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Corbyn’s Labour hit by new fake antisemitism row

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The obvious explanation for the renewed media onslaught on Labour’s left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, over allegations of antisemitism is that it is an attempt to undermine the party's chances of major successes in local council elections on May 3.

There is a lot more to it than that, however. First of all, it is aimed at counteracting Corbyn’s growing control over the Party apparatus. Even after his victory in 2015, this was still dominated by the Right. They used their control to suspend and expel leftwingers on a number of trumped up charges, hoping to demoralise and drive out Corbyn supporters. In recent months, however, with a new pro-Corbyn General Secretary and a new leftwing majority on the NEC, the Right's days appeared to be numbered.

Beyond that, the Right are seeking an even bigger prize; to prevent a general election victory for a party led by a man who supports the rights of the Palestinians. That means he cannot be relied on to support Israel, Britain and America's biggest strategic asset in the Middle East. For the Labour Right wing, where Zionism has always been strong, this alone is proof positive of anti-Semitism.

This is also intimately related to the recent media attack on Corbyn for refusing to unconditionally endorse Theresa May’s onslaught on Russia for the Salisbury poison attack. Here, too, the Labour Right joined in the attacks on Corbyn. Their message, the message of the British ruling class to whom they are unconditionally loyal, is that the state machine of British imperialism is not safe in his hands. We can expect such attacks to rise to fever pitch, the nearer a general election comes. They can only be counteracted by total and complete defiance, exposure of their purpose and the mobilisation of the entire labour movement to ensure they do not succeed.

In recent months, there has been a string of leftwing victories in constituency parties across the country, and a series of by-election victories for Labour at local level. Polls point to a major Labour victory in the coming Local Authority elections, especially in London, which is predicted to have the strongest showing by a single party since 1968.

Deprived of their repeated claims that a party with a leftwing manifesto is ‘unelectable’, the Labour Right turned to their other well-worn theme, that anti-Semitism is rife on the left of the party. This is based on Corbyn’s condemnation of Israeli attacks such as the wholesale destruction of Gaza in 2014. They claim that, even if Corbyn himself is not an antisemite, he tolerates or is soft on antisemitism.

Imagine their glee, therefore, when pro-Israel MP Luciana Berger discovered that in 2012 Corbyn had posted on Facebook condemning the destruction of a sub-Diego Rivera style mural on a wall in East London by the American artist Mear One, as vandalism.

The mural contained images of bankers, with antisemitic stereotypical “Jewish noses” with the Illuminati Eye symbol behind, gathered around a Monopoly board which was resting on the bent backs of naked Third World figures. Its slogan was: “The New World Order is the enemy of humanity." The artist says his mural was about class and privilege and was not antisemitic. But plainly this was an example of deranged and reactionary conspiracy theories (Bilderberg, the Illuminati,) and it did include standard antisemitic tropes.

Certainly, Corbyn erred seriously in not spotting this. There is no doubt that such a mural, in Tower Hamlets, in London’s East End, an old Jewish quarter, was highly offensive to Jewish and non-Jewish antiracists alike. It deserved to be obliterated and the Labour Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, correctly had it removed. Six years later, when the triumphant Berger raised the issue and demanded an explanation from Corbyn, he did, rightly, give a clear and unequivocal apology.

But the trap had been sprung and a full-spectrum campaign, still ongoing, was underway. It dominated newspaper headlines and TV news broadcasts alike. Brushing aside Corbyn’s apology, Britain’s conservative Jewish organisations, including the unelected Board of Deputies of British Jews, organised a demonstration of a few hundreds outside Parliament on the evening of March 26. Right wing Blairite Labour MPs joined this demonstration.

As the Board of Deputies is always strongly supportive of Israel and shares that state’s anxiety at the prospect of a pro-Palestinian politician becoming British Prime Minister, all this was no surprise. The Board is so out of touch with the generally liberal views of assimilated British Jewry that its President, Jonathan Arkush, caused outrage by welcoming the election of Donald Trump as US President.

The Tory press, especially the Daily Mail, with a daily circulation of 1.3 million, then came howling into the fray. Its front-page headline: ANTI-SEMITIC LABOUR: THE STENCH GROWS gives the flavour, or rather the smell, of it. This will come as no surprise to those who know the paper. Owned by the Rothermere family since its launch in the 19th century, it supported the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosely in the 1930s. It still runs vile anti-immigrant cartoons based on hideous racist stereotypes.

Perhaps more surprisingly, for some, the Mail was joined by liberal papers like The Guardian and centrist media like BBC and Channel 4. They all hosted a rogues gallery of rightwing Labour MPs who maximised Corbyn’s embarrassment by calling on him to admit he had “a blind spot when it comes to antisemitism” and demanded that he launch a purge to rid the party of it.

