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Labour’s antisemitism crisis: an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn

corbyn not good enough

Dear comrade Corbyn,

How has the crisis that grips the new, new Labour Party on antisemitism come about? How has it come to be the major scandal it is now?

Yes, the charge of antisemitism is now a weapon of the Tories, the Labour right, and the media against the Labour Party. The question that matters, though, is: are they right about it? Right about the essentials, not this or that incident or extrapolation? If the charge is true, than it overshadows everything else. Antisemitism is not just a little political blemish. It poisons and warps and rots the mind, the integrity, the spirit and the humanity of everything it touches. It puts those who let themselves be fouled by it in the same political and moral sphere - in however small a role - with those who perpetrated the greatest crime of the 20th century.

It is true, I believe, that the eight Labour MPs who have left the party over antisemitism and the Party's refusal to be firmly anti-Brexit are, in general politics, all Blair-Brownites. Nobody who watched and listened to Luciana Berger's speech explaining why she left the Labour Party will doubt the sincerity of her account of the antisemitism that has driven her and the others, or most of them, out of the Party. The alarm that has gripped the Jewish community about antisemitism in the Labour Party and the prospect of a government led by you and your close collaborators is real. It is what it seems to be, and not just a political posture to damage the Labour Party.

There is a long tradition in much of the Jewish community of support and involvement with the Labour Party. To the leaders of the Jewish community, and many Jews, including Jewish members or recent ex-members of the Labour Party, the "left" in the Party, or some of it, must appear as possible future anti-Jewish pogromists, as has much of the would-be "revolutionary" left for a long time now. I am not jumping on anyone's bandwagon in saying this. Solidarity and its predecessor Socialist Organiser - in which you wrote frequently in its early years - have campaigned against antisemitism on the left for four decades and more. We have published pamphlets about it and recently dealt with it in books.

Where has the crisis come from? From five decades of political and moral ferment on the ostensibly "Trotskyist" left in which absolute hostility to Israel, to *any* Israel, has slowly built up in the political atmosphere like poisonous smog.

During the Blair-Brown epoch, that "revolutionary" left was excluded and self-excluded from the Labour Party. The "Corbyn surge" that recreated a mass membership almost overnight pulled into the new, new Labour Party a lot of people educated on the Middle East question in the kitsch left. With them they brought their political baggage, and a trolling and bullying culture. On a certain level, the Corbyn surge was also an antisemitic purge. Some of them were involved in the 1970s and 80s in campaigning in the National Union of Students and on campuses against the right of Jewish student societies to exist. We have recently seen a new case of that, the first for decades, at Essex University.

There is, of course, an "objective" basis for all this in the festering Middle East conflict. There is an element of supporting the Palestinians, championing their rights which Israel often tramples on, smothered in it, somewhere. But the activists of "left" antisemitism go way beyond that necessary support for the Palestinians. Milk gone sour then "thickens" and changes its consistency. The long-existing absolute-antiZionist antisemitism dominant on the pseudo-revolutionary left has, on entry to the new, new Labour Party, on contact with it, thickened into something more virulent and poisonous. There is joy and satisfaction in self-righteous hatred, a nasty mix of aggression and self-love. "Zionist"-baiting can become an agreeable activity.

Antisemites are always perverted moralists. One measure of the absolute-anti-Zionist antisemites is that they know that the Arab and Islamic states' anti-Israel propaganda involves wholesale dissemination of old Nazi antisemitism, unrecycled and recycled, but they are not troubled by it and do not treat it as what it is: a mirror in which to look at themselves. The absolute anti-Zionists typically do not support the Palestine Liberation Organisation policy (since 1988) for a two-states settlement, an independent Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. They are adamantly for a one-state solution, for an Arab and Islamic state incorporating the population of 1948-67 Israel, or those of the population whom it does not kill or drive out in conquering them.

