On Friday the almost 611,000 individuals entitled to vote for the next leader of Britain’s Labour Party received their initial ballot papers. A preferential system of voting applies, so that if none of the four candidates obtains 50 per cent of the votes cast, the lowest-ranking candidate is eliminated, and his or her second preference votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates. Should no winner then emerge, the candidate with the least number of votes will drop out, and their votes redistributed amongst the two survivors. Votes can be cast either online or via the mail, and must be in by 10 September. The suffrage extends not only to the almost 300,000 full party members and the almost 190,000 affiliates of the trade unions, but to the 121, 295 persons who, under a recent change to the voting regulations, registered to vote by paying £3 each to party coffers. Many of these johnnies-come-lately appear to be people, many of them young, who have been attracted to the contest owing to the presence among the four candidates of the veteran MP for Islington East, the deceptively softly-spoken left-wing firebrand Jeremy Corbyn, who is widely expected to win. The result will be announced on 12 September.
First elected to Parliament in 1983, 66-year-old Corbyn, who had been a fulltime official for the National Union of Public Employees, now part of Unison, and is a far leftist, belonging to the parliamentary Socialist Campaign Group. A perennial backbencher, he’s a serial rebel on virtually every issue, and is committed to abolishing Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system. He’s Chairman of the Stop the War Coalition and a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). His election to the Labour Party leadership is, not surprisingly, something that most of the Anglo-Jewish community fears, since he is widely known as a vociferous critic of Israel and even suspected of being, by some observers, a closet antisemite.
Readers of Richard Millett’s blog will recall some of Corbyn’s past shenanigans, including this classic (http://ukmediawatch.org/2010/07/30/richard-millet-and-jonathan-hoffman-banned-from-parliament/). More recently, Corbyn’s anti-Israel stance has extended to such canards as claiming that there are settler-only roads (see http://ukmediawatch.org/2015/07/22/jeremy-corbyn-perpetuates-the-myth-of-settler-only-roads-in-the-west-bank/) thus fuelling the “apartheid” trope.
Following recent claims and revelations (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3191393/Jeremy-Corbyn-defended-controversial-vicar-banned-social-media-promoting-clearly-anti-Semitic-material.html and http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3191679/Jeremy-Corbyn-caught-video-calling-Muslim-hate-preacher-honoured-citizen-inviting-tea-terrace-House-Commons.html ), the Jewish Chronicle has declared that “although there is no direct evidence that he has an issue himself with Jews, there is overwhelming evidence of his association with, support for – and even in one case, alleged funding of – Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright antisemites” and that, in consequence, if the man now deemed the most likely to lead the Labour Party “is not to be regarded from the day of his election as an enemy of Britain’s Jewish community” it is incumbent upon him to answer several key questions which the newspaper had put to him (but received no response). These questions involve allegations that he donated to notorious (Jewish-born!) Holocaust Denier Paul Eisen’s overtly antisemitic group Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), which even the PSC eschews; that he has regularly attended DYR’s conferences; that he is due to speak at a conference next week alongside infamous antisemitic cartoonist Latuff (Corbyn has since cancelled that appearance); that earlier this year he contacted the Anglican authorities to defend Rev Stephen Sizer – whom the Bishop of Guildford banned from social media over his despicable Facebook post linking Israel to 9/11 – to suggest that Sizer was “under attack” because he “dared to speak out against Zionism”; that Corbyn associates with Hamas and Hezbollah and terms them his “friends”; that he has neglected to condemn the antisemitic placards and banners that characterise the annual Al-Quds Day Rally sponsored by the Stop the War Coalition under his chairmanship; and that he described as an “honoured citizen” Palestinian hate preacher and blood libeller Sheikh Raed Salah (http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/142144/the-key-questions-jeremy-corbyn-must-answer). (See also https://richardmillett.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/corbyn-slams-israel-at-jw3-admits-he-met-hamas/ )
But Corbyn continues to have droves of devoted admirers, seemingly nonplussed by such controversy. Recent encomiums to him in The Guardian’s correspondence columns have come from a posse of co-signing academics, many of whom are leftist economists, some from – and I assume this is mere coincidence – that hotbed of campus anti-Israel activity in Britain, London’s School of African and Oriental Studies. A couple of the signatories, Emeritus Professor Susan Himmelweit and Professor Roger Seifert, are associated with Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), an organisation not so benign as its name suggests, as is (unless he has a namesake) Walter Wolfgang, vice-chair of Labour CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) whose letter endorsing Corbyn’s leadership ambitions was in the same issue of the paper. (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/14/the-labour-party-stands-at-a-crossroads).
