Notes from the front of 2-11-16
The attack on Corbyn is about Palestine not anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism is deeply reactionary, and in an extreme barbaric form was the cutting edge of Nazi ideology, that underpinned the Holocaust. Where ever it exists it should be opposed.
However, the claims that the Labour Party is seriously infected with anti-Semitism and that Shami Chakrabarti’s report covered this up are part of an on-going campaign to smear Jeremy Corbyn and oust him as leader.
Corbyn is a longstanding opponent of anti-Semitism who does not condone or encourage anti-Semitic behaviour.
The key issue is that Corbyn supports the Palestinians
Corbyn’s abhorence of anti-Semitism is widely recognised, but despite this there is a sustained propaganda offensive attempting to link his politics to anti-Semitism.
The fundamental issue driving these attacks is opposition to Corbyn’s solidarity with the Palestinians. Imperialism demands from any Labour leader that they back Israel and offer no meaningful support to the Palestinians. When Ed Miliband was leader Labour was attacked because it criticised Israel’s military attack on Gaza and supported the House of Commons motion backing the recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Corbyn is under greater assault because he has spent years actively campaigning for Palestinian human rights and engaged with the movements that resist Israeli aggression and occupation. As it is assumed Corbyn will not water down his support for the Palestinians the main objective of this offensive is to oust him.
Israel is a colonial settler state that maintains its rule over the Palestinians through brute force. It terrorises the population in Gaza with its military incursions and continues to seize land from its inhabitants in the West Bank. In May this year it assembled its most right wing government ever.
As a result Israel has been losing international support. To stem this increasing isolation, Israel wants to silence its critics and is waging an international campaign that opposition to Israel and Zionism should be classified under the term anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is reactionary
Anti-Semitism is the hatred or discrimination against Jewish people on the basis of their religion of ethnic identity.
Anti-Zionism is an entirely different concept. It is opposition to the political doctrine of Zionism. Anti-Zionist opinions are held by Jewish people and non-Jewish people alike, as is also the case with support for Zionism.
In Europe the campaign to get governments to back a definition of anti-Semitism that conflates it with opposition to Israel or Zionism has run into problems, suffering a reversal after some initial success. In 2005 the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) published what it called a ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism on its website. This definition included issues that relate to opposition to Israel. The proposal was however contested and never became an official EU position for member states to adopt. The definition was not adopted by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the body that replaced the EMUC in 2007.
In 2014 the coalition government in Britain indicated it did not accept the EUMC ‘working definition’. However the Tory government formed in 2015 apprears to be considering adopting the definition.
The Home Affairs Select Committee
The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) published its report on anti-Semitism on 16 October. The Select Committee is dominated by Tories and Labour opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, who used their inquiry and report to focus attacks on the Labour leadership.
The committee made a series of unfounded attacks on Corbyn, Shami Chakrabarti and the Labour Party. The HASC claimed Corbyn’s election as leader has led to an out break of anti-Semitism within Labour and that he is responsible for creating ‘a “safe space” for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people’. It attacked Chakrabati’s report, claiming it failed to ‘suggest effective ways of dealing with anti-Semitism’ and it suggested that her report was unduly influenced by her subsequent nomination for a peerage.
The HASC also proposed the government and law enforcement agencies formally adopt a modified form of the EUMC ‘working definition’ to determine what should officially be considered as anti-Semitism.
The attacks on Shami Chakrabarti
In June this year Shami Chakrabarti published the report of her inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour party. At the time some on the left drew attention to useful points made in the report. However the report also makes some problematic proposals. It advocates restricting Labour members’ rights to hold and express opinions that are deemed ‘out-with the Labour Party’s aims and values’. Such a vaguely defined proscription of beliefs would be open to widespread interpretation, and in Labour’s current internal struggle is more likely to be used against the supporters of Corbyn than anyone else. Curtailing within Labour the freedoms of thought and expression, which in wider society are protected under the Human Rights Act, is not an effective way to combat anti-Semitism, but it would facilitate a purge of the left.
Since Chakrabarti accepted a seat in the House of Lords her report has come under fierce attack from the right. It is suggested her report is a whitewash, produced in exchange for a peerage. These attacks on Chakrabarti are part of the campaign to oust Corbyn. They divert attention from tackling real problems of anti-Semitism that do exist in society. These prejudices will exist within Labour and should be fought against there, but there is no evidence they are more prevalent within Labour than elsewhere. On the contrary it is the far right that is associated with most anti-Semitic abuse that is reported.
The left should defend Corbyn’s support of the Palestinians and refute the false charges of anti-Semitism being made. It should oppose the expulsion of Labour members who are accused of anti-Semitism for putting forward their views on Israel and Zionism, but expressed their views in a non-racist manner.
Labour’s membership has a good grasp of what is driving this offensive. In May when Labour members were polled about this issue by YouGov, a majority considered the press and Corbyn’s opponents were using the issue of Labour and anti-Semitism to attack the leader. 49 per cent of members thought the party does not have problem with anti-Semitism and that it has been created by the press and Corbyn’s opponents to attack him. Whilst a further 35 per cent thought the party does have a problem with anti-Semitism, but it is used by the press and Corbyn’s opponents to attack him.
The right-wing is calling for action to be taken against Labour members expressing opposition to Israel and Zionism. When any action is instigated then the right-wing just demands more. Making concessions in this fight does not stop the offensive, but fuels it and undermines the Labour leadership’s position. The adage, ‘give them a finger and they’ll take the whole hand’, reflects the approach of Corbyn’s opponents in this struggle. That is because the overall goal of this offensive is not to gain one concession or another from the left but to oust a Labour leader who supports the Palestinians.