A cynical campaign is in full swing to destabilise the Labour leadership on the verge of the London Mayoral, local and regional elections, and in particular to undermine its new left-wing leadership under Jeremy Corbyn and the growing influence of left-wing socialism amongst the rapidly expanding party membership.
The campaign centres on allegations of widespread antisemitism in the party, allegations which are as exaggerated as they are self serving. Make no mistake, this is a campaign by Labour’s right wing which is clever, carefully orchestrated and utterly unprincipled.
They do not care how much damage this does to Labour in the upcoming elections. Nor do they care that this rescues the Tories who are in deep trouble over Europe, the junior doctors’ strike, and the major planks of their legislation. They will blame all setbacks on Corbyn.
Already they have claimed one notable pro-Corbyn scalp in the suspension of Ken Livingstone. They will be emboldened by this and press forward unless they are met by a clear and principled counter-offensive, one which turns the table on their double standards and hypocrisy and commits the party to fighting racism in all its forms: not just antisemitism, but official Islamophobia and the party’s shameful record of supporting racist atrocities conducted by Britain’s allies abroad, not least the state of Israel itself.
Does Labour have an antisemitism problem?
As has been detailed elsewhere, the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party are neither numerous nor especially recent and all have been dealt with through swift disciplinary action.
The most notable case is Naz Shah MP – who was not a Corbyn supporter and voted for Yvette Cooper – who at the height of Israel’s 2014 attack on the people of Gaza shared a Facebook post which implied that the conflict in Palestine could be solved if its Jewish population were deported to the United States. Whether she realised it or not, this was antisemitic and she has rightly apologised for it and has been suspended from the Labour Party. Ken Livingstone’s ham fisted attempts to explain her actions did nothing to help; his statement that antisemitism is not the same as other forms of racism was wrong.
Nevertheless, the right wing moved in for the kill. Anti-Corbyn thug John Mann MP physically squared up to Livingstone and shouted in his face, accusing him, scandalously of being a “Nazi apologist”. Livingstone said nothing of the sort. Corbyn responded by suspending Livingstone and ordering an investigation.
Contrast this with the treatment of Boris Johnson who directly accused President Obama of being unsympathetic to Britain because of his “half Kenyan” background. Where were the calls for an investigation, where were the calls for suspension, when did John Mann square up to Johnson and call him a supporter of Britain’s mass murder in Kenya? The double standards are breathtaking and will not be lost on party members.
What are the right wing trying to do? In fact there are two camps in the Labour right: the extreme Blairites and discontents who would rather lose elections and split the party than allow Corbyn to settle in, and the mainstream right who want to win the London Mayoral elections and through Sadiq Khan create a powerful alternative focus to Corbyn.
Clearly the Progress clique and all those in the first camp like John Mann have orchestrated a provocation designed to bring matters to a head before the May 5 elections and to damage Labour’s otherwise good prospects of a big win over the Islamophobic multi-millionaire Zac Goldsmith. But now the offensive has begun, the moderate right have seized their chance and jumped on the bandwagon with Andy Burnham criticising Corbyn for not acting quickly enough and seeking to maximise the damage.
The Jews as a people have been subjected to vicious racism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party are not numerous given the size of the party, they must all be dealt with seriously. Nevertheless it is clear that among the genuine concerns a number of tendentious claims have been made in a self-serving campaign that undermines the seriousness of the issue. It is no surprise that Jewish socialists have accused the right wing of weaponising antisemitism in their struggle against Corbyn.
What antisemitism decidedly is not is criticism of the state of Israel, criticism of its brutal mistreatment of the Palestinians, criticism of its racist laws, or criticism of its founding ideology of Zionism. And it is here that a deliberate attempt is being made to confuse the issues, to intimidate and silence critics of Zionism in the labour movement.
The Zionist ideology and project asserts the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in Palestine, the state that was founded in 1948 through systematic violence and discrimination against the Palestinian Arab population. It was only possible to create a state that had a majority of Jewish people on its territory through driving large numbers of the Arab population off the land, and many of them live in refugee camps across the border today. This is reinforced by racist laws like the so-called ‘Law of Return” which entitles any Jewish person anywhere in the world to declare themselves a citizen of Israel, but denies that right to Palestinian refugees.
It is therefore not antisemitism to challenge Israel’s founding principles and ideology, it is just consistent anti-racism. While no one can object to the idea of a state for Israel’s Jewish population in principle, it is not racist to oppose the right of Israel to have founded itself as a Jewish state by denying the rights of Palestinians and building anti-Palestinian racism into its foundations.
