Asa details the inner workings of the Israel lobby’s efforts to undermine Corbyn and smear him and his supporters – many of them anti-Zionist Jews – as anti-Jewish bigots.
“It is sabotage from a hostile foreign power at the end of the day,” Asa explains.
“They do it through front groups, they do through cutouts, and even worse, they present themselves as the Jewish community. … So it’s a real kind of dangerous sectarian agitation in that respect.”
We talk about the lessons learned for the future, and what Palestine solidarity activists should expect.
The smear tactic, he warns, is “going to be used over and over again, it can’t be swept under the rug, it will never go away. It can only be defeated. Defeated.”
It was essential, Asa explains, to have been able to report on this story for The Electronic Intifada over the last eight years without corporate censorship.
“This book is a real example of independent media [and] the funding of independent media being important because I was only able to follow this story for seven, eight years now and report on it in such detail because I was able to do so professionally for The Electronic Intifada.”
“And without the support of our readers and donors, that would have been impossible. So this book, in a very real sense, only exists because people are willing to put their hands in their pockets and support independent journalism,” he says.
Articles we discussed
- “Labour’s new bankroller is Israel lobbyist, South African apartheid profiteer,” Asa Winstanley
- “The Israel lobby is trying to do a Jeremy Corbyn on Roger Waters,” Asa Winstanley
Video production by Tamara Nassar
Theme music by Sharif Zakout
Subscribe to The Electronic Intifada Podcast on Apple Podcasts (search for The Electronic Intifada) and on Spotify. Support our podcast by rating us, sharing and leaving a review, and you can also donate to fund our work.
Lightly edited for clarity.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast. Today, our executive director Ali Abunimah is here to co-host the episode and we have a very special guest, our colleague and this podcast’s co-host, Asa Winstanley.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, it’s great to be a guest for once.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah, it’s a nice little role reversal. I love it. Asa has a brand new book out: “Weaponising Anti-Semitism,” here we go, “How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn,” which is a culmination of the investigative work he has been known for into the campaign to sabotage Jeremy Corbyn, with a ton of new details and the kind of sharp analysis that has made him the preeminent expert on this story. We are so proud of you Asa, congratulations.
Asa Winstanley: I’m already blushing, guys.
Ali Abunimah: Well, I’ll just say first of all, I’m – it’s a role reversal for me, because now I’m the co-host, and I don’t know how to do that very well.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: You’ll be fine.
Ali Abunimah: Well, thank you. But it’s wonderful to have to have this conversation, and first, Asa, congratulations. I’ve just finished reading the book. Actually, I’m lying. I’ve got like, less than a chapter left. And I was trying to finish it before the podcast and I can’t wait to get back to it. Because, honestly, it’s a page turner. Yeah. And I’m not surprised because you’re a fantastic storyteller. But I was a little bit surprised, because I know this story. You know, I’ve obviously edited many of your stories on the Labour anti-Semitism crisis over what has it been now, eight years? And so you’d think I know the story inside out, probably second only to you.
But I was learning new things every day, on almost every page, and the way you brought it together as a story, really just telling this story, almost like a novel in a way and really making it accessible for everyone. And I don’t want to preempt our discussion, but I want to say it’s such an important story, Asa, because this was, I mean, this was the sabotage of one of supposedly the world’s most established democracies, Britain boasts that it’s the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. And a lobby for a foreign state managed to subvert the democracy of the UK.
I don’t, I mean, it’s my – this is my opinion, people could disagree with it. But I think that if the Israel lobby had not waged this campaign of lies, Jeremy Corbyn would have been prime minister. Yeah. And if that had happened, it would have had a profound political effect. I think not just in the UK, but across Europe and perhaps around the world. So congratulations, because you’ve told a monumental story with global relevance in a way that is just a joy to read. And we’re very, very proud of you. Congratulations. And I think we can end the podcast. Yeah.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Well done Asa.
Asa Winstanley: Well, thanks for thanks for saying all that. Yeah, a lot of people – And one of the first reactions I’ve had, people have said that I’ve had a similar experience to you, people, you know, who know the story, people who I’ve been on podcasts with, over the last couple of weeks, people at the book launch who are in the book who have said to me, like Jackie Walker said to me, you know, I thought I knew this story, but there was a lot that I didn’t realize. And, you know, I’m not trying to be falsely modest.
But, you know, when I had the same experience when I sat down to write the book because a lot of it was drawing on my reporting, our reporting, over the last eight years. But when I came to string all together into a coherent narrative, there was a lot that I realized and a lot that you just add in and you realize, yes, this is significant. When you look at the individual pieces over the years, you don’t necessarily see the whole until you put it all together.
And I think we’re at this moment where this lesson has to be learned, you know, and the British left, unfortunately, I mean, I would say the majority of certainly the publicly facing British left or the official British left is adamantly refusing to learn the lessons of this, they’re still in deep denial about what happened, I would say, and you summed it up there really well, Ali, that, you know, and, and even, I mean, look – even among some friendly people, people in responses to the book, there is this debate of well, was it really the anti-Semitism smears? Thanks. You know, of course, the friendly people accept that there was – it played a major role. But there’s this debate over whether it was Brexit, or it was anti-Semitism, the anti-Semitism smears that played the key role. And I think it’s kind of – it kind of doesn’t really matter, because I think that’s the key point is what you said Ali, that if Israel had done this, Israel, the state of Israel and its lobby, hadn’t done this or hadn’t been allowed to do this, hadn’t been able to do this politically, for whatever reason. It is highly likely that Jeremy Corbyn would have been prime minister, you know, whether he would have lasted long is another question, but at least he would have been able to have a shot at it. I think that’s absolutely true.
Ali Abunimah: But I think for those who don’t know sort of all the political history that well, the Brexit vote happened in 2016. And then there was a UK general election in 2017 when Jeremy Corbyn was still leader of the Labour Party, and at that election, the Labour Party got its highest share of the vote in decades, and had actually gained seats when everyone expected it would be a disaster. And Theresa May, who was the Conservative prime minister at the time, had called the election, thinking that she would be able to increase her majority, and in fact, she lost it. And so the reason I’m saying that is not to get down into the weeds too much. But the point is that in 2017, Jeremy Corbyn had already been the target of two years of relentless anti-Semitism smears, and right-wing coup attempts within the Labour Party,
Asa Winstanley: Internal sabotage.
Ali Abunimah: Internal sabotage, the whole of the British press were against him, you know, all of the mainstream press, the government media, the BBC were against him. And yet, that’s how close he came to pulling off a stunning victory, while increasing the Labour share of the vote under Tony Blair, who is still remembered by some as this political genius à la Bill Clinton, who sort of turned the fortunes of the Labour Party around, you know, in the 1990s and won power. Tony Blair won in a landslide in 1997. But the Labour Party lost votes every single election from 1997, including under Tony Blair, and then Gordon Brown, and then who came after Gordon Brown?
Asa Winstanley: Ed Milliband.
