Monday, 17 August 2015

The nonsense of claims that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti semite

First of all, let me put my cards on the table. I disagree with Jeremy Corbyn on the issue of Israel. If I were an Israeli citizen, I would see no earthly reason why I should be lectured on respecting the rights of organisations that are a) committed to my complete destruction and b) prepared to use women and children as suicide bombers etc in an effort to kill innocent Israeli citizens. As a UK citizen, I recognise the fact that Israel is a rare thing in the middle east. It is a democracy with a functional legal system. I also have no sympathy at all with Hamas who are an extremely unpleasant organisation. When we lecture Israel on how it should respect Palestinian citizens, those of us in the west completely forget just how little respect we showed for the civilain population of Dresden, Hiroshoma, Nagasaki etc. The Soviets were no great respecters of the civil rights of the Germans either, with millions of German women raped after the fall of Berlin. So who has the moral authority to criticise the actions of the Israelis under a never ending onslaught? That doesn't mean that I think the Israelis are entirely blameless in every action they have taken. I certainly don't think the actions of illegal settlers help the situation. I often read of attacks in Gaza where I'd rather they hadn't retailiated with such force and I for one would prefer a less hawkish government there that would try harder to engage with moderate Palestinians. But at the end of the day, I understand why Israelis elect hard line governments and I can't really say I blame them.

Jeremy Corbyn takes a completely different view of the situation. In recent days, various parties, from the Jewish Chronicle, to the Daily Express to some senior Labour figures have tried to portray him as an anti semite because he is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It seems to me that there is a sizable and rather dishonest bunch of people who push a philosphy that Pro Palestinian = Anti Semitic. Whilst it is beyond doubt that some anti Semites see the Palestinian issue as a useful one to nail their flag to, for the vast majority of people sympathetic to the plight of ordinary Palestinians, the concept of anti Semitism is abhorrent. Because the issue is rather emotive, it seems that sense and reason sometimes is the last thing which is given consideration.  A typical example is Stephen Pollards column in todays Daily Express. Pollard is the highly respected editor of the Jewish Chronicle and not normally one to make wild or outlandish claims. Pollard states
"Because there are questions hanging over Mr Corbyn with which he refuses to engage. Questions which go to the core of his beliefs. During the leadership election, a number of worrying links have been exposed between Mr Corbyn and some of the most noxious and vile – and, in some cases, violent – anti-Semites. Mr Corbyn is a long-standing critic of Israel and advocate of the rights of Palestinians – an entirely honourable position. Most British Jews also support the emergence of a Palestinian state.But there is a pattern in some of Mr Corbyn’s associations – a pattern not of campaigning against Israel or for Palestinians but of attacking Jews"
This sets the tone of the article. All manner of "guilt by association" type allegations are made. However Pollard fails to cite a single example of anyting in Corbyns 32 years as an outspoken Parliamentarian that supports the case that his is an anti semite. Corbyn has made a name for himself speaking out for deeply unpopular causes. Long before the Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6 were acquitted, Corbyn spoke out on their behalf. At the time they were seen as members of the IRA, who were conducting a vicious terrorist campaign against the UK. Corbyn pulled no punches and despite the fact that his position was deeply unpopular and that he was regularly vilified by the press, he continued to speak out on behalf of these wrongly convicted innocent men. So the concept that Corbyn is an anti semite is based purely on the fact that he's associated with some people who clearly are, not on his own views.

Is this a sustainable theory? There are several things which Stephen Pollard has completely ignored in his analysis. Firstly Corbyn is clearly an intellectual. One of the things intellectuals tend to do is enjoying listening to all manner of arguments, deconstructing these to help them form an opinion. If you only ever interact with people who you agree with, ultimtely you learn nothing. One of the people quoted as being supported by Corbyn is Paul Eisen. I'd never heard of Eisen prior to the article. I thought I'd do a bit of research. He wrote an article for "Righteous Jews" entitled "My life as a holocaust denier". Just in case you are wondering what the Righteous Jew website is all about, it says
To be considered and selected, a "Righteous Jew" must
  1. Consider himself or herself to be Jewish. He or she does not have to be religious. Non-practicing Jews and even atheists can be considered.

  2. Have demonstrated solidarity with Palestinians as human beings, deserving of being treated equally with all other people in the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, one country with equal citizenship for all.

  3. Have faced disparagement, discrimination, or even death as a consequence of his or her standing up for the rights of Palestinians.
It is not important why a "Righteous Jew" has defended Palestinian rights or whether his or her actions were based on friendship, altruism, religious belief, humanitarianism, or simple human decency. Candidates may be considered posthumously.
Now I can only describe the views of Paul Eisen towards the holocaust as extremely odd. I am quite sure if I was Jewish and had lost family in the holocaust, I'd find them offensive. I am not a big fan of long, boring articles which are full of waffle and use all manner of ridiculous and extremely tenuous connections to justify the unjustifiable. But unlike Corbyn, I am not an intellectual. My idea of a good night out is a few beers and a loud punk rock band. Corbyns is to sit around discussing absurd theories with people he may or may not agree with.  It is very hard to argue against anything if you don't understand the arguments which your opponent is making.

