By Editor, Published on Media Lens, March 6, 2019
One of us had a discussion with an elderly relative:
‘He can’t be allowed to become Prime Minister.’
‘It’s so awful…’
‘The way he hates the Jews.’
The last comment was spoken with real anguish, the result of continuous exposure to just two main news sources: the Daily Mail and the BBC.
What is astonishing is that, just four years ago, essentially no-one held this view of Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn first became an MP in 1983. He stood for the Labour leadership 32 years later, in May 2015. We searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:
‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ before 1 May 2015 = 18 hits
‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ after 1 May 2015 = 11,251 hits
None of the 18 hits accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. For his first 32 years as an MP, it just wasn’t a theme associated with him.
We also searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:
‘Labour Party’ and ‘anti-semitism’ before 1 May 2015 = 5,347 hits
‘Labour Party’ and ‘anti-semitism’ after 1 May 2015 = 13,921 hits
The archive begins in 1980, which means that more than twice as many articles have included these terms in the last four years than in the 35 years from 1980 until May 2015 when Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership. A standard response to these findings runs along these lines:
‘Irrelevant backbencher gets less Press attention than Leader of The Opposition SHOCKER. What’s your next scoop, Water Wet, Sky Blue?’
But in fact, Corbyn was not an irrelevant backbencher. We found 3,662 hits for articles mentioning Corbyn before May 2015. Many of these are mentions in passing, but he had also long been a high-profile anti-war MP at a time of numerous wars. And he was frequently smeared, only not about his supposed anti-semitism. Consider, for example, an article that appeared in The Sun in 1999, under a typically cruel title:
‘Why did it take you so long to dump him, Mrs Corbyn?’ (Ally Ross, The Sun, 13 May 1999)
‘EXTREME Left MP Jeremy Corbyn has been dumped by his missus after an amazing bust-up over their son’s education.’
The key issue, according to The Sun:
‘Now the question on everyone’s lips is: Why did it take her so long to leave the loathsome Lefty, and more importantly, why is she only moaning about his choice of schools?’
Because there was, apparently, plenty to moan about. The Sun described Corbyn as ‘class crusader Jeremy – a rabid IRA sympathiser’ who ‘not only looks and dresses like a third-rate Open University lecturer, he thinks like one too. In 1984 the Provo stooge invited twice-convicted terrorist and bomber Linda Quigley to the House of Commons just 13 days after the IRA’s murderous attack on Tories staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton’.
This was pretty brutal stuff. The Sun added of Corbyn’s ex-wife:
‘Claudia’s saviour of the masses also suffers incredible delusions of grandeur. Communist states may be falling like dominoes, but raving Red Jeremy still believes his outdated views are relevant to modern-day Britain.’
‘Not only is Jeremy a political coward who backs terrorists, he is also a self-confessed big girl’s blouse.’
‘Jeremy’s mis-shapen suits, lumpy jumpers and nylon shirts are not exactly what the well-dressed radical is wearing in 1999… Claudia should be aware her ex is irredeemably, unforgivably, annoyingly stupid.’
Given the no-holds-barred nature of the smear, it is amazing that The Sun made no mention at all of Corbyn’s vile anti-semitism, viewed as his most obvious and dangerous defect now.
The reason is that, as this shows, not even his worst enemies viewed him as an anti-semite. The extreme Tory press aside, the accepted view of Corbyn pre-2015 is indicated by a long, admiring piece in which Jewish journalist Deborah Ross, whose family members were murdered in Polish pogroms even before the Nazi Holocaust was unleashed, interviewed him for the Independent in 2005. Ross commented:
‘He is also, it is generally agreed, an exemplary constituency MP. Even my friend Rebecca, who recently sought his help on a local issue, and never usually has a nice word to say about anybody, which is why I like her, describes him as a “totally genuine mensch”.’
‘As The Sun would have it, Mr Corbyn is a “beardy Bolshevik” and “loathsome lefty” but he does not come across as either. He has strong opinions but does not demand you listen to them, if you don’t want to.
‘He is scandal free, unless you count the hoo-ha a few years back when it was revealed that Jeremy’s oldest son would be attending a grammar school outside the borough.’
Joseph Finlay is a former Deputy Editor of the Jewish Quarterly, who co-founded a range of grassroots Jewish organisations such as Moishe House London, Wandering Jews, Jewdas and The Open Talmud Project. On 2 March 2018, Finlay wrote in his blog under the title, ‘Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-racist, not an anti-Semite’:
‘Firstly we need to restore some perspective. The Labour party has thousands of Jewish members, many Jewish councillors, a number of prominent Jewish MPs and several Jewish members of its ruling council. Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences.’
