For almost three years now, the Labour Party has faced a consistent barrage of allegations that it has a “problem with anti-Semitism.”
This mendacious campaign has had the same aim all along – to topple Jeremy Corbyn.
This week it reached a crescendo, as the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council unleashed an unprecedented personal attack on Corbyn.
Jonathan Goldstein claimed on the BBC’s Today program that Corbyn is “the figurehead of an anti-Semitic political culture.” Yet again, grave assertions of anti-Semitism against a man with a long, proud history of fighting racism were made with no evidence presented.
This campaign of lies has proceeded in the same fashion all along.
When former Israel lobby intern Alex Chalmers in February 2016 claimed “a large proportion” of the student Labour club “and the student left in Oxford more generally” had a “problem” with Jews, almost the entire conservative and liberal press parroted his claims without even the most cursory checks.
And yet it was a lie deliberately calculated to cause maximum damage to the party.
Chalmers and his co-conspirator – who were part of the far-right corporate Progress faction – ultimately defected to the Liberal Democrats.
But as far as I can tell, I was the only reporter to cover these highly relevant facts. The press didn’t care about the truth – the point was that the damage to Corbyn was done.
Don’t be fooled by the latest stories about the problematic “Rothschilds” mural.
Yes it was a mistake for Corbyn to defend the mural in a comment on Facebook six years ago – even if his comment was not anti-Semitic.
But this is not news, it is a pretext for another coup attempt.
The Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who organized the right-wing demonstration against Corbyn outside Parliament in London on Monday, don’t care about anti-Semitism – they care about defending Israel at all costs.
If as the Board of Deputies claims, the demonstration was really against anti-Semitism, then why did its attendees use anti-Semitic abuse against left-wing Jews who held a counter-protest in support of Corbyn?
Ben Southern-Thomas, a young Jewish Voice for Labour member, told me he “came away crying” after anti-Semitic abuse from two attendees of the Board of Deputies demonstration. He said they told him he was “not a real Jew” and was just “pretending to be a Jew.”
Being Jewish is “a really important part of my identity,” Southern-Thomas said. He also said his cousin was told to “Go back to the ghetto.”
This kind of abuse targeting non-Zionist Jews is all too common. Another frequent epithet used by Israel supporters is to call Jews who support Palestinian rights “kapos” – a word describing Jews who collaborated with the Nazis – or saying that Hitler should have killed them.
Far from being a demonstration by the “Jewish community” as front pages claimed, it was packed with Conservatives, and their right-wing colleagues from the Labour backbenches.
A cursory glance at the relevant Twitter hashtag shows the demonstration was led by Tory party activists and attended by right-wing bigots.
Among the leading Conservative Party participants were local government minister Sajid Javid, one of his predecessors Eric Pickles, and Zac Goldsmith, who in 2016 led a campaign for London mayor which was so openly racist that even some Tories found it hard to stomach.
Other hard-right grandees showing their disingenuous concern over anti-Semitism included Ian Paisley Jr., of Northern Ireland’s notoriously anti-Catholic Democratic Unionist Party, and Norman Tebbit, one of Margaret Thatcher’s most loyal ministers with a long history of xenophobia and racial stereotyping.
Leading figures in the Trump White House have included a sworn member of a Hungarian group which was allied to Hitler and a man who reportedly didn’t want his children going to school with “whiny brat” Jews.
The only defense offered for these people has been that they couldn’t possibly be anti-Semitic because they support Israel.
But for far too many on the left, the only response to this lying campaign to smear Labour and Corbyn has been appeasement. And this inaction goes to the very top.
Time and again, Corbyn has refused to speak out in support of comrades – primarily Jewish non-Zionists – who have been booted from the party by the right-wing bureaucracy on bogus pretexts.
And he has even rolled back his previous support for BDS.
The purge has targeted Corbyn supporters and Palestine activists as “anti-Semites.”
Frenzied witch hunt
Instead of openly confronting what one prominent leftist has described as a “frenzied witch hunt,” the leadership’s response has been ostrich-like.
Activists are told to hold their peace, do nothing and it will all blow over. Or they are privately told to work quietly behind the scenes to clear their names of the grave accusation of anti-Semitism – even in cases where it is completely fabricated.
Instead of calling the fraudulent “Labour anti-Semitism” story what it really is, Corbyn has for three years attempted to appease Israel lobby groups as if the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement and the Jewish Leadership Council were genuine anti-racists.
They are not.