Ali Abunimah: Yeah, these people are so forgettable. And Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour’s share of the vote. By this historic margin, he brought hundreds of thousands of new people, particularly young, energized people into the Labour Party. And he almost won despite being the target of this smear campaign. So that’s why I think it’s fair to say he would have won had had they not done this because he didn’t need that much more. I don’t know. I don’t know if you think about that. I’m sitting thousands of miles away from the UK, so, but that’s my reading.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, and I absolutely agree with that, because I think that it was so close, you know, it was only – there was one study which showed that he came within a few thousand votes of becoming prime minister in 2017. You know, it would have been probably a hung parliament, it would have had to have been some sort of coalition. And it would have been difficult to manage, but he could have done it. I mean, even it’s so – we’re dealing in hypotheticals. But if there hadn’t been this internal sabotage campaign, if Jeremy Corbyn had had more ruthless advisers around him, or if he’d allowed people like Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson a freer rein to be enforcers while he still carried on being the nice, friendly person that he is, and kick out all the saboteurs from the Labor Party.
Then, you know, they wouldn’t have been able to do the job that they did, in coordination with the state of Israel. You know, this is a really, it’s a really important thing, which I tried to bring out in the book. I mean, and I think that is something that is really being underplayed, you know, it is sabotage from a hostile foreign power at the end of the day, that is what it was, it was a hostile foreign power. Yes, of course, Britain is supposedly a friendly nation – Israel is supposedly a friendly nation to Britain. But it was certainly a hostile foreign power to the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.
And we saw in the [Al Jazeera], I have a whole chapter dedicated to it in the book, as you know, that we saw in those Al Jazeera documentaries in 2017 and 2018, the way that the Israel lobby works closely together with the actual state of Israel, and they do so in very, in a very deceptive fashion. You know, they do it through front groups, they do it through cutouts, and they do it, even worse, they present themselves as the Jewish community. Right, they present themselves and they claim to represent the Jewish community. So it’s a real kind of dangerous sectarian agitation in that respect.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah. You mentioned Jackie Walker at the beginning. I mean, you know, can you talk about her as an example of, of how the Israel lobby saboteurs that were able to infiltrate and influence the Labour Party went after Jewish anti-Zionists, and calling them anti-Semites and lumping them in with, you know, it’s it’s, it’s absolutely – I mean, it’s stunning when you think about it, and how you talk about it in the book. It’s really like a true crime thriller, you know. But this was the tactic that they employed, and it worked. Talk a little bit about how, you know how that kind of – the efficacy of that sabotage tactic and how it has played out, not just in the UK, but we’re seeing it of course, across the US and Canada and elsewhere.
Asa Winstanley: Yes, it’s been put into operation all over the western nations really. So, Jackie Walker is a Black woman, she’s a Black woman who is also of Jewish heritage on both sides of her family. And she was and is an anti-racist educator, and author, you know, she wrote a memoir some years ago. She is, was like a lot of people, someone on the left of the Labour Party who either rejoined or was newly reinvigorated in the Labour Party when Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party in 2015, because there was this, nobody expected it and it was a kind of semi-spontaneous popular movement to get Jeremy Corbyn elected to be the leader of the Labour Party. And there was, you know, there was a lot of enthusiasm, there was a lot of hope.
You know, I remember it was really kind of cringe, but there was in 2015, I remember there was this poster that had Jeremy Corbyn in the colors of the old Obama poster that said, “Hope” – it was really kind of cringe, but there was hope, you know, and it was like, well, actually, this, unlike Obama, Jeremy Corbyn is actually he does have good politics. And he was always someone who, in the years when like, I hated the Labour Party, because it was the party of war, it was the party of invading Iraq, it was the party of Tony Blair, it was the party of privatization. There would always be one or two Labour MPs around these movements, around the anti-war movement, right? Around the Palestine solidarity movement, and there was just a very small number of them. And it was always Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, and a couple of others. And those were the people who thought, Okay, well, you know, the Labour Party is terrible, but there’s one or two people in it who were okay.
And so, you know, because he was not a career politician, he didn’t have any kind of ambitions to be one of these drones in suits, these corporate drones who went from this poisonous right-wing student politics, quite often, into the new Labour Party, and then just saw themselves as entitled to run the country and the world, really, he was the polar opposite of that, you know, he was this rebel from all time. And that, you know, always voting against Tony Blair, voting against the war, voting against privatization and all these things, there was just a lot of hope. And so Jackie Walker was involved in trying to create a popular basis, and a movement behind Jeremy Corbyn that could sustain him, because everyone could see from the beginning he was going to be and he was being adamantly opposed by his own party, by the vast majority of his MPs, by the bureaucracy, by the apparatus by the – by the Labour Party establishment.
You know, they were never going to accept it. I mean, I mentioned there’s one phrase in the book that I’m quite proud of, which is that they were like the Contras in suits, you know, that there was a kind of uprising, a kind of political revolution within the Labour Party from below, from outside the Labour Party, I mean, or from, partially from outside, partially from the membership base of the Labour Party. And so there was a kind of – Corbyn coming to the leadership of the party was a kind of political revolution in that way. And but of course, you know, the Contras were never going to accept that. And it reminded me a lot, Ali, of your work about – and I think we even had conversations about this all the time, if memory serves, that your work on the Palestine Papers and the Gaza coup, of how, you know, different, a lot of differences, different politics and so forth, but there was a kind of, there was a kind of popular support for Hamas within Palestine, within the West Bank.
I remember I mean, I was in the West Bank in 2006. I remember very secular people say, Well, you know, Hamas, Hamas is resistance, Hamas is armed resistance to Israel, they should get a chance to govern the PA, you know, but Fatah, backed by the US, backed by Israel never accepted that. And I remember you calling them the Palestinian Contras on Democracy Now, way back when Democracy Now used to invite you on. And so, you know, these kinds of, these kind of Labour MPs were the Contras in suits, where they were just not going to accept – of course, you know, thankfully, there was no guns involved, but there was very dirty politics going on. And it was all done in a kind of unity with, there’s no other phrase for it really, but the British Deep State, and, and with the Israel lobby, and indirectly with the state of Israel. So, you know, this, this was a kind of really unholy alliance that was carried out and what happened was they picked off Jeremy Corbyn supporters one by one, his most high profile supporters, one by one, and Jackie Walker was fairly early, one of those relatively high profile supporters, who was picked off and who was attacked, and despite the fact that she, like I said, is of Jewish heritage on both sides of her family, you know, she’s a mixed race woman, but the white side and the Black side, if you will, both have Jewish heritage. She was made out to be this vile anti-Semite, you know, and that was a pattern then that was repeated in different ways where, you know, there’s the chapter seven of the book, “Jews and Un-Jews,” where I talk about how Jewish supporters of Corbyn were really sort of de-Jewed, and the fact that they were ignored, their status as Jewish people was often completely ignored by mainstream media reports.
There would just be some comment taken out of context where they say, oh, there’s this terrible anti-Semitic comment that was made at a Labour Party conference by a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and they don’t even mention the name of the person quite often because they would have a Jewish name, someone like Moshe Machover who is actually an Israeli, or I guess you could say former Israeli in a way, you know, he lives in London and so forth. An Israeli dissident certainly, and it wasn’t even an anti-Semitic comment. It was an anti-Zionist comment. You know.
