The aim is clearly to force Corbyn out of the Labour Party leadership, and if that fails, then to cause Labour to lose the next election. And in either case, this will be presented as the fault of “the Jews” – either by ganging up on him and forcing his removal, or by failing to vote Labour in sufficient numbers. Such claims would be a travesty of the truth – but, as we see every day now, that would not prevent large numbers of people from believing them. And if such claims lead to a resurgence in real anti-Jewish racism, then so much the better for Israel, which would relish such an opportunity to stimulate Jewish emigration.
The increasingly strident charges, and the widening circle of targets, have by now departed from all reality. Jeremy Corbyn is denounced for attending a meeting eight years ago at which an elderly Auschwitz survivor spoke. Labour Friends of Israel chair Louise Ellman is “shocked” to learn this – somehow forgetting that she too was at the meeting, and in fact stayed there longer than Corbyn. The Jewish Chronicle argues that the reason the Labour Party will not accept every word and comma of the problematic IHRA working definition of antisemitism is that, if they did, they would have to expel “hundreds if not thousands” of members.
Across the country, Labour Party members are intimidated from raising issues – and this precisely at a time when Israel’s Nation State Law turns the country into an explicitly apartheid, further threatening the rights of its Palestinian subjects, while Israel’s growing friendship and alliance with elements of the new international far-right further undermines the struggle against antisemitism. One worrying aspect of this is the reliance on Jews to raise these issues; I cannot be the only Labour Party member to have heard frequent comments on the lines of “I can’t say this because I will be attacked as antisemitic. I think our Jewish comrades need to take the lead on this”. In fact, as has been pointed out to some of the people taking this approach, Jewish members of the party are disproportionately targets of the witch-hunt, and our ethnic origin will certainly not shield us.
Meanwhile, Palestinian members of the party have been expressing their anger and frustration at the suppression of their voices. Chris Khamis writes “As a British Palestinian Arab and member of the Labour Party I am beginning to feel there is a minority who do not want the Party to welcome people like me. And they sure don’t want to make the Labour Party a safe place for me”. Ghada Karmi writes “I hope that the party will maintain its code of conduct. If replaced with a word-for-word copy of the IHRA document, then I, as a member, would be prevented from speaking about what happened to me and my family – our dispossession, forced removal and permanent ban from our home purely because we were Arab.” These are the voices that are being lost in this artificial controversy, and the voices that we must foreground in our resistance.
In our resistance to this coup, no compromise or appeasement will satisfy our opponents, and any abandonment of allies will only strengthen their resolve, while further weakening and demoralising us. They are out to get Corbyn no matter what he says or does, and any attempt at reasonable debate is now perceived as evidence of weakening, and only strengthens their resolve.
It is way beyond time to respond forcefully to this. Whatever Corbyn says will not reduce the attacks on him, and nor could it possibly increase the venom against him. We need to insist that the plethora of charges are for the most part fabrications and exaggerations, and that the people making them are our class enemy. Even those masquerading as Labour MPs are effectively acting as agents of the British state in its determined attack on a potentially radical Labour government.
We can and must fight antisemitism while opposing Zionism, and we must not abandon either of these strands in the hope of short-term tactical gains. Those who slander genuinely anti-racist opponents of Israel and Zionism as antisemites are paving the way for the real antisemites who are gaining in strength and influence across Europe and in the US. The abuse of this smear in the service of internal Labour struggles is itself an example of antisemitic behaviour, and is a far greater “existential threat to Jewish life in this country” than anything Corbyn or a Labour government could possibly consider or do.
Fair-weather friends need to be reminded that in this struggle, there is no longer any middle ground. When our allies are smeared or attacked, we must defend them; throwing them to the wolves will only increase the savageness of the attack. Palestinians and their allies speaking out against Israeli racism and in support of their rights are not antisemites. And any attempt to portray British Jews as a monolithic bloc united in support for the Israeli state and opposed to Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemitic lie.