No backtracking on Palestine
Unfortunately the Labour leader appears to be beating a retreat, writes Tony Greenstein
I first met Jeremy Corbyn over 30 years ago when I chaired the Labour Movement Campaign on Palestine.1 It would be no exaggeration to say that Jeremy, along with Ken Livingstone and the late Joan Maynard, were the most consistent supporters of the Palestinians. He later became a patron of Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a regular fixture at PSC annual general meetings.
The policy of the LMCP, which Jeremy Corbyn sponsored, was to support a democratic, secular state in the whole of Palestine rather than a two-state solution. We did not support the ‘right to exist’ of the apartheid state of Israel, for whom its Palestinian citizens are a demographic threat. We supported the creation of a unitary state of its own citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation, rather than a state of the Jews.
The 1982 Labour Party conference, held in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, passed an emergency resolution calling for a democratic, secular state in the whole of Palestine. People forget the international reaction to an invasion which killed over 20,000 people. Two thousand Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps were butchered with medieval savagery by Israel’s Phalangist allies. The Israeli army lit up the night sky in order that they could kill their victims, mainly women and children, more efficiently. The Labour Party reaction mirrored that of British society, which was one of horror. In Britain a group of us formed the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
It was therefore no surprise that the Zionist movement, when it was obvious that Corbyn was heading for victory in the Labour Party leadership contest, pulled out all the stops to prevent it. Together with the Daily Mail, Zionists attempted to brand him a holocaust denier. This is somewhat ironic, given that in the 1930s the most pro-Hitler paper was the same Daily Mail. Citing a magistrate who had complained that “The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage”, the Mail commented that “the number of aliens entering the country through the back door [is] a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed”.2
On the basis of an article alleging that Corbyn had attended a concert organised by a holocaust denier, Paul Eisen,3 the Zionist movement engaged in a conscious and sustained smear campaign. Leading the pack was the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, a member of the cold-war far-right Henry Jackson Society, who posed a series of questions to Corbyn.4
Unfortunately, instead of responding with a few questions of its own, Corbyn’s campaign decided to treat them as genuine queries. Needless to say, their answers were never going to satisfy the Zionists. Those of us with experience of the Zionist attack dogs know that they cry ‘anti-Semitism’ whenever support for the Palestinians is on the agenda. Only last month Oxford University Labour Club was the subject of vicious attacks - it was labelled anti-Semitic after it decided to support Israeli Apartheid Week.5
It is no accident that the Zionist movement in this country acted as the outrider for those who wanted to keep the Labour Party safe for capitalism. It is an article of faith for New Labour that they must stand firmly alongside US imperialism - which means unquestioning support for the Israeli state. ‘Anti-Semitism’ has become the rallying cry of The Guardian, its Comment is free editor Jonathan Freedland and liberal bourgeois opinion in general.
‘Anti-Semitism’ is today’s false anti-racism of the right.6 It is sometimes called ‘new anti-Semitism’ to distinguish it from the traditional variety. ‘New anti-Semitism’ has nothing to do with hatred of, discrimination or violence against Jews. It is about opposition to Zionism and the state of Israel.
According to Abe Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (which specialises in defaming its opponents), Israel has become “the Jew among the nations”.7 Criticise Israel and you are criticising the collective Jew, which makes you an anti-Semite! If you criticise Israel for its confiscation of land or locking up Palestinian children and torturing them, then you are a vicious Jew hater. Telling the truth can be equivalent to anti-Semitism where Israel is concerned.
Of course, if you hate Jews but love Israel then there is no problem. Even English Defence League thugs understood this when they physically attacked the stall of Birmingham Palestine Solidarity Campaign, carrying an Israeli flag in one hand, whilst giving Hitler salutes with the other!8
Christian Zionism provides the best example of this form of anti-Semitism. According to pastor John Hagee, president of the million-strong Christians United for Israel, Adolf Hitler was not so much a genocidal anti-Semite as a hunter, sent by god to drive the Jews to Israel!9 According to Hagee’s interpretation of Jeremiah, Hitler was an agent of God! Abe Foxman, always eager to detect signs of ‘anti-Semitism’ when criticism of Israel is involved, leapt to Hagee’s support: “Pastor Hagee has devoted his life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the state of Israel.”10
Stephen Pollard is a British replica of Foxman. In 2009, the Tories left the European People’s Party in the European parliament, and joined the European Conservative and Reformist Group. The ECRG contained far-right politicians such as Michał Kamiński of Poland’s Law and Justice Party and Robert Zile of Latvia’s For Fatherland and Freedom.
