The speech Jeremy Corbyn should make, but never will

I could write a lovely speech for Jeremy Corbyn.

The speech would deal with the anti-Semitism issue and make it go away.

He could re-vitalise his whole project, re-focus it on the core business of the Corbyn movement: liberating millions from unnecessary poverty and marginalisation, and releasing the creativity of the half of our country which is currently weighed down by the humiliating grind of making it through the week.

Such a speech could re-boot Corbyn’s image: instead of a stubborn, angry, defensive old bloke, he could find again the uplifting hopefulness of the man who promised us change, an end to austerity and a new kind of national community.

He could recreate what his supporters always saw in him: a humility which puts egalitarian politics before the ego of the politician.

But Jeremy Corbyn cannot make the speech that he needs to make.

It is not compatible with his own political sense of self.

It would be a speech which would exile him from his own ideological community.

It would be a speech which would break his own inner identity.  And that he cannot do.

Here is the speech.

“I sat and listened to the debate about anti-Semitism last Monday and I finally understood what I should have understood months and years and decades ago: that those who are critical of left anti-Semitism are friends and not enemies of our project to re-make society in the interests of the many and not the few.

In this speech I want to try and explain how I now understand that many things I have said and done in the past have been wrong and I want to put them right.  They were not just unconnected errors but they flowed in ways that I could not allow myself to see, from some of my deep-seated political assumptions.

The first thing I have understood is that responding to Jews as though they were white oppressors, Blairites and Tories, and people who are out to get me, is part of the problem.  I ought to have been able to listen to what people said and to have judged the evidence that they offered, without being put off in advance by my own picture of who I thought they were.

I take responsibility for myself. But I was seriously misled by small groups of anti-Zionists, many of them Jews, speaking “as a Jew”, who seemed to be my allies, who flattered me, who exonerated me and who mis-educated me.

Yes, I take responsibility, but I am really angry, nevertheless, with all those who schooled me in anti-Semitic positions, who egged me on, who told me not to listen.  They told me that Zionism was the same as Nazism, apartheid and racism and that supporters of Zionism should be treated accordingly.

They told me that the Jewish community was split, and that it was only duplicitous Jews who said there was a problem, and that they did it dishonestly in order to bolster their own power.

They told me that these Jews tried to use the Holocaust to whitewash their crimes against the Palestinians. They told me that these Jews were only boss Jews – Chief Rabbis and Boards of Deputies and Jewish newspaper barons and Jewish Tories and rich Jews – and that decent working class Jews were their victims.

They told me that Zionists were top of the heap and leaders of global capitalism; I now understand that Zionists are actually people who were trying to rescue Jewish life itself from the ashes, from some of the most horrible oppression the world has ever seen.

Jeremy Corbyn
(Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire – Jewish News)

I hate that the Palestinians are not free. I always did and I still do now.  But I can see that in my thirst to find somebody to blame, I developed a simplistic understanding of why. Not understanding that Israelis were also victims of th 20th Century, I allowed my sympathy and my solidarity for Palestinians to become a burning hot anger with the Israel. I sometimes sided with enemies of Israel without really understanding that the people I sided with were part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  I should have understood that Raed Salah, the man who used ancient blood libels to incite people against Israel, was an anti-Semite.

I should have listened when people warned me about Paul Eissen and about Steven Sizer; and when Eissen turned out to be a Holocaust denier and Sizer turned out to be an anti-Semitic conspiracist, I should have learnt something.  I understand now, and I apologise.

I was a fool for allowing myself to be hosted, on a number of occasions, by Hamas in Gaza. I should never have thought of Hezbollah and Hamas as being dedicated to the good of the Palestinian people or to peace or to justice.  I will have to live with this terrible mistake.

I hate war and I was worried that Britain and America were preparing to invade Iran.  But I understand now that my impulse to help the anti-Semitic murderers who ruled Iran was quite wrong.  I apologise to the Iranian people who are oppressed by them and I apologise to the Jews who warned me about their anti-Semitism.  I hereby write a cheque for £20,000, the money I was paid to present on Press TV, and donate it, half to the Iranian trade union movement and half to the Israeli trade union movement.

I understand now that the Shami Chakrabarti report into anti-Semitism in the party fell woefully short. I should have held a genuine inquiry, not an inquiry that effectively swept things under the carpet.

Jeremy Corbyn with Shami Chakrabarti at the inquiry into Labour anti-Semitism
(Jewish News)

Having listened to the debate in the Commons, I am happy to be able to appoint Luciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth, Louise Ellman and Joan Ryan to lead a new inquiry.  This time I want to understand how the politics of singling out Israel for particular hatred relates to the incidents of anti-Semitism which everybody can recognise.  I want to clean out the Labour barrel, not just to pick out some bad apples.

Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is an issue of politics.  Ken Livingstone, who says that Hitler sided with Zionists in Germany, Moshe Machover, who mobilised the words of Reinhard Heydrich against Labour Jews, Jackie Walker, who wants people to think of Jews as chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade and Ken Loach, who wants Labour MPs who demonstrated against anti-Semtism to be driven out of the party, are all summarily expelled.  We do not need long quasi-judicial processes to judge issues of politics.  If people who have said and done anti-Semitic things change their minds, they can come back to us and re-apply for membership.

From here onwards, I want to make it clear: I will side with anybody who is fighting against anti-Semitisim in the party and I will side against anyone who accuses them of faking it.

Nobody who pushes the politics of Israel-hatred and who legitimises anti-Semitism will do it in my name.  They hinder the Corbyn project, they are not defenders of it.

This issue comes to an end today.  I have said that I oppose anti-Semitism many times before.  But it was not enough to say it.  I also had to demonstrate that I understood anti-Semitism.  I also had to change things.  I also had to make a proper political accounting for my past mistakes.  I hope I have begun to do that today.”

It would take all of Corbyn’s talent as a political communicator to make this speech work.  He would have to mean it, he would have to deliver it as though he meant it.  When he just goes through the motions it shows.  When he does the faux politician’s apology, it shows.

That is the speech that Corbyn should make.  But he cannot make it.  He cannot make it because his own core identity as a political person is bound up with that politics.  He cannot make it because making it would see him expelled from his own political community, the community which has been his family for 50 years.  It would see him cast as an enemy by his own political family.

What Jeremy Corbyn actually did was tweet the following:

“I pay tribute to MPs who spoke in yesterday’s anti-Semitism debate, whose harrowing experiences remind us of the urgent need to eradicate anti-Semitism from politics and society.  There is no excuse for abuse of any kind, and I want to thank them for their bravery in speaking out.”

And I replied:

“ They spoke out against you, Jeremy.

They said that your Israel hatred, your defence of anti-Semites, your support for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, for BDS, for blood libel and conspiracy, for the mural – they said that you’re responsible for the environment in which this abuse occurs.

Every time you try this trick – of condemning anti-Semitism while stubbornly refusing to understand what is being said – you make things worse.”


About the Author
David Hirsh, Sociology Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London Author of the new book: 'Contemporary Left Antisemitism'.
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