Pro-Israel lobby attacks Corbyn
The row over anti-semitism in the Labour Party has deep implications. It represents the latest in a series of attacks designed to unseat Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership of the Labour Party and a determined counter-attack by the pro-Israel lobby to thwart the growing popularity and success of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The anti-Semitism charge against the Labour Party reached a peak on the eve of the recent elections in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The timing was immaculate.
Well-orchestrated, the campaign was designed to do the maximum damage to Labour in the elections to provide a new and better platform for a coup against Corbyn. However, much as the pro-Israeli lobby and right-wing Labourites with their strong mainstream media connections dominated the air waves and the print media, the virulent campaign did not have as much impact on the elections as was hoped.
The campaign had been some months in the making. Arguably it broke surface publicly in February with the resignation of one of the co-chairs of the Oxford University Labour Club, making the charge that many members of the club were anti-Semitic. Citing as part of his evidence of anti-Semitism the club’s decision to support the ‘Israeli Apartheid Week of Action’ in support of Palestinian rights, Alex Chalmers resigned from his post as co-chair.
This received wide coverage in the national media and led to a National Union of Students investigation. What wasn’t widely reported was that Chalmers had worked as an intern for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Media Centre (BICOM), the leading pro-Israel media lobbyist organisation.
BICOM was founded in 2002 by the billionaire Puja Zabludowicz and has as its mission ‘advancing a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain’. Zabludowicz, who inherited his money from his father’s Israeli arms company, also donates to the Conservative Party and Conservative Friends of Israel.
BICOM’s Chief Executive is James Sorene. He took up the position of CEO of BICOM after leaving his post as the Official Spokesperson of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, following the 2015 General Election. Sorene had been a British civil servant for some sixteen years after a spell as Director of Public Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London.
In April 2016, a 2014 Facebook post of Naz Shah MP was exposed by the media. In the Facebook post Shah shared a graphic of Israel’s outline superimposed on a map of the US under the headline, “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into the United States.
Amidst a storm of media protest she apologised for any offence, saying she had done it in a heated moment, apologised again and again and made a formal apology in Parliament. She was suspended by the Labour Party on Wednesday 27 April.
Ken Livingstone in a radio interview stated that Shah’s postings were “completely over the top” and “rude”. He also stated that Hitler “was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” This remark was seized upon by the pro-Israel lobby who now smelt serious blood. Calls, led by Labour Friends of Israel MPs in Parliament were made for Livingstone to be suspended and Corbyn was under open and fierce attack. The Labour Party then suspended Livingstone on 28 April.
Jeremy Corbyn established an investigation into “anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination including Islamophobia” to be chaired by Shami Chakrabarti.
Corbyn said, “Labour is an anti-racist party to its core and has a long and proud history of standing against racism, including anti-Semitism. I have campaigned against racism all my life and the Jewish community has been at the heart of the Labour Party and progressive politics in Britain for more than 100 years.” [i]
Prime Ministers Questions
At Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons on Wednesday 4 May, the day before the elections, David Cameron, against this background of Labour being accused of anti-Semitism, repeatedly asked Jeremy Corbyn to withdraw and apologise for his remarks about Hamas and Hezbollah being friends. Andrew Neil on the BBC TV’s Daily Politics, immediately following PMQs, commented on the fact that the Prime Minister was asking the leader of the Opposition the questions rather than vice-versa and described this as “historic”. He also pointed out that it was hitherto the longest-lasting PMQs (41 minutes) rather than the customary tight 30 minutes.
Meanwhile the media was awash with stories, news reports and feature articles, condemning anti-Semitism on the left and in the Labour Party. The Telegraph published an article, “The Left Has Toxic Attitudes Towards Israel” by Sir Mick Davis, Chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, in which he wrote, “As anti-Semitism rises, demands to boycott, sanction and isolate Israel grow, and revelations of anti-Zionist rhetoric dominate British media, many question whether anti-Zionist and anti-Israel statements and actions have become the new anti-Semitism?”
He concluded his article with the following statement, “The wholesale condemnation of Israel and the revived fashion of demonising Zionism and Zionists are offensive and harmful to Jews. They are done with that intent in mind and we must be bold in calling out those who use a façade of anti-Zionism for what they mostly are: bigots and anti-Semites. They must be defeated and the time is now…” [ii]
Another article was a piece by Denis Maceoin, entitled “Scottish Labour and the Left must cut out the poison of anti-semitism”. He wrote, “Commonly, left-wingers, including members of the Labour Party exclaim ‘we are not ant-Semitic because we are not racists’ and they get away with that every time. They say their angry hatred for the Jewish State of Israel is merely ordinary politics. But this argument, voiced repeatedly recently, is just worn and threadbare doublespeak…so many left-wingers are so ignorant about and so deeply biased against Israel that their naiveté exposes them to ridicule. Like that man of peace and brotherly love, Jeremy Corbyn, who has called terror organisations Hamas and Hezbollah his friends and appeared on many platforms calling for a ‘Free Palestine’”[iii]
Dr Denis Maceion was described as a “Distinguished Senior Fellow” at the Gatestone Institute. The Gatestone Institute’s President and Founder, American heiress, Nina Rosenwald, is described as “an ardent Zionist all her life” by the American Friends of the Open University of Israel. [iv]
The Chairman of the Gatestone Institute is Ambassador John R. Bolton, who served in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush Administrations. He was the US Permanent Representative to the UN (2005-2006).
Another “Distinguished Senior Fellow” of the Gatestone Institute is Colonel (retired) Richard Kemp. Colonel Kemp spent most of his 30year career in the British Army, commanding in Iraq, the Balkans, South Asia and Northern Ireland. In 2002-2006 he was in the British Prime Minister’s Office heading the international terrorism team at the Joint Intelligence Committee.
In an article published jointly with Jasper Reid on 2 May 2016 he wrote, “Anti-Semitism is not a fashionable thing, and it is an illegal activity in many places. But anti-Zionism is not illegal. And it becomes a proxy for anti-Semitism.” [v]
In 2015 Colonel Kemp was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Bar-ilan University in Israel for “Courageously defending Israel’s security policies and the morality of the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) before the UN Human Rights Council, he has helped strengthen the standing of Israel throughout the world.” [vi]
Colonel Kemp was one of the leading speakers at the “We Believe in Israel” conference organised by BICOM in London in 2011. It was attended by some 1100 people and supported by 26 community organisations to discuss how to defend Israel and oppose the boycott.
Campaign against Corbyn
The campaign to remove Corbyn is part of a wider political operation being mounted by the supporters of Israel to paint the Labour Party with the anti-Semitism brush and to re-define anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism exists and must be exposed and fought against but anti-Semitism is not the same as anti-Zionism.
Zionism is a political ideology which has always been contested, not least among Jews, since it emerged in 1897. Not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews. It is entirely legitimate for non-Jews as well as Jews to express opinions about Zionism. Criticism of Israeli government policy and Israeli state actions against Palestinians is not anti-Semitism.
The aim of this latest campaign, by the pro-Israel lobby and their right-wing supporters in the Labour Party, was not just to lay the basis for the removal of Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party and his replacement by a pliant leader but also to re-work the definition of anti-Semitism.
This wider aim is to make opposition to Zionism and Israel synonymous with anti-Semitism.
[i] The Guardian, 29 April 2016
[iii] Maceoin, D., “Scottish Labour and the Left must cut out the poison of anti-Semitism”, The Herald, 3 May 2016.