Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn

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Jeremy Corbyn, with his controversial history of calling terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah "friends", and associating with known antisemites and Holocaust deniers, has become the leader of the British Labour party. Corbyn claims that his references to terrorists as "friends" was to promote peace and dialogue, yet many commentators have wondered whether he would call any Israeli Prime Minister his "friend".

The Forward outlined Corbyn's concerning associations:

"Perturbing British Jewry are Corbyn's associations with anti-Semitic individuals: Paul Eisen, the Holocaust denier whose foundation Deir Yassin Remembered Corbyn has supported; Raed Salah, a Palestinian leader convicted of funding Hamas, whom Corbyn invited to Parliament and called a "very honored citizen"; and Arab activist Dyab Abou Jahjah, with whom Corbyn shared a platform at a Stop The War Coalition meeting in 2009 but who was later banned from the UK on grounds of extremism.
Corbyn has also landed himself in hot water for Stop The War Coalition's support of al-Quds Day demonstrations and referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends' during a parliamentary meeting on the Middle East. He has previously met with representatives of both Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hamas and the military wing of Hezbollah are recognized as terrorist organizations by the European Union."

(For a complete list of Corbyn's concerning associations and comments see David Hirsh's "25 Things you should know about Jeremy Corbyn".) 

Corbyn won the Labour leadership election with a significant majority - 59.5% of the ballots cast, or 251,417 votes. Corbyn, a declared socialist, ran an anti-austerity campaign promising to tax the wealthy and renationalise parts of the economy. It seems voters were not disturbed by his views on foreign policy - his inclination for Britain to withdraw from the European Union and NATO, for Britain to disarm its nuclear weapons, nor his blame on the West for Russia's aggression in Ukraine. It seems they were not concerned with Corbyn's associations with antisemites either.

Britain's Jewish community is estimated to be around 290,000 and many have traditionally voted Labour - but Corbyn's leadership has left many Jews feeling alienated from the party. In an open letter to Corbyn, David Hirsh wrote:

"At the moment, lots of Jews feel locked out of the party; both the Labour Party and also the carnival of joy and optimism. Your new Labour Party does not feel like a safe place for Jews. Imagine how that feels."

Commentator Nick Cohen said he would no longer support the Labour party while Corbyn is leader, and in a video published on Spectator said, "I'm off, I resign." According to Cohen, Corbyn's election reflects a "moral crisis" for the Labour party as its leader supports oppressive regimes which run counter to traditional left wing causes. Explaining his view Cohen wrote in Spectator:

"Jeremy Corbyn did not become Labour leader because his friends in the Socialist Workers party organised a Leninist coup. Nor did the £3 click-activist day-trippers hand him victory. He won with the hearty and freely given support of ‘decent' Labour members...
But the fact remains that the Labour party has just endorsed an apologist for Putin's imperial aggression; a man who did not just appear on the propaganda channel of Russia, which invades its neighbours and persecutes gays, but also of Iran, whose hangmen actually execute gays. Labour's new leader sees a moral equivalence between 9/11 and the assassination of bin Laden, and associates with every variety of women-hating, queer-bashing, Jew-baiting jihadi, holocaust denier and 9/11 truther. His supporters know it, but they don't care....
The position of the Jews is grimmer still. To be blunt, the new leader of the opposition is ‘friends' with men who want them dead...
And yes, thank you again, I know at this point I am meant to say that Corbyn isn't an anti-Semite. Maybe he isn't, but some of his best friends are, and the record shows that out of cynicism or conviction he will engage in the left's version of ‘dog-whistle' race politics."

According to a Jewish Chronicle poll conducted during the election campaign, more than 80% of Jews said they were concerned about Corbyn's anti-Israel positions and affiliations with antisemites. Following Corbyn's win, Britain's Jewish Leadership Council released the following statement:

"The Jewish Leadership Council will, as we always have, find ways of working with Her Majesty's Opposition on matters relevant to us. Over the course of the leadership campaign, we had a number of concerns regarding some of Mr Corbyn's past connections, and his stances on policy areas of great significance to the Jewish community. It is important that the legitimate concerns of the community are addressed. We look forward to meeting with Mr Corbyn at the first available opportunity to discuss our concerns, but also ways in which the Labour Party and the Jewish community can continue to work together in a spirit of cooperation and understanding. We hope that the Labour movement remains a welcoming environment for members of the Jewish community, many of whom have lifelong commitments to it."

However, it is not only the Jewish community that is concerned by Corbyn's elevation. Many within Labour are unhappy with Corbyn's leadership and a revolt could split the party. Some major donors have pulled their funding from the Labour party concerned it has no chance of winning the next election. The first poll since his election showed that just 17% of voters believe Corbyn is likely to become prime minister and less than half of Labour voters trust him on the economy, according to a report in the Australian.

Labour's biggest individual donor John Mills pledged he would no longer fund the central party, and prominent donor Assem Allam announced that he would fund moderate figures prepared to launch a centrist party or defect to the Liberal Democrats. "The Egyptian-born tycoon, who has donated $1.55million to Labour since 2010, had already dismissed the party as a ‘dead horse' and he would no longer contribute cash," the Australian reported.

Corbyn already found himself in hot water last week for refusing to join in singing Britain's national anthem, and for allegedly taking two lunches meant for veterans, for himself, at an event.

How he acts in the coming days, weeks and months ahead will be critical to changing Britain's opinion. Can he unite a wounded Labour party? Can he reach out to Britain's Jewish community and show that he understands the pressures they experience from growing antisemitism, and the problems caused by associating with known antisemites and Holocaust deniers? And the degree to which anti-Zionism can quickly morph into antisemitism?

British writer Howard Jacobson expands on this issue in his brilliant article in the Independent, "Corbyn may say he's not anti-Semitic, but associating with the people he does is its own crime":

"Alone of prejudices, anti-Zionism is sacrosanct. How very dare we distinguish the motivation of one sort from another? Or question, in any instance, an anti-Zionist's good faith? In fact, what determines whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic is the nature of it. Question Israel's conduct of recent wars and you won't find many Jews, in Israel or outside it, who disagree with you. Join Hamas in calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, as the prime instigator of all evil, and you're on shakier ground.
In an apparent softening of party tone, Corbyn's warm-up man, the journalist Owen Jones, recently reprimanded the Left for its ingrained anti-Semitism. Welcome words, but they will remain only words so long as the Corbynite Left - and indeed the not-so Corbynite Left - refuses to acknowledge the degree to which anti-Semitism is snarled up in the before and after of Israelophobia....
Let's forget whether or not anti-Semitism is the root of this. It is sufficient that it is the consequence. Face that, Corbyn, or the offence you take at any imputation of prejudice is the hollow hypocrite's offence, and your protestations of loving peace and justice, no matter who believes them, are as ash."

Sharyn Mittelman

 

 

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