A Response to Jonathan Freedland’s latest Anti-Corbyn tirade in The Guardian.
Twelve years ago the late Georgina Henry, who had begun the Guardian’s blog, Comment is Free, the year before suggested that I write for it. We met at the founding meeting of Independent Jewish Voices at Hampstead Town Hall in February 2007 and as a result of that discussion, my first article, The Seamy Side of Solidarity, appeared two weeks later. I wrote it because of the growing support for a genuine anti-Semite, Gilad Atzmon, which existed within the Palestine solidarity movement.
Since that time, and especially since Matt Seaton took over, Guardian Comment has moved away from the original concept of a forum for genuine debate, certainly on Palestine. Zionist groups set up CIF Watch to wage a war against any such debate on CIF. I was one of the first casualties. CIF Watch later changed their name to UK Media Watch because they had achieved their original aims.
Following my original article, we waged a five-year battle against those who argued that being Jewish and Zionist were synonymous or that Israel was a racist state because it was a Jewish state. We argued that Israel was a settler colonial state and its treatment of the Palestinians was no different to how ‘Christian’ South Africa had treated its indigenous population.
At the 2012 Conference of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a holocaust denier and supporter of Atzmon was expelled from PSC. Following this Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada and over 20 Palestinian activists, academics and leaders of BDS issued a statement “Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon.”
From that time on the anti-Semitic element in the Palestine solidarity movement has been minuscule compared to the number of anti-Semites and White Supremacists who support the Zionist movement. Not once has Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland condemned the growing collaboration between supporters of Tommy Robinson, a self-declared Zionist and large numbers of Zionist activists, including Paul Besser of Britain First. At the Al Quds demonstration in June these activists later joined up with the Board of Deputies main demonstration in Trafalgar Square.
In my article I issued a warning. “Like the boy who cried wolf, the charge of ‘anti-semitism’ has been made so often against critics of Zionism and the Israeli state that people now have difficulty recognising the genuine article.” This is precisely what has happened.
With Freedland’s latest broadside against Corbyn titled, “Many Jews want Boris Johnson out. But how can we vote for Jeremy Corbyn?” he has drained ‘anti-Semitism’ of any meaning. Instead of a serious analysis of anti-Semitism he has substituted a series of guilt-by-association anecdotes. No serious editorial process could have approved Freedland’s article, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was a senior Guardian editor. He plays fast and loose with facts, deliberately omits context and rests his arguments on assertion alone.
If Corbyn were anti-Semitic then one would expect the Jewish former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, to realise this, yet Bercow stated, in an interview with Alistair Campbell, that after 22 years knowing Corbyn ‘I’ve never detected so much as a whiff of anti-Semitism.’
Even stranger are the views of Professor Geoffrey Alderman, a Zionist and historian of the British Jewish community. Alderman is a longstanding Jewish Chronicle and now Jewish Telegraph columnist. In the Spectator Alderman described how Corbyn “has an impressive record of supporting Jewish communal initiatives”. He gives as an example how in 1987 Corbyn led the campaign to save the cemetery of the West London Synagogue from the developers, whom Margaret Hodge’s Islington Council had sanctioned!
Freedland gives three examples of Corbyn’s ‘anti-Semitism’. They have more holes than a colander.
i. Corbyn’s support for the artist who did a mural of supposed “Jewish bankers”. Contrary to Freedland’s assertion just two out the six bankers were Jewish. None of them had hook noses. Even neo-liberal Harry’s Place’s Lucy Lips admitted that ‘I’ve seen more obvious stereotypes of Jews deployed in antisemitic art.’ Back in 2012 it passed unnoticed. Corbyn was defending freedom of speech not anti-Semitic art.
ii. The incident concerning “English irony” is even less convincing. Two Zionists intent on disrupting a Palestinian speaker were told by Corbyn that unlike someone who wasn’t even born in Britain, they didn’t understand English irony. What has that to do with anti-Semitism?
