Jeremy Corbyn, The Left, And Accusations Of Anti-Semitism – What Are They Really About?

by richardhutton

A lot of criticism has already been levelled at the Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn, in the wake of his candidacy for party-leadership proving unexpectedly popular. Most of this revolves around subjective disagreements over his proposed policies; or speculation about his chances of winning a General Election. These are a matter of opinion. What does pose a more pressing concern, however, are accusations of anti-Semitism levelled at Corbyn. These potentially have very grave implications: anti-Semitism remains a deeply troubling social problem; and one which has grown worse throughout Europe in recent years. What’s more, Corbyn has become a national figure; and at the time of writing, could potentially go on to occupy a key political position both within Parliament, and in the UK as a whole. It is therefore important to give these allegations due consideration.

A range of commentators in various national media outlets, including the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Spectator, and the Jewish Chronicle have published articles suggesting very strongly that Corbyn holds anti-Semitic sympathies. The common theme of these pieces is a suggestion of guilt-by-association, with regard to Corbyn’s past involvement with several controversial personalities: primarily the Israeli activist Raed Salah, along with a Brazillian cartoonist called Carlos Latuff, the British blogger Paul Eisen; and a speech delivered by Corbyn himself at a conference held by the pacifist organisation, Stop The War [1].

So, how valid are these accusations of anti-Semitic sympathies? More to the point, perhaps, do they have any significant implications which people should bear in mind while making an appraisal of Corbyn’s political credentials? Let’s look at each of them in turn.

The foremost author to begin making noises on this issue was James Bloodworth, editor of the Left Foot Forward blog, who published a piece on the Guardian’s website. This was followed by two further articles produced on Left Foot Forward, by Alan Johnson, and Lorin Bell-Cross respectively [2]. The allegations these three authors made can be evaluated together, given the similarity of their claims and their source-material.

In his Guardian piece, Bloodworth contends that:

“While I genuinely believe that Corbyn does not have an antisemitic bone in his body, he does have a proclivity for sharing platforms with individuals who do; and his excuses for doing so do not stand up.”

More specifically, the author bemoans Corbyn’s “apparent proximity to antisemitism”. As noted above, this rests on an implication of guilt-by-association:

“Take the fact that Corbyn once described it as his “honour and pleasure” to host “our friends” from Hamas and Hezbollah in parliament. According to Corbyn, he extended his invitation to the aforementioned groups – and spoke of them glowingly – because all sides need to be involved in the peace process.”

Well, firstly, Bloodworth is inaccurate with the comments he attributes to Corbyn here. His peers at Left Foot Forward follow suit – while the post by Johnson contends that “you said it was ‘my pleasure and my honour’ to host ‘our friends from Hezbollah and our friends from Hamas’ in the Commons,” the piece by Bell-Cross blusters at “Corbyn’s associations with anti-Semites”; namely “his ‘friends’ Hamas and Hezbollah”. At this juncture, both of these Left Foot Forward pieces link to a thirty-second excerpt from Corbyn’s speech, prepared by Adam Levick – a specialist in distorting the documentary record on events in the middle east; with a peerless track-record of pettiness and ineptitude. The actual video of this speech is available on Youtube, however. Corbyn was addressing an audience at a Stop the War Coalition meeting in March 2009; and his opening words are as follows:

“Tomorrow evening it will be my pleasure and honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well. Unfortunately the Israelis would not allow them to travel here”.

As he goes on to say, this was done “so that we can promote that peace, that understanding and that dialogue”. Bloodworth’s article continues, however:

“Yet negotiation is not on Hamas’s agenda, as Corbyn ought to know. In its charter Hamas states: “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement… There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad.” It isn’t a peaceful negotiated solution that Hamas wants; it’s the destruction of the Jews”.

While the 2006 redrafting of Hamas’s charter saw its most belligerent and anti-Semitic references being removed – primarily at the behest of Azzam Tamimi, significantly enough –  it is nonetheless true that the 1988 charter was hardly a pleasant document. It is ultimately beside the point here, however. Hamas are a party to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. This had erupted into yet another instance of warfare only several months prior to Corbyn’s speech – namely Operation Cast Lead – between December 2008-January 2009; which resulted in 13 Israeli fatalities, and over a thousand Palestinian casualties – over half of whom were civilians. This undeniably represents a circumstance which is in need of a political solution. Corbyn was therefore justified in inviting representatives of one faction involved in this disastrous violence to Parliament, on the grounds he states; and his reference to them as ‘friends’ demonstrably did not revolve around a sympathetic attitude towards their most problematic qualities. It is pretty easy to see what Bloodworth and his peers have done here, really – they have taken Corbyn’s words out of context, and used them to imply that he was beatifying a group which does have a very objectionable attitude towards Jewish people; when in reality, Corbyn was doing nothing of the sort. The point can be left there.

Bloodworth’s reference to Carlos Latuff proves no more accurate upon close examination. He writes that:

“on 22 August Corbyn is scheduled to share a platform with Carlos Latuff, a cartoonist who regularly uses antisemitic imagery in his cartoons but denies being antisemitic”.

