In a new book, Union Jackboot, Portsmouth University visiting lecturer Matt Alford interviews the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research’s TJ Coles, an oppositional political commentator and author of Britain’s Secret Wars, a critique of modern British foreign policy. The following is an extract from Union Jackboot that grapples with the thorny issue of the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism row, which has recently become the subject of a hate crime investigation.
What do you make of the allegation that Corbyn is an anti-Semite?
There’s a lot to say about that.
First of all, most British Jews are less liberal than American Jews. There’s good polling data which show that American Jews tended to hate the Republican presidential candidates from 2000-16: George Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney and of course Donald Trump. For better or worse, they voted almost entirely for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. So American Jews are politically liberal. But most British Jews tend to be conservative. According to the Jewish Chronicle, a mainstream Jewish publication, nearly 7 in 10 British Jews were Tory supporters even before the allegations of anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party. This was when Ed Miliband, who’s also Jewish and a Blairite, was leading the Labour Party. By now it’s nearly 8 out of 10.
So what can we infer from that? That British Jews are not neutral on the Corbyn issue. Even if some or all of the allegations against Labour are true, we should remember that those making the allegations and believing them have political motivations for doing so. That’s not being discussed.
Second, there’s the issue of consistency. Most commentators agree that New Labour’s Tony Blair was basically a Tory. He formally ended Labour’s social contract – Clause 4, the commitment to socialism – and was widely regarded as ‘Tory-lite’. So as most British Jews are Tory voters, they were quite happy with Blair.(1) When there were real anti-Semitic events taking place within the Labour Party, like then-Mayor of London Ken Livingstone – who is an anti-Semite – making jokes about the Holocaust to a Jewish journalist, that was tolerated. He was suspended but then all was forgotten. (2) Anti-Semitism wasn’t used as a weapon against Tony Blair because most British Jews didn’t care much about him. It was hardly an issue for them because the main priority was right-wing politics. So that’s cynical hypocrisy.
Third, there’s the bigger issue of the Tory government being currently aligned with the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine. The Tories are training the Ukrainian forces that are allied to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. The Tories’ biggest foreign partner outside the US is Saudi Arabia, where most of the world’s oil lies. The Saudis didn’t even let Jews visit the country until a few years ago when they granted work visas. Then there’s the Tory pact at the EU with the Polish Law and Justice Party, which is notoriously anti-Semitic. So considering the bigger picture, where the anti-Semitism is more blatant and on a bigger scale, we have to ask why are British Jews and the media ignoring this? Again, it’s because they care more about bringing Corbyn to his knees than about anti-Semitism. If they did care more about anti-Semitism, they’d be more concerned with the things I’ve mentioned.
Fourth, what is anti-Semitism? Notice that that question is never raised in the mainstream debate. In order to determine if someone or an organisation is guilty of something, you have to define what it is that they’re guilty of. Anti-Semitism is a broad spectrum. At one end are the old stereotypes, like Jews are miserly. Then it broadens to not wanting a Jew in your family. Then it goes all the way to segregation and, at the end of the spectrum, that all Jews should be exterminated. Where is Labour on that spectrum? Certainly not at the Nazi extreme. But the Tories are allied to those at the Nazi extreme, like the institutions and organisations I’ve just mentioned. Anti-Semitism is getting mixed into anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism. It’s absolutely true that anti-Semites are disguising their hatred of Jews as anti-Zionist, but it’s not true that every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite. So how do you get to the truth of someone’s views? The Chakrabarti report (2016) found no systemic anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. (3)
Fifth, who’s making the claims within the party? As the Chakrabarti report found no systemic anti-Semitism, where are the allegations coming from? They’re coming from Blairites or centrists who hate Corbyn for political reasons, like John Mann (4) and Ruth Smeeth. Smeeth was exposed years ago by WikiLeaks for working as an informant against the Labour Party for the US State Department, then run by Hillary Clinton. Smeeth denies this but the cables are there. (5) Why hasn’t she been banned from the party? Outside the party, it’s the media, including the so-called liberal media, like the Guardian. There are good studies on extreme anti-Corbyn bias in the media, which have accused him of everything from being a spy for Czechoslovakia from having a grandfather who owned a workhouse. It’s been quite extraordinary and it seems to have alienated working people from their own interests i.e. putting people off Labour. You can find cases here and there of anti-Semitic or borderline anti-Semitic statements coming from Labour councillors and MPs, so the media have finally found something to inflate and bring the party to its knees.
The weaponisation of anti-Semitism – which is a term Corbyn rejects – became really obvious, if it wasn’t already, when Theresa May faced mass resignations in June and July 2018 over her Brexit strategy. As this was going on, the headlines returned to, ‘Corbyn is an anti-Semite’.
Sixth, is it even true? Is Labour more anti-Semitic than other parties? We don’t know because no one’s held an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Tory Party. We do know from YouGov polling data that Labour and Tory supporters come out about equal when it comes to holding anti-Semitic views, like being unhappy about a Jew marrying into the family. In the aggregate, Tory and UKIP voters are more anti-Semitic than Labour or Scottish National Party voters. Another survey taken a year or two later found that Labour supporters are less anti-Semitic than Tory supporters. How’s that for a headline, ‘Tory voters more anti-Semitic than Labour voters’? So why isn’t there an inquiry into anti-Semitism among Tory supporters? That’s because it’s not in the political interests of nearly 80% of British Tory-voting Jews to demand such an inquiry.