The absolute anti-Zionists have not noticed that the one-state solution actually on offer is one now favoured by some of the Israeli right - a Jewish-Hebrew state ruling all pre-1948 Palestine, with a great Arab minority and for certain a long future of bitter conflict. The absolute anti-Zionists typically support and advocate Arab and Islamic war on Israel. With placards, banners, slogans, and platform speakers, this alleged left has turned "peace" demonstrations into demonstrations for war on Israel by the Arab and Islamic states. They have taken over the historical demonisation of Zionism created and spread by the Stalinist movement in Stalin's last four or five years, up to 1953. That is where all the nonsense, in Lenni Brenner's books for instance, about Zionist-Nazi affinity and alliance come from.

For some, such as your close comrades in arms of the Morning Star, this is natural enough. Called the Daily Worker in that period, it spread the absolute-anti-Zionist antisemitic poison spewing out from Russia and Russia's satellites, where antisemitic show trials were held in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. In the mid-50s the Communist Party went through a period of self-criticism. They shed those attitudes for a long time. They have regressed.

In June 2018, a writer in the Morning Star proclaimed: "No amount of protestations about the symptoms of rising anti-semitism or anti-Israel sentiment in Britain and elsewhere will end the problem until its root cause - Israel’s criminal behaviour - is dealt with". An outcry led the Morning Star to formally retract that too explicit and candid statement of what, self-righteously, they really believe. Your record shows that you are a man who has a principled commitment to a general socialism, and is freed of the occupational hazard of MPs, careerism, venal self-serving, and political scoundrelism in general. But you, comrade Corbyn, have to my knowledge never drawn a political line between your present self and the antisemitism-fomenting publication for which you wrote a regular column until elected Labour Party leader.

I was agreeably surprised, after your 2015 election as Labour Party leader, when someone told me you were for a two-states settlement. I had seen you sharing platforms at gatherings with virulent absolute anti-Zionists such as George Galloway. Many who pay lip-service to "two states" combine it with absolute anti-Zionist commentaries that imply not "two states" but the rejection of any sort of Israel. You?

Comrade Corbyn, a two-states programme for the Middle East cuts against the prevailing absolute anti-Zionism, and against the demonisation of the living "Zionists" in Israel. The absolute anti-Zionists are racists. That is a word that has lost much of its meaning and become the equivalent of a swear-word, expressing detestation and moral repugnance. It serves to obliterate all distinctions and gradations. Here it is precise, literal. The absolute anti-Zionists are "gene-ists". They have a political theory based on genetics. Their chief demand is a "right of return", meaning an organised movement to pre-1967 Israel of six million people designated as Palestinian refugees.

Only a small fraction of those six million are refugees. The rest are descendants of refugees. Yet the six million descendants of refugees are deemed to have a right to displace six and a half million Jews in the territory where their parents, grandparents, and maybe great-grandparents have lived and built an advanced society that has little in common now with the rudimentary Israeli or Palestinian society of seven decades ago. This "right of return" implies, and is meant to imply, the displacement of the Jews of Israel. By what standards do the descendants of the people who lived in that territory decades ago have the right to do that? There is no possible answer other than that they have the right genes. They are genetic descendants of the refugees of 1948 or after.

The self-righteous absolute anti-Zionist hysteria, denouncing the very existence of Israel as "racist", blunder onto the territory of pure race theory! Some of the most virulent "anti-Zionists" would translate this also into religious terms: Islam has precedence over Judaism. They also, though I don't want to stretch what I am saying here, implicitly have a "racist" definition of those whom they want to see conquered and disarmed.

Blaming only Israel for the plight of the Palestinian descendants of refugees is also prejudiced nonsense. The Palestinians who fled or were driven out in 1948 did so during a war in which Arab states, most still British-dominated, some still with British officers in important positions in the invading armies, attacked the territory allocated to the Jews by the United Nations 1947 partition plan. The Egyptian forces, at least, moved under the slogan, "Drive the Jews into the sea". About 750,000 Arabs were refugees at the end. Perhaps 600,000 Jews were driven out of Arab states, their property confiscated, then or in the next decades. Israel absorbed those Jews.

