As you surely know, Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime leftwing member of Parliament from north London, has been elected leader of the Labour Party. In The New Yorker, Anthony Lane seeks to explain the Jeremy Corbyn meteor. In doing so, Lane gets in some shots at Palestinian solidarity, in the context of Corbyn’s dovishness.
Questioned as to the circumstances in which he would unleash the armed forces, Corbyn said, “I’m sure there are some, but I can’t think of them at the moment.” … [He expresses] standard tenets of the British left, at least in its wilder reaches, and nobody could charge Corbyn with a lack of tenacity. For decades, whether on the backbenches of Parliament or on the streets, he has stuck to his gunlessness, and it is that air of principle—consistent, unspinnable, and pure—that has impressed his allies and foes alike. On the other hand, there is this:
“Tomorrow evening it will be my pleasure and my honor to host an event in Parliament, where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. And I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well; unfortunately the Israelis would not allow them to travel here.”
Imagine if an American politician, running for high office, had been filmed uttering those sentences. His or her candidacy would have dropped off a cliff. The truly disturbing aspect, though, is not that Corbyn said such things, which he did at a conference in 2009, but that, when the footage was replayed during the leadership campaign, it caused such a minimum of fuss, and did nothing to impede the march of the Corbyn camp. Anti-Zionism is firmly rooted in parts of the left-wing agenda in the U.K., and protestations that it should not be confused with anti-Semitism bear more than a shade of naïveté, especially in a year when Jews have been targeted and murdered in mainland Europe for being Jews. The honorable traditions of Jewish socialism, in Britain and elsewhere, have suffered an erosion, and it was reported that even Ed Miliband, who is Jewish and the son of refugees from the Holocaust, proved unable to count on the Jewish vote at the election in May. It would have been deemed politically unwise if, as a standard-bearer for Labour, he had failed to lend sufficient prominence to the Palestinian cause.
In the end, of course, whatever Miliband’s private discomfort on the matter, we had no opportunity to see it aired and tested in the spotlight. He was trounced in the general election.
It is now typical of mainstream journalists to express this degree of condescension and dismissal when it comes to Palestinian solidarity. All I can say is that, intellectually speaking, they are playing checkers on the lip of Vesuvius. This is a real movement in liberal/left life. Stephen Colbert seeks to pooh-pooh this movement with a Sabra Hummus commercial, and a good liberal like Digby who ought to know better says boycotting Israel is a fringe issue. They don’t see the wave.
The reason anti-Zionism is now firmly rooted in the left in the U.K. and increasingly the U.S. is because Israel slaughtered 500 children in Gaza a year ago with the avowed political goal of “mowing the lawn” of violent resistance for another couple few years. And because a generational shift inside Jewish life is giving the left permission to embrace the Palestinian cause. Max Blumenthal just came out with a book on Gazan resistance that explains why Hamas has resorted to violent resistance. Chomsky explained violent resistance in Central America and southwest Africa a generation ago. John Brown explained it to Americans 150 years ago– slavery will only be ended by “verry much blood,” he stated, and Emerson and Thoreau celebrated him. You can dismiss these arguments (the press is certainly ignoring Blumenthal) but that doesn’t reduce the historical logic in them.
Lane wants to redeem “the honorable traditions of Jewish socialism” from such an analysis. That’s liberal twaddle (and I say this as a liberal). Jewish socialists have voiced such arguments for a long time. As for the fact that it would destroy an American politician’s career to say what Corbyn says– very true. But would the New Yorker ever say that the Israel lobby has power here that it doesn’t have in Europe? Would it ever seek to explain this chasm in political culture, which also underscores the varying responses to the Iran Deal?
As for the casual equation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, it’s just thick. One reason that Jews were targeted and murdered in mainland Europe– as Abe Foxman and the Jewish People Policy Institute and Norman Finkelstein all suggest or say– is because of Israel’s massacre in Gaza. Finkelstein (who once explained/justified Hezbollah’s violent resistance as a response to occupation) speaks at Yale tonight. Are young Americans interested in these ideas?
Thanks to Blumenthal. And the Forward has a more thorough and factual report on Corbyn and (some) Jewish fears.