Ali Abunimah: You point out, Asa, in the book, this absurd situation that occurred again and again of Jewish grassroots activists, Jewish Palestine solidarity activists being accused of anti-Semitism by non-Jewish party officials and non-Jewish pundits, so a completely absurd situation. I mean, it’s just – the mind boggles when, it’s the stuff we knew that was happening, we were reporting on. But again, when you lay it all out in the book like that, it just sort of hits you again, how just poisonous this was, and how and you say, how did it happen? And there’s this quite moving passage in the book, where you compare the – and it’s a comparison others have rightly made too, because there was a group founded called Labour Against the Witch Hunt, it was a witch hunt. And when we say witch hunt, what comes to mind? The Salem witch trials of 17th century colonial America.
And then, of course, the McCarthyite period in the 1950s, which are linked by Arthur Miller’s famous and fantastic play The Crucible, which I think like many of us, I read in secondary school, and it was a very profound book. It’s one of those things that stuck with me all my life and you, you have a I don’t know if maybe I can just read a couple of sentences that really stuck with me. You say, yeah, that you talk about how, just the mere – the mere fact of being accused made you guilty and denying, and saying that accusations were false was further proof of your guilt. And you have this, this – just a sentence, these two sentences that stuck with me: “Confessing to the sin of witchcraft meant you are damned by your own word. But pleading your innocence also condemned you to death. It showed an unwillingness to repent the most grievous sin, there was no right answer, the starting point was always to assume the accusations were correct.”
Of course, that’s in the context of the crucible of Arthur Miller’s play, but that translates exactly to what was happening in the Labour Party. And you mentioned, we’ve talked about Jackie Walker, but another person you mentioned earlier that not everyone will know about is Ken Livingstone. So Ken Livingstone was a towering figure in the 1980s. He was elected the head of the London Council, the city government of London, and was so popular and so successful that Margaret Thatcher abolished the government of London to prevent Ken Livingstone from winning elections.
Asa Winstanley: And by the way, he supported some really, at the time, unpopular causes that are now just considered mainstream, these terrible things like gay rights, and, you know, equality for Black and Brown people and so forth, which he was constantly demonized for it at the time, but now is just considered so mainstream, that corporations are sort of endorsing it.
Ali Abunimah: And also, of course, he was in the forefront within the UK, of the solidarity movement against apartheid in South Africa. And at the time, I remember the BBC was very much part of this campaign against what was dubbed the “loony left.” In other words, these people like Ken Livingstone, with positions that are now considered mainstream, were demonized in a very similar way to Jeremy Corbyn, but without so much the Israel factor coming in at that time, but then Ken Livingstone who – and then when Tony Blair came in, and they re-established a government for the city of London, Ken Livingstone won again, he became mayor again –
Asa Winstanley: As an independent, he had to rebel against Tony Blair, because they’d gerrymandered the internal election against him.
Ali Abunimah: Right. So, I mean, my point is that Ken Livingstone is a towering figure in Britain, someone who was on the forefront of struggles against racism, in solidarity with people struggling for rights that are considered fundamental now and he was turned by the media, by the Israel lobby, into a Nazi, completely unjustly, for stating the truth that there had been collaboration between Zionists and Nazis in the 1930s. And so you actually have to go into that to a certain extent in the book. And I have to say you do a brilliant job of encapsulating that history of Zionist-Nazi collaboration in a really meticulously documented but very digestible and readable way. I just wanted to put that out there. What do you think? I mean, did you think that you would have to sort of go back to the 1930s, to be able to tell the story of what’s happening now in the Labour Party?
Asa Winstanley: I think I planned that chapter quite early on from my, in my earliest sketch of the book, but I I remember at the time when it was all kicking off, because that in 2016, when, you know, there was this massive pressure on Corbyn and the Labour leadership at the time to ditch Ken Livingstone, and, and to expel him from the party and so forth. And he wasn’t, but he was suspended. And so I, you know, this is the problem with social media, you know, it has some benefits, but it can also lead to these kinds of massive pile-ons.
And, you know, it’s hard to get out historical nuance and so forth. And I remember posting at the time, well, what Ken said was right, you know, the Haavara agreement is very well attested. And I didn’t know the full history of it. But I knew the basic outlines of it. And so when I came down to really do the book, I just sat down and I read, I’ve read most of Tom Segev’s book The Seventh Million and I read – the book I rely on most in that chapter of my book is The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, Francis Nicosia. I did also read Lenny Brenner’s book Zionism in the Age of the Dictators but I relied on that less in the book, I relied more on the Nicosia one because this is a historian who is, if not an outright Zionist, he’s certainly sympathetic to Zionism, and he kind of ties himself in knots really apologizing for Zionism sometimes.
But essentially, you know, that aside, the facts that he puts out in the book are like, are just really undeniable, like there is this, and I quote there in some detail in the book where I do just say, Yeah, Ken Livingstone was right. Hitler was supporting Zionism. It is just, it’s a fact like it’s there. And then other people say, Well, you know, maybe you shouldn’t have said it wasn’t very diplomatic. Well, you know, that, okay, if that’s your opinion, fine. But like, that’s not really the point. Like he wasn’t, he was being kicked out of the Labor Party. And in the end, he was basically forced to resign from the Labour Party. He was effectively pushed out of the Labour Party for stating historical fact. I mean, that’s what it comes down to, you know, and he was, is that people accuse him of being weird. John Mann especially said, Oh, you’ve lost it, mate, you’re mental, and you’re, you know, he was using these kinds of mental health slurs in a way really, and questioning his sanity, and almost calling him a Holocaust denier, essentially. Because what he stated was historical fact.
And he was asked about it, he was asked about, he was asked about Hitler, and he was asked about social media posts about that Naz Shah had posted about what Hitler did being legal, quote, unquote, legal. Well, that was, you know, that was then presented as now, Shah, this other Labour MP, that was then misreported in the media as Naz Shah somehow being like a Nazi apologist or something. Well, no, it was a quote from Martin Luther King, where he was saying, Never forget that what Hitler did was legal in the sense that yes, it was it was, you know, they had the reins of power, they changed the laws, they, you know, they made anti-Jewish laws, the Holocaust was perpetrated not by rogue elements, it was perpetrated by the state, you know, and so, Martin Luther King’s point, of course, was that was being carried out, you know, I’m going to jail for standing up for equality for Black people in America. But you know, when there’s an unjust law you have to defy it, and you know, this is what Naz Shah had reposted on her Facebook and it’s been twisted, it was twisted in this kind of really insidious way.
And we see the same thing happening time and time and time again, you know, Ken Loach as well, the filmmaker, the amazing filmmaker who’s done so much. You know, I mean, I say Ken Loach spoke at my, very kindly spoke at my book launch as we’re filming this on Friday after a few days before we’re filming this, and I said, there like, Ken Loach doesn’t need to do this. He’s that, you know, he goes to the Cannes Film Festival all the time, he’s got a career as this massive, you know, filmmaker, you know, I’m sure he’s quite wealthy. He doesn’t need to do this kind of solidarity work that he does. But he always turns up to these things, because he feels it’s the right thing to do.
