By Alex Callinicos
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Fight antisemitism, not Corbyn’s Labour

This article is over 3 years, 11 months old
Issue 2614
The attacks are keeping Corbyn on the defensive (Pic: Guy Smallman)

If you want to make sense of the row about Jeremy Corbyn and antisemitism you have above all to understand that it has nothing to do with antisemitism.

If the likes of Margaret Hodge wanted to combat antisemitism, there are a couple of things that happened last week that should be of concern.

First of all Gottfried Waldhausl, a minister in the state government in Lower Austria, announced a plan to make Jews register individually in order to buy kosher meat.

This is a terrifying move in Hitler’s homeland, where he learned his antisemitism and where the Final Solution was rigorously implemented. Waldhäusl is a member of the Nazi Freedom Party, which participates in Austria’s federal government.

Then on Thursday last week the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, met his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem.

The thoroughly pro-Israel Washington Post said that Orban has “seemingly courted his country’s right-wing antisemites: A key plank of his successful April re-election bid centred on his loathing for Jewish American financier George Soros, whom Orban scapegoated as a national menace for his support of liberal NGOs in Hungary.”

One Orban speech had this classically antisemitic passage: “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

The fact that Netanyahu met the author of this filth shows the extent to which the charge of antisemitism is a tool of Israeli state policy, to be used selectively and where convenient.

Netanyahu is placing himself in the axis of far right governments orchestrated by Donald Trump and including Orban in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and Sebastian Kurz in Austria. Meanwhile, Orban has been given a free pass from future accusations of antisemitism.

Anyone who was really worried about antisemitism would be concentrating on building as powerful as possible an international movement to resist and ultimately to destroy this axis. Instead the right wing leaders of organisations such as the Board of Deputies are in alliance with the Tories and right wing Labour MPs, and are targeting Corbyn.


Their ostensible reason is that last week the Labour national executive adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) “working definition” of antisemitism.

But it left out the examples included with the definition because, among other things, they equate condemning Israel as racist with antisemitism. This is why the annual meeting of the civil rights organisation Liberty passed a motion condemning the IHRA definition— something I have yet to see reported.

This exposes the two real motivations of Corbyn’s critics. One is to weaken him and keep him constantly on the defensive. The other is to protect Israel from criticism.

From the latter point of view, the timing of the latest assault on Corbyn is striking.

Last week the Israeli parliament passed a law proclaiming Israel “the national home of the Jewish people”, asserting that only Jews have the right to national self-determination there, and demoting Arabic from the status of an official language. It is a document of old-style ethnic nationalism that confirms the Israeli Arab minority as an inferior subject people.

This is very much the kind of nationalism practised by Orban, even if Jews, along with Muslims, are among the targets of his version. But would criticism of this law as racist fall victim to the IHRA definition of antisemitism?

The fear that it might may well give pause to many politicians looking over their shoulders at the media.

All in all, the Israeli government has turned a crisis into an opportunity. It has reacted to the potentially disastrous election of a Labour Party leader who supports the Palestinians by backing a campaign that has successfully driven Labour onto the defensive.

This is an astute piece of what the Russians call political technology. But for anyone who sincerely wants to fight antisemitism it is quite contemptible. The Labour furore distracts attention from real far right antisemitism.

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