Both Kamiński and Zile had a record of support for fascism and anti-Semitism. On July 10 1941, up to 900 Jews were burnt alive in a barn by fellow Poles, under the approving eye of the SS, in the village of Jedwabne. Although the majority of Jedwabne’s population was Jewish before World War II, today there are no Jews left in what was a 300-year old community.11 Polish-Jewish historian Jan Tomasz Gross estimated that 300 Jews had been burnt alive,12 but a subsequent book by Anna Bikont13 revises these figures to over 900. The massacre led to a national Polish apology in 2001.
Jedwabne was represented by Kamiński in the Polish parliament from 1997. He vigorously campaigned against any apology. In an interview with the nationalist Nasza Polska newspaper in March 2001, Kamiński argued that Poles should not apologise for Jedwabne until Jews apologised for “murdering Poles”.14 Kamiński had previously worn the Mieczyk Chrobrego - the Chrobry sword, symbol of the National Radical Camp, which “practised violent anti-Semitism, including attacks on Jewish students, buildings and businesses, organised boycotts of Jewish businesses and attacks on leftwing groups”.15
None of this, however, stopped Pollard, who led the campaign to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, from defending Michał Kamiński. In a quite extraordinary article for The Guardian16 Pollard claimed that Kamiński was “one of the greatest friends to the Jews in a town [Brussels] where anti-Semitism and a visceral loathing of Israel are rife”. Note the sleight of hand. Kamiński is a “friend to the Jews” because of his support for Israel, notwithstanding the fact that he is an anti-Semite.
Historically anti-Semites have been some of the strongest supporters of Zionism, from Édouard Drumont and Heinrich Class to Adolf Eichmann and Alfred Rosenberg. Next year the Zionists will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, when Britain, in the form of its foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, agreed to sponsor the Zionist settlement in Palestine. Balfour was also the home secretary who, in 1905, introduced the Aliens Act, whose aim was to prevent Jewish refugees from tsarist Russia entering Britain.
Kamiński has been feted in Israel. Not only has he made the ritual trip to Yad Vashem, the holocaust propaganda museum in Jerusalem, but in 2009 he was a guest speaker at the World Summit on Counterterrorism conference at Herzliya.17
Robert Zile is also a fully paid up anti-Semite. Every March he marches with the veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS in Riga. Yet like Kamiński he is a strong supporter of Israel.
Instead of responding to the Zionist attacks on him by pointing to their hypocrisy, Corbyn has chosen to appease his critics by playing down his support for the Palestinians and retreating into meaningless soundbites.
For example, Corbyn sent a letter to a Zionist heckler at the Labour Friends of Israel meeting he addressed at Labour Party conference, reassuring him that he was pleased to “have the opportunity to express how I felt about progressing the peace process in the Middle East … Israel has always, and will continue to be, recognised by both myself and the Labour Party.”
Last week, following talks with Corbyn, the Board of Deputies of British Jews was quoted as saying that they “were pleased that Mr Corbyn gave a very solid commitment to the right of Israel to live within secure and recognised boundaries as part of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict”, whilst demanding “more clarity” that the Labour Party “will maintain its longstanding opposition to boycotts against Israel”.18
People need to face up to the fact that one of the consequences of the attacks on Corbyn has been a retreat from his previous political positions. I have never heard Corbyn previously speaking about the need to recognise the state of Israel. He used to be more concerned about recognising its repressive qualities. Instead of distinguishing between the oppressor and the oppressed, the coloniser and the colonised, Corbyn has depoliticised the issue, calling for peace in the abstract.
It is as if Corbyn had called for peace between white proponents of apartheid and black South Africans rather than supporting the abolition of apartheid. This is one of the political liabilities of Corbyn’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament-style politics. Instead of opposing imperialism and Zionist settler colonialism, Corbyn imagines that ‘conflict resolution’ via United Nations diplomacy will solve what is at heart a political problem - the racist oppression, dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinians.