Israel was founded on a territory that had a majority non-Jewish population. It created a majority Jewish population by violence and discrimination and it has maintained it by violence and discrimination. It has no right to do so, and just like any other people, Jewish-Israelis have no right to a state on these racist foundations. To say that on these terms Israel has no right to exist is not to say that Jews have no right to live in Palestine, it is simply consistent anti-racism. Nor is it to single out Jewish people, because no people should be allowed to create a majority by force and declare a state to be theirs. A democratic state for all the population of Palestine, Jewish and Arab, is therefore the only progressive and anti-racist solution.
Socialists and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn must uphold the clearest possible distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The first is a form of racism, the second is a challenge to it.
But it is in the interests of antisemites and Zionists to systematically confuse these two phenomena. Antisemites do this so that they can direct anger at Israel’s policies against Jewish people as a whole, a classic tactic of racists. Zionists do it so that they can construe all criticism of their project and crimes as being antisemitic and therefore impermissible. They both do it to silence challenges to racism.
In all this furore, it is instructive that no one mentions the Palestinians. Stateless, defenceless, and tens of thousands homeless, imprisoned in refugee camps and hell holes like the Gaza strip, subject to systematic abuses on a daily basis, whether inside Israel or under its occupation, the plight of the Palestinians goes unnoticed and unremarked upon by the brave “antiracist” champions of the Labour right.
In addition to destabilising Corbyn, the current right wing campaign serves a secondary purpose of greater long term significance to the British state and its Israeli ally. By deliberately equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism, and by subjecting party members to a frightening media witch hunt, they aim to weaken support for the Palestinians and to make every party member afraid to criticise Israel.
This has been a pressing objective of the Labour right and the establishment they serve, ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected, because in Corbyn we have for the first time a Labour leader who has campaigned in support of the Palestinians and against the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
For all these reasons the interventions of Jewish socialists against this campaign have been brave and welcome. Their letter in the Guardian, and the crystal clear statement from the Jewish Socialists’ Group are invaluable. We hope that the voice of Palestinians will also be heard within the party, that the right-wing intimidation will be answered with defiance, and that the left will rally a mass movement in solidarity with the Palestinians that draws renewed energy from this crisis.
A loss of Momentum
Momentum’s key founder John Lansman has gone along with the witch hunt and absolutely failed to organise a challenge to the right over this crisis let alone the confident counter-offensive we need. Lansman is himself of the opinion that whilst individual actions of the Israeli government can be criticised, Zionism cannot. If followed, this logic would leave the left able to criticise the attack on Gaza but not the racist foundations of the Israeli state. We would be left unable to argue that instead of a confessional state named for only part of its population, there should be in Palestine a state for all its citizens, one without racist laws, to which refugees may return, and where Jews and Arabs can all live as equals under the law.
In this, Momentum has once again seen its leadership effect a compromise unauthorised and unwanted by its scores of thousands of members up and down the country. This must stop. If Momentum’s national committee will not do it, then branches around the country will need to take action themselves, circulating model resolutions, passing them through to Labour Party bodies to challenge the Labour right on this issue. We should ensure that Labour conference speeches on the issue are not dominated by labour Zionists but that the voices of Jewish anti-Zionists and Palestinians are also heard.
Momentum branches should also if necessary take steps to convene a national conference if the NC will not do it so that this issue can be openly debated, Lansman’s compromise challenged and anti-racist and anti-Zionist policy adopted.
A counter-offensive is necessary
The Labour right couldn’t care less about challenging racism – if they did they’d have challenged the form of racism that has most obviously been rising exponentially across Britain and Europe in recent years: Islamophobia, hatred of Muslims. Unlike antisemitism, over the last decade and a half, Islamophobia has received direct backing and encouragement from western European governments, including the British government. Remember former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw’s comments about feeling “uneasy” talking to women wearing a veil. If the Labour Party cannot consistently oppose anti-Muslim racism, then it will be incapable of taking the leading role that it should in the fight against antisemitism.
The real driver here is the right wing’s offensive against the Labour leadership. The biggest danger is that this will not be countered with a mass campaign of equal ferocity, one based on truth not lies, and one against the right wing not the left.
Whilst rightly acting to investigate genuine claims of antisemitism within the party, Jeremy Corbyn should also have rounded on the right wing pointing out their hypocrisy. He should demand apologies from all those guilty of racism, including those who have shared platforms with right-wing Zionists and apologists for Israeli violence against Palestinians and other forms of racism. He should demand the suspension of Boris Johnson from the Conservative Party and the investigation of his outright racism against President Obama, which smears all people of African origin in Britain. He should open a debate across the party about antisemitism and about Zionism, but this time one that also includes discussion of the brutal treatment of the Palestinians.
The gloves are off and the fight is on, the right wing cannot be placated, they will not be satisfied until they have removed not just this or that representative of the left but Jeremy Corbyn himself.
The left must not be intimidated, we must fight back now: