Understanding the media is not like understanding maths or physics. We have no great urge to believe that 2+2=5. We are happy to believe that 2+2=4, if the evidence adds up. But we do like to believe that the newspaper we read is basically honest…The alternative is disturbing, frightening; it can give rise to painful feelings of powerlessness. Above all, it can lead us to question whether we should assume moral responsibility for the state of our country and world – a burden many of us would rather avoid.– Newspeak in the 21st Century by David Edwards and David Cromwell
This is an insight into the sickening, anti-Semitic weaponisation of anti-Semitism itself.
If it hurts your head trying to wrap your mind around that concept, grit your teeth and steel yourself: you’re about to enter a sort of Orwellian nightmare that only hope, heart, meaningful discourse, diplomatic discussion, debate – and facts – can vanquish.
Firstly, let’s look at anti-Semitism itself: hatred, prejudice, or discrimination towards Jews – an ethnoreligious group comprised of people who follow Judaism, or are born into a Jewish family, or have some Jewish ancestral lineage.
A hundred years ago – as many people who happened to be Jewish experienced upward social mobility in North America and Europe – the ignorant, unfounded, racist scapegoating of Jews for any number of society’s problems was building to a frenzy, all around the world, and, left unchecked, resulted in arguably the most horrific event in human history, with the Holocaust.
Yes, even in Britain, the likes of Winston Churchill had allowed anti-Semitism to grow, and even blamed Jews themselves for its rise. “People assume that Jewish refugees were welcomed, at least in the 1930s, with a tolerance that has traditionally been seen as a beacon of Britishness,” explained Dr Anne Karpf from London Metropolitan University. “They’re shocked to discover that rabid intolerance – among both press and government – has a strong British pedigree.”
Meanwhile, Nazi Germany had invaded Poland, triggering the Second World War, and set up segregated areas to keep Jews from the rest of the population – “ghettos.” Over time, thousands of detention areas (and, later, the British model of the concentration camp) were implemented across parts of Europe that Germany occupied. Members of the LGBT community, vegetarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, socialists, communists, Soviet citizens and prisoners of war, Slavs, Roma, sick and disabled people were all targeted as “the other” – where different was dangerous; demonised as somehow polluting the Nazis’ quest to be the “master race” of supposedly strong white authoritarian figures. Over 17,000,000 people were exterminated, but the most high-profile of the entire Nazi mission was the planned anti-Semitic eradication of the Jews, the Nazis’ “Final Solution” planned to be carried out in the Holocaust as a result of their agreement at a conference at Berlin’s Wannsee House (now a Holocaust memorial). A staggering 6,000,000 Jewish people were wiped out. That’s two-thirds of all Jews in Europe at the time, all killed, simply for being Jewish. Too many citizens stood by for too long, and by the time the reality emerged, it was too late.
“Holocaust refugees and survivors have been sanctified and idealised after the event, on occasion by the very same publications that at the time demonised them and sought to impugn their authenticity,” said Dr Anne Karpf. She also cited Tony Kushner, the professor of history at the University of Southampton, saying, “People feel that the country should maintain asylum for genuine asylum seekers, but they’re always in the past, never today…The Daily Mail has been an anti-alien newspaper since the 1900s. There’s great continuity.”
A terrible lesson sadly still not learnt from by too many in our society, the Holocaust was the tragic conclusion to a campaign where frustrations and fears from people suffering from capitalism’s inequalities were exploited to demonise another marginalised or oppressed group – in various other forms and to varying degrees, this technique has been used over and over, on groups from Roma, to travellers, to refugees. Those who don’t learn from history – to paraphrase the philosopher George Santayana – are doomed to repeat it.
There was a justified pride in many Jews going on to enjoy great success in Hollywood, where American audiences saw for the first time the horrors of the Holocaust on screen via Fred Zinnemann’s The Search and, before that, actual documentary footage included in Orson Welles’s The Stranger, produced by Sam Spiegel. Herbert J. Biberman quickly wrote The Master Race for wartime release, a film providing a warning about a future return of Nazis fighting for the supremacy of “true Europeans” over lesser “mongrel” races.
It was once again right-wing interests which targeted many of these filmmakers telling thought-provoking stories and using the art-form to disseminate truths to mass audiences, as Senator Joe McCarthy led a witch-hunt against supposedly “anti-American” filmmakers. Refusing to sell out his colleagues or his principles, Biberman actually went to prison, and, upon his release, worked outside the Hollywood studio system that blacklisted him, directing Salt of the Earth, a film about the 1951 New Mexico miners’ strike from what was at the time considered to be a feminist perspective, with The Hollywood Reporter claiming the movie was made “under direct orders of the Kremlin,” and the establishment shunned it – yet the more time passed, the more the film was praised and embraced worldwide for its ground-breaking content.
The McCarthy witch-hunt was largely utilised as a way to diminish the influence of dissenting voices in Hollywood, with democratic socialists and even progressive liberals being accused of being communists (and astonishingly in the case of Biberman – himself a Jew – accused of being a Nazi for merely opposing war, then accused of being a communist after the war). A lot of shit tends to stick, and even the Democratic Party-supporting Roman Catholic Gene Kelly, who we all know and love from the famous Singin’ in the Rain, butted heads with McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities – so no surprise if you barely recall seeing an older Gene Kelly, as even though he lived to be 83, his work was sporadic after the McCarthy witch-hunt.
The Second World War saw many people seek refuge from Europe. Two such individuals who fled the spectre of Nazism, leaving Germany and France respectively and settling in Youngstown, Ohio, had a son named Richard D. Wolff – today “America’s most prominent Marxist economist.”