No-one in Israel seriously believes that a two-state solution is achievable. There is not one government minister who supports it. The leader of the Israeli Labour Party, who is more hawkish than prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, also opposes a two-state solution. In the words of Israel’s religious nutcase and deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotoveli, “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognise Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere.”19
Corbyn retreats into the weasel words of Israel’s ‘right to exist’. The problem is not Israel’s rights, but the lack of Palestinian rights. Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. What does that mean? It is a state which counts how many Jews it has compared to non-Jews. It is an ethno-religious state, in which Jews have privileges compared to non-Jews. So, for example, because I am Jewish, I have an automatic right to ‘return’ to a state where I have never lived. Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem have no such right. But like all settler states, Israel is very good at portraying itself as the victim. Corbyn pays homage to Israel’s right to ‘secure borders’ (Israel frames its racism in terms of its own security needs), while it seems Palestinians have no need of security.
Not only is partition - a two-state solution - neither desirable nor feasible, but it serves as a pretext for Israel’s continuing denial of even the most basic civil or political rights for Palestinians in the occupied territories. ‘Two states’ provides a justification for a situation where there are two legal systems - military law for the Palestinians and civil Israeli law for Jewish settlers on the West Bank. The idea that Israel is going to withdraw over 600,000 settlers behind an imaginary green line is the stuff of dreams.
Jeremy Corbyn, as a patron of PSC, was a supporter of boycott, divestment and sanctions. But this is an issue over which he has recently gone very quiet. Corbyn has forgotten that Israel is a Jewish supremacist state, which defines its Jewishness in terms of maintaining an 80% Jewish majority population. It is a state where virtually all areas of public life, from housing to education and employment, are segregated. A symptom of Israel’s Nuremberg mentality is the decision of the education ministry to ban a book, Borderlife, from the high school syllabus because it depicts a romantic relationship between Jewish and Arab teenagers. In an ethno-religious state, inter-marriage is seen as equivalent to national treason, a betrayal of one’s racial kith and kin.20
Corbyn’s retreat from the Palestinians is best demonstrated by the appointment of a rightwing Zionist, Fabian Hamilton, as a junior shadow foreign office minister. In a recent article Hamilton was quoted as saying that boycotting the Jewish state without taking action against other countries is “simply anti-Semitic”.21Perhaps Bishop Desmond Tutu and Ronnie Kasrils (a Jewish member of the African National Congress and former government minister in South Africa) are also anti-Semitic for supporting a boycott of Israel?
Hamilton said that he was “staggered” to have been appointed and that when he initially asked if his support for Israel was a problem, he was “told by Corbyn’s office in clear terms it wasn’t”. I was also staggered by this totally unnecessary concession to the Zionist right. The appointment of an open Zionist suggests that Corbyn has effectively decided to abandon his previous support for the Palestinians.
Appeasement of Labour Friends of Israel will not serve the cause of either socialism or peace in the Middle East. Nor will it help Corbyn’s own precarious position as leader. Quite the contrary.
1 . In 1982, following the passing of our successful amendment at the 1982 Labour Party conference, the organisation was taken over by the Workers Revolutionary Party, with the help of our treasurer, Ted Knight.
2 . Daily Mail August 20 1938.
3 . Daily Mail August 7 2015.
4 . Jewish Chronicle August 12 2015.
5 . See letter from 22 Jewish people: www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/23/antisemitic-or-just-against-the-israeli-governments-oppressive-actions; also www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/17/labour-condemns-antisemitism-oxford-university-labour-club-claims.
6 . See T Greenstein, ‘Redefining anti-Semitism - the false anti-racism of the right’ Return No5, December 1990.
7 . www.thejc.com/news/world-news/139820/israel-now-jew-among-nations-says-abe-foxman.
8 . http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/edl-fascists-attack-birmingham.html.
9 . www.cbsnews.com/news/hagee-pro-israel-anti-semitic.
10 . www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-wilson/hagee-still-sells-controv_b_107545.html.
11 . http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/jedwabne-polish-village-where-up-to-900.html.
12 . T Gross Neighbours: the destruction of the Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland London 2000.
13 . The crime and the silence, which won the European Book Prize in 2011.
14 . The Observer October 11 2009.
15 . Jewish Chronicle October 10 2009.
16 . The Guardian October 9 2009.
17 . http://powerbase.info/index.php/World_Summit_on_Counter_Terrorism:_Terrorism’s_Global_Impact_-_ICT’s_9th_International_Conference.
18 . Jewish Chronicle February 9 2016.
19 . The Guardian May 22 2015.
20 . www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3381978,00.html.
21 . Jewish News January 13 2016.