Labour's 'anti-Semitism crisis' is a manufactured scare campaign

Labour's 'anti-Semitism crisis' is a manufactured scare campaign
Comment: Jeremy Corbyn has been targeted by an organised smear campaign led by the Israel lobby and Labour's right wing, writes Asa Winstanley.
6 min read
22 Nov, 2019
Corbyn won leadership of the Labour Party in 2015 in a landslide victory [Getty]
For what feels like the umpteenth time, the cries of "Labour anti-Semitism crisis" are being rolled out here in the UK once again.

It must be election time.

As I've reported in detail for the last four and a half years, Labour in general, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular, have been targeted by an organised smear campaign led by the Israel lobby and the party right.

The UK general election which will take place on 12 December is not just a contest between the two main political parties, the Conservatives and Labour. In essence, this is a contest between two warring world views.

Will the country continue along the ruinous, four-decade-long path of neoliberal destruction? Or will it turn now in the opposite direction, and begin to shift back towards the mild form of social democracy that used to be the general political consensus before Margaret Thatcher's slash-and-burn capitalist revolution began when she was first elected in 1979?

The work of systemic de-industrialisation, all-out war against the trade unions, privatisation and a generalised attack on the working classes begun by the former Tory prime minister in the 1980s was continued by "New Labour" in the 1990s and 2000s.

When asked in 2002 by Tory activists about what she considered to be her greatest achievement, Thatcher replied: "Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds."

In a very similar fashion to the Republicans and Democrats in the US, for decades Labour and the Conservatives were essentially two factions of the same party: the Business Party.

But with the unexpected rise to power in Labour of Jeremy Corbyn, the UK political scene has now decisively shifted to the left. If Labour can win this election, this change could be rendered permanent for the foreseeable future.

Will the country continue along the ruinous, four-decade-long path of neoliberal destruction?

In some ways, this transformation has already begun.

In past elections Labour and the Tories were in competition with each other about who could cut the most from public budgets, who could start the most wars and who could deport the most refugees.

No more. The debate in this election has been about who can spend the most - even the Tories now have to grudgingly appear to make (limited) offers of public spending.

Even on international policy, Labour has shifted - if only modestly.

The party that once directly administered Britain's declining, but still vast and blood-soaked, global empire is now led by a man - Jeremy Corbyn - who was not only against the 2003 US-UK war of aggression against Iraq, but was an active leader of the anti-war movement.

Corbyn was also an energetic and dedicated supporter of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. I myself spoke on several PSC panels over the years over which Corbyn presided as the quiet, unassuming chairperson. For years he did the unglamorous hard work when very few other MPs would.

While events in the Labour Party over the last four years have led him to massively scale-back that work (to say the least), he remains a patron of the PSC.

Read more: This isn't about Brexit: Rejecting Tory Britain

Due in large part to years of hard graft by Palestine solidarity activists, as well as the newly energised left-wing party grassroots, the Labour Party in its new manifesto has finally been dragged, kicking and screaming into adopting a new policy on Palestine.

Labour has now committed to "immediately" suspending arms sales to Israel, as well as to Saudi Arabia.

This will be part of what the party promised will be a "root-and-branch reform of our arms exports regime so ministers can never again turn a blind eye to British-made weapons being used to target innocent civilians."

These are good policies. In my view, they do not go far enough by a long shot. But it is a start. 

Questions of detail and implementation remain.

The wording of the manifesto states that the arms sales ban will apply to Saudi weapons "for use in Yemen and to Israel for arms used in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians."

Supporters of Israeli wars still remaining in Labour will be hoping that these qualifications will give a future Labour government "out" clauses to continue arming Saudi Arabia and Israel should these states provide certain "guarantees".

This should not be allowed to happen, and much will depend on the pressure activists are able to bring to bear on the government.

But the activists have already come a long, long way.

This is the party, after all, that historically, especially under Tony Blair, has been perhaps the most fanatically supportive party in the western world of the Zionist movement.

So with the prospect of such a seismic change, there was no way the entrenched Labour Party establishment - the party right - or their friends in the Israel lobby were ever going to take this lying down.

When asked in 2002 by Tory activists about what she considered to be her greatest achievement, Thatcher replied: 'Tony Blair and New Labour'

All this explains the state of near civil war in the Labour Party since Corbyn first ran for the leadership in the summer of 2015 - and the constant smears of anti-Semitism.

Like the other two main UK political parties, Labour contains internal groups which have close links to the Israeli embassy, and whose main function is to advocate and lobby for Israel and for Zionism - the state's ruling ideology.

In Labour especially, these groups have increasingly had a hard time in recent years pushing the Israeli narrative. This trend long pre-dates Corbyn, and relates mainly to the increasingly blatant and open Israeli denial of basic Palestinian human, political and civil rights over the last two decades.

Even in the US, where the influence of well-funded lobby groups like AIPAC was once viewed with a huge amount of fear, their power is historically on the decline.

As one former AIPAC lobbyist admitted in an undercover film released online last year: "The foundation that AIPAC sat on is rotting."

When fabricated and exaggerated claims of anti-Semitism are deployed to attack the left, we can see the real agenda at play

As a form of racism, anti-Semitism is a problem for the entirety of society.

But when fabricated and exaggerated claims of anti-Semitism are deployed to - almost exclusively - attack the left and the Palestine solidarity movement, we can see the real agenda at play.

In fact, Israel lobbyists in private admit that they do this as a deliberate tactic. 

In that same undercover film, another Israel lobby operative stated that "anti-Semitism as a smear is not what is used to be."

This is not only dishonest and wrong on principle, but it actively undermines genuine anti-racist attempts to combat anti-Jewish prejudice and violence, which as recent synagogue attacks in the US show, has not gone away.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.

Follow him on Twitter: @AsaWinstanley

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.