Corbyn’s worldview is made for antisemites
Hatred of colonialism, capitalism and Zionism are so intertwined in left-wing minds that distaste for Jews comes easily
I have only been on two political demonstrations in my life. The first was a rally against apartheid more than 30 years ago when PW Botha was in London meeting Margaret Thatcher. I held up a banner and marched just in front of a group from the Socialist Workers Party who were chanting “Soweto and Palestine, one struggle, one fight”. The future Labour MP Chris Mullin tried selling me a copy of Tribune, of which he was the editor. I’m sure Jeremy Corbyn was there somewhere. My second demo was on Monday. Neither Chris Mullin nor Jeremy Corbyn was present. Over this last weekend a controversy broke out about Mr Corbyn’s support for an antisemitic mural, and something snapped in the Jewish community. Hardly a day seems to go by without an antisemitic incident involving members of the Labour Party. Too many of them involved the leader himself. And now this. So the main communal bodies gathered on Parliament Square before delivering a letter of protest to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party and I showed up to offer support The atmosphere was a mild air of surprise commingled with depression. We were standing outside chanting. Had it really come to this? And might it rain? I think I counted as an experienced veteran of demonstrations by comparison with everyone else. When some people pushed to the front, others at the back started joking “they do know there’s no food up there”. The mic didn’t work properly, leading people to start shouting “can you repeat that” as if attending a supper quiz. The police did not require riot shields. There was even a small counter demo because this, after all, was a Jewish event. A Jewish night out involves five people, six cars and seven opinions. Having a little dissent made it feel like the synagogue AGM. In other words it was demo amateur night Because this wasn’t a synthetic political protest organised by rent-a-crowd. It was an authentic display of concern and more than a little desperation, a spontaneous statement of anger and bewilderment by organisations representing the overwhelming majority of Britain’s Jews. I think the moment that captured this desperation best was when the brave Labour MP Luciana Berger called on us all to join the Labour Party. There was something tragic about Luciana’s request. I could see her point. She needs allies for the fight. But on the other hand, how likely is victory? Jeremy Corbyn is going nowhere. So neither is antisemitism. Let’s leave the question of whether Mr Corbyn himself is antisemitic. As the Labour MP John Mann correctly put it: “I don’t know”. It is certainly hard to believe that the Labour leader could have even glanced at that street mural of stereotypical Jews playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor and not appreciated it was antisemitic. The columnist Euan McColm brilliantly compared it to seeing the Nazi eagle and swastika and saying “I only glanced at it and thought it was a parrot carrying an electric fan”. But OK. Why don’t we choose to believe him for a moment or two? Let’s concentrate instead on the argument that the mural was making, Jew or no Jew. Searching for a new direction after Khrushchev’s secret speech on the crimes of Stalin in 1956, the left began to champion insurgent movements and nationalist revolutions in emerging economies. Leaders like Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh (and later the Sandinistas and Hugo Chávez) represented an alternative both to western capitalism and Soviet communism. The guerrilla fighter became a romantic figure to them, the economics professor in battle fatigues profiled by New Left Review, the three-hour speeches of dictators anthologised. And along the way, the Palestinian cause was added. Malcolm X had a good deal to do with this. On the run from his enemies in the Nation of Islam, the African-American separatist leader escaped to the Middle East, undertaking a pilgrimage which led him towards orthodox Islam. And also towards pan-Africanism, a socialist idea championed in newly independent African countries. It mixed unorthodox socialist economics with the argument that Africans were a single people victimised by colonialism. Already convinced that Jews were economic exploiters, Malcolm now brought this together with his new doctrine. The “Zionist dollar” was bankrolling colonial oppression. Returning to the United States he helped spread this politics to those that were inspired by his defiance and demeanour. It has been very influential on the new left Over time, Zionism ceased to refer simply to the creation of Israel and criticism of it ceased to be criticism merely of that state’s government. Zionism became the symbol of colonialism: the worst example of it, the greatest sin, with Zionists the greatest sinners. Zionism became a shorthand for colonial oppression, and antiZionism a statement of opposition to western capitalism and of confidence that there is a workable popular alternative to the free market economy. Nazism was imperialist so Zionism must be like Nazism, and Hitler and the Jews were collaborators. This was the politics championed by Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell as they worked together in the early 1980s, each with their own emphasis. It is all over the articles they produced for London Labour Briefing and Labour Herald. And it defined the allies that they accumulated. Believing that there is a global conspiracy of bankers, Zionist colonialists, and the freemasons to oppress the workers of the world is a dangerously honkers idea. And it is also bound to attract and sustain antisemites. The man who painted Corbyn’s mural is just one example. Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t on those Facebook groups of antisemites by accident, nor did the mad conspiracy mural come to his attention by happenstance. He belonged to these groups because he shares their conspiracy-driven way of looking at the world, even if he wouldn’t always use the same language. While the Jewish community gathered in Parliament Square, Mr Corbyn’s supporters were busy angrily rejecting the charge against him and Labour. Mr Mullin said the Jews were “ganging up” on his friend. The suggestion was made that this was a plot to derail Labour’s local election campaign. In other words “We aren’t antisemites, so why are the Jews plotting against us?” Yet the truth was much sadder than that. The crowd was full of Labour supporters who feel they cannot now accept Luciana Berger’s invitation. And that Mr Corbyn can’t do anything about the problem, because he is the problem. And where does that leave you if you are on the left and a Jew? Or even a friend of the Jews?