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At the end of November Joshua Leifer, an Associate Editor of Jewish Currents [JC], wrote an article about the “tragedy” of Jeremy Corbyn. He did not seek the opinions of any Jewish victims of the “antisemitism” witchhunt in the Labour Party. As the first Jewish member of the party to be expelled I submitted a response.
At first I was simply ignored and after a reminder, Arielle Angel, Editor-in-chief, explained that it was a lack of resources that prevented them publishing my reply. JC “simply do not have the bandwidth to publish full response articles to articles we’ve published”. So I am publishing my response here.
Who sponsored the false ‘antisemitism’ campaign against Corbyn
The first question to ask is who was behind the campaign to root out “antisemitism” in the Labour Party? Were they genuinely concerned about antisemitism or defending Israel? Were the allegations confected?
The first article exposing Corbyn as an “antisemite” came from the Tory Daily Mail. On 7 August 2015, even before Corbyn was elected, it published an ‘exclusive’ revealing that Corbyn was an associate of a Holocaust denier, Paul Eisen. It was untrue but mud sticks.
This is the same Daily Mail which, according to Professor Tony Kushner, “has been an anti-alien newspaper since the 1900s. There’s great continuity.” The Daily Mail is the paper which supported Hitler and which had an infamous front page ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’. Nor is this ancient history. Despite this, Leifer quoted Dan Hodges of the Daily Mail uncritically accusing Labour of being a racist party. Hodges is hardly neutral, an ex-New Labourite, right-wing and hostile.
Just three months later the Mail employed an ex-Sun columnist against Corbyn, Katie Hopkins who had previously described refugees as ‘cockroaches’. The whole of the British press, from the Sun to the neo-liberal Guardian, was mobilised in the cause of fighting ‘antisemitism’.
The Conservative Party and the Labour Right also joined hands in opposing Labour “antisemitism”. These were the same political forces that had supported the disastrous 2014 Immigration Act and the official policy of creating a “hostile environment” for immigrants that had led to hundreds if not thousands of Black British citizens being deported to the West Indies. Just 6 Labour MPs voted against the Act, including the “antisemitic” Corbyn. In fact, Labour’s Right was permeated with antisemitism. After a racist Labour MP Phil Woolas was removed from Parliament by the High Court in 2010 for election offences, which included running a campaign aimed at stirring up racial strife by “making the white folk angry” he was defended by Tom Watson, who “lost sleep” over “poor Phil.” Watson later became Corbyn’s unfriendly deputy leader and led the ‘antisemitism’ witchhunt.
Historically it was the Right of the Labour Party which was antisemitic. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which claims to be the representative body of British Jewry (although in fact it represents at best 40% of British Jews), raised no objection when Sidney Webb (1859-1947), Colonial Secretary, founder of the Fabians and New Statesman, remarked that there were ‘“no Jews in the British Labour party” and that while “French, German, Russian Socialism is Jew-ridden…We, thank heaven, are free”, adding that was probably the case because there was “no money in it”. (Paul Kelemen, “The British Left and Zionism: The History of a Divorce”, Manchester University Press 2012)
Herbert Morrison, Home Secretary during World War 2, adamantly refused to admit Jewish refugees. Hundreds if not thousands died as a result.
We see this today with Labour leader Keir Starmer. He has expressed his determination to “root out the poison” of antisemitism from the Labour Party. Yet Sir Keir, was unable to challenge a racist caller on the talk show station LBC, who stated that White people would be in a minority by 2066 and asked why Britain can’t be like Israel which
“has a state law that they are the only people in that country to have self-determination. Well why can’t I as a white British female have that same right?”
Perhaps it was the comparison with Israel that threw Keir!
Not once did Joshua Leifer ask simple questions as to why, if the Board of Deputies was concerned with Labour “antisemitism,” it had said nothing about Boris Johnson’s genuinely antisemitic and racist 2004 novel “72 Virgins” or about the fact that the Tories sat in the European Parliament in a “conservative and reformist” bloc with fascists and antisemites such as Roberts Ziles and Michal Kaminsky. When the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees Mogg, spoke last year of the “Illuminati who are taking the powers to themselves,” in reference to two Jewish fellow MPs, there was no comment on this patently antisemitic reference.
