite of the kind of open and democratic working class culture we need.
We also wonder if this suggestion for a social media police force has anything to do with the fact that Jon Lansman (or those running his Facebook account) has suddenly been sending ‘friend requests’ to hundreds of leftwingers, having previously been very cautious about accepting the ‘friend requests’ from others. Once you are friends with somebody, you can see not just their posts and comments, but also the postings of their friends …
The main problem with dancing to the tune of the right is the simple fact that appeasement does not work. Once he delivers the scalps of Livingstone and Walker, Corbyn will be faced with demands for more of the same. John Mann MP claims in the Daily Mail that the Labour Party bureaucrats are currently dealing with “more than 200 claims of hatred”, with “shocking anti-Jewish sentiment” – though not a single example is provided.
The right in and outside the Labour Party must be very pleased with how successful the weaponising of anti-Semitism has proven to be. There is now very little to stop them from demanding that Jeremy Corbyn next looks again at some of his other political principles – be it the renewal of Trident, increasing the defence budget, supporting military action for ‘humanitarian’ reasons, etc, etc.