And in a similar way to Roger Waters, he uses his platform that he has to support people who need support, to support Palestinian rights, to support working class struggles in this country. And the Israel lobby hates that. They hate when they include Palestinians in struggles for equality and human rights and basic decency and basic dignity in the world. And they punish them by these false, maliciously false allegations of anti-Semitism. Same thing’s happened to Ken Loach, you know, there’s currently a Labour, a local mayor, Jamie Driscoll, and he’s kind of vaguely on the left. And, you know, and he, and he’s, to be honest, some of the things you said are not very good. Like he’s supported the IHRA definition of – the false, Israel’s favorite definition of anti-Semitism, and all this kind of stuff. And so he’s gone along with some of what the Israel lobby wants. But nonetheless, he’s still now in the process of being purged from the Labour Party, simply because he sat at an event with Ken Loach who has supported Palestinians.
You know, it’s crazy. And it really is a witch hunt. And, you know, a lot of people warn these people from early on that it doesn’t matter how many kinds – it doesn’t matter how many people you throw under the bus, it, they’re gonna come for you eventually. And that is what was happening. And this is another parallel with kind of The Crucible and the McCarthyist era, is that – and this is something I mention in the book, like, this was one of the things that was done was that one of the, you know, one of the one of the responses, and you see it in Arthur Miller’s play, that people who are accused sometimes because, you know, they were in the case of what the historical events that are depicted in The Crucible, they were facing death.
And so the death penalty, you know, these young women for the, you know, alleged crime of being an alleged witch and all this kind of stuff, sometimes people just got quite cowardly, and they accuse other people of the crime that they were being accused of. And this is what we saw in the Labour Party time and time again, I remember one post by a writer from Novara Media, Ash Sarkar, who you know, is made famous by the “being literally a communist,” supposedly, I remember one really embarrassing tweet thread by her at one point where she was listing her, you know, her past thought crimes of anti-Semitism as a schoolchild. In order to kind of ingratiate herself to this, this kind of pro-Israel tendency and it’s just really embarrassing and disgusting. It never protects them either, because they’re then still accused of anti-Semitism anyway.
Ali Abunimah: Well, one thing we know about the Israel lobby is they will never take yes for an answer. Because none of this is actually about anti-Semitism. They’re not trying to solve the problem they say they’re trying to solve. They’re trying to solve the problem of too many people supporting Palestinian rights. And too many people seeing Israel for the brutal apartheid state that it is and demanding an end to whether it’s British support for Israel or American support for Israel. That’s the problem the Israel lobby wants to solve. So it doesn’t matter how many times you confess to the sin of alleged anti-Semitism.
As long as people are supporting Palestinian rights, they’re gonna keep it going. And you make this point in the book too, Asa, about how there would be times when the crisis would seem to recede or just fade away, and then it would come back in full force. And lo and behold, by coincidence, it would just be, you know, in the months before some important election. So it, which to me really illustrated just how manufactured it was and just how deliberate it was. One thing I’d love to hear you say a little bit about, Asa, is the role of the media. You just mentioned the left wing media, which I’d love you to say more about too, but also just the mainstream UK media, what was their role in this? And what do we – what did we learn from that about the supposedly fiercely independent and you know, feisty British press?
Asa Winstanley: Well, they don’t exist. The British media just really exposed itself as just the most vicious and vindictive propaganda system in existence, really, just the pure subservience to British authoritarianism to state power, to British capitalism. And just, it was, it was quite stunning how uniform it was. There was no support for Jeremy Corbyn whatsoever overall, I mean, there was certain times where they, you know, after there was a bit of an opening after the 2017 election advance, when there was a lot of people posting mea culpas, saying, Well, you know, I was wrong about saying that Jeremy Corbyn could never win an election and all this kind of stuff.
But by and large, it was just vicious and vindictive. And I get into the detail of studies in the book, I get into the detail of the studies that were done showing this, just how uniform it was. It was overwhelming and massive. And the most hostile of all was The Guardian, is this supposedly liberal newspaper, which was the most opposed to Corbyn of all. The BBC was also very bad. I mean, you would expect the right-wing media, of course, to be against him. But there’s the, you know, the supposedly pro-Labour newspapers and the supposedly liberal newspapers. Well, yeah, okay. Two newspapers.
Ali Abunimah: The BBC did that famous Panorama episode, which was I think in 2019.
Asa Winstanley: That’s right.
Ali Abunimah: Yeah. And Panorama is sort of this legendary BBC flagship news program. I think the equivalent would be something like 60 Minutes in the US. And they did this thing on Labour anti-Semitism, where they interviewed all these people, I think it was about eight, who claimed that they were victims of anti-Semitism and they’re sort of giving their personal testimony of how awful things were in the Labour Party. And it was just unbelievable, because the BBC, most of these people, were actual staff members of Israel lobby groups that were fronts for the Israeli embassy, working hand in glove with the Israeli embassy. And they were not identified as such at all by the BBC. Their affiliation was not mentioned at all. One of them, of course, was Ella Rose, who –
Asa Winstanley: She was literally the first person on screen. I mean, I sat down to watch it. And I had to laugh. You know, before they said anything, there was Ella Rose right there. But she wasn’t even identified, they didn’t even give her name, let alone saying that she used to work for the Israeli embassy, and was on the executive committee of the JLM, the pro-Israel Zionist group.
Ali Abunimah: Which is also another front for the Israeli embassy. So she went from a position in the Israeli embassy to being director of the Jewish Labor Movement, which is a lobby group that works very closely with the Israeli embassy. So it was really a horizontal move, you could say, and the BBC didn’t mention any of that.
Asa Winstanley: I mean, it’s been said so often, but you can imagine the response if this was Russia, you know, even before the war in Ukraine, before the all-out, you know, before the invasion of Ukraine last year. Just imagine if it had been someone working for the Russian embassy, who had made a sideways step to a pro-Russian group, you know, within the Labour Party. their response would have been absolute bedlam within the mainstream media, they would have raised hell about it. But because it’s Israel, it was like, Oh, it’s fine. Well, this is not evil. story basically. And yeah, as you said, like the BBC, there weren’t – So yeah, there were all these people who were presented as these kind of brave members of the Labour – brave Jewish…
Ali Abunimah: Whistleblowers.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, brave Jewish youth from the Labour Party, sort of overcoming their fears of anti-Semitism and coming forward to blow the whistle on the Labour Party to the intrepid reporters of the BBC. And it was never once stated that any of these people were on the executive committee, they were the leading activists, most of them weren’t, they weren’t, with the exception of Ella Rose, they weren’t paid staffers, as far as I know. But they were certainly the leading activists and the leaders of the Jewish Labor Movement, which is this pro-Israel organization within the Labour Party, which is essentially a proxy for the Israeli embassy really, which was really Corbyn’s leading enemy, really, throughout his time in the leadership of the Labour Party.
And it was never disclosed, it wasn’t, they didn’t even give their names. It was ridiculous. And everyone, everyone, sort of within the Corbynite movement, the grassroots, everyone recognized a lot of these people. But, you know, by and large people watching at home, in the wider electorate, or just that, you know, that this was on mainstream TV, like you said, I think 60 Minutes is a good comparison, this would be, you know, Panorama is on just after dinner time. It’s an early evening program that people will maybe watch over their, you know, their dinner.