Joan Ryan, a member of Parliament who heads the lobby group Labour Friends of Israel, was even caught red-handed last year fabricating charges of anti-Semitism against a party member who questioned Israel’s policy of colonizing occupied Palestinian land.
Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, a group critical of the witch hunt, writes that he was reinstated only after “a chorus of angry voices, letters to the disputes committee, motions passed through party branches, support from senior members of the party [and] a statement signed by 100 plus.”
He was given no explanation and “no apology for the defamatory allegation” of anti-Semitism against him that led him to be suspended by the party bureaucracy earlier this month.
Others were at least given a pretext.
They cannot be appeased
Time and time again, prominent figures on the left have made concessions, and thrown former comrades under the bus.
Black anti-racist activist Marc Wadsworth was smeared by right-wing Labour lawmaker Ruth Smeeth, a former Israel lobbyist who issued a press release attributing to him a fake quote portraying him as an anti-Semite.
Too many on the left seem to think: if we throw them a bone by sacrificing a few token “extremists,” the anti-Semitism story will die down and we can move on to the real business of electing a Labour government.
But years later, Labour is still being beaten with the same stick.
Any close observer of Israel and its lobby groups knows this: they cannot be appeased.
For instance, after years of hesitation, European Union officials limited themselves to the timid step of merely requiring labeling of goods from Israeli settlements – rather than banning them outright. But for Israeli officials, EU leaders were still no different from Nazis.
The message time and again is that Israel and its lobby groups cannot be satisfied except through total capitulation. They want Corbyn to go.
Nonetheless, there are some encouraging signs.
Jewish Voice for Labour – a group less than a year old – is cutting through to mainstream media.
Graham Bash, a member of the group, told BBC television that in his experience, the Labour Party has always been a “safe haven” from anti-Semitism. He said that just once in his 50 years as a party member had he witnessed any incident of anti-Semitism.
Labour has a new general secretary Jennie Formby. She is a left-winger, a supporter of Palestinian human rights and a veteran trade unionist. Because of these three things she has, of course, been falsely attacked as an anti-Semite.
But unlike the Labour leadership, her union, Unite, strongly refuted the Israel lobby attack on her as “a lie motivated by hostility to anyone who supports the struggle of the Palestinian people for justice.”
Unite condemned “smears [which] have no place in Labour’s democracy or political culture.”
The resurrection of the smear against Formby appeared timed deliberately to foil her election as general secretary. But because Unite stood up to it, it failed.
Unite’s leader Len McCluskey last year correctly dismissed the campaign as “mood music that was created by people who were trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.”
Chris Williamson, a left-wing Labour MP re-elected last year, has also condemned “lies and dirty tricks” around the “anti-Semitism smears.”
“Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponization of anti-Semitism for political ends,” he told The Guardian last year.
Since then, Israel lobby groups have been gunning for him.
On Monday, Board of Deputies leader Jonathan Arkush demanded Corbyn discipline Williamson and McCluskey, and expel Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone, as preconditions to meet with Corbyn – who in another effort at appeasement invited them into the leader’s office.
As I wrote two years ago – the “anti-Semitism” witch hunt – whose real target is Corbyn and anyone else who supports Palestinian rights – will not end until it is either victorious or defeated.
It’s time for the whole left to finally step up to this task.
Editor’s note: This article initially stated that “Go back to the ghetto” was directed at Ben Southern-Thomas. In fact it was directed as his cousin. This has been corrected in the text.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.
- Jewish Voice for Labour
- Jeremy Corbyn
- Labour Party
- Jewish Leadership Council
- Board of Deputies of British Jews
- Jonathan Goldstein
- Alex Chalmers
- Progress (UK Labour faction)
- Ben Southern-Thomas
- Conservative Party
- Sajid Javid
- Eric Pickles
- Zac Goldsmith
- Ian Paisley Jr.
- Norman Tebbit
- Democratic Unionist Party
- Jonathan Arkush
- Donald Trump
- Sebastian Gorka
- Steve Bannon
- Labour witch hunt
- Jon Lansman
- Joan Ryan
- Labour Friends of Israel
- Jewish Labour Movement
- Glyn Secker
- Moshe Machover
- Ken Livingstone
- Jackie Walker
- Tony Greenstein
- Marc Wadsworth
- Ruth Smeeth
- Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
- European Union
- Graham Bash
- Unite (UK union)
- Len McCluskey
- Jennie Formby
- Chris Williamson
- Israel Lobby