John Bercow, the recently retired Jewish Speaker of the House of Commons, was asked in an interview if Corbyn was an antisemite. His response was that he had known Corbyn for 22 years and there wasn’t a ‘whiff’ of antisemitism about him. Bercow also recalled how he remembered an MP saying: ”If I had my way, Berkoff, people like you wouldn’t be allowed in this place.” On inquiring whether his antagonist meant being lower-class or Jewish?’ the response was ‘Both’!
The idea that the Conservative Party, the party of Empire, is opposed to racism, including antisemitism, lies in the realm of fantasy. Yet Leifer asked no questions as to the bona fides of Corbyn’s right-wing antagonists.
Almost as soon as the ‘antisemitism’ controversy raised its head I had my doubts. Was antisemitism spontaneously arising in the Labour Party because of Corbyn’s election or were we seeing the state destabilisation of Labour?
My answer came on March 18th when I was suspended. All the allegations that were put to me later were about Israel. Did I compare Israel’s marriage laws to those of Nazi Germany? My answer was yes, but so did Hannah Arendt, a refugee from Nazi Germany! Did I say that Israel was hoping that Holocaust survivors would die in order they could save on their welfare benefits? Yes I did but so did Ha’aretz!
It takes little imagination to guess at the reaction to Corbyn’s election – from the CIA HQ at Langley Virginia, to MI5 to Israel. Corbyn was a veteran anti-imperialist, anti-nuclear and hostile to NATO. He was now leader of the second party of government in the US’s closest ally in Europe. Al Jazeera’s The Lobby gave us a snapshot of what was happening when we saw Israeli Embassy operative Shai Masot being deeply involved in Labour’s ‘antisemitism’ crisis.
The facts can be true, yet the narrative can be false
Are there antisemites in the Labour Party? Of course there will be a few. Any party of ½ million is bound to have them. Does that mean that Labour or any other political party was overrun by them? Of course not. Yet Leifer, instead of probing beneath the surface, declares that ‘If people are exposing a valid problem, you have to deal with it’.
But there wasn’t a problem. Leifer mentioned the infamous mural, erased in 2012, that the right-wing former Director of Labour Friends of Israel Luciana Berger made an issue of before the 2018 local elections. It depicted six bankers, two of whom were Jewish. They had fat, not hooked noses. Corbyn had opposed their erasure on free speech grounds. Opinions differ as to whether the mural was antisemitic but the real issue was why this had been raised 6 years later. No one had considered the matter important in 2012.
It was clear that sections of the press and others were researching everything that Corbyn had ever said and putting the worst possible interpretation on it. This was in contrast to ignoring the openly racist record of Prime Minister Boris Johnson who in 2002 spoke about “picanninies” and Black people having “watermelon” smiles.
Nearly half of Conservative Party members oppose having a Muslim Prime Minister. Yet these bigoted attitudes were never problematic. Why? Because it was not antisemitism that was the real issue in Labour, but defence of Israel.
What antisemitism there is in the Labour Party is confined to social media; and much of that, such as Rothschild/banker conspiracy theories, are a way in which people try to explain what they see as the extraordinary power of the Israel lobby to bend politicians to their will. This is a power that Israeli politicians like Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert have openly boasted of. Israel calls itself a Jewish state and it’s unsurprising that lacking an understanding of how imperialism works, people can ascribe American responsiveness to Israel’s demands as the bowing to Jewish power rather than the interplay between an imperialist power and its watchdog in the region. In my own experience, people who talk of the Rothschilds don’t even realise that they are Jewish.
Antisemitism is not what some idiot writes on social media bearing in mind that one person can post a million tweets. Antisemitism is what people do to Jewish people not what they tweet about. No one died from a tweet.
Who were the victims of the antisemitism witchhunt?