And it’s a mainstream thing in that way. And so it was very deceptive. The effect was very deceptive. And it came at a time, it was only a few months before the general election of 2019. But it was a time when there was a general election expected at any minute. So it was, I mean, you could say it was in an indirect way. It was election interference with the involvement of a group certainly very close to the Israeli embassy that wasn’t even disclosed. The JLM was – I forget if it was mentioned at all, in the documentary, but certainly the role of these JLM activists was not disclosed within the documentary at all. Not their position, not even their names. There was only one of them, who gave her name Izzy Lenga, who actually it turned out had trained, she’s now a Labour Party councillor, and she’s trained in the Israeli army, she actually paid to train in the, in this program where she pays thousands of dollars to train with the Israeli army in this kind of paramilitary organization. Very bizarre. And this is what the Labour Party is now.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: And instead of calling out what had happened on Panorama, for example, instead of, you know, actively and emphatically denouncing this kind of weaponization of anti-Semitism in order to sabotage the Corbyn campaign, what did Corbyn and the people around him decide to do? I mean, what could they have done to save this campaign? And instead, what did they do and how was that a lesson for how the left should respond to this kind of sabotage?
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, I mean, I think this is really the lesson that has to be learned. And, unfortunately, what Corbyn and his team did, far too, more often than not, was to essentially capitulate, like they really embraced the Jewish Labour Movement. They tried to, they made a show of really saying, Oh, look, we don’t have a problem with Jews, we’re close to the JLM. But the left-wing non-Zionist Jews who were Corbyn’s friends who formed this group, Jewish Voice for Labour to support Corbyn and to denounce the weaponized anti-Semitism were persona non grata. But I’ve heard from my sources that, well, Corbyn, it’s a fact that Corbyn never had any public meeting with them during all this time, and I still don’t think he has. And I’ve heard from sources that there was sort of clandestine contacts going on between Corbyn’s people and JVL, Jewish Voice for Labour.
Well, why? Like why? You know, it’s completely insane. I mean, we know why, because the pro-Israel newspapers made them persona non grata. But why does, why would Corbyn and his people have to play according to those rules? You know, it was nonsense, you know, by pandering to Israel and its lobby, as he and his team did, really they only shot themselves in the foot. You know, they were like this – there was a small amount of independent media that was supportive of Jeremy Corbyn, you know, there was us. There was websites like The Skwawkbox. And The Canary, although Canary’s gone in a very different direction these days. But at the time, they were very supportive of Jeremy Corbyn. And Corbyn didn’t give interviews to them. He gave interviews instead to the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, his supposed ally, right? Yes, his supposed ally John McDonnell gave an interview to Jewish News. And yes, Nora, as you say, these are two very right wing newspapers, who are incredibly anti-Palestinian, not just pro-Israel, but really quite racist towards Palestinians.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: And pretend to speak on behalf of all the Jews in the UK. Which is pernicious.
Asa Winstanley: Despite the fact of their tiny circulation, you know, they’ve really kind of irrelevant in this way. But they have this kind of mainstream clout in a way where mainstream journalists, corporate journalists will pick up on the Jewish Chronicle stories, and they – because they were handy to attack Corbyn with. So I’m not saying you should never talk to any media ever that might be hostile, but why the hell would you, you know, make your friends persona non grata while trying to get – while giving exclusive interviews to enemy newspapers?
Nora Barrows-Friedman: That are not going to paint a favorable picture of – and repeat lies –
Asa Winstanley: They had these front pages that said, “not good enough,” and they you know, it was just more bad headlines for him. It didn’t work at all.
Ali Abunimah: What it – what sort of sounds to me, I mean, no mystery here, I’ve said this, too. It was an appeasement strategy – it was the hope that if you throw enough people under the bus, eventually they’ll be satisfied. And they’ll stop calling us anti-Semites and stop being mean to us and let us get on with things, which was just utterly delusional, because that’s not how the Israel lobby works. It’s not how Israel works. Israel’s strategy is always, you know, take whatever concession you get, and then demand more. Never take – never take yes for an answer.
What – how would someone like Jeremy Corbyn, who I personally have a great soft spot for, he’s a nice man. He’s a decent man. I think he’s one of the few very sincere people in politics. But as someone who had been a complete campaigner for Palestinian rights for decades, and presumably had therefore been exposed to the tactics of the Israel lobby, would he not know this? I mean, do you have any insight into why they took this route? And what do you think would have been the alternative? What could have been an alternative that would have won?
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, I mean, those are really big questions. I think. It’s, it’s, it’s difficult to say, because Corbyn is still, I mean, look, I can say that I’ve spoken to people, you know, who were formerly very quite high up within the former Labour leadership, who one of them said, in their words, that they were still – they started to read my book, and they said, they were being triggered by it. And the person who said that was kind of half joking. But not joking. They, it is traumatic, like, what happened was a traumatic experience for a lot of people who, and it wasn’t just people within our – and around the leader, it was also, you know, there were some very serious things I didn’t even get into in the book that happened to people.
You know, there was one case of suicide where it was said that and you know, I haven’t reported on it in detail because I wasn’t able to verify all but it you know, it was, it is understood by a lot of people within the grassroots that the anti-Semitism smears against this particular person were a factor in their suicide. I heard firsthand of a case of alcoholism that was caused by these kinds of false allegations. And so, you know, it’s hard, you know, without a direct interview with Jeremy Corbyn and you know, Jeremy Corbyn if you’re watching this come on The Electronic Intifada Podcast,
Ali Abunimah: Yes, please.
Asa Winstanley: Seriously.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: The door’s open. Yeah.
Asa Winstanley: Well, you know, we want to, you know, we really want to engage in a dialogue about this. So it’s hard to say without that, but what I would say I mean, without, at the end of the day he was the leader. So that’s a fact. And, you know, without taking away from that, what I would say is that two individuals who were responsible for this appeasement strategy, probably more than any other, were John McDonnell, his shadow finance minister, and Jon Lansman, who is someone who previously regarded himself as a Zionist, and who became, he presented himself as this, and I get into it in the book, he presented himself as this kind of legendary, you know, fixer on the Labour Party left and all this kind of stuff, but he caused a massive amount of damage, a huge amount of damage, you know, every single, pretty much every single person who was falsely accused of anti-Semitism he threw under the bus, starting with Jackie Walker, who was supposed to be deputy in the Momentum movement that he was involved in, which was a supposedly pro-Corbyn movement, which has now just gone completely ridiculous. And never, never really stood up for Corbyn when the chips were down, and started with Jackie Walker, you know, he denounced her. Chris Williamson, who really was the only MP to stand up to the smears, you know, including Jeremy Corbyn. Chris Williamson –
Ali Abunimah: He ended up getting expelled from the Labour Party,
Asa Winstanley: He was technically not expelled in the end.
Ali Abunimah: I mean forced out, forced out.
Asa Winstanley: He was forced out, absolutely, he was forced out and then he was suspended and then un-suspended and then re-suspended after winning a court case and so forth, because the Labour Party had illegally suspended him. He was absolutely forced out of the Labour Party. You know, and he was, he was the only MP to openly say, these are smears. These are anti-Semitism smears, you know, he said it in a very mild way at first, you know, he came in, he’d previously been an MP, he became more and more left-wing, he was always a lefty, but he became more and more enthused by the Corbyn movement.
