Jeremy Corbyn’s derogatory attack on British Zionists in 2013, accusing them of failing to understand ‘English irony’, has removed any doubt about the leader’s indulgence for anti-Semitism. His somewhat snide suggestion that British Zionists (in essence Jews) lacked an essential ingredient of English humour was directed towards a specific group of Jewish activists, one of whom, the blogger Richard Millett, duly recorded his remarks. Of course, the remark is risible on one level. Corbyn is one of the most humourless men in politics, exhibiting a brand of very literal rhetoric that leaves little room for irony.
But it is sinister too. The notion that British Jews exhibit a foreign mentality, that their mindset is distinctly un-English and unpatriotic, has a fairly long and ignoble history in this country. It has been hurled at Jews with the intention of wounding and humiliating them, and inciting others to do the same. Not surprisingly therefore, Corbyn’s comment was seized on by those with more transparent prejudices. Within days, the Labour leader’s remarks were being lauded by Nick Griffin and former KKK leader, David Duke.
After relentless media exposure, Team Corbyn offered the usual stock apology followed by dissembling of the most unconvincing kind. John McDonnell argued that ‘Whatever Jeremy has said throughout the years has always been about securing peace…This has been taken out of content.’
Yet the idea that Corbyn has been on a long term quest to secure peace is risible as soon as you give it a moment’s thought. For one, he has never tried negotiating peace with Israelis with whom he disagrees. More importantly, the Palestinians whom he has feted, whether representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah or the cleric Raed Salah, share an anti-Semitic world view that is incompatible with Israel’s existence.
Clearly, Corbyn has no more pursued peace in the Middle East than he has on the island of Ireland. So how is it possible for a ‘militant opponent of anti-Semitism’ to be so blind to his own contempt for the Jewish community? And why does he not get the ‘irony’ of this?
The problem for the left has always been that it divides the world into good and bad Jews. The good Jews are the diehard socialists, the trade unionists and the anti-capitalists who strive to follow Corbyn’s vision for remaking society. Among their number are militant anti-Zionists who share the same loathing for Israel, America and the West.
The anti-Semitism that Corbyn stands against is that of the far right and it comes dressed in swastikas and jackboots. Oppose the far right and you can claim to be a militant anti-anti-Semite. But anti-Semitism only starts at that point, it does not end there. It includes discrimination against the Jews as a collective, outright demonization as well as malign conspiracy theories about Jewish power and influence.
Radical leftists are especially susceptible to the last of these. Fundamentally, they believe that the world is not what it seems, that beneath the veneer of civilisation, the institutions of modern society are stacked against the interests of the working classes. They argue that a powerful and often shadowy elite holds the levers of power, suppressing the interests of the masses in order to enrich themselves. It is but a short step to believing that this elite consists of rich banking families like the Rothschilds or, in general, a powerful Jewish elite controlling the media and the banking system.
Then there is the second conspiracy theory tied up with Western colonialism. The radical left pictures the world as a black and white playground where western powers bully and exploit the weaker nations of the world relentlessly. It is Uncle Sam and its ‘little Satan’ allies against a group of romantic rebels and freedom fighters, and the playground of choice for the former is today’s Middle East.
Following the lead of the USSR, the hard left has long depicted Israel as the epicentre of a colonial battle. Israel is viewed as the capitalist, militaristic, western backed ‘white’ nation engaged in a colonialist, apartheid style struggle against the underdog Palestinians. ‘Palestine’ is the Che Guevara among nations, the ultimate romantic rebel.
For the left, those Jews who fight for Zionism are hostile opponents whose concerns about anti-Semitism should be dismissed. If the state they are supporting is purportedly oppressive and racist, then they stand in the way of the final victory against colonialism and Western power. They have no right to victim status at all. For decades, this is the insidious worldview that the Labour leader has embraced, nurtured and promoted to all his adoring followers.
It is tragic that a once great anti-racist party is now being led by such a sinister radical as Corbyn. Indeed, it is the ultimate irony.