Leifer failed to ask basic questions such as, who were the targets of the ‘antisemitism’ witchhunt? Not only was I was expelled but so was Jackie Walker, a Black Jewish women who was utterly demonised. Jackie was active in the fight against the National Front and the far-Right UKIP.
Another person expelled was Marc Wadsworth, who criticised former Israel lobbyist Ruth Smeeth for her assisting the Tory Daily Telegraph. Wadsworth didn’t even know Smeeth was Jewish when he criticised her at the launch of the Chakrabarti Report in June 2016 into racism in the Labour Party. In the campaign against Police racism over the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which led to the Government MacPherson Inquiry that found the Metropolitan Police institutionally racist, Wadsworth introduced the Lawrence family to Nelson Mandela and put the campaign on the map. Then Marc was expelled because of the lies of an Israel lobbyist turned MP. Yet in Jewish Currents, Leifer stayed silent or oblivious of this context.
I spent most of my youth involved in anti-fascist work as first Secretary of the Anti-Nazi League in Brighton and then served on the Executive of Anti-Fascist Action. The Board of Deputies spent most of their time attacking us, not the fascists, because we were anti-Zionist!
The Board of Deputies has never opposed antisemitism
The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Chronicle, which led the ‘antisemitism’ attacks on Corbyn, have never campaigned against genuine antisemitism. In 1936 when Moseley’s British Union of Fascists attempted to march through the East End of London the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Chronicle told Jews to keep away. Thousands of Jews and non-Jews ignored them in what became known as the Battle of Cable Street. After the war the 43 Group of Jewish ex-serviceman took the battle to the resurgent Union Movement and literally smashed them off the streets. The Board vehemently opposed them. In the 1970s and 1980s it was the same story.
As the Editor of the Searchlight anti-fascist magazine, Maurice Ludmer wrote:
“In the face of mounting attacks against the Jewish community both ideologically and physically, we have the amazing sight of the Jewish Board of Deputies launching an attack on the Anti Nazi League with all the fervour of Kamikaze pilots… It was as though they were watching a time capsule rerunof the 1930’s, in the form of a flickering old movie, with a grim determination to repeat every mistake of that era. ” (Issue 41, November 1978)
The first time that the Board held an ‘anti-racist’ demonstration was against Corbyn outside Parliament in March 2018. Who took part? Arch Tory racist Norman Tebbit, proponent of the racist ‘cricket test’ (the idea that immigrants who support the Indian/Pakistani cricket teams weren’t really British) and sectarian bigot, Ulster Unionist MP Ian Paisley! Even the Zionist placards were antisemitic!
Antisemitism was weaponised
‘Antisemitism’ was the chosen weapon of attack on the Labour left. It played to their weak spot, identity politics. It was easier to attack Corbyn over ‘antisemitism’ than austerity or his anti-nuclear politics. The fact that so many Jews are being suspended today over supposed antisemitism attitudes because of their criticism of Israel proves that this is not about antisemitism. According to Jewish Voices for Labour, at least 25 Jewish members were investigated for ‘antisemitism’, and many of them suspended, in recent years, with no coverage of the purge in the mainstream media.
The British Jewish Community is not the American Jewish Community
Leifer operated under the belief that the Jewish community in Britain and the United States are comparable. They are not. American Jewry is not centrally directed by Zionist bodies like in Britain. I am the son of an Orthodox Rabbi. I knew the Jewish community and modern Orthodoxy pretty well. Former Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz visited my house. It is a deeply conservative and racist community (anti-Arab/Muslim). There is no comparison with the American Jewish community which is largely Reform/Conservative. The British Jewish community is far more insular. It is a community which has for the last 50 years voted Tory by overwhelming majorities. Even under Labour’s first Jewish leader Ed Miliband, it voted by more than 3-1 for the Tories. The days of the Jewish workers in the East End joining and voting Communist are long gone.
Leifer mentions a letter from 60 rabbis attacking Corbyn. What he doesn’t mention is the letter signed by 29 Ultra Orthodox rabbis dissociating themselves from the Board’s attacks saying they did not represent the Ultra Orthodox community, which is the fastest growing part of the British Jewish community.