And he came in and he was one of the MPs who came in in the 2017 elections. And, you know, he is that strange thing in the so-called Party of Labour, an actual working class MP who, you know, he was a bricklayer. And he was very open and saying, these are anti-Semitism smears, you know, he said it very mildly at first, he was very, you know, understanding and he said, Look, I’m not saying it never exists, you know, that there can be, you know, such a thing as anti-Semitism – the broad left, especially in a party of nearly 600,000 people, yeah, there could be some cases of it happening on the margins. Of course, that could happen.
But what’s being put out against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters is a smear. Like it’s clear – as someone who’s spent his whole career engaged in anti-racism, including being opposed to genuine cases of anti-Semitism, which is overwhelmingly from the right, from the fascist right, is clearly a smear campaign against him as punishment for his involvement in Palestine solidarity movements. And straight away his card was marked by the Israel lobby, he was visited by the JLM, by activists from the JLM, Jeremy Newmark, who was later involved in this corruption scandal.
Ali Abunimah: He is one of the top Israel lobbyists in the UK.
Asa Winstanley: 100 percent, and he’s now set to be the leader of a council north of London, a Labour leader of council north of London, possibly if there was in the last municipal election, there was no overall control in that particular council between Labour and Conservatives. But Jeremy Newmark was this long term Israel lobbyist, very close to the Israeli embassy, often on visits to Israel. And involved in the anti-boycott movement, which also had the involvement of the Israeli embassy, worked very closely with all these – he was a CEO of particular Israel lobby group, going along with Adam Langleben, who’s still this – who is now the secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, to lobby Chris Williamson, essentially, and saying, Look, we didn’t agree with what you said about this being a smear in your interview with The Guardian.
And you know, when you say something in the future about it, can you run it by us first. So they were trying to sound him out. But he, you know, he basically wasn’t having that and he became, you know, an increasingly strong anti-imperialist, and he, he talked about issues of, you know, against sanctions on Venezuela, things like that, and against the Integrity Initiative, which I didn’t have time to get into in this book, which is really sort of a spooky organization very close to British – it’s kind of a kind of it seems to be a kind of cutout for British spies essentially, which was, you know, involved in working against Jeremy Corbyn and worked, working for war around the world, basically. He asked questions in Parliament about it, which no one else would do. And he campaigned as well in the grassroots of the Labour Party for open selection. So that the Labour Party members could choose the candidates for MP rather than them being all fixed by the bureaucracy, who overwhelmingly put forward right-wing candidates by and large. And so, you know, because of all these things, but mostly because of the fact that he called the anti-Semitism smears “smears,” he was forced out of the Labour Party.
And, yeah, and Corbyn never stood up for him, which is a real shame. And it’s ironic, because the position Chris Williamson was in is now exactly the position Jeremy Corbyn is in, because the way Chris Williamson was forced out of the party was that he was suspended as the Labour Party MP, which meant that he – because he was, he, you know, he was still an MP, because he’d been elected in the general election, but he no longer had the party’s endorsement. So it meant that in the next election, which at the time, as I said, in 2019, was expected at any time due to Brexit negotiations, and all these kinds of complications, and internal elections within the ruling Conservative Party, all this kind of stuff. So essentially, a general election was expected at any time, it meant that Chris Williamson faced a really hard choice of he could stand as an independent in the upcoming general election, without the institutional backing of the UK’s main opposition party, try and win as an insurgent independent or just sort of back down.
And so he just went for broke, and he quit the Labour Party and ran as an independent. And so Corbyn is now facing the exact same thing. He’s still an MP. But he doesn’t have – in the next election, which could come as late as January 2025, although it could come anytime between now and January 2025, Corbyn will not be the Labour Party’s candidate in his local constituency, and as I mentioned in the book, and we haven’t got to yet is the fact that he’s now been purged from within his own party. I think he, if he did choose to stand, he would have a good chance of winning because he has a big profile, he’s still got a lot of popular goodwill in the country. And he’s got a lot of local goodwill as a constituency MP, but the question is, does he have the political will to fight as an independent or as the leader of a new party? I don’t know the answer to that.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: And if he can, you know, gather the will to stand up against these smears, you know, at the get go. And not –
Asa Winstanley: This is the thing, because if he does decide to do that, they’re just gonna re-magnify the smears.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Exactly. I mean, it just –
Asa Winstanley: And his response, according to the pattern that’s gone so far, is going to be “I condemn anti-Semitism.” Well, fine. You know, we all condemn anti-Semitism. You know, who could disagree with that? But the problem is, if that’s your response to a false allegation of anti-Semitism, you’re then giving the impression you do have something to apologize for. And that’s not a winning strategy.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: No, and we’re seeing that repeated – I mean, you just wrote last week, you appeared on an episode of The Katie Halper Show with Roger Waters, who you wrote about last week. The title of your story was “They’re trying to do a Jeremy Corbyn on Roger Waters,” this tactic is being repeated again and again and again, you know, more viciously than ever, because it worked for them. And there wasn’t a strong backlash against these tactics of weaponizing anti-Semitism. Can you talk about how – the political landscape right now, especially as these attacks continue, and you know, Keir Starmer is the leader of the Labour Party, who is just a stalwart for Israel.
Asa Winstanley: Supporter of Zionism without qualification, that’s his words.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: That’s right. That’s his motto. Yeah. What does the landscape look like and how are people fighting back if they are at all?
Asa Winstanley: Well, the landscape is really bleak because this is such a useful political weapon. Like, people who have read my book have said, like you, Ali and Nora, that, you know, they really enjoyed it. And it’s a true crime thriller. That’s, that is what I was going for, you know, I’m going for this kind of style of writing, I’m trying to make it engaging. And I’m glad to hear that I was successful in that.
But people have also said that they found it hard to read at times, because it is the, the truth isn’t very pretty, you know, this is what is happening. And this is – this weapon, and is a good title, the book title is a good one, which, you know, my, my publisher Colin came up with, and it does encapsulate a lot of what is happening now, because it’s such a useful weapon for the Israel lobby. And it’s, it’s such a useful weapon for the right in general, for everyone from the right wing of the Labour Party to the Conservative Party, to even the fascist right. The fascist right, nowadays, which overwhelmingly supports Israel. And historically, as you know, as you mentioned, Ali, as I get into in detail in chapter five of the book, Hitler’s Nazis were supporting the Zionist movement, in the – German Zionist movement in the 1930s, as a way to remove German Jews from Germany to become, forcibly to become settlers in Palestine. And so, you know, I’ve heard – I’ve heard stories of, of anti-fascists, who, you know, demonstrating against British fascists and there’s, at the moment, there’s a lot of media scare stories about refugees.
And you get these small fascist groups like demonstrating against hotels that are putting up refugees who have crossed the so-called English Channel from, from France. And when you get counter-demonstrations, anti-fascists demonstrating against the fascists, the fascists will say, you lot are anti-Semitic, Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite, you’re Jew haters. So everyone from the fascist right to the Labour Party right is using this false, weaponized anti-Semitism as a really useful political weapon against the left in general, you know, and this is a weapon that the Israel lobby has given the right, given the right around the world, and it’s such a useful weapon that it won’t ever be abandoned.