As the child of parents fleeing fascism and initially welcomed in the United States – and whose wife Harriet Fraad was a leading feminist activist and a member of the Communist Party of America – Wolff understands the McCarthyist era with a unique personal insight as well as an incredible academic comprehension. “Organised labour’s decline in the U.S. over the past half century is well known,” he said. “What drove that decline, less so.” He has explained how American conservatives, business interests, and Republicans opposed the New Deal by developing a coordinated strategy to break up the coalition of organised labour, socialists, and communists: “One line of attack used anti-communist witch-hunts to frighten socialists and labour unions into dissociating themselves from former communist allies,” he stated. “Another attack targeted socialists by equating them with communists and applying the same demonisation.”
After an ill-fated move to Youngstown, Ohio myself, I flew back to Britain via Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and NY/NJ just days away from September 11th, 2001, and – after hanging an American flag out of my window in honour of the Americans affected by the terrorist attacks on that date by predominantly Saudi terrorists – I settled in another similar steel city, Sheffield, not far from Doncaster, where I grew up. With two universities and a population of a half a million people, “The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire” was a hotbed of anti-fascist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist activism, which I became involved in – and just a year after I’d moved to the city, British troops were sent to invade Iraq as part of the “War on Terror” concocted after 9/11. The UN’s Scott Ritter was told to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as justification for an invasion, and inspection after inspection, using the most cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technology available, each and every time, he found nothing. But it didn’t matter – they’d made up their minds that they wanted to take over and control that country anyway, and they set about doing so. In addition to the historic demonstration in London on February 15th, 2003, I attended dozens of anti-war protests across the country, and was inspired by both Muslims and Jews marching together, side by side, in opposition to military aggression. There was a sense of unification, solidarity, and belonging to the anti-war movement, and – contrary to what is portrayed by mass media – it succeeded, not in reversing the military action, but in the sense that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s credibility was irreparably damaged and has remained in ruins, and politicians have been much more reluctant to vote for overt invasions overseas ever since.
I remember attending a Unite Against Fascism event, where two impromptu speakers got up and shared stories of oppression against their people – again, one was a Jew, the other a Muslim – and engaged in a tearful embrace, unified against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, while enlightening people like me in the crowd and pointing out that, while one might offer the greeting “Shalom aleichem” and the other “As-salamu alaykum,” both mean the same: “Peace be upon you.”
From Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond, the “War on Terror” in fact only stoked more terror, while many of our demonstrations since urged people not to conflate ISIS with Islam and its 1.8 billion peaceful Muslims, who were themselves now experiencing demonisation due to the hate speech of groups like the British National Party, whose Sheffield City Council election candidates stood and taunted myself and other Anti-Nazi League protesters while standing by police officers letting them do it, only angering us more. I went on to make my second feature length guerrilla documentary, Escape from Doncatraz, tricking my way into the press pool at Leeds Crown Court and shooting BNP leader Nick Griffin (with my camera, that is). My film highlighted the vicious hatred and bigotry of the BNP and their utterly vile refusal to acknowledge the reality of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Escape from Doncatraz officially premiered in 2008 in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, where I’d moved to and again, with two major universities and also a population of half a million, I blew through every dollar I had while massively involved in various political activism against oppression, and was invited to speak to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at journalism conferences, human rights events, and non-violence festivals, often with Israeli-Canadian Jews who I became very dear close personal friends with, enjoying respectful, intelligent, sensitive, yet frank discussions of the Israeli state’s oppressive actions in Palestine, and again highlighting the importance of avoiding conflating a violently aggressive cabal with a peaceful ethnoreligious group. It was at the University of Waterloo where Jewish political scientist Dr Norman Finkelstein famously received abuse from an audience for condemning Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Shortly after, I went back over the pond, to my birthplace of Doncaster, where a fascist had just been elected as mayor, and this prompted the production of a follow-up feature length guerrilla documentary, imaginatively titled Return to Doncatraz, about the more overt fascism rising in Britain and the frightening normalisation of right-wing narratives.
I don’t drive, so regularly riding around in taxis I got to know a few Muslim taxi drivers, almost all of them bloody lovely, but some terribly misguided and as a result misplacing their anger at the causes of the disturbing rise of Islamophobia – the occasional idiot would blame not just Israel, but even bring out the old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews running a “new world order” and I would try to reason with them, and argue with them, concerned that we were heading into offensive territory of bullshit conspiracy theories of lizard people and a flat earth…even 9/11 paranoia (yes, yes, I know it’s odd that the Twin Towers collapsed directly into their own footprint as only demolition-jobs do, but even based on widely accepted narratives, the Bush-Saudi connection is bad enough and there’s no need to dig around for anything even more sinister, not to mention impossible to prove FFS!)
So, no, anti-Semitism as a threat didn’t miraculously disappear after the Nazis were defeated, but Nazism and fascism still continue to exist, all around the world. Nonetheless, as you can see, anti-Semitism isn’t unique to goose-stepping, jackboot-wearing, “Seig Heilers” – it’s a far too accepted demonisation of a people based on offensive old tropes, spouted in stupidity and ignorance by even Muslims, Christians, Catholics, communists, you name it. But especially right-wingers, since it fits perfectly with their own ideology. The Conservatives have had a long history of racism, with little media scrutiny dedicated to their links with anti-Semitic parties across Europe, not to mention Tory MP Suella Braverman’s rallying call against what she called “Cultural Marxism” – originally known as “kulturbolschewismus” by the Nazis, and embraced as a far-right conspiracy theory of a Jewish-Communist plot to use egalitarian positions on race, gender, and sexuality to supposedly destroy Western/Christian values, “Cultural Marxism” has been used by the BNP and terrorist Anders Breivik, who proudly slaughtered 77 innocent people (mostly young leftists) in 2011, which I remember reading about as breaking news on my phone, sick to my stomach, as I was still unpacking bags and boxes having just re-settled back in Britain.
