The last time that I can recollect a senior religious figure leaping into the political fray was Cardinal Thomas Winning back in early 1997, prior to the general election which was due. He made a vigorous attack on Labour over its policy on abortion. Thus, on one level, it came as no surprise when Labour – and particularly its current leader – came under the cosh this week from another religious leader, this time the chief rabbi. The issue now is anti-semitism within Labour, and the Labour leader’s attitude towards this.
I do not know how many Labour Party meetings or events which the chief rabbi has attended (very few, if any, I suspect), but over my fifty five years in the Labour Party, I must have attended literally thousands. Never have I witnessed anything remotely anti-semitic. Of course, that does not mean that there are no anti-semites within the party; but, like Corbyn, I would argue that it is a miniscule figure. Yes, even one is too many, but within any organisation of over half a million members, there will be some crackpots who need to be dealt with.
A follow-up interview with rabbi Julia Neuberger irritated me. Again, I do not know on what she bases her views, but she began by referencing the “dreadful” treatment doled out to former Liverpool Labour MPs, Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger. From what I have read, the principal medium of the harassment was social media – a double edged form of communication. This cannot be condoned but I do question how this relates to the Labour Party. With one exception, I am unaware of Labour members’ involvement. That exception, quoted by Neuberger in the interview, was Liam Moore – “we all know about Liam Moore”, I think she said. Well, very few do, Ms Neuberger. Let me enlighten them.
Moore lives in Walton. He was formerly a self-proclaimed Militant supporter, until he was “born again” and became an evangelical fundamentalist Christian and Phil Collins impersonator. He strikes me as a very confused man, looking for a spiritual home. Not that the anti-semitism of his remarks can be condoned in any way, but they raised the question of his suitability to be a member of the Labour Party, never mind a council candidate. As soon as his comments were brought to the attention of the party, he was immediately removed as a candidate.
So what is the evidence that the two former Labour MPs were subject to anti-semitism in the Labour Party or at the hands of Labour members? Which Labour members were involved other than Moore? Where has the Labour party failed to deal with anti-semitic bigots in either the Wavertree or Riverside constituencies? I am not aware that there were any. Why, then, has this myth been perpetuated to the detriment of the thoroughly decent members of these constituency parties? I fear that the answer lies far away in the Middle East.
For many years now, there has been great controversy over Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinian people. It has not been limited to the “usual suspects” on the left of the political spectrum in the West. Indeed, there are huge differences of opinion within Israel itself. Its people are by no means of one voice over its government’s policies. However, in recent years under Benjamin Netanyahu, those policies have become more extreme with help and support from the United States.
Back in 2007, two very distinguished American academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, published a book called “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy “. This chronicled in great detail but in a dry academic way, just how the Israeli government influenced American policymakers and the wider American public. The tools for this were a wide variety of front organisations – think tanks, cultural groups, and the like. The two professors were excoriated for their efforts. As a result, a template was thus set for attacking anyone who might shine a light on the reality of Israeli government policy as such groups were sharpened up around the world as an instrument of Israeli foreign policy. One of these groups is alleged to be Labour Friends of Israel within our parliament, an organisation in which both Ellman and Berger were deeply embedded. There are similar groups for the other political parties in parliament. All strive, quite legally, to influence attitudes and policies in the favour of Israel. In my opinion, this is where there is a big problem for Labour.
Corbyn has strongly identified himself with the plight of the Palestinians, speaking out on their behalf. Not unusual for him – he has spoken out on various other contentious hotspots around the globe. For many on the right of politics, his views are anathema. His world view is a greater concern for them than his take on domestic policy. It would be of particular concern to the Netanyahus of this world, given their total disregard for the United Nations and international law.
Many believe that a policy decision was taken to conflate criticism of Israeli government policy with anti-semitism as a means of undermining Corbyn as Labour leader and as a potential prime minister. Anti-semitism and criticism of a foreign government, are, of course, vastly different propositions, notwithstanding sophistry to the contrary. The objective is to put all objective and rational discussion on the back burner for fear of being labelled an anti-semite. The tragedy is that the result is not only a complete failure to address an acceptable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a diversion from the real racist danger within British society – the rise of the far right.
I have always said that, had I remained in parliament, I would have neither nominated Corbyn nor voted for him, as Labour leader. However, I cannot stand by and witness the wholly despicable character assassination of him under the baseless charge of anti-semitism. Likewise, I cannot and will not accept the charge that the Labour Party is institutionally racist or anti-semitic. It is not.