Socialist Worker

Keir Starmer uses antisemitism report to suspend Corbyn and attack solidarity with Palestine

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2729

Starmers new leadership has no place for principled left wingers

Starmer's new leadership has no place for principled left wingers


There is now no doubt that Labour leader Keir Starmer is determined to drive the left out of the party, or to force them into humiliated submission.

With ruthless determination, a report into the Labour Party’s handling of antisemitism accusations has given the right what it needs to grind the left into the mud—starting with Jeremy Corbyn.

Former left wing leader Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party shortly after the report was published on Thursday—amid howls for his expulsion.

In a press conference earlier in the day, Starmer repeatedly refused to deny that Corbyn would be kicked out of the party.

But he did say that anyone who challenged the idea that Labour has a major problem with antisemitism is “part of the problem.” “You should be nowhere near the Labour Party,” he said.

For the right, the report—and Corbyn’s suspension—is final proof that left wing politics is inherently antisemitic because of its opposition to Israel.

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Anyone who disagrees faces being hounded out of the Labour Party.

The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says the Labour Party was responsible for two “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.”

The report also says Labour’s handling of complaints and its procedures breached the equalities act. It suggests there was a “culture” where antisemitism was tolerated.

Though the report didn’t say so itself, it gave the right all the “proof” they need that Corbyn’s opposition to Israel encouraged antisemitism in Labour.

Corbyn is not an antisemite. He had actively opposed racism all his political life unlike many of his tormentors on the Labour right. 

He is right to stand for Palestinian rights, against imperialist war and to oppose austerity.

Assault

Socialist Worker agrees with all those campaigners and socialists who are outraged by the attack on Corbyn. But the assault has also underlined fundamental questions about Labour.

Starmer has pushed him out to demonstrate that Labour will be a reliable choice to maintain the system and run it more effectively than the Tories.

He won’t raise any decisive break from pro-corporate economics. 

He won’t interfere with the fundamentals of ownership. He won’t question the military and the state.

That is why he has spent months in seeking "national unity" with Boris Johnson's murderous government while it implemented toxic policies around coronavirus. 

It's why he called the Black Lives Matter movement a "moment" and denounced the toppling of a slaver's statue in Bristol.

This is what labourism looks like, obsessed only with electoral calculation, centred on parliament and looking to change within the system.

And at least some trade union leaders will back Starmer wholeheartedly. Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, has already praised Starmer's "clear and categoric leadership" in his response to the EHRC report.

The hope that Labour could be fundamentally changed that surfaced from Corby's election as leader in 2015 have been utterly shattered.

It is even clearer now that the future has to lie outside Labour.

In the days running up to the report’s publication, many were already convinced that it would prove them right on “left antisemitism”.

Long before Corbyn became leader, supporters of Israel have tried to brand all but the mildest opposition to it antisemitic.

Campaigners in solidarity with Palestine rightly oppose Israel because of its decades-long racist persecution of Palestinians, and because of its key role as a supporter of US wars.

Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Palestinians when it was founded in 1948. Israel’s founders wanted to make sure Arabs would be a minority in their new state—and Israel’s fundamental laws have excluded Palestinians ever since.

Yet supporters of Israel say opposing this means “unfairly” singling Israel out as a Jewish state, and that solidarity with Palestine is motivated by hatred of Jews.

The argument is used to discredit movements such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which grew in reaction to Israel’s wars on Palestinians.

The right used Corbyn’s support for those campaigns to claim his leadership encouraged antisemitism in the Labour Party—and that he himself is antisemitic.

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The Campaign Against Antisemitism, which called for the EHRC investigation, was founded in 2014 in response to huge marches in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

It explicitly says that anti-Zionism—opposition to Israel’s founding ideology that justifies Palestinians’ exclusion—is antisemitic.

Throughout Corbyn’s time as leader, he and his supporters at the top of the party refused to challenge this argument politically. Instead they tried to control the complaints process—sometimes by rushing through suspensions of people who were subjects of complaints.

Now this is used as evidence against them in the EHRC report—and the right is demanding Corbyn’s expulsion.

Corbyn was suspended after saying that the scale of antisemitism inside the Labour Party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party”.

This is backed up by Labour’s own figures on the number of antisemitism cases it has dealt with, and isn’t contradicted by the EHRC report.

But the report does say accusations shouldn’t be treated as “smears”—allowing the right to silence anyone who challenges them.

Labour has told its constituency parties—where party members debate and organise—that disagreeing with the report is not allowed. It had already banned them from opposing its definition of antisemitism which rules out calling Israel a racist state.

Now Starmer is calling for a “change in culture”—which means driving out left wing politics—and has said he will “go further” than what the report recommends.

In a sign of what this means, Stephen Kinnock—a right wing Labour MP—was reportedly told off by Starmer’s leadership for making a speech criticising Israel.

And earlier this year, left wing MP Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked from Starmer’s shadow cabinet for tweeting in praise of an article that contained a passing accusation of racism and brutality against Israel.

The outcome of the EHRC report shows more than ever that the only way to challenge the accusations is to defend the right to criticise Israel and support Palestine. But it also shows that’s not possible inside the Labour Party.


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