At that time – as the Conservatives were leading the most right-wing government in Britain’s history – I decided it was time to finally put my money where my mouth was and join the official opposition, which I’d promised to do if the leader was Ed Miliband, who for me signalled a move in a direction away from Tony Blair’s miserable, failed “New Labour” project. Ed did indeed become leader of the Labour party, and I signed up, surprising a lot of my friends who knew me as someone who had always operated outside of party politics.
Whether or not having a Jewish leader like Ed meant that Labour had driven out most of the anti-Semites who might have still been in the party, I was enjoying being part of a movement where I never witnessed such instances of vile prejudice, thankfully. If anything, Labour – a party well known for its anti-fascist, anti-Nazi, and anti-racist movements – felt like a welcoming, safe haven for Jews who might have been subjected to such hatred elsewhere in party politics. One local Labour councillor even argued that I was wrong to at all remotely compare Israel to an apartheid state – in fact, Jews (and indeed non-Jews) who had Zionist leanings had considerable influence in Labour, as evidenced by the existence of Labour Friends of Israel, a faction with a reputation for blurring the lines between advocating for a two-state solution, and all-out Zionism: a colonialist, exceptionalist, and racist ideology of Israeli dominance and vengeful Jewish segregation from – or even dominance over – other people, in particular Palestinians.
Incredibly, Ed Miliband himself, despite being Jewish, was accused of being an “anti-Semite” simply because he didn’t embark on some sort of Zionist mission and the offensive tag of the “self-hating Jew” has been thrown around with greater ferocity. U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, also Jewish, endured the same insults because of a similar political viewpoint.
“As criticism of Israeli policy toward Palestinians has intensified, ‘self-hating Jew,’ like ‘anti-Semite,’ has become a routinely brandished retaliatory weapon,” said Richard Forer, author of Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict. “The notion that any Jew who is dedicated to justice for all people harbours self-hatred defies common sense,” he added.
“The truth is that like many liberal American Jews – and most American Jews are still liberal – I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going…it seems obvious from here that the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide – and that’s bad for Jews everywhere, not to mention the world,” said New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman. “But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organised groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism,” he conceded.
Meanwhile, Jon Stewart, also a Jew and formerly the host of The Daily Show, said, “It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not, and normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish, but apparently now it’s done by people who are, and I find that very interesting. It’s more than nationalism.” He added: “You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just…go f*** yourself. How dare you?” This bizarre, sick pattern of abuse has been happening all over the world.
Abba Eban, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, in an article that he wrote about 45 years ago…advised the American Jewish community that they had two tasks to perform: One task was to show that criticism of the policy of the state of Israel was anti-Semitism. That’s the first task. Second task, if the criticism was made by Jews, their task was to show that it’s neurotic self-hatred; needs psychiatric treatment…then he gave two examples of the latter category: One was I.F. Stone, the other was me. So, we have to be treated for our psychiatric disorders, and non-Jews have to be condemned for anti-Semitism, if they’re critical of the state of Israel. That’s understandable why Israeli propaganda would take this position.Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now!
Norman Finkelstein went further when responding to such insults: “As you probably know, during the Nazi era, the Nazis liked to refer to ‘Jewish physics,’ namely, Einstein, and they liked to refer to ‘Jewish psychoanalysis,’ namely, Freud, because Freud and his whole school were Jewish, overwhelmingly. A rational person, it seems to me, doesn’t care about the background of a person – physics doesn’t become true or false based on whether or not the main physicists are Jewish, and psychoanalysis doesn’t become true or false based on the background of the main psychoanalysists who happen to be Jewish. Whether it’s true or not, it’s independent of, as it were, the intellectual messenger. For a rational person, the only thing that counts is the message.” He went on, absolutely destroying the impact of the slur: “So my answer to you is, for argument’s sake, let’s agree with the insinuation that I am a ‘self-hating Jew.’ Let’s agree with it. How does that change the facts? For a rational person, shouldn’t the only issue be whether what I’m saying is true or false? I don’t see how my background figures at all in this particular issue any more than Einstein’s Jewish heritage figured in whether or not e=mc2. Let’s take the reverse: Let’s say I’m not a ‘self-hating Jew,’ let’s say I was, in your terminology, a ‘self-loving Jew,’ does that make everything I say true? If self-hating makes everything you say false, then self-loving should make everything you say true.”
As we know (not least because I’ve documented much of the process here on my blog time and again, and again, and again, and again, and again), democratic socialist Jeremy Corbyn overwhelmingly won the Labour leadership contest to replace Ed Miliband, and then won again when career politicians in Westminster schemed to create a re-run leadership contest – such was Corbyn’s popularity for being a genuine, authentic, accidental leader chosen by his party members who were fed up of sharp-suited smarmy PR guys wanting a seat in the boardrooms of Big Business after they quit Westminster. Corbyn had himself grown up in a Labour household of activism that saw his mother take part in “The Battle of Cable Street”, the infamous incident where left-wing protesters fought a police force protecting a planned march by British fascists through a Jewish part of London.