‘Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983 – a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him. As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. He is close friends with the leaders of the Jewish Socialist Group, from whom he has gained a rich knowledge of the history of the Jewish Labour Bund, and he has named the defeat of Mosley’s Fascists at the Battle of Cable as a key historical moment for him. His 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day statement talked about Shmuel Zygielboym, the Polish Bund leader exiled to London who committed suicide in an attempt to awaken the world to the Nazi genocide. How many British politicians have that level of knowledge of modern Jewish history?’
Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook notes that a recent Labour Party report ‘decisively undercut’ the claims of Corbyn’s critics ‘not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all’. Cook summarised:
‘Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.
‘The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.’
‘That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.’
In ‘Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel’ by the Jewish Institute for Policy Research, L. Daniel Staetsky found:
‘Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. Yet, all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum – including the “slightly left-of-centre,” the “fairly left-wing” and the “very left-wing” – exhibit higher levels of anti-Israelism than average. The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.’
The report notes that ‘the prevalence of antisemitism on the far right is considerably higher than on the left and in the political centre’.
Noam Chomsky has commented:
‘The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.’ (Noam Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018)
Suspending Chris Williamson
On February 27, a propaganda blitz was launched against anti-war Labour MP Chris Williamson who had been filmed saying that Labour Party responses to claims of anti-semitism had exacerbated the crisis:
‘I’ve got to say, I think our party’s response has been partly responsible… Because, in my opinion, we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.’
‘We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-semitism than any political party.’
It is clear that Williamson was strongly endorsing the fight against anti-semitism and was proud of the Labour Party’s record. Actual anti-semites talk of ‘the scourge of Judaism’, Williamson talked of ‘the scourge of anti-semitism’. He was suggesting that the party had been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign attempting to destroy Corbyn by exploiting the issue of anti-semitism.
Others chose to see it differently. Guardian columnist Owen Jones responded to Williamson’s comments:
‘This is utterly out of order. When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry? Why is he, a non-Jew, right and Jon Lansman – a Jewish socialist who founded Momentum and ran Corbyn’s second leadership campaign – wrong about anti-Semitism?’
‘”When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry?'”
‘He’s *endorsing* the fight against racism and bigotry. He’s saying Labour has been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign to destroy Corbyn in the name of anti-racism.’
Ash Sharkar of Novara Media tweeted:
‘Chris Williamson has been had the Labour whip suspended pending investigation, which I think is the right decision. But much more work must be done to proactively confront and dismantle conspiratorial and antisemitic thinking on the left, and it goes much further than expulsions.’
Aaron Bastani, also of Novara Media, wrote:
‘I think media coverage of the “Labour anti-semitism crisis” is completely disproportionate – primarily because it underplays problem more broadly across society.
‘Equally, hearing & reading the things I have in recent days I wouldn’t feel welcome in the party as a Jewish person.’
In our latest book, ‘Propaganda Blitz’, we noted a key factor driving home these smear blitzes:
‘while a demonising propaganda blitz may arise from rightist politics and media, the propaganda coup de grace ending public doubt often comes from the “left-liberal” journalists at the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC and Channel 4; and also from non-corporate journalists who crave acceptance by these media. Again, the logic is clear: if even celebrity progressive journalists – people famous for their principled stands, and colourful socks and ties – join the denunciations, then there must be something to the claims. At this point, it actually becomes difficult to doubt it’. (David Edwards and David Cromwell, ‘Propaganda Blitz’, Pluto Press, 2018, pp.8-9)
Foreign Wars – Racism Versus Speciesism
The truth of the corporate media’s ‘ethical concern’ becomes clearer when we consider Corbyn’s record on foreign wars. While the UK affects to care deeply about racism, Chomsky has noted that the West’s endless ‘interventions’ – all reflexively supported by the same media damning Corbyn now – are manifestations of a prejudice, beyond even racism, that is a kind of speciesism:
‘Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.’ (Chomsky ZNet blog, ‘Samantha Power, Bush & Terrorism,’ 31 July 2007)
Even if Corbyn was an anti-semite, a racist, he would still be a far safer ethical choice than Tory and Blairite speciesists who value human beings on the level of ants. After all, we find that Jeremy Corbyn:
- ‘Consistently voted against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
- ‘Consistently voted against the Iraq war.’
- ‘… voted to say that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established’.
- ‘… voted against a motion stating the Government should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Support for the motion by the majority of MPs led to the UK joining the US invasion of Iraq two days later’.
- ‘Generally voted for investigations into the Iraq war.’
- ‘… acted as teller for a vote on UK Air Strikes Against ISIL in Iraq’.
- ‘… voted against the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya’.
- ‘… voted against the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan’.
- ‘… voted to decline to authorise UK military action in Syria’.