Following a succession of unwarranted and defamatory accusations of antisemitism, including hastily withdrawn claims against antizionist Jewish activists like Moshe Machover and Glyn Secker, the rightwingers then demanded more aggressive prosecution of disciplinary cases for alleged antisemitism. One even argued that it should be a disciplinary offence to dissent from the claim that antisemitism is rife in the Labour Party, even though this has been statistically proven to be untrue.

While it is absolutely necessary for socialists to oppose the right wing's fake claims of antisemitism, and to expose Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, it is no less important to deal with real examples of antisemitism where they exist. On the Corbyn supporting online discussion groups, there are too many Labour Party members who make the mistake of dismissing all allegations as unfounded. This must be resisted, real examples of antisemitism must be called out, and any real antisemites must be confronted and expelled.

Nor will it do to treat antisemitism as if it has no history on the Left. It has, because it reflects a vulgar form of “anticapitalism” which opposes not the profit system and its ruling classes but singles out one section of them, those who are Jews, for special criticism. This reactionary ‘anticapitalist’ antisemitism, which the great Marxist, August Bebel, described so accurately as ‘the socialism of fools’, is widespread among the alt-right and the conspiracy minded internet trolls today, and it can seep back into the Left if it is not forensically identified and systematically challenged.

On March 26, after days of bombardment, Corbyn issued his third and final statement. It made too many concessions to the Right and implied that antisemitism was indeed rife within the party. It failed to draw attention to the number of proven false allegations of antisemitism, it failed to identify the political purpose of the attacks or even to highlight the racism of the Tories and the right wing media, on which the Board of Deputies and conservative Jewish dignitaries are conspicuously silent. This allowed the press to focus all their attention on “Corbyn apologises”, with the very clear implication that the charges of antisemitism were entirely justified.

It is not to be soft on antisemitism in any way to observe that, in Britain, it is not the most widespread or the most severe of the forms of racism that people suffer. Systematic discrimination against Black and Asian people in jobs, housing and pay, police violence against Black and Asian youth, even street violence, is more widespread against Black, Muslim and Asian people than it is against Jews, proportionally as well as in total.

We make this point not to relegate the importance of the fight against antisemitism but to highlight the double standards of the rightwing who weaponise false allegations against Corbyn but utterly fail to show a fraction of that zeal in combatting other, more widespread, forms of racism which blight our society, such as islamophobia. We live in a deeply racist society, in which expressions of that racism frequently find their way into the labour movement, witness Jack Straw claiming women in hijab made him feel uncomfortable, and Sarah Chapman MP’s criticism of Pakistani culture.

Amidst this very modern witch hunt, with its fake news, demagogy, media management and inversions of reality, in which Britain’s most prominent antiracist can be pilloried for ... racism, one ray of light has come from Jewish Voice for Labour. This non-Zionist alliance of Jewish Labour Party members and their supporters, rallied to Corbyn both in a counter protest in Parliament Square and as speakers on news programmes on radio and television. They not only rebutted the allegations but reminded people that the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi do not speak for all British Jews and never have.

Is this latest campaign the beginning of another attempted coup against Corbyn? Or is it scene-setting for a different tactic altogether? There are increasing rumours, prominently reported in The Sunday Times, that plans are afoot to launch a new party in the Autumn based on the Blairite Right, Tory Remainers like Anna Soubry and with the infrastructure and electoral database of the Liberal Democrats at its core. Whether a repeat of the 1983 Social Democratic Party split from Labour would be viable is an open question but, given the inevitable political and economic instability related to Brexit and the evident inadequacy of the leadership of Britain's traditional party of the ruling class, the Tories, there is widespread agreement within that class on the need to prevent a Corbyn-led Labour government.

That determination is not only driven by domestic issues. As the still significant, if junior, partner of US imperialism, the British state has a vested interest in maintaining the state of Israel. That state can only exist by denying the rights of the Palestinians and, therefore, Corbyn's long standing and principled defence of those rights is understood as a threat to the interests of the British state. To his credit, Corbyn immediately condemned the most recent murders of Palestinian demonstrators on the Gaza border. The incident, however, underlines the centrality of the issues involved. Should his commitment ever waver, that would represent a major victory for the right in the UK and for reaction internationally.

That is why, as well as defending Corbyn and rebutting the false allegations of antisemitism, the Left in the UK must also step up the fight for solidarity with the people of Palestine, expose the blackout in the media regarding the reality of life under the Israeli occupation and fight for its overthrow and the creation of a Palestinian workers' state.