Long on the right side of history himself, with an impressively principled voting record, Corbyn had actively campaigned for LGBT+ rights back in 1983, was arrested for protesting South African apartheid in 1984, and supported the miners’ strikes in 1985, the same year he was appointed national secretary of Anti-Fascist Action. Interestingly, recent research showed that anti-Semitism in the Labour party went down even further under his leadership, doing the anti-fascist movement proud.
But that’s not the version of events the careerists wanted – so, they just made up a few stories, like the one from Tony Blair himself where he claimed Corbyn’s incredibly successful mass membership drive had not reduced anti-Semitism but actually attracted anti-Semites into the party, a widely-publicised claim in direct opposition to the factual evidence.
So why was Blair doing this? Was he misinformed in a well-intended newly-adopted personal quest against the scourge of anti-Semitism? Or was he intentionally lying, uninterested in anti-Semitism as an issue unless it can be weaponised as a political football to kick around? The facts show it is, sadly, very much the latter…
Blair is, of course, a politician who hates everything Corbyn represents: a movement of people power where an increasing party membership is empowered to make decisions over the issues that matter to them, and active democratic engagement is encouraged. Just recently on national television, Blair literally said: “Members of Parliament owe their constituents their own judgement…They shouldn’t just say to them: ‘Well, tell us what you want, and we’ll do it.’” While Blair was ignoring record-breaking marches in opposition to his illegal invasion of Iraq, Corbyn was protesting it himself. War criminal Blair went on to accept consultancy fees from his friends from one of the biggest human rights abusers, Saudi Arabia – yes, the same Saudi Arabia whose regime regularly make anti-Semitic statements, perpetuate anti-Semitic tropes, and distribute anti-Semitic textbooks such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion alongside lessons claiming Jews were descended from pigs and spread diseases.
So no, Blair doesn’t care about anti-Semitism – unless, perhaps, it’s to perpetuate it. Let’s not forget that, in 2005, his political campaign ads against his Conservative opponents were anti-Semitic, portraying Jews Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin as flying pigs – and more specifically the former, who happened to be Conservative party leader at the time, as a Shylock figure swinging a pocket watch on a chain, while Blair’s party chairman said of the latter, “No Oliver Twist, this man…more of a Fagin.” You’d be forgiven again for forgetting about all of this, because the media moved on pretty quickly, and the whole thing was put to rest, with Labour MP Louise Ellman of Labour Friends of Israel saying, “I do not think it is deliberately anti-Semitic but we should not have such posters.” And it all went away. But Ellman, who strongly supported Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq and opposed any investigation into it, has been in the media again recently to claim that she suspects Corbyn “has a lot of those (anti-Semitic) thoughts without registering that that is anti-Semitism.” Incredible. After years of waging war, closing the borders, mulling over the introduction of identity cards for every citizen, and wanting CCTV cameras everywhere, Blairites are now claiming to know what people’s thoughts are in order to prove them guilty in the public eye. This was truly Orwellian: beyond “Big Brother,” we now had the thought police, too, prepared to decide and declare what bad thoughts you and I might have had, and find us guilty until proven innocent. They know what we’re thinking, they claim. And it’s bad.
Far from having a history of opposing fascism and anti-Semitism, Blair – like many of his elitist Westminster friends who feel they’re entitled to power for the sake of power – has clearly never cared about such issues, or indeed anything that would get in the way of his career opportunities to make more money while suppressing democracy. The Daily Mail themselves, owned and controlled by the Rothermeres who have long guided the newspaper’s editorial narratives in an anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic position – ever since supporting fascists in the 1930’s, up to present-day – have suddenly begun acting as though they’re concerned and even outraged by anti-Semitism, after decades of fuelling it, finally seeing an opportunity to stop Corbyn’s democratic revolution since everything else they made up had failed, from terrorist sympathiser to Czech spy.
Back when Blair was Labour leader, and Corbyn was a little-known backbencher, Corbyn was attacked by the right-wing rags numerous times, yet never once for being anti-Semitic, which of course would have been preposterous. They tried to dig for whatever dirt they could find on him, and they administered all kinds of intense criticism and half-truths, but it’s safe to say that – had he been an actual anti-Semite, the press would have been all over it – using it in their attacks at the time. They didn’t. He only became an “anti-Semite” when they realised they could rely on the anti-Semitic yet popular conflation of Judaism and Israel, similar to the conflation of, say, Muslims and ISIS, as Corbynistas criticised Israel in support of Palestine.
So why are they targeting Corbyn in this way? Well, the anti-capitalist movement has been intertwined with the BDS campaign for some time, a forum for critical discourse on U.S. imperialism and the right-wing Israeli government. Naturally, there will be a desire from some of these powers to oppose Corbyn, who is on the brink of becoming the first anti-imperialist democratic socialist Prime Minister in British history. That promises a significant shakeup. This is a complex struggle.