- ‘… voted against UK airstrikes against ISIL in Syria’.
- ‘Generally voted against replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system.’
Consider, by contrast, the record of the Labour MPs who have left the Labour Party, supposedly in protest at the rise of anti-semitism, to form The Independent Group:
- Chuka Umunna ‘Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
- Angela Smith ‘Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
- Mike Gapes ‘Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
- Chris Leslie ‘Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
- Luciana Berger ‘Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
- Joan Ryan: ‘Consistently voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas’, ‘ Consistently voted for the Iraq war’, ‘Consistently voted against investigations into the Iraq war.’
- Ann Coffey ‘Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
- Gavin Shuker ‘Voted a mixture of for and against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’
Not even his most extreme critics are suggesting that Corbyn is offering the kind of threat to Jewish people consistently offered by Tory and Blairite MPs to millions of people in countries like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Yemen. Even if Corbyn had erred in failing to perceive the ugliness of a mural declared antisemitic by the press; even if had been lax in taking action against party racists, and so on, how do these failings compare to the destruction of whole countries in lie-based wars of aggression?
Why do corporate media never make this moral comparison? Because they are incapable of perceiving US-UK crimes against humanity as crimes; a wilful moral blindness that renders them completely unfit to pass judgement on Corbyn. Especially as they are themselves, of course, complicit in these same war crimes.
The claim that Corbyn is an anti-semite presiding over a surge in Labour Party anti-semitism is fake news; it is a scam of the utmost cynicism and brutality. It should be viewed as the latest in a long line of attempts to destroy Corbyn by all necessary means. He has been smeared for not bowing low enough, for not singing loudly enough, for hating women, for disrespecting gay people, for consorting with terrorists, for refusing to unleash a nuclear holocaust, for being a shambolic leader, for being a shambolic dresser, for leading Labour towards certain electoral disaster, for being a Putinite stooge, for aping Trump, and so on. Now, finally, someone widely admired for thirty years as a decent, socialist MP, has been transformed into an anti-semite; or as game show assistant and political commentator Rachel Riley implies, a ‘Nazi’.
Anti-semitism does exist in the Labour Party, as it exists throughout UK society, and of course these delusions should be resisted and exposed. But the smear campaign against Corbyn is not rooted in concern for the welfare of Jewish people; it is not even about blocking a political leader who cares about Palestinian rights. It is about preventing Corbyn from undoing Tony Blair’s great achievement of transforming the Labour Party into a second Tory Party, thus ensuring voters have no option challenging corporate domination, including the ‘humanitarian interventions’ for oil and other resources. The goal is to stop Corbyn letting democracy out of its box.
Stephen Law of Heythrop College, University of London, warns that cavalier accusations made ‘on the basis of obviously flimsy or nonexistent evidence’ are ‘disrespecting the memory of the millions who were slaughtered by real antisemitism during the Holocaust’. But in fact, it is worse than that. State propagandists and their corporate media allies are exploiting the suffering of these millions as part of an attack on British democracy. This is obscene. But it is not particularly shocking after the campaigns of deceit which, as discussed, knowingly risked and then shattered the lives of millions of innocent human beings in US-UK wars of aggression.
One thing is certain, if Corbyn and his style of socialism can be made to disappear, we’ll hear no more about anti-semitism in the Labour Party, just as we heard no more about Iraqi democracy after Saddam Hussein, or human rights in Libya after Gaddafi; just as we will hear no more about press freedom in Venezuela, if Maduro is overthrown.
As this alert was being written, news emerged that Corbyn had been subjected to a physical assault in London, to muted concern from almost all corporate media and journalists (compare ‘mainstream’ reaction to news that Conservative MP Anna Soubry had been called a ‘Nazi’). Journalists claimed Corbyn had merely had an egg thrown at him. Labour MP Diane Abbott tweeted:
‘I was there. He punched Jeremy very hard. He happened to have an egg in his palm. But it could have been a knife. Horrible’
Perhaps journalists couldn’t bear to express concern for a person they have so completely reviled for almost four years. Or perhaps they knew their smears of a thoroughly decent, well-intentioned man would be thrown back at them. More likely, they just didn’t care. And that, finally, is the truth of their ‘ethical concern’ – they don’t care.
Editor, Media Lens:
David Cromwell: studied natural philosophy and astronomy, then a PhD in solar physics; spell with Shell in the Netherlands, then a research position in oceanography in Southampton; left in 2010 to work full-time on Media Lens; author of Why Are We The Good Guys? (Znet)
David Edwards has had articles published in The Independent, The Times, Red Pepper, New Internationalist, Z Magazine, The Ecologist, Resurgence, The Big Issue; monthly ZNet commentator;