Would Jewish groups like If Not Now or JVP have helped?
Leifer argues that if there had been similar Jewish groups in Britain to America’s If Not Now or Jewish Voice for Peace then things might have been different. I don’t believe so. American Jewry is more liberal. This was why Jewish Voices for Labour was formed in Britain. But they were ignored during the antisemitism controversy because the campaign was not about either Jews or antisemitism. The proof of this lies in the fact that the Board of the Deputies and the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement focused on the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism, which conflates antisemitism and anti-Zionism. It is the same IHRA that the antisemitic Trump and the equally antisemitic Viktor Orban of Hungary have taken to heart.
The EHRC report on Labour ‘Antisemitism’
Leifer quotes uncritically the recent report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission that concluded that “there were unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible” and identified “serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints.”
The EHRC is hardly a reliable source. The EHRC is a state-appointed, state-funded body that has refused to investigate Tory Party Islamophobia. It has an abysmal record on racism and has recently come in for criticism by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. Until recently it didn’t have a single Black or Muslim Commissioner. Leifer might have mentioned the author of the report. The Anti-Semitism Report on Labour was produced by Alasdair Henderson, a supporter of fascist Roger Scruton and Douglas Murray, whose book “The Strange Death of Europe” articulates the White Replacement Theory. The EHRC is held in contempt by Black people yet Leifer said nothing about this miserable record.
Leifer quotes Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who issued a statement attacking Corbyn during the General Election over Labour ‘antisemitism’. Leifer failed to tell his readers that Mirvis trained at a yeshivah on a West Bank settlement, Alon Shvut. Mirvis joined in and encouraged others to march, in Jerusalem’s annual March of the Flags, when thousands of settler youth parade through Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’. Mirvis marched despite appeals in the Times of Israel and Ha’aretz.
Leifer gives as examples of Labour ‘antisemitism’ former London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s assertion that the Nazis supported Zionism in the 1930’s. Even were this untrue it wouldn’t be antisemitic. But a Zionist historian, Professor Francis Nicosia, has spoken of the ‘illusory assumption’ of German Zionism that Zionism “must have been well served by a Nazi victory.” Another Zionist historian, David Cesarani wrote in his book “Final Solution” that “The efforts of the Gestapo are oriented to promoting Zionism as much as possible and lending support to its efforts to promote emigration.” It may be inconvenient today to remember Zionism’s record during the Nazi period, but to tell the truth is never antisemitic.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism
It should be obvious that the IHRA definition of ‘antisemitism’ is about Zionism not antisemitism. What has comparing Israel to pre-war Germany got to do with antisemitism? Was the late Professor Ze’ev Sternhell, a child survivor of the Holocaust, also antisemitic for making such a comparison? Was Knesset member and former deputy chief of staff Yair Golan antisemitic when he made the same comparison?
Leifer quotes uncritically the assertion of the Zionist Board of Deputies that ‘Jeremy Corbyn, simply had no right to argue with Jewish organizations over the definition of antisemitism’. Why not? No one has a monopoly on the definition of racism.
Not once did Leifer ask why British Jews and Zionist groups had the right to define antisemitism in terms that rule out the Palestinian expression of their experience of racism.
Nor did Leifer ask, Why the need for a definition. The Oxford English Dictionary defines antisemitism as ‘hostility to or prejudice against Jews.’ Why the need for a 500+ WORD definition? My dad took part in the Battle of Cable Street. He didn’t need a definition of antisemitism! Even the principal drafter of the IHRA, Kenneth Stern, has condemned the definition’s weaponisation and chilling of free speech, yet Leifer was seemingly oblivious to the motives behind the Zionist demands to accept the IHRA.
Should Corbyn have ‘apologised’ to the Jewish community?
Quite amazingly Leifer suggests that during the election Corbyn should have apologised for Labour’s ‘antisemitism’ to the Jewish community when asked to do so by BBC interviewer Andrew Neil. The proper response would have been ‘Apologise? What for?’ However, by that time Corbyn too had accepted the false narrative of ‘antisemitism’ and the more people he expelled the more ‘proof’ there was that Labour had an ‘antisemitism’ problem.