This idea that we can like sweep it under the carpet and that we can just, as John McDonnell infamously said, Oh, we can cut the Gordian knot, and we can endorse the IHRA definition and everything will be fine and we’ll move on from this, and I had people on Twitter, like telling me over and over again, oh, we just have to forget this and move on. They won’t let us forget it. It’s going to be used over and over again, it can’t be swept under the rug, it will never go away. It can only be defeated. Defeated.
Ali Abunimah: That’s the crucial point. How do you defeat it? And I think what I mean, one of the lessons I take from this story, which by the way, is ongoing, it’s you know, you could say that it’s, it’s, it’s peaked in a sense because the Israel lobby succeeded in getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn. And it is quite a tragic story for him personally. Because now he is, he went from being not just the leader of the Labour Party, but the leader of an historic mass movement that energized politics in the UK and in Europe and potentially, with global implications in a way we hadn’t seen in many, many decades, to being now this marginal figure who has been exiled from his party who, you know, may or may not retain his seat as an independent but even if he does, is unlikely ever again to be in the position he was a few years ago.
Asa Winstanley: And his allies are being purged one by one. Dianne Abbot is no longer –
Ali Abunimah: But to me, I do see, and maybe I want to look for a silver lining. So you know, you can knock me down if you think I’m being too, too naive. But I do see people fighting back now. Maybe maybe not as much as you’d want in the UK, but in the US, I think there was an effort to import the tactics that were used against Jeremy Corbyn wholesale.
I think we saw this in 2020 – It was during one of the election cycles in the US, of course, the US has election cycles every two years. But there was an effort to do a Jeremy Corbyn on certain members of the Democratic Party, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and it gained a little traction, but it did not – it sort of flamed out. And I think that there was a lot more pushback to it in the United States than even I expected. And, you know, I think about this – one fact I learned in your book that may be significant, that maybe explains this difference to some extent, is that in the UK, of course, there have always been British Jewish people at the forefront of the labor movement, the trade union movement, the anti-fascist movement, the socialist movement. But according to surveys, by and large, the vast majority of the British Jewish community vote Conservative. Whereas in the United States, the vast majority of the Jewish community vote Democrat and generally would identify as being much more liberal.
So the climate, I think, in the US was very different in that there was a much bigger push back to the weaponization of anti-Semitism. Of course, it’s still going on, particularly on college campuses, and Nora is reporting on that all the time on The Electronic Intifada, the relentless – and I just wrote about the Biden administration’s new plan, which seems to endorse this approach of accusing students who campaign for Palestinian rights of anti-Semitism. But that said, I don’t think it got the same political purchase in the United States, as it did in the UK. And maybe that’s something hopeful, I don’t know. We also saw in last year’s elections in France, there was another attempt to Corbynize, let’s call it – is that a verb? Can I use the term? To Corbynize Jean-Luc Melenchon, the, the head of the left-wing movement in France and Melenchon is kind of sort of a Corbyn-like figure but much more of a fighter.
And there was a strong attempt to paint the French left, both in the presidential elections and in the parliamentary elections as being anti-Semitic because members, specifically because members have supported Palestinian rights, they made no bones about that. And Melenchon came very close to, you know, in the first round of the presidential election, he was in the top three, I mean, he was only, you know, the top three candidates, and this includes Macron, were all sort of in the 19, 20, 22 percent range or something like that. Only the top two go through to the second round. So that was an impressive performance. And in the parliamentary elections, the French left did very well, and they denied Macron an overall parliamentary majority. So I haven’t studied the French elections that closely, but I’m just saying that at a very superficial level, these same tactics have not necessarily translated to other countries.
And I think we also see people pushing back against the IHRA definition in a way that is also, I think, very significant, because the whole point of the IHRA definition and the way it has been marketed and pushed by Israel in the lobby, is to say, Oh, this is the international standard. There’s no debate about it. Everybody accepts this definition. You know, these governments have accepted it, these prestigious institutions and universities have accepted it. The idea was just to sort of steamroll it across with no debate, and by the force of just presenting it as this very respectable institutional thing that nobody disputes, to impose it. And, of course, as we’ve reported, many times, the IHRA definition is all about equating criticism of Israel and Zionism with anti-Jewish bigotry. But that did not work, in the sense that the IHRA definition has failed because it’s controversial. That’s my view.
It’s failed – the only way it would have been really successful is by being non-controversial. Like, I don’t know, the, you know, everyone agrees what a kilometer or a mile is. It’s a certain number of meters, it’s a certain number of yards. We don’t don’t debate what the real length of a mile is. I don’t know. Now I’m gonna find out in the comments.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: “Well, actually,” yeah.
Ali Abunimah: You see what I’m saying? Yes, yeah. So maybe – So I do think there are important lessons in your book that go far beyond British politics. What’s happening in Britain is an important story in itself. But I think it has far broader relevance. And for me, the key lesson is, as you put it, Asa, these things have to be confronted and defeated. And the way to confront them is with solidarity. If Jeremy Corbyn had rallied the mass movement that had propelled him to the leadership of the Labour Party and said, Look, we are an anti-racist party. We oppose all forms of bigotry and racism, whether it’s against Black people, or Jewish people, or Muslims, or Asian people. Whatever it is, we stand with them against racism.
But this is a smear campaign that is about attacking us for standing with the Palestinian people. And we must confront it, and we must – and if he’d done that, and rallied people, I think he would have won. I mean, that maybe that’s me being naive, but you have to fight. You can’t just, uh, you can’t appease – this lobby is unappeasable, you have to fight. You may lose. You may fight and lose. But if you don’t fight, you’re definitely going to lose.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah. I mean, I think we have to give Corbyn some credit, you know, like you said, Ali, like I – I like the guy. You know, I know, I’ve spoken with him at events in the past, but I actually forgot about it. But you know, these Integrity Initiative spooky Twitter people bought it – during the whole anti-Semitism smear campaign they posted on Twitter, Oh, exclusive: Jeremy Corbyn sat with Asa Winstanley from Electronic Intifada at a Palestine solidarity conference a decade ago. And I was like, oh, yeah, I didn’t know, I forgot.
And the reason for that was because he was never a glory hunter. He was always like, he would chair the session and take notes, do you know what I mean? He was doing real work. And so yeah, you know, I still like the guy very much. I think that he must have gone through some really hard times personally, I know the media were on his doorstep, constantly harassing him in a way they don’t do to other political leaders. And, you know, it must have been very personally hurtful for him to be called an anti-Semite. And I think he listened to really bad advice from some people who were really badly mistaken. He did – There were times when he did stand up to the anti-Semitism smears.
You know, there was – I mention a couple of them in my book, you know, there was in 2018, where Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted about what an anti-Semite he was, and Corbyn did come back with a tweet that said, what Benjamin Netanyahu is saying about me is completely untrue. But what should be condemned is the Israeli government gunning down all these Palestinian unarmed demonstrators on the boundary line with Gaza.
So that was quite good. And then, you know, he did try and put up a fight against the IHRA document internally within the Labour Party, unfortunately, had no one inside the Labour Party to support him to do that. And even his own people seem to go along with it, especially his so-called ally, John McDonnell, who really kind of threw him under the bus over that issue. So yeah, there were those kinds of instances. But we would have, unfortunately, those were the minority of cases, and there should have been a lot more of that; that should have been the norm, rather than exceptions on the issue.
