Right wingers are gunning for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by falsely claiming that the left is antisemitic. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi from Jewish Voice for Labour spoke to Sadie Robinson about the hypocrisy of the right, what lies behind their lies and why the slurs are so dangerous for activists both inside and outside Labour.
It isn’t antisemitic to criticise Israel. But those who support Israel want everybody to believe it’s antisemitic because it’s a way for them to silence support for the Palestinians.
For years people have been campaigning against that conflation. But why is it in the news now? Because we’ve got a potential prime minister of Britain who has a history of support for the rights of Palestine and is a genuine socialist and a sincere radical.
Imagine a prime minister who supports Palestine. It would threaten the whole transatlantic power balance. Imagine a Corbyn ambassador at the United Nations refusing to go along with all the vetoes that the US always brings in when there’s criticism of Israel.
If British influence on the international stage was towards sanctions for companies involved in the occupation. Or against arming Israel when it’s using weapons against civilians. It has huge implications.
So there are a lot of forces against him. It’s not just Zionists and supporters of Israel. They have provided a very convenient weapon – call him an antisemite.
And this has been picked up by the entire right wing of the party – Chuka Umunna, Stella Creasy, John Mann. The Tories love it. The entire media establishment love it.
It’s no coincidence that last week we had this build-up of criticism. First they were attacking Corbyn over his statements on Russia and the nerve gas attack. Then they had it in for him over Brexit.
And then up comes this huge antisemitism furore. And the Jewish Board of Deputies are onside.
The last time the Board of Deputies for British Jews got together with other mainstream Jewish organisations for a big demonstration was to support Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014.
Where will they be next week when anti-racists are outside their local mosque supporting Muslims in the face of this awful “Punish a Muslim” day?
The right wing were so delighted in the run-up to the last election when it looked like Corbyn would lose Labour seats. They were horrified when it went the other way. So they’ve been looking for any weapon to use against him.
If I have a criticism of Jeremy, it’s that he’s too nice, too accommodating. Too disposed to think that if he conciliates people, they will cease attacking him.
Of course you must tackle real antisemitism. But you must also call out the people who are using this as a weapon. You must say – I know you’re here to undermine me and you don’t welcome the new people coming into our party, and I’m not having this.
Corbyn should have been backing the people who were attacked right from the beginning.
Shami Chakribarti’s report into antisemitism in Labour is quite ambivalent. There are bits of it which, if implemented, would be good for Labour Party members.
But it talks about giving more power to the national constitution committee. That’s a right wing dominated body. It could be used even more to throw out people.
The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are obviously specific to Labour. But they come from outside Labour as well. A lot of the allegations of antisemitism come from a bunch of right wing trolls such as Guido Fawkes. They hunt about on the internet, find antisemitic content and try and link it to someone in the Labour Party.
It’s usually by quite blatant “guilt by association”. Palestine Live is a Facebook page where people exchange information. Most of it is absolutely fine. But some people post vile stuff. I was added to the page – I didn’t ask to be. I don’t look at everything on there.
So now people say, Jeremy Corbyn is a member of this vile, antisemitic Facebook group. It isn’t a vile, antisemitic Facebook group, it has one or two people who shouldn’t be on it.
This attack on Corbyn is incredibly weak.
Outside Labour there’s incredibly dangerous stuff going on. The conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism is being propagated through universities and in local authorities.
Sometimes you don’t even know what effect it’s having. For instance, some ordinary folk would like to have a meeting on Palestine but daren’t even raise it.
There was an NUT branch where some people who are pro-Israel have now decided to propose that the branch adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
This says that if you say Israel is an apartheid state you’re an antisemite. So you can’t have Israel Apartheid week, which students do every year quite legitimately. It’s absolutely blatant to stop people discussing Palestine.
Others say you can’t criticise finance capital because really you’re being antisemitic. It stops people being able to hold the rich to account and it’s very frightening.
Some sincere people have been caught up in this idea that the Labour Party’s not a safe place for Jews.
I would say to them, I want to be with people who want to fight antisemitism and all victims of racism, including Muslims, fighting the actual causes. I don’t think you do that by attacking the member of parliament who has the best record of combating racism throughout his career.