That was the real tragedy of Corbyn, not that he put up some resistance to the narrative.
Corbyn’s failure was to refuse to go on to the offensive. When Neil, a former editor of the Murdoch Sunday Times, asked Corbyn to apologise Corbyn should have asked Neil why he was so concerned by antisemitism when he had employed a Holocaust denier, David Irving, to interpret the Goebbels Diaries! Neil as Chairman of the Spectator also agreed to keeping the openly antisemitic Taki Theodoracopulos on as a columnist. (Taki openly praised the Greek Nazi party Golden Dawn and described himself as a “soi-disant anti-Semite”.) Corbyn had an easy response but he was incapable of punching a paper bag. His reformist politics were the problem, not his inability to apologise.
Leifer correctly criticises Corbyn for having ‘no real strategy for pursuing a boldly anti-imperialist, pro-Palestine politics or skillfully parrying the inevitable attacks from his opponents” but the criticism is rich coming from him. His only suggestion for how Corbyn should have parried is to ask ‘What if, instead of retreating into defensiveness, they had moved to reconcile sooner with the British Jewish communal institutions’
He can’t be serious. The answer to his suggestion lies in section 3(d) of the Board of Deputies Constitution which states that the Board shall
‘Take such appropriate action as lies within its power to advance Israel’s security, welfare and standing.’
The Board of Deputies is an Israel, right or wrong, group. An organisation that tweets its support of the Israeli military when its snipers are mowing down children, is hardly likely to be won over to pro-Palestinian politics!
Appeasement is not a useful strategy. Labour’s Leaked Report makes it clear that Corbyn sincerely believed that if he offered Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone and myself up as sacrificial lambs, the Board would be appeased. On page 306 it tells how
Jeremy Corbyn himself and members of his staff team requested to [the Governance and Legal Unit] that particular antisemitism cases be dealt with. In 2017 LOTO [Leader of the Opposition] staff chased for action on high-profile antisemitism cases Ken Livingstone, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth, stressing that these cases were of great concern to Jewish stakeholders and that resolving them was essential to “rebuilding trust between the Labour Party and the Jewish community”.
Well we were expelled but was trust reestablished? Of course not. They simply demanded more victims like the one honourable MP Chris Williamson. You have to fight a wild animal and Corbyn was not prepared to do that. That was the problem which the ever clever Leifer wasn’t able to discern.
Corbyn’s period as leadership and his demise was indeed a tragedy, one which is now resulting in mass expulsions from the Labour Party. It is or should be crystal clear that the ‘antisemitism’ campaign was never about antisemitism and always about the threat that a party led by a socialist represented.
In 20-30 years some enterprising young journalist will no doubt use the Freedom of Information Act to uncover the names and details of who was at the centre of the anti-Corbyn campaign, orchestrating the different parts.
As for Jewish Currents, it describes itself as ‘a magazine committed to the rich tradition of thought, activism, and culture of the Jewish left.’ I was left wondering what it means to say that you stand in the tradition of the Jewish left? It seems for many on the passive left this comprises a mixture of romantic kitsch and schmaltzy memories.
The traditions of the Jewish left – the Bund, the Communists, Socialists and Anarchists –can be summed up in one word – solidarity. An injury to one is an injury to all. It was in solidarity with the murdered millions of Jews of Poland that Shmuel Zygielbojm, the Bund representative in the Polish Government-in-exile, committed suicide in London in 1943. This was at the same time as his Zionist counterpart Ignacy Schwarzbart, was playing down the extent of the Holocaust.
The state-sponsored attack against Jeremy Corbyn and the movement that he led is a litmus test of whether or not you are a socialist. Joshua Leifer’s article was an attack on all those who have been victims of the Right’s heresy hunt, not least the Palestinians. I therefore wrote back to the editor suggesting that if Arielle Angel was going to refuse a reply to Leifer’s article then it would be more honest for JC to declare that it represented the non-socialist and non-Marxist left. It seems that to JC being on the ‘left’ is a lifestyle statement.