Corbyn and the UK Left Have a Major Blind Spot

Anyone who has even the slightest interest in UK politics will not have failed to notice the recent rise of ‘Corbynmania’. Of the four contestants for the leadership of the UK Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn is the most left-wing. There are many reasons, in my opinion, why having Jeremy Corbyn as a leader would be disastrous for the Labour Party. The one, however, which hits closest to home for the Jewish community are his views on Israel and Palestine.

Mr Corbyn has been at the forefront of the pro-Palestinian cause for many years, and amidst that time has had associations with a variety of nasty individuals, including Holocaust deniers, Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theorists and Islamic Fundamentalists. 10 days ago the Jewish Chronicle put a series of questions to Mr Corbyn, inviting him to clarify some of the extremely disturbing people he has been linked to over the years (links to further people were subsequently found).

Last week Jeremy Corbyn responded to the JC’s questions. His answers about all of the people he has been linked to run along exactly the same lines;

He strongly condemns anti-Semitism and emphasises that none of the people ever said anything anti-Semitic in his presence and that such people only revealed themselves to be anti-Semitic years after he met them. He says that in his efforts for peace he has met a lot of different people, no matter how reprehensible he may find their views. He doesn’t have an anti-Semitic bone in his body.

All this may be true — indeed, it probably is true. But that in itself just shows the incredible problem that the Left has today. I wrote about this last week to a friend of mine who is a Corbyn supporter. I respect my friend, but I strongly disagree with his choice in this regard — and this is why:

It is indeed possible to be anti-Israel without being anti-Semitic. But at the same time, if you get involved with the pro-Palestinian cause in this country or elsewhere, sooner or later you will inevitably run into people who are anti-Semites. That, I’m afraid, is an incontrovertible fact, and is also, regrettably, why such a small percentage of the Jewish community in the UK and elsewhere are willing to support the pro-Palestinian movement — because they know that at least a percentage of people in the movement are motivated more by Jew-hatred than any sympathy for Palestinians.

Jeremy Corbyn has every right to support the Palestinian cause. But were I to support any cause, I would be wary of wholeheartedly embracing everyone who believed in that cause, especially if I knew that there was this potential for some of them to be virulently anti-Semitic. That is something Jeremy Corbyn has not done at all — and neither have a large group of people on the Left, who claim to be against ‘injustice’ whilst associating with those who openly call for the persecution of the innocent, whether the innocents in question are Jews, LGBT people or any other group.

Whenever the Left do acknowledge this, they seem to pay it little more than lip service. Consider Owen Jones, a man who is firmly in the vanguard of the new generation of left-wing authors and social commentators; he is also a leading apostle of Jeremy Corbyn. He wrote the following in his Guardian column a couple of days ago;

“The problem is this. Most people in the movement for Palestinian justice are motivated by well, justice, for a people deprived of that basic right: national self-determination. But there is a minority who are anti-Semites. That means those — like Corbyn, or me, for that matter — who are active in the cause for Palestinian justice are at risk of inadvertently associating with anti-Semites. These anti-Semites have to be unequivocally challenged and driven out.”

There are many things I disagree strongly with Owen Jones on; this is not one of them. However, at the same time, I feel sure that this is all that we will hear about the matter. Does Jones detail exactly how such an action might be taken? Does Mr Corbyn, having vehemently defended his anti-racist credentials, provide any assurance that he will be more careful in future? No, of course not; perhaps because the minority is a larger minority than either Mr Corbyn or Mr Jones are prepared to admit. What exactly is stopping them from taking concrete action on this issue, rather than just talking about it?

Let’s put it this way. I support the right of the State of Israel to exist. There are some other people who support Israel’s right to exist who hold some other views, views which I find deeply repugnant, from some Christian evangelicals spewing bile about homosexuality to Jews in Far Right organisations who call for the death of Arabs. If I were invited to speak at a pro-Israel event, I would check whom I’d be sharing the floor with, and if I found that some of these people had publicly aired views which went against a number of the things I believed in, I would not take part. Nor would I take part if I knew that people at the event were going to be holding up signs calling for the death of Palestinians or Arabs in general. On the other side of the divide from me, Jeremy Corbyn clearly has a different view.

His view may be fine if you’re an individual person (although I certainly wouldn’t subscribe to it myself). It may even be fine if you’re a backbench MP. But I do not believe that it is fine for someone leading the main party on the Left in this country. It sends a devastating message; that no matter how vile your bigotry may be, if you are anti-Israel then the door of the Leader of the Opposition is always open to you.

About the Author
Daniel Sugarman is a twenty-something North West Londoner. He has been described as a fanatic, but only in the sense of being a film fanatic. Daniel blogs about the UK and Israel, as well as the Jewish Community and Culture in general.
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