iii. The third example alleges that Corbyn kept company with Raed Salah, an Israeli Palestinian whom Theresa May was trying to deport. Freedland alleges that Salah was “found by a British tribunal to have peddled the medieval and lethal myth of Jews feasting on the blood of gentile children”. This is simply untrue. Freedland ‘forgot’ to mention that the Upper Immigration Tribunal overturned May’s deportation order precisely because it found that there was no basis to the allegation of racism. What the Tribunal did find was that
‘there is no reliable evidence of the appellant using words carrying a reference to the blood libel save in the single passage in a sermon delivered five years ago.’
I don’t believe in the “blood libel” against Jews and I reject it in its entirety. What I was really referring to in my sermon was the killing of innocents in the name of religion, including children, from the time of the Inquisition to as recently as Bosnia and elsewhere in Europe whose governments support Israel’s action.
Freedland completely omits the context, which is that Raed Salah has been the recipient of horrific violence and racism by the Israeli state. He has been gaoled on a trumped-up charge five years after the alleged incident, when not one Israeli has been gaoled for anti-Arab racism.
Freedland refers to last summer’s Panorama programme Is Labour Anti-Semitic? which has been the subject of a record number of complaints. Presented by John Ware, someone who considers Islamaphobia a rational response to terrorism, it presented seven victims of Labour “anti-Semitism”. It provided no names or background information about the alleged victims, all of whom were officers of the Jewish Labour Movement, a Zionist organisation which is affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation. The WZO, according to Ha’aretz, has a ‘Land Theft Division’.
You wouldn’t hang a cat on Freedland’s ‘evidence’ against Corbyn. It is a melange of the trite and trivial. Guilt by gossip. If this is the best Freedland can come up with after 4 years of non-stop Corbyn-bashing then it shows just how thin the gruel is.
Freedland’s last sideswipe is at Labour politician Chris Williamson’s “penchant for egregious Jew-baiting”. Chris Williamson is a working class MP who has physically swapped blows with neo-Nazis on a building site. I dare say Freedland has never fought for anything other than a decent seat in a restaurant.
There was a time when “Jew baiter” was reserved, not for anti-Zionists but for anti-Semites who went beyond the call of duty. It wasn’t even used about Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts. It was used to describe pathological anti-Semites like Arthur Leese of the Imperial Fascist League and Julius Streicher, editor of Der Sturmer. By using this term about a genuine anti-racist, Freedland once again devalues the currency.
Freedland rests his case on a dubious poll according to which 87% of Jews believe that Corbyn is anti-Semitic. Even were this poll accurate is that the end of the matter? Surely the first question to ask is why 87% of Jews believe this? Does it have anything to do with the 5,497 articles about Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ that have appeared in 8 national newspapers from 15 June 2015 to 31 March 2019 according to Bad News for Labour? Or the fact that the broadcast media operates under the assumption that there is an anti-Semitism problem in the Labour Party? But Freedland isn’t interested in the ‘why’. What this poll is really measuring is the effectiveness of the mass media’s propaganda.
In my article I quoted Israeli poet and novelist A B Yehoshua saying,
“Anti-Zionism is not the product of the non-Jews. On the contrary, the Gentiles have always encouraged Zionism, hoping that it would help to rid them of the Jews in their midst. Even today, in a perverse way, a real anti-Semite must be a Zionist.” (Jewish Chronicle 22.1.82.)
The people who are cheering Jonathan Freedland on are the genuine anti-Semites: the Daily Mail and the baiters of George Soros. Historically friends of Zionism such as Arthur Balfour have also been the enemies of Jews. What Freedland is doing is making ‘anti-Semitism’ into a form of cheap political abuse. As Brian Klug observed, “when anti-Semitism is everywhere, it is nowhere. And when every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing–the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance.”
No greater service could be performed on behalf of those for whom anti-Semitism is not opposition to Zionism but opposition to Jews as Jews.