Open any British newspaper, from the Guardian to the Mail, and be confronted with anti-Corbyn smears. Attacks that have included criticism of poor local election results, weak media management or “woeful” Prime Minister’s Questions performances are now fixated on linking Corbyn with a supposedly ‘endemic’ anti-semitism in Labour’s rank and file.
In this article, David Rosenberg, author of Rebel Footprints, highlights the hypocrisy of the media’s anti-Corbyn bias.
‘Those of us who have welcomed and enthusiastically supported the reincarnation of the Labour Party as an unashamedly socialist, anti-austerity party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, knew that the right wing of the Labour Party would stop at nothing to smear and undermine this leadership. The most distasteful smears have tried to link Corbyn and his supporters with antisemites and antisemitism.
Big hitters in the Jewish community – the President of the Board of Deputies, the Chief Rabbi, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, the Community Security Trust, and a self-styled body called Campaign Against Antisemitism – threw some of these smears themselves, or provided an echo chamber for them. They present themselves as leaders of that community, without ever asking ordinary Jewish people like myself or my Jewish acquaintances, who have never elected or appointed them. Their interventions were lapped up not just by the right wing press, but also by the liberal press who knew better. Jonathan Freedland, who combines his role at the Guardian with writing several pieces for the Jewish Chronicle, has played a particularly insidious role in the anti-Corbyn crusade.
Of course, in a party of half a million people, in a country and on a continent where antisemitism has deep roots, you will encounter some individuals whose crude political arguments on Jews/Israel/Palestine/Zionism cross a line from reasoned argument into tropes typifying an old-age prejudice. When that happens it needs to be challenged, but when we are dealing with perpetrators who see themselves as supporting values of anti-racism and equality, that needs to be challenged with reason and in the spirit of education, rather than vilification and excommunication.
As for the smears themselves, It quickly turned out that most of them had no basis in truth. But Corbyn’s opponents slung huge dollops of mud, and enough of it has stuck to tell the mud-slingers that it’s a worthwhile activity for them to repeat.
As we approached the final couple of weeks (before ballot papers go out) of the leadership challenge by the hapless former Big Pharma lobbyist, who walked out of the Shadow Cabinet on cue with his right-wing colleagues, but has reinvented himself as thoroughgoing socialist who agrees with ‘Jeremeee’, we all knew that there would be a new set of smears that would plumb new depths. What have they come up with? ‘Arm-twisting Trotskyists’ and ‘Nazi Stormtroopers’.
Tom Watson, a particularly unappealing character, but with considerable power, tried to re-hash a McCarthyite red scare, of the kind also played out in the Labour Party in the 1980s. He alleged that Trotskyists/Trotskyites had reinfiltrated the party under Corbyn’s leadership and that many new members were supporting him, not because they were convinced by Corbyn’s arguments, but because these new members had had their arms twisted by ‘entryists’ who owed their allegiance to the ideas of Leon Trotsky. He presented it as a thuggish and sinister conspiracy. Trotsky, of course, was a pen-name whose owner was a Russian Jew – Lev Davidovitch Bronstein. But acknowledging that, would have been uncomfortable for someone like Watson who has also done his bit during the year to back up the smears around antisemitism.
The McCarthyite smears against alleged communists in 1950s America were shot through with antisemitism and open inferences about an ‘alien’ ideology. Opponents of Trotsky especially from the right but also from the Stalinist left have historically utilised antisemitism. But, while a prominent opponent of Corbyn accuses Corbyn’s supporters of being part of a thuggish and devious conspiracy, inspired by Trotsky (yes, that is the alien Jewish Communist, Lev Davidovitch Bronstein, who calls himself Trotsky), those same self-appointed leaders and spokespersons for the Jewish community have lost their tongues and are looking the other way.
