During Ed Milibands’s term as Labour Party leader, he altered the process by which the party appointed its leader to radically reduce the say of Labour MPs and massively increase the input of the general public who could vote for the head of Labour in return for a small fee. As a result, much to the horror of Labour Members of Parliament, the extremely left-wing veteran back-bencher Jeremy Corbyn became party leader in September 2015, surviving a challenge to his leadership a year later. The Labour Party has seemingly returned to its former red-glory days.
One of Jeremy Corbyn’s allies who had nominated him in 2015 was the equally left-wing former London Mayor Ken Livingstone who, in April 2016, was suspended from the Party for having claimed in a radio interview that Adolf Hitler had been a Zionist before going mad and deciding to exterminate all Jews.
From the time of Livingstone’s suspension, the Labour Party and its leader have been embroiled in a steadily mounting conflict within the Party over how best to deal with what many of its members, as well as many sections of the media, claim has now become a big problem of anti-Semitism among its members, the leader not excepted.
While Corbyn has vociferously denied charges that he is an anti-Semite, he was eventually led to acknowledge the presence of anti-Semitism in certain pockets of his party and vow to do something about it. This he notionally did by appointing a special commission to look into the problem under his Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabati. Her report was published in June 2016. Besides that report, which on the whole exonerated the party, little action appeared to address the problem, much to the mounting consternation of many of party members and the general public, especially Jews.
Their mounting frustration erupted at the end of March this year into a hastily convened demonstration on the steps of Parliament. Under the banner “Enough is Enough,” protestors voiced frustration after reading press reports that five years earlier Jeremy Corbyn had lent his support on Facebook to an artists’ display in London’s East End of a large street mural depicting several distinctly Jewish-looking financiers playing Monopoly on the backs of several crouching naked people.
Matters came to a head in July, after Labour’s governing National Executive Committee endorsed a definition of anti-Semitism drawn up in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which has since become widely adopted elsewhere in Britain and other liberal democracies. The rub was that Labour accepted the IHRA definition but declined to embrace several illustrative examples the IHRA had given as part of the definition. Most notable among the illustrative examples of anti-Semitism that Labour’s NEC declined to accept were the following: accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country; claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour; and likening contemporary Israeli polices to those of the Nazis.
Labour’s NEC was due to, and did revisit, this issue earlier this month (September), when it adopted the IHRA definition in full, along with all its illustrative examples. However, it added a caveat to them espousing the need to preserve free speech on controversial issues to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Some have construed this addendum as neutralising the force of the NEC’s adoption of the definition in any future hearings of allegations of anti-Semitism on the part of party members.
The NEC’s adoption in full of the IHRA definition did not happen before there had surfaced in the media between July and its September meeting, a stream of reports detailing several doings and sayings of Jeremy Corbyn before he became party leader in which he had lent visible and/or vocal support to the Palestinian cause — on several occasions in the company of, or to commemorate, terrorists in that same cause, charges that include laying a wreath at a memorial in Tunisia that honors the Palestinian terrorists who kidnapped and murdered members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team.
One such report which appeared at the end of August led to Corbyn being condemned as an anti-Semite by no less an influential and authoritative a voice on matters related to Jews and Judaism than the UK former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Rabbi Sacks stated that what Corbyn had been reported as publicly saying at a meeting in Parliament in January 2013 was as bad as, if not worse than, the notoriously inflammatory speech of the then Conservative MP Enoch Powell in 1967 who had prophesied that the mass immigration then taking place into Britain from former Afro-Caribbean and South Asian colonies would lead to rivers of blood flowing through its streets.
Corbyn had made the specific remarks, which occasioned Lord Sacks to liken them to what Powell had said, at an international conference in London organised by the Palestinian Return Centre on the subject of ‘Britain’s Legacy in Palestine’. Corbyn began his speech by referring to an incident four days earlier at a meeting in Parliament, organised by the anti-Israel Palestine Solidarity Campaign. At this earlier meeting, the Palestinian envoy to Britain, Professor Manuel Hassassian, had been challenged at the end of his speech by a pair of known Zionist activists, of whom one had subsequently blogged about the speech on his website.
In that earlier speech, Professor Hassassian had said:
We, the Palestinians, the most highly educated and intellectual in the Middle East, are still struggling for the basic right of self-determination. What an irony. How long are we going to suffer and be patient with Israel? You know I’m reaching the conclusion that the Jews are the children of God, the only children of God and the Promised Land is being paid by God! I have started to believe this because nobody is stopping Israel from building its dream of Eretz Israel to the point I believe that maybe God is on their side.
He then reportedly denied there could be a two-state solution, calling instead for a single state in which the Jews would form only a minority, adding ominously or upliftingly depending on your point of view:
Israel will never continue to exist as a pariah state… The United States is not going to be Israel’s strategic ally for time immemorial. And today we have 1.5 billion Muslims. In 20 years we will have 2 billion. And those 2 billion, forget about the politics, from a religious perspective will not allow Israel to continue desecrating their religious rights [in Jerusalem]. And then what?
In his remarks about that speech, Jeremy Corbyn had said:
The other evening we had a meeting in Parliament in which Manuel made an incredibly powerful and passionate speech about the history of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people. This was dutifully recorded by the, thankfully silent, Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion; and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said. They clearly had two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and, secondly having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.
When reported in the press, Corbyn’s remarks were presented as though he had been asserting or implying that all British born Jews, as well as being ignorant of the history of Palestine, could not appreciate British irony. Lord Sacks had clearly picked up the impression from these reports that Corbyn had been suggesting that British-born Jews were forever incapable of becoming fully integrated into British society by embracing its culture and values. I think Lord Sacks was clearly misled. However, I equally think Jeremy Corbyn must have been very much more misled by the Middle East history books he has read, given a claim he went on to make in that speech that:
Anybody that studies the history of the region will know that at the end of the Second World War, Palestine had media, had industry, had education, had universities, had a relatively high standard of living. The whole region was a coherent society and a coherent state. It was a denigration of that which enabled Western opinion to be put together in support of Israel.
The only two universities in existence in Palestine in 1945 were two Jewish ones, both created by Zionist settlers: the Technion in Haifa established in 1912; and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem established in 1918. Palestine was anything but ‘a coherent and society and state’ in 1945. Relations between Jew and Arab had become ever more fraught since the Hebron Massacre of 1929 in which more than 65 Jews were butchered, following heightened tensions in Jerusalem. Thereafter, relations between Jew and Arab became so strained that, by 1937, partition was being recommended by the Peel Commission set up by the British mandatory powers to find ways of resolving these tensions, a solution subsequently endorsed for exactly the same reason by the UN Special Committee on Palestine set up in 1946 to make studies and recommendations for resolving the conflict.
If Lord Sacks regrettably fell victim to fake news about Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Leader has seemingly fallen victim to fake history, potentially of much graver consequence on the part of a potential future British Prime Minister.
I am afraid this controversy about anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party shows no signs of abating, and God alone knows where it might all end. Reportedly as many as 40 percent of Britain’s 300,000 strong Jewish population have intimated that they would seriously consider moving to Israel if Jeremy Corbyn becomes PM.