Labor’s Continuing Corbyn “Antisemitism” Saga

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The fallout regarding the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on antisemitism in the Labour party continues, as do its repercussions for the former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

I discussed the report in a previous CounterPunch post, pointing out that while it didn’t uphold the claim by the Jewish Labour Movement, which issued the first complaint to the EHRC, that Labour is “institutionally antisemitic”, it nonetheless concluded that Corbyn could have tackled antisemitism more effectively if he had chosen to do so.

At the same time, the report acknowledged that official party procedures for dealing with complaints of antisemitism within Labour had speeded-up under Corbyn.

Corbyn’s responded almost immediately to the report on Facebook, saying—correctly– that the scale of antisemitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.

Corbyn’s factually-based statement resulted in his immediate suspension as a member of the Labour party. The suspension, greeted with considerable opposition from rank-and-file members and the unions which bankroll the party, as well as the threat of forthcoming legal action, was later lifted by a disciplinary panel.

Corbyn was also told by the Labour Chief Whip, Nick Brown, to “unequivocally, unambiguously and without reservation” apologize for his claims made in the aftermath of the EHRC report. The whip will be withdrawn from Corbyn for 3 months while an investigation is carried out, meaning that while he remains an MP, Corbyn will not be representing Labour in parliament.

Corbyn, as is his wont, backtracked by issuing a contrite statement on social media the morning the disciplinary panel met.

He retracted his earlier statement that antisemitism had been “dramatically overstated” for political reasons by saying “To be clear, concerns about anti-Semitism are neither ‘exaggerated’ nor ‘overstated’”. At the same time Corbyn did not apologize for his statement.

As has typically been the case, Corbyn’s backtrack achieved nothing for him.

Corbyn can’t seem to grasp, at least not publicly, that aside from what his opponents outside the party, such as the fetid Murdoch media, get up to, there are those within— its Blairite remnant and its pro-Zionist bloc —who will do everything they can to destroy him and his supporters politically.

No amount of soft-pedalling on Corbyn’s part will change their minds.

Corbyn’s project, and that of his myriad supporters, is modest, namely, to reintroduce Labour to its founding principles as a social-democratic party and to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people, established for decades by the Geneva Convention and other provisions of international law.

Keir Starmer, despite his dissembling when he ran for the leadership, is a Blairite in all but name, and he is on the payroll of one of the UK’s biggest supporters of Israel, the multimillionaire Trevor Chinn.

Starmer is on record as saying he supports “Zionism without qualification”.

Corbyn needs to ask Starmer and his fellow Labour Zionists to provide a context for the proceedings against him (so he can defend himself properly), by asking the simple question: “is there any part of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people you disagree with?”.

If the reply is “none” (Starmer’s likely answer given his support of Zionism “without qualification’), then at least Corbyn has flushed Labour’s Zionists out into the open for their unconditional support of Israel in its brutal treatment of the Palestinians.

If the reply is “some”, then the follow-up question has to be: “Thank you, but please be specific and tell us exactly what you find disagreeable in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians?”.

The politician who answers the follow-up question truthfully, and disagrees in however a small way with the right of Palestinians to live without an illegal Israeli military occupation, the systemic demolition of entire Palestinian villages, or being shot by Israeli snipers when protesting peacefully, runs the risk of being denounced as an “antisemite”, “supporter of terrorism”, or face the phony plea “we are the victims, so why are you against us, etc.”– the whole familiar panoply of condemnations and exculpations directed at those who dare criticize Israel for its ruthlessness towards the Palestinian people.

As a result, one can surmise that not many in Labour’s Zionist bloc will answer the latter question directly or truthfully.

This less quiescent approach may not succeed– Corbyn is after all dealing with absolute bastards who won’t allow him a milimetre of room to defend himself– but at least he and his surrogates should give it a try.

When dealing with Labour’s ruthless Blairites and Zionists, Corbyn always seems to bring his garden-allotment pruning clippers to a gunfight.

Sure enough, after Corbyn’s suspension was lifted, the Jewish Labour Movement, a pro-Israel lobbying outfit, said Corbyn had “offered no apology for his total failure of leadership to tackle anti-Semitism”.

The Labour Friends of Israel supporter Margaret Hodge, the multimillionaire right-wing Labour MP and tax-avoider, said she was deciding whether she should leave the party given Corbyn’s reinstatement as a party member. Many Labour party members, myself included, would give Hodge a sardonic round of applause if she chose to leave.

But Starmer and his Blairite/Zionist supporters are facing something of backlash.

Corbyn’s supporters on Labour’s National Executive Committee (members of the NEC are elected by party members) walked out of its last meeting because the agreement regarding who became chair of the NEC was altered to prevent the next chair being someone who criticized Starmer’s leadership. The convention was upheld during Corbyn’s time as leader, even though it allowed a Blairite to become chair in their turn.

In a letter to all local party chairs, MPs and Members of the Scottish Parliament, Labour’s general secretary David Evans indicated that any motions about the decision to withdraw the parliamentary whip from Corbyn would be “ruled out of order”. Evans wrote (pointing out he was doing so with the full authority of the NEC):

“I am aware that… motions (including expressions of solidarity, and matters relating to the internal processes of the PLP) are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members. Therefore, all motions which touch on these issues will also be ruled out of order”.

Some leftwing MPs fear this clampdown could expand into the wider suspension of entire local constituency Labour parties (CLPs), whose members have been most vocal in their denunciation of Corbyn’s suspension.

It is estimated that around 60 CLPs have already approved motions of support for Corbyn, with about more 100 due to take place last week.

Evans has already suspended the chair and other members in the Bristol West CLP after they convened a Zoom meeting which discussed a motion critical of the Chief Whip’s decision.

The CLP in Hall Green (Birmingham), met and disregarded Evans’s “guidance” by passing the following resolution: “This CLP demands the immediate and unconditional restoration of the Labour parliamentary whip to Jeremy Corbyn MP”.

The resolution was passed with no votes against and only 2 abstentions. Hall Green has since been joined by the Nottingham East CLP in passing a resolution in support of Corbyn.

So how many CLPs will David Evans (who presumably makes such decisions with Starmer’s backing) suspend when they pass resolutions defiantly in support of Corbyn?

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.