Where Corbyn’s political instincts are quite often, more often than not, right, and you can not say that about politicians in general, it’s usually the other way around. Politicians’ instincts are generally wrong, and Corbyn’s instincts are quite often right. And when he stuck to his guns, he won on things, so on other issues, he did fight a lot more like, and I’ve said this on other podcasts – in the 2017 election campaign, during the course of the election campaign, there was the horrific Manchester bombing, which, you know, this bombing of an Ariana Grande pop concert. And, you know, a lot of people supposedly on the left were like, oh, Jeremy Corbyn, he’s gonna have to back down with the anti-war stuff now. He’s gonna have to just condemn the terrorists and just leave it at that. Well, he didn’t. To his credit, he didn’t do that. You know, he came, he stuck to the traditional anti-war argument, which is, yes, of course, the bombers are the ones responsible for the atrocity.
He didn’t get into the culpability of the British security services, which is, you know, maybe another topic for another time. But nonetheless, in terms of, you know, the bomber and his involvement in the war in Libya, but he stated the sort of simple anti-war line, which is, yes, the bombers are responsible for the atrocity. But also, British foreign policy of invading other countries and illegal wars has a major contributing factor in these things taking place. And he did that quite openly, quite loudly. And it was massively popular. You know, it was very, very popular within the general electorate. And it only increased his polling.
And so like you said Ali, that – if he’d stuck by his guns, rallied the troops and said, This is an – this is a smear campaign, it’s not real anti-Semitism, it’s a smear campaign. If he’d done that, he might not have won, it might not have worked, but at least he would have made a stand and it would have set up a basis for the future. You know, and that, that is the only possible way to win is to fight.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Asa, your book is remarkable. We wanted to close out by just talking about the role that – I mean, your reporting over the last eight years on this issue could not have been possible without The Electronic Intifada, you know, and independent media, who was willing to take on this story and give a platform to those who were calling out the weaponization of anti-Jewish bigotry in order to sabotage the Corbyn campaign and smear the left as a whole. You talked about the role of the establishment media taking their cue from right wing, you know, rags like the Jewish Chronicle, for example. What about the role of independent media and you know, your work on EI in particular, was able to make the story even possible to publish?
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, so the hardest part of this book was getting it published. And still now OR Books is not a British publisher, you know, they have a, they have a kind of transatlantic footprint in a way, but they’re a New York publisher, and all credit to them for publishing it. But, you know, the fact that not even the British left wing press would publish this book, and I did approach them all, it just goes to show really, how successful this anti-Semitism smear campaign was, I think. That’s number one.
Getting published was difficult. But writing it wasn’t that hard. You know, it didn’t take me long to actually write the first draft at all. And the reason for that is because I’d already done the reporting, the essential reporting for The Electronic Intifada, and that was only possible because we are completely independent, and we are supported by our readers. You know, we don’t have any state or corporate donors, we’re completely independent. And we’re completely free to report these issues without censorship, except for the general internet tech censorship. But in terms of our editorial and financial agenda, we have no, you know, censorship that the mainstream media has in that way.
And so, you know – and that is exactly why we are, you know, censored by the tech giants as all the other independent media is. And so yes, this book is a real example of independent media, the funding of independent media being important because I was only able to follow this story for seven, eight years now and report on it in such detail, because I was able to do so professionally for The Electronic Intifada. And without the support of our readers and donors, that would have been impossible. So this book, in a very real sense, only exists because people are willing to, you know, put their hands in their pockets and support independent journalism. And that’s, you know, that’s really important.
Ali Abunimah: Well, it is – it has been really amazing, Asa, to see the impact that your reporting has had, I can say that your stories following this fake anti-Semitism crisis have consistently been some of our most-read stories over the years. And I think that’s not just because they were brilliantly written and investigated and, and fairly well-edited, I should give myself a pat on the back –
Asa Winstanley: You should, absolutely –
Ali Abunimah: It was, it was always a pleasure. It was always a feeling of excitement that we were doing something that had to be done and that really nobody else was doing. You mentioned some other publications and credit to them. But I really don’t think anyone else, whether as a journalist, meaning you, or as a publication, followed this story in the depth and the consistency that you did. And that’s why I think – that’s a large part of why these stories were always so widely circulated and would go viral, because there was a need that nobody else was willing to fill, not The Guardian, not the BBC, not The Times not, not, you know, not the London Review of Books. Nobody was willing to do it. And yeah, I think it’s –
Asa Winstanley: People wanted to sweep it under the carpet. And I just sort of couldn’t let that happen, really. And I just felt like it was my duty to do it. And I keep saying like, okay, especially with the book published now, I’m done. Like, that’s it, I’ve literally written the book on it, but the story isn’t over, I could probably do a volume two, really like – So, buy the book, if it’s successful enough, I’ll do a volume two. Because unfortunately –
Nora Barrows-Friedman: It sounds like a threat –
Ali Abunimah: I really hope people will buy the book, Asa. And I hope they will not just buy it for themselves, but it’s a fantastic gift to give.
Asa Winstanley: People have been telling me they’ve ordered it for their local libraries. Which is nice to hear.
Ali Abunimah: And that’s the other thing, what I want to say is people can, you know, urge their local libraries, not just in the UK, but in the US, you can request your local library to get it or if you’re in university, you can request your university or college library to get it. And this story needs to be told. And you’ve told it so well, Asa, and we’re so proud. And it’s exciting to see it picking up steam. And it’s been – it is, it has been and continues to be a great pleasure to work with you on this story and others. And you use the word to say that it can be – you look at the political landscape, and it can be bleak.
But I find a lot of hope in seeing the reaction to your book and seeing people starting to talk about these things again, as they should be talked about. And honestly, we have a good time doing this work because it’s important work. And I think these stories need to be told. So congratulations, Asa. It’s really – I’m very proud to work with you and to see this book finally take physical form. I don’t have my copy yet, it’s on its way. But I’ve just finished reading the e-book. And I can’t wait to get my hands on the copy as well.
Asa Winstanley: Great. Well, thank you very much. And as I say, in the acknowledgements Ali, I don’t think I could have done this book without, well I know I couldn’t have done this without all my EI colleagues and specifically without you, because you – there was several key points where I was kind of getting really fatigued and thinking I’m sick of this. I don’t want to write about this. And, you know, and maybe questioning it. And you sort of said no, look – like, this is all about Israel. And I was like yeah it is.
So that was really important, I think. No seriously because you have – you have the outside perspective. Because like this, this is why, you know, obviously, I live in London, I live in the UK and I’m affected by this political – terrible political environment in this country. But the outside perspective of, you know, a US-based organization like EI was so important because you were able to say, look, this is obviously rubbish and, you know, stick with it, keep going with it. And that was just so important, you know. So thank you.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Well done Asa, so proud. And of course –
Ali Abunimah: We all get a pat on the back.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: That’s right. And we’ll, of course, have all the info on how you can pick up a copy of this fantastic book by our colleague on the podcast post that accompanies this episode. Ali, Asa. Thank you, and till next time.