Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran but formerly peripheral Member of Parliament in the UK looks poised to be elected the leader of Britain’s Labour Party. From the far-left of the party, Corbyn has appealed to the disaffection of many who perceive little difference between the governing Conservative Party and a Labour Party that Tony Blair moved to the center-ground (becoming, it should be said, the most successful leader in the party’s history, winning three elections on the trot).
Whatever appeal Corbyn may hold for disaffected left-wingers as a result of his anti-austerity, tax-the-wealthy domestic policies, it is his position on foreign affairs that has alarmed so many in the British Jewish community and beyond. Corbyn is on record referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”, inviting representatives of those two terrorist organizations to a meeting at the House of Commons. He has defended Raed Salah, the leader of Israel’s Islamist “Islamic Movement”, who was banned from the UK for antisemitism, accusing the Government of kowtowing to “pro-Israel lobbying groups”. (In Israel Salah is a well-known rabble-rouser and purveyor of anti-Semitic tropes such as the medieval ‘Blood Libel’ and was convicted in a Jerusalem court for racist incitement and incitement to violence). More recently, Corbyn’s ties to one Dyab Abou Jahjah have come to light, appearing at a number of events alongside him, including one in Parliament which Corbyn himself arranged. Abou Jahjah has also been banned from the UK for his record of antisemitic incitement and support for terrorism.
At first blush, there is something incredibly unlikely about Corbyn’s rise to the top of the polls in the race to be Labour leader. This is, after all, an election for the position of Leader of the Opposition; the head of a historic political party that ruled Britain as recently as 2009 – and that was the end of an uninterrupted twelve-year spell in government. This is an election to decide who will be the Labour Party’s next candidate for Prime Minister. How on earth as such an apologist for unmentionable bigots and Islamist fascists got here?
The answer is that, looked at another way, this is the culmination of a long and disastrous moral decline for the British left. Raised in a Labour-supporting home, I became a member of the party as soon as I was able to, at the age of 18. At university I discovered to my shock that there were large swathes of the left that would not be the natural allies of Jewish students fighting antisemitism. Prominent and popular far-left student groups, though ostensibly backing NUS’s “no platform” policy for racists and fascists, supported and indeed fought for the right of Islamist speakers on campus because they railed against Israel and the United States. On one occasion, the Socialist Workers Party defended a public appearance by a member of Hizb’ut Tahrir, a particularly noxious organization who, along with the usual racism and incitement to violence, was also a published Holocaust denier.
This student far-left now runs the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), and there can be no better snapshot of the moral black hole into which many British progressives have fallen than two recent decisions by the National Executive Council of NUS. First, last year, a vote not to support a motion condemning the unspeakable atrocities committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; then just a couple of months ago, a vote to support a boycott of Israeli goods.
In 2006 I was forced to confront again the willingness of many on the British left to set aside entirely their commitment to democracy, women’s rights, minority rights – indeed, every liberal cause – in the name of opposition to Israel. Working at the Israeli Embassy in London during the Second Lebanon War, I witnessed a massive demonstration outside, against Israel’s alleged “war crimes”. Alongside the usual banners calling Israel an apartheid state, a Nazi state and the like was something else. A great many people, not Muslims but white, British, leftists, were holding aloft placards proclaiming “We are all Hezbollah now”.
Now, consider the following thought experiment. Imagine a white, Christian supremacist movement that believed in imposing its racist ideology on society through violence; that persecuted religious minorities and preached and practiced the murder of Jews. How would self-defined liberals, progressives, left-wingers respond to the emergence of such a political force, anywhere in the world? We all know the answer.
And yet, substitute “white, Christian” for “Muslim” and, not only is there no mass denouncement by the left, but there is sympathy, apologetics and even support. Would any civilized person, let alone someone who identified with the progressive values of the left, march down the street with a banner supporting neo-Nazis, or the Ku Klux Klan? No. But “We are all Hezbollah Now”. We are all an Islamist political party that murders its ideological opponents, launches rockets at civilians, incites Jew-hatred and is a proxy of perhaps the only regime in the world with an explicitly genocidal foreign policy – the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The same appeasement of fascism by those who claim to be its principal opponents could be seen in the decision of Ken Livingstone, then-Mayor of London, to welcome, host and embrace the Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Livingstone, whose political career had been based on his championing of progressive politics and minority rights, wanted to show his support for London’s Muslim community by associating himself with a representative of what he termed “moderate Islam”. Sheikh al-Qaradawi is a leading theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist movement which synthesized a radical reading of the Quran with ideas taken from European fascism. “Moderate” is always a relative term, but one wonders to whom Livingstone was comparing a man whose sermons exhort believers to kill Jews as a response to Zionism and to execute homosexuals for, well, being homosexual. Livingstone is, needless to say, a vocal supporter of Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour leadership.
As these examples and Corbyn’s record of noxious alliances testify, the left’s bizarre alliance with totalitarian Islam goes hand-in-hand with an obsessive focus on, and demonization of, Israel.
But Corbyn, Livingstone and the revolutionary socialist student groups were always on the fringes. For over a century, the leadership of the British left was the Labour movement and the political party it spawned. The party that created the national health service and the British welfare state, the party which, under Blair, established Britain’s first national minimum wage; the party that decriminalized homosexuality and legislated against racial discrimination in employment.
Supporters of Corbyn would doubtless claim that he is absolutely part of that tradition. Indeed he is. But he has also absorbed the toxic tendency of the far-left in Europe and, increasingly, the United States as well, to place anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism at the top of its agenda. The Palestinian cause has become the litmus test of one’s leftist bona fides. No matter that their bedfellows in this cause are committed to the mass murder of Jews, and the creation of a society entirely antithetical to the values supposedly dear to the left. . No matter that a great many populations are suffering far more than the Palestinians – and with far less culpability for their own misfortunes.
They are the successors to an ignoble tradition of western leftists aligning themselves with a totalitarian ideology. And just like those British socialists who returned from visits to Stalin’s “workers paradise” singing the praises of Soviet communism, today’s “useful idiots” have become the handmaidens of Jew-hatred.
If Corbyn wins as expected, the Conservatives can already assume victory in the next General Election scheduled for 2020. Fortunately, the majority of Brits will not be seduced by an anti-establishment message that includes such bonkers Cold War-era socialist fantasies as withdrawing from NATO and backing Vladimir Putin’s thuggishly authoritarian Russia against the West.
No, we will not see Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn. Britain will survive his victory in the leadership contest, but the Labour Party may not.