In 1945, 12 or 13 million Germans were driven out of areas of Eastern Europe where German communities had lived for hundred of years, into an economically ruined and starving Germany which nevertheless absorbed them. Perhaps half a million died of hardship or were murdered during that process. That many Arab refugees remained refugees for decades was the result of deliberate policy by Arab governments not to let them assimilate, become a general part of the population, or even work. In Jordan (1970) and Lebanon (1983), Arabs massacred Palestinian Arab refugees.

It is on gross historical misrepresentations such as on this question that much of the hysteria against Israel which is now a major factor in the life of the Labour Party was built over decades. Current conflicts are seen in the distorting light of this absolute anti-Zionist pseudo-history. The core and root of the main contemporary antisemitism is there in the falsified history and in the conclusion it leads to - that Israel is an illegitimate nation, that its state has no right to exist, and that Arab and Islamic states that want to put it out of existence should be supported.

Israel now acts from a position of strength vis-a-vis the Palestinians. There is a lot to criticise and condemn in Israeli policy towards the Palestinians - centrally, Israel's de facto opposition to a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But at root there is a conflict of right against right here, to which the solution should be not the destruction of Israel but "equalising up" by way of the Palestinians getting their own state.

The Jewish nation that won independence in 1948 was built up around Jews indigenous to the area. There was already a Jewish majority in Jerusalem before the migration of Jews from Europe in the 20th century. The Jewish population was augmented by refugees from Polish antisemitism in the 20th century; by refugees from Nazism in the 1930s; and by Jews in the 1940s fleeing for the lives (and pitilessly refused entry to Palestine during the war and for three years after by the British overlords, under pressure of the Arab world).

What is needed in the Labour Party is a drive to educate the party and politically beat down the ideologues of an absolute anti-Zionism that becomes barely distinguishable from antisemitism. That is what a responsible leadership should do.

The Morning Star which incites the antisemites (and in a moment of soon-retracted candour justified antisemitism as a proper response to what Israel does) is in theory for two states, but shares and propagandises for all the judgements that leads the raucous antisemites in the party to deny Israel the right to exist. So, it appears, do you. Here the question is a variant of an old one: who is to educate the educators?

As well as an educational drive in the party on this question - which includes a candid discussion of the politics of the leadership - the party should declare advocacy of the destruction of Israel , by Arab or Islamic states or whomever, incompatible with membership of the Labour Party. Encoded versions of that policy - via "right of return" for example - should not be tolerated in the labour movement. Advocacy of measures that are code for driving Israel out of existence - "right of return", "from the river to the sea", etc. - should not be tolerated in a healthy labour movement.

Probably there is very wide acceptance that Holocaust deniers should not be in the Labour Party. Among the absolute anti-Zionists there is a direct descendant of that - Holocaust mitigation, the idea that the Holocaust happened but it should be treated as if it is of no consequence in history, especially for understanding how Israel came into existence.

On one level, a middle-aged woman saying that there have been many "Holocausts" might just be a piece of heroic ignorance or the result of an epochally thick skin. In fact, even if it comes from a misdirected urge to side with the Palestinians, it is part of Holocaust mitigation. But things like do not lend themselves to political warfare measures. Specific criticisms of Israel only become lethal and should be impermissible when they are used (as they too often are) to justify the conclusion that therefore Israel should not exist and that "we" should side with Arab and Islamic states that try to put it out of existence.

The Labour Party is the party of the broad labour movement, and therefore the concern of everyone who wishes the party well. The absolute anti-Zionist "left" are carriers of a lethal poison in the labour movement. For the same reason, people should not leave the Labour Party over antisemitism, and those who have left in disgust at antisemitism should rejoin. Fight the antisemites, don't abandon the party to them.

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