The second thing which Stephen Pollard misrepresents is the fact that Corbyn is very polite. When he introduces people at meetings and rallys as "my friends", he is not saying "after this is over, we are going down the dog and duck for a few pints, followed by a curry and on Saturday we are going to watch West Ham together". He is simply being polite and trying to make people feel welcome. Pollard cites the case of Raed Salah as an example of him communing with all manner of vicious anti semites. The article says
According to Mr Corbyn, Salah is a “ very honoured citizen” who “represents his people extremely well”. You might think from that Salah is some sort of Mandela figure or even a Yasser Arafat. But Salah is not an anti-Israel campaigner. He is an anti-Semitic hate preacher.
Now it is pretty clear that Saleh is a firebrand and has some very extreme views. At a first glance you may think "why on earth would Corbyn want to engage with such a man? The answer is quite simple. The clue is in Pollards own statement. Yasser Arafet was views as the devil incarnate in many quarters when he first hit the scene as the leader of the PLO. I have no doubt that Mossad would have bumped him off given half a chance and  many of my Jewish friends would have cracked open the bubbly to celebrate. The point was that he was eventually engaged and brought into the process. He was  lauded by many as a "very honoured citizen" and a man who "represents his people very well". The sad truth is that the likes of Saleh have influence and followers. Churchill stated that "Jaw Jaw is better than War War". The concept that peace in the middle east can be achieved without some sort of engagement with such people is ridiculous. I can 100% understand why Pollard finds it sickening to laud such people and in some ways he's not wrong. The sad truth though is that if you are Prince Charles, ultimately you have to shake hands with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness even though they are responsible for the death of your favourite uncle. Sadly history tells us that peace doesn't happen when nice, reasonable people on both sides decide that too many people have died and it is good for their people to stop.  Peace happens when the complete bastards, who care nothing for anyone or anything beyond their own power and extreme views are somehow engaged.

I do not beleive in appeasement of repugnant ideologies, at any price, for a quiet life. It doesn't work. I do however recognise that total rejection of dialog is no more effective.  There has to be a middle way and this involves polite dialog with people you don't agree with. Stephen Pollard, in the Jewish Chronicle, challenges Corbyn to do various things to "prove he's not an enemy of the Jewish community". It seems to me that Stephen Pollard thinks that failure to go around condemning all and sundry is enough to make someone an enemy. To me this is a ridiculous position to take. What he wants is a Labour leader who is simply interested in shouting at the world, rather than someone who may actually want to start a dialog and undertand the issues in a bit more depth.  Take for example point 6 on Pollards list

6. Why have you failed to condemn the anti-Semitic posters and banners that dominate the annual Al-Quds Day rally, sponsored by the Stop The War Coalition, which you chair?
If Corbyn was to spend his life denouncing every poster, every slogan, every t-shirt that was worn at every rally he's supported, he'd spend his life shouting meaningless slogans. As editor of the Jewish Chronicle, does Pollard endorse and support every word that written in it? Does he denounce every statement from the extreme reaches of his community? Maybe he does, but I am sure he's got far better ways to spend his day. Ultimately we judge you, me, Jeremy Corbyn and Stephen Pollard by what we say, what we write and what actions we take. I am sure Pollard knows a few vile characters that he's perfectly polite to. I certainly do. To get the information I need to write this blog, I try and keep my lines of communication open to all parts of the community. This means that sometimes you have to be polite and listen to people spout nonsense. In the course of researching this blog, I've heard some of the most vile things. Two issues locally, the Eruv and Etz Chaim school have prompted some people to make extremely anti semitic statements to me. I have on several occasions been deeply shocked by some of these statements. It would have been quite easy to write blogs which completely denounced the anti Eruv and Etz Chaim campaigns as hotbeds of anti semitism. I didn't for the simple reason that these voices didn't represent the campaign and it would have been highly unfair to the 99% of people who had quite reasonable objections. To have reported some of the statements and named some of the individuals would have simply inflamed the community in Mill Hill. As both the Eruv and the school are established and the world hasn't ended, it seems that common sense has prevailed. I suspect that I could have written blogs which ended up in punch ups and court cases. Would that really have served our community well? Denouncing people and sloganising is not always the best way.

In truth, I don't think it will matter a fig who wins the Labour Party leadership battle, in relation to the UK Jewish community or the security of Israel. One could make the case that Israel would probably be safer and more secure had the Corbyn view prevailed with regards to the Iraq war. As a betting man, I don't believe that whoever wins the Labour nomination will ever become Prime Minister. Burnham and Cooper are clearly completely useless, Liz who? is a nonentity. I suspect that Corbyn will prove to be a far better leader of the opposition than his opponents care to admit, but unless the Tories have a melt down over the European referendum, the maths simply isn't with him, especially if the Blairites spend the next five years plotting and indulging in rifts and wars. I've often wondered what are the circumstances in which Israel could secure a lasting peace agreement with its neighbours. This can only come when the influential Palestinian groups abandon the requirement for the destruction of Israel in their constitutions. If they had the political savvy to do this, I suspect that they could get most of what they want and the Middle East could become an area of peace and prosperity. Sadly, it seems that there are very rich and powerful forces which are hell bent on preventing this ever being considered. Sadly the biggest losers are the Palestinian people, who seemed condemned to live in a vision of hell. I suspect that what motivates Corbyn is compassion for these people, rather than any hatred of Jewish people. Until the likes of Stephen Pollard can actually provide  some documentary evidence to the contrary, I will continue to believe this. One thing is 100% clear to me. If Corbyn was put before a court of law charged with antisemitism, based on Pollards evidence, he'd be aquitted in minutes and Pollard would be laughed out of court.

1 comment:

GFL said...

To excuse Corbyn on the grounds that he is an intellectual is nonsense. Apart from anything else he is no more an intellectual than I am a nuclear physicist.