Socialist Worker

Keir Starmer’s suspension of Jeremy Corbyn means war on the left

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2729

Marching for Palestine in London in 2019

Marching for Palestine in London in 2019 (Pic: Guy Smallman)


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

A report into the Labour Party’s handling of antisemitism accusations has given the right what it needs.

Left wing former leader Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party shortly after the report was published on Thursday of last week. The move took place amid howls for his expulsion.

Starmer said that anyone who challenged the claim that Labour has a major problem with antisemitism is “part of the problem”.

“You should be nowhere near the Labour Party,” he said.

Corbyn is not an antisemite. He has 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.

Starmer pushed Corbyn out to demonstrate that Labour will be a reliable choice to maintain the system. 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 seeking “national unity” with Boris Johnson’s murderous government while it implemented toxic policies around coronavirus.

Toppling

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 only for limited change within the system.

Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015 led to hope that Labour could be fundamentally transformed. That hope has been utterly shattered.

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 it isn’t contradicted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (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 he has said he will “go further” than the report’s recommendations.

The outcome of the EHRC report shows 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.


‘Equality’ report restricts solidarity with Palestine

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into Labour’s handling of antisemitism gave the right the ammunition to condemn the left.

It effectively found that “illegitimate” criticism of Israel—regardless of whether it expresses hatred towards Jews—is antisemitic.

It said this is “related to Jewish ethnicity” and so can make Jewish people feel “uncomfortable and unwanted” in Labour.

The report criticised Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints. Part of this touched on the handling of complaints by Labour staff hostile to Jeremy Corbyn. It suggested that some people who had been complained about weren’t treated fairly.

Some say this shows the report is not as bad for the left as the right claims. Yet it says Labour’s leadership hadn’t “chosen” to deal with complaints properly. This reinforces the claim that the left is hostile to Jewish people.

It recommends an “independent” antisemitism complaints process, and training acceptable to “Jewish community stakeholders”. These were key demands of right wingers.

The report seems to allow for people to criticise Israel or “question the scale of antisemitism within the party”.

But this can only be “based on their own experience”. Accepting the EHRC report means accepting severe restrictions on the right to speak out for Palestine.


It’s right to oppose the Israeli state

The right claim that left wing politics is inherently antisemitic because of its opposition to Israel.

They say Israel is “unfairly” singled out as a Jewish state, and that solidarity with Palestine is motivated by hatred of Jews.

But Israel is not like any other “democratic” state. And Zionism—Israel’s founding ideology—is not simply about self-determination for Jewish people.

Support for Israel is not an essential part of Jewish identity. Many Jews are anti-Zionists.

Israel was built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. It is sustained by US military aid to act as its enforcer in the Middle East.

Israel’s founders wanted to ensure that it would have a Jewish ethnic majority. They helped the British Empire control Palestine in return for the promise of a state of their own there.

When Israel was founded in 1948, its military launched a programme to systematically expel Palestinians from towns and villages inside its borders. Some 850,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes.

They and their families—all refugees—have never been allowed to return.

An array of laws exclude and discriminate against Palestinians inside Israel’s official borders.

Outside those borders, Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank have lived under military occupation since 1967. Over decades, Israel has built settlement towns in order to claim the land for its own.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have lived under an Israeli‑imposed siege for more than 11 years, causing extreme poverty, energy shortages and unemployment. Israel has waged three wars on Gaza in that time, killing tens of thousands of people.

Campaigners rightly oppose Israel for all these reasons. Many support a campaign of boycotts and sanctions as a tactic to pressure Israel to end its occupation.

As Israel’s occupation has deepened, there has been growing support for a “one state solution”. This is a single, secular state in all of Palestine, with equal democratic rights for all its inhabitants—Jews and Arabs.

Israel’s supporters want to brand all this as antisemitic. It’s important to insist that it is not.


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