Here’s the thing. There’s something that so many people, left and right, unknown and high-profile, all seem to be missing, and it should be really obvious. Ready for it? I’ll leave it to Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, of Jewish Voice for Labour, to explain:
The suggestion that Jews can be regarded as an undifferentiated mass, as if we were genetically programmed to support a particular nation-state in which Jews dominate over the original non-Jewish population, is itself a racist, anti-Semitic, suggestion.https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/attacks-jeremy-corbyn-weaker-180907095256686.html
This is the crux. We have to stop thinking of “Jews” as just one mass of the same type of people, when they themselves are an extremely diverse group, with wide and varied opinions. Jews aren’t just making Hollywood movies – and they’re not all Zionists, any more than they are all liberal. This shouldn’t really need explaining, but Jews are across the full spectrum of society – and that means some will be supportive of democratic socialism, and therefore Jeremy Corbyn, while others will be conservative or even significantly right-wing in their viewpoint. The issue here is that this means right-wing interests, which will include some Jews, will vehemently oppose Jeremy Corbyn, while many lefties, including Jews, will rally around him…and this also means that Blair’s friends – from Peter Mandelson who tries to undermine Corbyn “every single day” to Tom Watson who happily sings songs associated with Israel’s anti-Palestinian extreme right-wing – will gladly lose what’s left of their credibility to be so sick as to exploit anti-Semitism itself to bring down Corbyn. Rabid anti-Corbyn Blairite John McTernan even suggested “anti-capitalism masks and normalises anti-Semitism” because, he reasoned, “rhetoric about the 1% and economic inequality has the same underlying theme [as anti-Semitic tropes] – a small group of very rich people who cleverly manipulate others to defend their interests.” Yes, he went so far as to try to demonise all anti-capitalists as anti-Semites. (David Graeber, who coined the term “the 1%” during the Occupy Wall Street movement, is himself Jewish…presumably “self-hating,” then.)
If – understandably, after reading the national press and watching television news – it seems a bold claim to call these politicos and their claims lacking in credibility, allow me to provide some further, very clear, evidence, once and for all:
Shami Chakrabarti, a human rights lawyer I interviewed for Escape from Doncatraz, impressed me with her genuine commitment to stamping out prejudice, oppression, and discrimination of all kinds while leading Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties), with incredible bravery, calling out injustices regardless of whether the perpetrators were Conservative, or Labour. She went on to lead an inquiry into anti-Semitism in Labour, and guess what? She found no significant problem.
After receiving a peerage, Shami then faced baseless accusations of conducting the inquiry as a “whitewash” to help Labour – specifically, Jeremy Corbyn himself. So, in an act to give such accusers the benefit of the doubt, a Cross-Party Home Affairs Select Committee proceeded with its own investigation on the assumption that the Chakrabarti Inquiry was “compromised,” and so took it upon itself to look into anti-Semitism in British politics. Nonetheless, the conclusion was the same: “There exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.” Wow.
And if that wasn’t enough, a Jewish think-tank itself, Jewish Policy Research, took on the task of conducting an extensive survey looking into anti-Semitism in politics, particularly on the left-wing. Interestingly, yet again the conclusion was essentially the same: “Anti-Semitism is no more prevalent on the left than in the general population,” they stated.
This was the empirical evidence; the cold, hard facts – first, by the Chakrabarti Inquiry, then a Cross-Party Home Affairs Select Committee, then by a Jewish think tank. This absolutely blew away the claims of “institutional racism” made in headlines and newsflashes for months and months; it destroyed any remaining shred of credibility for the Blairites out to destroy Jeremy Corbyn.
But just as with Iraq, facts don’t seem to matter to Blairites and right-wingers in general, and this was no different. Often, whether true or false, just like with Gene Kelly, shit tends to stick if insults are hurled often enough, and ferociously enough – and the smears against Jeremy Corbyn have now been an uninterrupted, unstoppable onslaught year after year, to the point that the opening introduction of the Wikipedia entry on him mentions his presiding over anti-Semitism in the Labour party, with no source even included on the page at the time of writing; it’s just sitting there, as the hard-hitting intro to someone Noam Chomsky calls “an admirable and decent human being.” If that wasn’t enough, Chomsky’s opinion on the whole episode put it even clearer: “The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit; an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world.”
As Chomsky has also touched on, what is also a fact is that the Israeli strategic affairs ministry is directing covert efforts to sabotage Palestinian solidarity campaigns, such as Corbyn’s.
And it’s also a fact that the Israel lobby has helped to manufacture the supposed anti-Semitism “crisis” in Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. The Jewish Labour Movement that Louise Ellman was a part of was actually refounded to combat Corbynism itself and the progressive campaign to support Palestine against the human rights abuses of Israel. And the late great Shulamit Aloni, a former Israeli minister, actually said: “It’s a trick – we always use it. When people are criticising Israel, they are ‘anti-Semitic.’ It is very easy to blame people who criticise certain acts of the Israeli government as anti-Semitic and to bring up the Holocaust, and that justifies everything we do to the Palestinians.” (She also defended the use of the word ‘apartheid’ when referring to the situation in Israel…eat that, Sheffield city councillor who criticised me for it!)
The Guardian refused to publish a letter from 200 Jewish women supporting Jeremy Corbyn and criticising the newspaper’s stories about him. The Guardian’s own “socialist” writer Owen Jones, of course, famously undermined the popular Labour leader while Pfizer PR guy Owen Smith, hand-picked by the Westminster elites, was challenging him for the position. ”I’m now being attacked as a Blairite, crypto-Tory, and establishment stooge,” admitted Jones, careful to capitalise the “E” in “Establishment” to plug his book on “The Establishment” about the establishment he admits he’s been part of after going through the Oxbridge system (but reminding us he’s originally from Up North every chance he gets).
Of course, despite arguably much greater odds, Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour’s share of the vote by more than any other of the party’s election leaders since 1945, with the biggest swing since shortly after the Second World War. This prompted Owen Jones to admit, “I wasn’t a bit wrong, or slightly wrong, or mostly wrong, but totally wrong. Having one foot in the Labour movement and one in the mainstream media undoubtedly left me more susceptible to their groupthink.”
The Momentum faction set up to support Jeremy Corbyn – and whose name Owen Jones proudly reminded us he helped to come up with – forgave the Guardian writer and took him back with open arms (I found it a lot harder, as the entire episode actually very usefully really revealed the true colours of so many people at this time).