Seventh, what about racism and prejudice in general? According to YouGov, of the major ethnic and religious minorities, Jews are by far the safest people in Britain when it comes to people holding prejudicial views. Of course that wasn’t true in the ‘30s or ‘40s, however, so we should be aware that times might change. But at the moment, the data show that, compared to Gypsy-Roma people, black people, homosexuals, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and/or Muslims, Jews are least hated. (6) The racism and prejudice against Gypsy-Roma and Asian Muslims is astonishing. If we care about human rights, the rights of those people should – at this point in history – be of much more concern that the rights of Jews. If this was the 1940s again, then we would be most concerned about Jews because they were being exterminated. But nothing like that is happening now. So why aren’t we focusing on the far more prevalent prejudice against these other ethnic and religious groups? Again, it’s politically motivated.
In 2016, UNITE the Union published a dossier on racism in the Tory party. It reveals that every few weeks a councillor or even MP makes some xenophobic or racist remark. This included even the PM, then David Cameron. Was anything done about it? No. The matter barely got any coverage. Baroness Warsi, a Tory, has twice called for an inquiry this year into Islamophobia in the Party. But nothing has been done. Then there’s the Windrush Scandal of tens of thousands of Afro-Caribbean people who came to the UK after World War II who suddenly found themselves being told to leave, having lived and most of them worked here for decades. That’s the Tories. Apart from the resignation of Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary who took the heat for PM May, was much said about that? It was a scandal for about a week and nothing happened afterwards. The Labour anti-Semitism row has gone on for years.
So it’s total hypocrisy to be focusing on alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party while ignoring the much greater levels of both anti-Semitism and prejudice in general emanating from the Tories.
One final thought on this: It’s pretty astonishing that, on the one hand, the most progressive political movements in the US and Britain at the moment are being led by Jews: Jon Lansman and James Schneider, who head Momentum, the grassroots organisation behind Corbyn; and in the US Jill Stein leader of the Green Party and Bernie Sanders, leader of the Our Revolution movement within the Democratic Party. Yet some of these organisations – Corbyn’s Labour party specifically – are smeared as anti-Semitic.
It’s an impressive achievement of both propaganda and Orwellian doublethink. To his shame, Corbyn has not capitalised on this. He’s not stood up to the media and said, ‘I’m not going to allow you to accuse me and my party of anti-Semitism while you give a free pass to much clearer cases of racism and xenophobia in the Tory Party’. He’s conceded there’s a problem – probably he cracked under pressure – and mumbles on about not tolerating any form of racism.
Buy Union Jackboot here.
(1) Jewish World Review notes that, until the 1970s, most Jews in Britain were relatively poor and supported the Labour party. But under the pro-Israeli PM Thatcher, support shifted to the Tories. But it shifted back again to Labour under Tony Blair. Jon Mandelson, then of Labour Friends of Israel, said that Blair ‘attacked the anti-Israelism that had existed in the Labor Party [sic]’. That being said, New Labour endured a couple of weeks of criticism after portraying then-Tory leader Michael Howard allegedly as a Shylock-type figure in campaign posters. Matthew Tempest (2005) ‘Blair combats anti-semitism [sic] claim’, Guardian.
(2) The Jewish Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold asked Livingstone, ‘How did tonight go?’
Livingstone: ‘Have you thought of having treatment?’
Finegold: ‘Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?’
Livingstone: ‘What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?’
Finegold: ‘No, I’m Jewish. I wasn’t a German war criminal’.
Livingstone: ‘Ah … right’ (ellipsis in original).
Finegold: ‘I’m actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?’
Livingstone: ‘Well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard. You’re just doing it ‘cause you’re paid to, aren’t you?’
(3) ‘The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism. Further, it is the party that initiated every single United Kingdom race equality law. However, as with wider society, there is too much clear evidence (going back some years) of minority hateful or ignorant attitudes and behaviours festering within a sometimes bitter incivility of discourse.’ The Chakrabati Report, 2016.
(4) According to the data collection site, TheyWorkForYou.com, Mann voted for war on six out of 11 occasions (one abstention), voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (five votes in total), voted against investigating the war (13 times against, one abstention, one vote for), voted for replacing Trident with a new weapons system, but voted against war against Daesh on two out of 3 occasions.
(5) The leaked cables say: ‘Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Burton Ruth Smeeth (strictly protect) told us April 20  that [PM Gordon] Brown had intended to announce the elections on May 12, and hold them after a very short (matter of weeks) campaign season. Labour had been “just” 7 points behind the Conservatives in some polls taken right after the G-20 Summit, which other Labour contacts had told us was close to an acceptable standing from which to launch a campaign, but the drop in Labour’s poll numbers following Smeargate [New Labour’s plan to smear opponents] forced Brown to abandon his plan, a despondent Smeeth said.’ (Note: This information has not been reported in the press).
(6) The 2015 YouGov poll finds that 58% of Britons ‘have a negative impression’ of Roma/Gypsies. A further 40% have a negative perception of Muslims. (It is worth remembering that most Muslims in the UK are ethnic Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, so when the poll says ‘Muslims’, it could be read racially as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis). 9 percent of Britons have a negative perception of homosexuals and 8% have a negative perception of black people. Seven percent of Britons have a negative perception of Jews.
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