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AND YET, as legend has Galileo observing defiantly, after being obliged by the Catholic Church to disavow, on pain of death, his heretical theory that the Earth orbits the Sun, “still it turns.”
Jeremy Corbyn has not been condemned to lifelong house arrest for maintaining his position that the “accepted international” definition of anti-semitism — in reality, adopted to an extent by just 31 of the world’s 195 states — is more about tempering criticism of Israel than combating hatred of Jews.
His position as Labour leader has, however, been weakened by the failure of the party national executive committee (NEC) to back his principled stance.
The day after the announcement that the JC9 list of Corbyn-supporting candidates for NEC membership had trounced those marketed as “independent” or “centrist,” he was left isolated by many of those said to be closest to him.
Some had other places to be, some sat impassively and others joined the chorus to demand submission to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism, including all 11 controversial “illustrative examples” that blur the lines between anti-semitism and anti-zionism.
They did not do so through ignorance. Corbyn and those backing him had argued their case vigorously since the demand first emerged, pointing out the inevitable consequences of accepting it.
Nor could they have been unaware that Kenneth S Stern, the US lawyer who drafted the IHRA definition, has disavowed in a submission to Congress the restrictive role it has been assigned by pro-Israel activists, declaring that his intention had never been “to provide a framework for eviscerating free speech or academic freedom, let alone labelling anyone an anti-semite.”
Whether it was a lack of backbone, a conviction that the leader’s fair-weather friends understand better than Corbyn or Stern the intention or effects of the IHRA definition, or some other pretext is of little import.
They must have known that the anti-Corbyn campaign — with the forceful participation of Israeli war criminal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — has made acceptance of the notes drawn up by Stern as a ”working definition” to try to standardise data collection about the incidence of anti-semitic hate crime in different countries its prime demand.
Jewish newspapers, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and Labour’s own Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) affiliate, previously called Poale Zion, are united on this point.
Piling in behind them have been the parliamentary anti-Corbyn intransigents whose opposition to the leadership was previously based on their New Labour addiction to illegal wars, private finance initiatives, privatisation and reducing state benefits to “encourage” poor people into work.
Visceral opposition to a socialist leading Labour dictates their backing for anything that weakens his standing.
Even Gordon Brown, the man jointly responsible with Tony Blair for frittering away Labour’s 1997 landslide into abject defeat by 2010, was wheeled out for a standing ovation at last weekend’s JLM conference to assert that adoption of the IHRA definition would remove the “stain" of backing a modified version in July.
He demanded urgent action against Labour’s anti-semites, saying: “We can't just move on. We have to move forward true to our values and true to our principles of equality and solidarity and in respect of the wishes of the Jewish community.”
Absent from Brown’s alleged commitment to “our principles of equality and solidarity” was any reference to the Palestinian people or to the Palestinian Arab 20 per cent minority in Israel whose inferior status was recently confirmed by the Netanyahu government’s adoption of an apartheid nation-state law.
In contrast, 13 Joint List Knesset members (MK) from the Israeli Communist Party and four Arab parties, wrote a letter to the Guardian expressing solidarity with Corbyn.
“We recognise him as a principled leftist leader who aspires for peace and justice and is opposed to all forms of racism, whether directed at Jews, Palestinians or any other group.”
They noted that Palestinian citizens of Israel have “yet to experience a single day of equality,” adding that millions more in the West Bank live under occupation and “under siege in the Gaza Strip.
“Incredibly, instead of taking that government to task for its unadulterated racism, the British political class ignores the Palestinian historical plight. With the Netanyahu government ramping up the racism, our struggle for survival is more precarious than ever.”
The atmosphere in which the Joint List operates in Israel can be gauged from last week’s declaration by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of Netanyhu’s Likud bloc that Joint List MKs are committing “treason” by holding discussions at the UN over advancing a resolution of condemnation against Israel for adopting the nation-state law.
Housing Minister Yoav Gallant said it was “time for the justice system to enable the outlawing and booting from the Knesset of those dangerous extremists.”
Tzipi Livni and eight other members of the Zionist Union, in which the Labour Party currently resides, said: “We will stand against the Arab MKs’ attempt to act against Israel and condemn it at the UN.”
Even when it became apparent that the claim was based on fake news, generated by Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, there was no retraction of these condemnations.
Being accused of treason in Israel is not without consequences –- witness the 1995 assassination of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by extremist Yigal Amir, who was jailed but permitted conjugal visits in order to start a family, which no Palestinian prisoner would be allowed.
Brown’s partial commitment to equality and solidarity is unsurprising given his sponsorship, when prime minister, of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which has historically raised funds to assist Jewish colonisation of Palestine and, since 1948, Israel.
It also assists ethnic cleansing through its disposal of state assets gained through classification of refugee Arab property owners as “absent.”
Theresa May is a supporter too and was presented with a JNF tree certificate in December 2016 by Conservative Friends of Israel director Lord Stuart Polak CBE, noting that a garden of trees has been planted in the Lord Sacks Forest near Jerusalem, in her name.
That is, of course, the same Lord Sacks who slandered Corbyn as an “anti-semite” who “defiles our politics and demeans the country we love,” accusing him of having “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map.”
He it was who considered, five years after the fact no less, that Corbyn’s lighthearted reference to first-language-English British zionists having less of a grip on English irony than non-first-language-English Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian amounted to “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 Rivers of Blood speech.”
Some may find Sacks’s decision to lead the provocative March of the Flags on last year’s 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem through Palestinian areas of Jerusalem and Hebron, where marchers chanted “Death to the Arabs” and “The temple will be built, the mosque will be burnt down” in reference to the Haram esh-Sharif infinitely more offensive.
The same goes for his invitation beforehand to international zionist organisation Mizrachi Olami and its youth wing Bnei Akiva to join him to “dance with the brave IDF soldiers” in Hebron’s illegal settler enclaves.
It is clear from his comments and actions that it is concern for Israel’s international public image that motivates him more than overblown Labour anti-semitism that supposedly makes British Jews fear for their very existence.
Corbyn appreciates this and presented his case for tackling anti-semitism while insisting on the right to criticise zionist expansionism, ethnic cleansing and anti-Arab racism implicit in Israel’s entire existence.
His inability to convert the “iron grip” he is alleged to have on the entire machinery of the Labour Party speaks volumes for low political understanding at the highest echelon of the party.
Corbyn’s determination to prioritise the interests of “the many not the few” isn’t an expression of liberalism. It’s a class approach, reflected in his profound anti-imperialism — class politics on an international scale — that demands global justice rather than charitable crumbs from the capitalist elite’s table.
Neoliberals within the Parliamentary Labour Party have more affinity with their equivalents in other parties than with Corbyn, which is why Margaret Hodge insists that, adoption of IHRA definition or not, he must go.
Corbyn’s defeat at the NEC will encourage the combined forces of the pro-Israel lobby and New Labour, now proudly tails up, to encourage his replacement.
We have already seen the preposterous challenge by Owen Smith — who claimed he would back Corbyn-associated economic policies while being more electable — seen off by the members, but matters will not rest there.
The whispering that Jeremy brings too much baggage with him, that he alienates important people unnecessarily, that he has taken the project as far as he can and that this or that seemingly loyal Corbynista would be better placed to carry it forward may persuade weaker spirits.
Plotting by the right and acquiescence by timid appeasers must be nipped in the bud by a determined and visible movement based on trade unionists, grassroots Labour members and socialists outside Labour’s ranks to defend the project associated with Corbyn.
Essential to defending that radical project must be a militant insistence on retaining Corbyn as leader.
John Haylett is Morning Star political editor. He writes this column fortnightly.
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