Meanwhile, MP’s who got in power in 2017 thanks to a turnout boosted by Corbynism took the credit for themselves and, in some cases, even quit Labour entirely afterwards. Joan Ryan was one of these, and – very much used to getting what she wants – called for a second Labour leadership election and a second EU Referendum since she didn’t like the results the first time round, and even recently marched to “put it to the people” while refusing to do just that because she wants to retain her seat she got through ballots cast by voters expecting a loyal Labour MP. Shamefully, she was also found to be making up claims of anti-Semitism in Labour for political gain.
The Brexit clusterf*** has been another issue used to browbeat Jeremy Corbyn – even while, from his position as Leader of the Opposition, he was presenting a considered case for respecting the result of the referendum while winning back some protections for ordinary people, and the Conservatives were at the same time botching their way through the process, managing to somehow make it even worse than it inherently was destined to be. Much of the previous anger towards establishment politicians was vented in the EU referendum, as evidenced by the tragic assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox by a far-right extremist shouting “Britain First!”
In the aftermath of that horrific act, threats against politicians very rightly became cause for concern – but while packs of Brexiteers hounding Owen Jones and Anna Soubry made headlines, an assault on Jeremy Corbyn barely warranted a mention in most media, and when the incident did receive coverage, the punch to the head was re-written as a comical “egging.” I’ll include the footage above, as you’ve likely never seen it, and I’ll leave you to wonder why, and – encouraged by media narratives and outright smears – how much further thugs will have to go in attacking Corbyn until they’re given the condemnation they deserve. The assassination of Jo Cox should have been a wake-up call, but it clearly wasn’t. Abuse of politicians was clearly only covered if it fit a narrative – it even became a topic when I was interviewed by Sheffield Live, several minutes of airtime dedicated to it.
Tom Bower, who wrote a book on Jeremy Corbyn full of outright lies presented as a serious bestseller, called Mike Sagalov a “self-hating Jew” on live television, completely unchallenged by anyone else. While abuse was thrown at Corbynistas like Alexei Sayle, another supposed “self-hating Jew,” in addition to Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, and even Jo Bird, who has received abuse as well, it was clear none of these people were useful; thrown out if they didn’t fit a right-wing agenda; their abuse irrelevant if it didn’t fit that agenda either.
Jo Cox herself was a member of Labour Friends of Palestine, a counter to Labour Friends of Israel. (There was a Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine, but it got suspended) And this is what much of the anti-Semitism attention is, sadly, about: yes, right-wing political agendas in general, but particularly key to this is the current right-wing government of Israel.
One disconcerting outcome of this newest witch-hunt was Labour’s acceptance of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Labour’s code of conduct drawn up after the Chakrabarti Inquiry initially left out four “working examples” provided by the IHRA definition:
1. Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country
2. Claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour
3. Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations
4. Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis
I’m no expert, but there are clear dangers visible straight away in the second and fourth lines right there, as it potentially restricts any meaningful critique of a right-wing government in Israel that could grow increasingly racist or Zionist while ramping up even more human rights abuses on the Palestinians, all without us having any freedom to call it out or use examples from history that include the extermination of people just because they’re from a specific group. Former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and founding member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Antony Lerman, wrote a much more well-informed and well-written piece on the issue for Open Democracy, where he stated he believed Labour’s attempt to stop the false claims of anti-Semitism by adopting the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism was “wishful thinking.” He explained: “The fact is that the damage has already been done. The default mode of almost all the mainstream media is to take as given that the party is institutionally anti-Semitic. And that its leader is either incapable or unwilling to do anything about it, except make pious statements that are ignored. These are certainly not propitious circumstances for putting the issue to rest. Too many people and organisations have a vested interest in not letting Corbyn or the party off the hook.”
“This mendacious campaign has had the same aim all along,” added investigative journalist Asa Winstanley of the Electronic Intifada, “(and that is) to topple Jeremy Corbyn.” He went further: “Time and time again, prominent figures on the left have made concessions, and thrown former comrades under the bus…Too many on the left seem to think: if we throw them a bone by sacrificing a few token ‘extremists,’ the anti-Semitism story will die down and we can move on to the real business of electing a Labour government. But years later, Labour is still being beaten with the same stick. Any close observer of Israel and its lobby groups knows this: they cannot be appeased…The message time and again is that Israel and its lobby groups cannot be satisfied except through total capitulation. They want Corbyn to go.”
Philosopher Stephen Law highlighted the “confirmation bias” of the smear campaign – where we search only for positive instances to confirm what we already suspect is true, so that we can easily convince ourselves of things that aren’t true: “I wrote a book called Believing Bullshit – How Not To Fall Into an Intellectual Black Hole which flags up some of the key signs that we are dealing with a myth or prejudice rather than rational belief,” he said. “How in particular do prejudices regarding women, black people, Jews, and so on, get started? Well, once it’s been suggested that a certain group have some ‘problem’ – that women have a bad driving problem, say, or Jews have a greed problem, it’s usually not hard to find examples. After all, inevitably, some women are terrible drivers. And inevitably, some Jewish people are greedy. Indeed, once it’s suggested there may be a ‘problem,’ people will often start to find their own examples. Often, they’ll notice the really emotionally arresting examples and then later be able to recite them with ease – a woman who caused an awful motorway pile-up that killed several children, for example. They may become so convinced, in fact, that if we present them with hard evidence that women are just as good – perhaps even better – drivers than men, they’ll dismiss it out of hand. They’ll insist it’s just obvious that women are bad drivers – everyone knows women are bad drivers – that they can point to lots of examples of women being bad drivers. And yet this supposed evidence that women have a ‘bad driving problem’ is of course entirely useless and anecdotal. Obviously some women are really very bad drivers. There’s no denying that. But of course, that doesn’t remotely justify the conclusion that ‘women have a bad driving problem’ i.e., that women are worse drivers than men. I’m sure we all recognise such anecdote-driven patterns of thought are one of the main ways racial and other prejudices get a grip: including anti-Semitism.”
