Accusations that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite or, at least, tolerant of anti-Semitism have dominated headlines for weeks. Countless column inches and on-air discussions have been dedicated to this assault, with some Labour MPs to the fore, alongside the Tories. In reality, this controversy has little to do with concern for the rights and well-being of Jewish people and much more to do with attempts to undermine support for Corbyn’s left-wing, anti-austerity policies.
Anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism and bigotry, is a poison which must be confronted and stamped out. Its roots in Europe are centuries – even millennia – old, with Jewish people being used as convenient scapegoats for society’s ills by the establishment. Anti-Semitism is, of course, a staple of the far-right and fascism, expressed most brutally in the historic crimes of the Nazi Holocaust, which saw over six million Jews systematically slaughtered.
Both today and historically, it is socialists and the workers’ movement who have been willing to stand toe to toe with fascism in order to defeat it, as in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when a mass rally physically prevented Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists from marching through a predominantly Jewish area of London’s East End, a defeat which led to the fascists’ decline. Jeremy Corbyn stands in this tradition of militant anti-fascism, having helped organise rallies against the National Front and others.
Fresh life was breathed into the establishment’s assault on Corbyn because of the Labour Party’s decision to extend and adapt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, as opposed to adopting it verbatim. This decision was made primarily because of ambiguous language within the IHRA definition which could be used to shut down criticism of the Israeli state and its oppression of the Palestinian people, a vital human rights issue. Even one of the definition’s authors, Kenneth Stern, has criticised its use in this way. Opinion on this matter is, of course, not uniform in the Jewish community, with some groups strongly criticising the aspects of the IHRA guidelines relating to Israel.
Since the issue was reignited, Corbyn’s opponents have again resorted to throwing as much mud as possible in his direction, hoping some will stick. He is blamed for comments by Facebook users in groups over which neither he nor the Labour Party has any control. Blairite MP Luciana Berger attacked Corbyn for hosting a Holocaust memorial event she attended, at which the Israeli state’s oppression of the Palestinian people was compared to the actions of the Nazis – she failed to mention that these comments were made by a Jewish Auschwitz survivor. His attendance, alongside a Tory peer, at a commemoration for those killed in the 1985 bombing of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation HQ in Tunis – an atrocity widely condemned at the time – was deliberately misconstrued to imply support for the terrorist group Black September.
Tory party seeped in racism
Tory criticism of the Labour Party – which has adopted stringent policies to deal with any examples of anti-Semitism or other forms of bigotry within its ranks – clearly has no credibility, particularly in the wake of Boris Johnson’s comments about Muslim women wearing the burqa or niqab looking like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”. Johnson was appointed to senior cabinet positions by Theresa May despite a well-known track record of making racist comments. He has not had the Conservative whip withdrawn or faced any form of censure. The Tory party, of course, has a long history of racism. While leading figures are now usually more subtle in their language than arch-reactionary Boris Johnson, the Tory establishment still flirts with xenophobia and racism when it suits them.
The reaction of the right-wing media – and, indeed, the right-wing within Labour – to this example of blatant Islamophobia from a senior Tory has been considerably less forceful than their hounding of Jeremy Corbyn over baseless accusations. In reality, the issue of anti-Semitism is simply being used as a convenient weapon with which to cynically attack Corbyn. His policies and the potential for him to become the next Prime Minister represent a challenge to the pro-capitalist, neo-liberal status quo which has dominated British politics – including the Labour Party – for decades.
Proxy war against Corbyn’s left-wing policies
Enthusiasm for Corbyn’s left-wing, anti-austerity stance saw him swept to the Labour leadership in 2015. Labour membership has exploded, with hundreds of thousands joining – overwhelmingly in support of Corbyn – and making it the largest political party in Europe. Corbyn has helped repopularise socialism among a new generation. However, this change has not been reflected in the upper echelons of the Labour Party, where right-wing Blairites continue to dominate at both parliamentary and council level and in parts of the party’s apparatus.
These right-wing forces are ideologically opposed to what Corbyn represents. The Blairites attempted to carry out a parliamentary coup against him in 2016 but they were unable to block him from standing and being re-elected by a landslide. They predicted, hoped and worked for a disastrous result in last year’s general election but were shocked by the biggest electoral turnaround in British post-war history.
Since then, they have had to change tack, no longer attacking Corbyn’s left-wing policies head-on as they are clearly popular, but continuing to find peripheral issues with which to undermine his leadership and prepare to remove him at the earliest possible opportunity. They continue to expend considerably more energy attacking him than the Tory government, which is clinging onto power by its fingertips. Unfortunately, the Labour left – including Corbyn and McDonnell themselves, but also groups like Momentum – has been to retreat and apologise, rather than calling out the cynical and baseless nature of the right’s attacks and exposing their real agenda. This has only served to embolden them.
Mandatory selection answer to Blairite plotting
A report in the Independent (7th August) suggested that key figures on the Labour right continue to meet to discuss how to “take back control” of the party. Failing that, they plan to break from Labour at the most damaging moment possible – potentially after a fresh general election where Labour has secured a majority – and create a new ‘centre’ party, potentially with the Liberal Democrats and some pro-EU Tories. This is threat which must be urgently addressed.
As the Socialist Party has long argued, key to doing so is the introduction of mandatory re-selection, which would give local Labour members the right to choose their candidate at each election, rather than sitting MPs and councillors having an automatic right to stand. This would allow the Blairite cabal to be democratically removed and candidates more reflective or the membership’s left-wing views put in place. A motion in support of mandatory re-selection will come before Labour’s annual conference in September. It will be backed by Unite, the largest trade union in Britain, thanks to a motion at its conference moved by a Socialist Party member. It is vital that this motion is passed and implemented.
Mass movement needed to take on capitalist establishment
The current attacks on Corbyn and the Labour left are only a taster of what would be in store if a Corbyn-led government were formed. Big business, the super-rich and the establishment are opposed to the policies Corbyn has put forward but, more fundamentally, they correctly fear that his election would raise the confidence and expectations of workers and young people, leading to demands for more far-reaching change. There have already been hints at the potential for a soft coup against a future Corbyn government. These threats cannot be answered in parliament alone.
In contrast to the ‘wait for Corbyn’ position of the trade union leaders, a mass movement should be built now in support of his policies, but also going further, demanding the nationalisation of the banks and all key sectors of the economy under a democratic, socialist economic plan. Such a movement could help topple the weak and divided Tory government from power and sweep Corbyn into office. But it would also be key to resisting the inevitable onslaught against his government and play a crucial role in struggling for a socialist society, run in the interest of the many, not the few.
By Daniel Waldron