Susan Himmelweit, incidentally, is a trustee of the Lipman-Miliband Trust, self-described as “a progressive charity whose mission was to help support the practice and dissemination of socialist education and research.” Last month the Lipman-Miliband Trust, along with the PSC, War on Want, and Campaign Against the Arms Trade, published a report, Arming Apartheid: UK complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people, which calls on the “UK government to implement an immediate two-way arms embargo to end all arms sales to and purchases from Israel”. As NGO Monitor relates (http://www.ngomonitor.org/article/arms_embargo_report_funded_by_lipman_milibrand_trust – more links at site), ‘In addition to funding the report, the Trust has funded a 2013 War on Want “awareness campaign” to “Stop Arming Israel,” a 2012 project of +972 Magazine (Advancement of Citizen Journalism), a 2011 “Exhibit of destruction policies” organized by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a 2010 ICAHD conference in the UK, and the Russell Tribunal in 2010.’
Comments below the line on the online press reports and others that shine a spotlight on Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged associations with antisemitic figures include those that are antisemitic or Jew-baiting themselves. Such, alas, is the nature of much of the Left today. This left-wing moral bankruptcy is highlighted by the (non-Jewish) Labour MP John Mann, a blunt honest Yorkshireman who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism. The latest Sunday Express quotes him as saying “I have very serious concerns about Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. I’ve received some vicious anti-Semitic abuse and I’m expecting the Labour Party to take action against this… I’ve received more than 40 emails and a few Tweets since Jeremy Corbyn became significant in the Labour leadership campaign. I know they’re from Corbyn supporters because they all express this openly… I have been described as a servant of the Israeli Prime Minister, a Nazi Zionist, a Zionist scumbag… I know people may argue he [Corbyn] can’t be held responsible for what his supporters do but it is Corbyn’s failure to distance himself from anti-Semites that’s creating the space for these vile attacks. He has to ask himself why are these vitriolic racists joining the Labour Party to support him.” (http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/598661/Corbyn-trolls-abusing-me-Jewish )
Indeed, almost as soon as that press report was posted did antisemitic comments start to pour in. This, for instance: “The Daily [sic] Express continues its trolling against Corbyn - now it's bringing the jews out to publically [sic] announce Corbyn as anti-semitic… I want to know why we have so many jews in parliament - they are very, very over represented for the number we have living in the UK and something does need to be done about that I think.”
Little wonder that a Jewish Labour MP, Ivan Lewis, who’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has announced (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/08/i-cant-all-conscience-vote-jeremy-corbyn-i-will-be-using-all-my-preferences-stop ): “I can't in all conscience, vote for Jeremy Corbyn – I will be using all my preferences to stop him … I will not be voting for Jeremy Corbyn because on too many issues he advocates solutions which belong to the past and will not equip the country or the Labour Party with the vision and policies which can rise to the challenges of the future. I fear his leadership would prevent us rebuilding the mainstream majority support of working and middle class voters, which is essential if we are ever to win an election. Some of his stated political views are a cause for serious concern. At the very least he has shown very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in anti-Semitic rhetoric. It saddens me to have to say to some on the left of British politics that anti-racism means zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, no ifs, and no buts…”
As the Jewish Chronicle observed in posing those “key questions” to him, “It is difficult not to see a pattern in Mr Corbyn’s associations, and his refusal at any point to answer the fears of the Jewish community raised by these associations. In a nation where, thank heavens, racism and extremism are now regarded as beyond the pale, it is little short of astonishing that a man who chooses to associate with racists and extremists is about to become leader of one of our two main parties and could conceivably become Prime Minister.”
Our consolation, however, is surely that so far left a figure as Corbyn is will probably prove so divisive to the Labour Party, and such a gift to the Conservatives, that, by the time the next General Election rolls around (it could be as late as May 2020) the Labour Party may well have ditched him as leader, realising that he is, as many cool counsels are predicting now, that as far as the wider British electorate is concerned he is in fact unelectable.