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.George Orwell’s 1984
One of Corbyn’s greatest allies has been Chris Williamson, a working class labourer who became active in local politics, fought anti-Semites side by side with the Anti-Nazi League, and worked hard to spearhead the efforts to ensure Derby was one of the first local authorities to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Like Jeremy Corbyn, if he was ever an actual anti-Semite, he was making a pretty piss-poor job of it. Investigative journalist John Pilger called him “a rare, principled, and brave MP who has devoted his political life to standing up for the voiceless and justice.”
I’ve been to very few Momentum events – especially since the whole Owen Jones debacle – but on February 23rd, 2019, my partner Jane Watkinson and I attended one of their Sheffield meetings where Chris Williamson delivered one of the best speeches we’d ever heard.
He criticised Western intervention in Venezuela
He called for independent journalism cooperatives
He called for greater de-selection and re-selection powers for people over their MP’s
He called for greater democracy at local level
And, yes, echoing the points of both Antony Lerman and Asa Winstanley, he also said: “The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party. And I’ve got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion…we have backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic. We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any political party!”
The response to this comment and indeed his entire speech from the Labour and Momentum members present was immense; overwhelmingly positive, from a room filled with reason, rationality, and hope. Common sense, it seemed, had prevailed. The organisers applauded him. They even presented him with a bottle of Sheffield’s own Henderson’s Relish, a vegan-friendly product, since Chris is a vegan – when Jane and I chatted to Chris, revealing we were also vegans, we posed for a photograph with him. We went home feeling positive, and galvanised. Party politics was changing for the better.
Wow, how naive were we.
In the hours and days following, Momentum’s own footage from the 2+ hour event was taken by corporate media companies, edited to around 30 seconds, and – accompanied by headlines like “Labour MP says party ‘too apologetic’ on anti-Semitism,” – shown to reveal Williamson’s sentence: “I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion…we have backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic.” Unbelievable. He was actually being portrayed as an “anti-Semite.”
When I glanced over my shoulder and saw the cameras rolling at the event, it did occur to me – given Williamson’s democratic socialist credentials and comments – how many lines could be clipped from the footage by someone with unscrupulous intentions? But the thought was fleeting; I had too much faith in the decency of human beings to worry any longer that a man with this much integrity could do anything other than succeed; that his words could be taken as anything other than well-intended.
Instead, he was suspended by the party.
Momentum’s Sheffield branch fell silent on the issue, clearly distancing itself from Chris, presumably under orders from head office. And Momentum on a national level, condemned him, instead embarking on a rather condescending yet slick video campaign educating left-wingers on anti-Semitic tropes, featuring ambitious “alternative media” poseurs who were increasingly appearing on corporate media channels as political commentators, clearly precious about their career ambitions and scared of the risk of losing exposure. Momentum even put forward an open letter with a significant uptake from signatories eager to distance themselves from the smears, just as Asa Winstanley had warned of – “throwing comrades under the bus,” especially considering the letter detailed stated admissions of having witnessed anti-Semitism in the Labour party, inevitably if unintentionally ripe for future use by right-wingers to build on the smear through presenting a list of thousands of people now contradicting three investigations that found no such indication of institutional anti-Semitism. Momentum were backpeddling, and fast.
Labour’s retreat was again in full effect, the party’s defensive posture continuing, again just as Asa Winstanley had warned against, feeding this monster even further. Chris Williamson said the party had been too apologetic, then himself was forced to apologise, making him look even worse – only hours before being suspended anyway, to seemingly finish the job.
Some anti-fascist blogs have even joined in on the smear, because of instances where, for example, Williamson re-tweeted posts on Twitter that were critical of Israel but, presumably unbeknown to Chris, set up by anti-Semitic accounts – but it’s worth keeping in mind that these same blogs had also targeted Jon Lansman, the Jewish founder of Momentum in the Labour party, as an “anti-Semite” (yes, “self-loathing,” we suppose, ugh). Norman Finkelstein said: “Chris Williamson is the latest victim of Labour’s Great Purge. It is painfully obvious that the target of these purges is not anti-Semitism, but the threat posed by Jeremy Corbyn’s ascension. Williamson’s suspension should be a wake-up call: if his suspension is not reversed, free speech is dead in the Labour Party.” While the Israeli author Moshé Machover, an expert on Middle Eastern politics, said: “The way Chris Williamson has been treated by the Labour Party leadership is, paradoxically, a vindication of his criticism. The leadership should stop capitulating to unfounded attacks.”