That was bad enough, but worse was to follow, as the self-proclaimed ‘Jewish Labour donor’, Michael Foster, used the Sunday edition of the Daily Mail, to call supporters of Corbyn, ‘Nazi Stormtroopers’. A nice irony though, publishing it in the Mail. Throughout the 1930s until just before the Second World War, the Mail‘s owner Lord Rothermere was a strong supporter of Adolf Hitler. He even sent him a telegram of congratulations after the Nazis grabbed the Sudetenland. Six months after the Nazis took power, Rothermere penned a glowing feature in his paper, praising the Nazis to the hilt, especially how they had rooted out the ‘alien elements’ in the German government: ‘Israelites of international associations were insinuating themselves into key positions… it is from such abuses that Hitler has freed Germany.’ The Rothermere family still control the Mail and, as we know (and Michael Foster knows), the paper spends most of the year stirring up hatred against migrants and refugees and whipping up Islamophobia.
Back in 2013 the Mail indulged its antisemitism against Ed Miliband, targeting his ‘Eastern European refugee father’ as being not sufficiently patriotic and grateful to his new homeland. They, and other right wing papers, followed this with exposures of Miliband’s awkwardness eating a bacon sandwich. Coded and very thinly veiled antisemitism.
I happen to know a number of Jewish people who are strong supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, who lost relatives at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust, and other Corbynistas who owe their existence to their German or Austrian Jewish parents being fortunate enough to escape from the Nazis in 1938 and ’39 and be among the small number of ‘kindertransport’ refugees (less than 10,000) taken in by Britain at that time. These are among the people that Michael Foster has defamed.
What was Michael Foster’s chosen newspaper, the Daily Mail, doing in the late 1930s, apart from praising Hitler? It was running a vicious anti-refugee campaign at the time claiming that Jewish refugees were ‘pouring into the country’.
The recent, and very intelligent and nuanced Chakrabarti Report on antisemitism and the Labour Party, was clear in its condemnation of those who reach for Nazi analogies. In recent months Labour’s Compliance Unit instantly suspended Corbyn supporters who have done so. But Foster has not been suspended.
One of those bodies so strangely silent over the inferences of conspiratorial behaviour by fans of the Jewish communist, Leon Trotsky, was the ‘Community Security Trust’ – a body that claims to protect the Jewish community from antisemitism. They have reacted instantly to any allegation of antisemitism involving members of the Labour Party in recent times, and one of their leading figures, David Rich, is poised to launch a hatchet-job book on Corbyn the left, and antisemitism, which no doubt will repeat many of the discredited smears (yawn), and try to breathe new life into them, just before people finish voting in the Labour leadership campaign. But five days after Foster’s atrocious outburst, those diligent guardians against all antisemites, the Community Security Trust, have not uttered a word of condemnation. Why is that? Their silence is disgraceful and shameful.
Earlier this week, at a Black and Minority Ethnic rally for Corbyn held in Highbury, Julia Bard spoke powerfully for the Jewish Socialists’ Group, condemning the slurs about Trotskyist infiltrators and Nazi stormtroopers hurled at Corbyn’s supporters. She condemned ‘our so-called leaders’ of the Jewish community, who ‘defame the Labour Party and try to taint Jeremy’s vision of a society based on equality, solidarity and social justice.’ Julia reminded the crowd that: ‘All his life, Jeremy has actively defended human rights, supported refugees and opposed racism and fascism across the world.’
She followed up that speech by writing to the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi, who have been so vocal on other instances of alleged antisemitism. The Board have issued a mealy-mouthed statement describing Foster’s words as “inflammatory” but not calling for his head, and hedging it about with vague remarks about the behaviour of some Labour members. The Chief Rabbi, meanwhile, has not deigned to reply or issued any statement at all. Hypocrisy is far too mild a term for this. Anyway, got to stop now, put on my jackboots, go for a quick goose-step, and then practice my arm twisting.
David Rosenberg is an educator, writer and tour guide, his book Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Radical History is published by Pluto Press. He is also an active member of the Labour Party and the Jewish Socialists’ Group and convenor of Cable Street 80, an umbrella group organising the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, this October.
Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Radical History is available to buy from Pluto Press here.