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in powerGeorge Orwell’s 1984
After the suspension and the subsequent behaviour of certain individuals and groups in response, I began to wonder about the validity of the “democratic socialist” credentials of an organisation like Momentum – whose power structure is admittedly top-heavy, with a lack of accountability that led to the emerging campaigning group “Labour Against the Witchhunt” calling for the removal of Jon Lansman himself, a sad day indeed. But the fact remains, if Momentum only cares about being an electoral machine, over and above the principles it was founded to stand up for, then as a group they haven’t learned from history, either. I certainly couldn’t keep quiet, taking my concerns onto the social media platform of Twitter, where Owen Jones himself finally stopped following me after all these years. (Oh yes, comrades were throwing each other under the bus for sure – you either helped do the throwing, or were yourself thrown.) And yet he had no comeback to investigative journalist Jonathan Cook’s argument that it’s not considered Islamophobic to call out Saudi Arabia’s influence in British government, while anti-Semitism is being weaponised to defend Israel’s crimes.
While this Orwellian smear had begun to envelop both Jane and myself – the photo of us side-by-side with Chris on the day of his remarks all over the web – Jane was finding the gaslighting particularly taxing on her mental health, and given her enthusiasm for the works of George Orwell, she knew well the techniques, but it made it no less painful. We ignored ITV’s requests to interview us – we knew that, no matter how well we phrased any of our beliefs, if they can edit Chris Williamson’s remarks to take them out of context for the purpose of this witch-hunt, they wouldn’t think twice about doing it to us. And who would be there to rally around us in “The Party”?
It became apparent that Momentum and Labour were not the organisations for us to enjoy factual freedom of expression. It felt more like a McCarthyist process of agreeing to the narrative set by right-wingers where we had to sign documents saying there was a major issue within the party, despite investigations saying there wasn’t, and where we had to stand by as good people were smeared, or risk ourselves being smeared. In a joint statement online, we publicly announced we were quitting the faction and the party, and passed this on to both organisations, asking our MP that, for the sake of our mental health, he respect our wishes to have no further discussion with Labour representatives on the matter.
Our MP emailed us anyway, with exactly the sort of response Chris Williamson was talking about in the first place, apologising for the anti-Semitism in the party, and assuming we were willing to point out some sort of institutional anti-Semitism when it didn’t exist. (Note: our MP supported Owen Smith’s challenge to Jeremy Corbyn).
The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.George Orwell’s 1984
Then – after all his own warnings – Labour even got Asa Winstanley himself:
Jewish Voice for Labour publicly condemned the suspension of Asa Winstanley: “Circumstantial evidence suggests that his suspension results from a complaint about a tweet in which Asa remarked on the alignment between the Jewish Labour Movement and the Israeli embassy. He had previously used the phrase ‘The Jewish Labour Movement acted as a proxy for the Israeli embassy’ in an article in April 2018. This is virtually identical to his current tweet. It was not an assertion, or an insult. It was factually based on the evidence of their closeness revealed in the Al-Jazeera undercover report The Lobby. To suggest that a tweet of this kind poses a threat of lasting or irreparable damage to the Party requiring suspension is surely stretching the meaning of words beyond breaking point.” They added: “Asa Winstanley’s suspension follows hard on the heels of that of our greatly respected JVL member, Councillor Jo Bird – for cracking a typically self-deprecating Jewish joke at a public meeting. It seems that this is now regarded as potentially anti-Semitic! Anti-Semitism is a deeply serious matter (unlike Jo’s joke). It has a horrendous history, and should not be trivialised in complaints that the Party now seems to think it must treat as dangerous enough to merit suspension.”
This is the real travesty of all this: the real scourge of actual anti-Semitism is being missed due to its weaponisation and trivialisation by the same politicians who cared about the actual issue as much as they cared about food poverty they helped to cause before visiting food banks for photo ops. Using it as shit to throw in the hopes it will stick is being done by those who actually don’t give a shit about the genuine seriousness of the sickness of anti-Semitism.
This method of weaponising anti-Semitism to stop anti-capitalism and democratic socialism isn’t going away, but what matters is that resistance to it does not. It’s happening now in American politics as well (and arguably, the United States was the origin of much of this). The difference is, such terrible weaponisation has had a much less defensive response – Bernie Sanders has set a different narrative that even the likes of Kamala Harris have followed. They can recognise when it’s being weaponised for right-wing political gain – and they’re calling it out. This shows that, yes, Chris Williamson was right when he said Labour have been “too apologetic,” and that, yes, Asa Winstanley was right when he said it’s important not to appease the right-wingers. They won’t stop. You’ve got to push back with principle, with facts.
I know which side I’d rather be on, and it sure as heck isn’t with Tony Blair or John McTernan. I stand with Chris Williamson, and with Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, John Pilger, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Francesca Martinez, Lowkey, Kevin Higgins, and others who have constantly stood up for what’s right, time and time again.
You know what the truth is. Don’t ever let the right-wing bastards get in the way of it just because they want to advance their oppressive project in opposition to democracy and freedom. I long since made a promise to fight that with the same veracity as I have fought anti-Semitism all of my life. Nothing and no one can ever change that.
Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4.George Orwell’s 1984
Note to news hacks seeking help with smears: the following lines from this blog post may be useful for you to take out of context in order to ignore my long track record of anti-Nazi, anti-fascist, anti-racist campaigning to continue your smears against anti-capitalists such as myself:
The issue here is that this means right-wing interests, which will include some Jews, will vehemently oppose Jeremy Corbynsee above
Labour’s code of conduct drawn up after the Chakrabarti Inquiry initially left out four “working examples” provided by the IHRA definition:see above
1. Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country; 2. Claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour; 3. Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations; 4. Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis…I’m no expert, but there are clear dangers visible straight awaysee above
Chris Williamson was right when he said Labour have been “too apologetic”see above
For all other genuine journalists, please use CTRL+F to find the original line in the context of its paragraph and indeed the premise of this entire post, as it will represent the reality of my lifelong commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, reflected in this blog post. Thanks!