The cartoon Bloodworth cites in support of his claim here does not back it up. It is contained in a post on Twitter, advertising an article about a proposed Freedom Flotilla; designed to bypass the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, and deliver aid to the territory:

 

murder-on-the-sea2

Carlos Latuff’s Freedom Flotilla cartoon (2010)

 

What’s significant here is the date, as featured at the base of the boat’s hull. The cartoon was drawn in 2010, evidently in reference to the Freedom Flotilla of 31st May 2010; in which personnel from the Israeli navy boarded flotilla ships; resulting in an affray which proved fatal for 9 people. As crass as Latuff’s cartoon is in drawing a parallel between this incident and the crimes of the Third Reich, it is obvious what point is being made; and implausible to suggest that this is an anti-Semitic image. If it is intended to symbolise anything, then Occam’s Razor suggests it typifies the grip Israeli forces have upon Gaza itself.

However, this does not necessarily exonerate Latuff.  He is undoubtedly a figure who has caused controversy – not least of all through participating in an obnoxious cartoon contest, conducted by the Iran Cartoon website during 2006, on the subject of the Holocaust. As tasteless as this contest was, however, there is nothing about the cartoon Latuff submitted to it which could responsibly be deemed anti-Semitic – it dates from 2004, and depicts a Palestinian man wearing a concentration camp uniform, shielding his eyes in grief at the site of Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank. The point being made is hardly compelling; but is clearly not making a derogatory reference to people who are Jewish. That does not preclude other cartoons in this unpleasant competition having done so, however. On the contrary, some clearly were anti-Semitic – not merely in terms of their imagery, but also their themes; nor does the absence of anti-Semitic imagery in these particular cartoons necessarily exonerate Latuff on the charge of employing it in others, of course. Fortunately, people can check-up on the nature of Latuff’s cartoons for themselves by using Google Images – and it defies credulity to regard them as having an anti-Semitic import. He is evidently not a sufficiently problematic person to justify any supposed guilt-by-association.

However, while these two allegations of Bloodworth’s do not hold up under scrutiny, the various personalities alluded to in his Guardian article – as associates of Corbyn – are much more contentious. Perhaps at the forefront of these is Paul Eisen. Bloodworth notes that Corbyn has:

“been accused of donating money to self-proclaimed Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, whose Deir Yassin Remembered group has been shunned by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in the name of refusing to “turn a blind eye to antisemitism”. Corbyn has addressed that claim via his spokesman, who said that “Jeremy Corbyn’s office” had had no contact with Eisen and that Corbyn disassociated himself from his extreme views – a denial that seems neither forceful nor convincing”.

Firstly, Corbyn was not ‘accused’ of donating money to Eisen; the person claiming that this happened was Eisen himself. Secondly, what Corbyn’s spokesperson actually said in response to this was rather more extensive than Bloodworth implies; as quoted by Bloodworth’s source for this, the Daily Mail:

“‘Paul Eisen is not someone Jeremy Corbyn’s office has any dealings with. Based upon what is in written in the articles here, anyone can call themselves a “long time associate” when in fact that is not the case. Paul Eisen clearly holds some of the most extreme views that are entirely his, and Jeremy totally opposes them and disassociates himself from them.'”

The Mail’s article was itself based upon an unverified blog post by Paul Eisen himself. Eisen is without doubt a problematic figure – he is a Jewish writer, who has openly renounced the documented historical record on the Holocaust. This is neither the time nor the place for evaluating his standpoint on this matter – suffice to say, for present purposes, questioning the facts of history on the Holocaust is at odds with every responsible approach taken to historicism of the period. Eisen’s viewpoint on this does not merit any consideration; and can be left aside here.

However, as it transpires, what Eisen says about Corbyn has nothing to do with any putative sympathy for Eisen’s anti-Semitic beliefs. As the Daily Mail article outlines, Corbyn had lent his support – and according to Eisen, donated funding – to a group called Deir Yassin Remembered; which was established to memorialise a massacre of Arabs which occurred during the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. The Mail cites an article written by the author Tony Greenstein, published on the Guardian’s website in 2007; which was highly critical of this group and its exploitation by Eisen and another paradoxical figure, who is also Jewish and yet had been engaging in Holocaust denial – namely, Gilad Atzmon. As the Mail notes:

“In 2007, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign proposed a motion disowning Eisen’s group, stating that ‘membership or participation in DYR is incompatible with being a member of Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. You cannot oppose racism against the Palestinians and turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism.'”

Greenstein was one of the two personnel responsible for proposing this motion. He is therefore well-placed to comment on this matter – which he has done, via his own website. As Greenstein puts it, the Daily Mail:

“suggests that Corbyn has maintained contact with Eisen when everyone else in Palestine Solidarity has broken ties with him. What they conveniently omit is that Eisen is a constituent of Jeremy Corbyn and it is in that capacity he has had occasional contact. There isn’t a shred of proof that Corbyn supports or ever has supported DYR apart from Eisen’s own claims. On the contrary, Jeremy Corbyn supported the moves to expel DYR supporter, Francis Clarke-Lowes from PSC at the 2012 AGM for holocaust denial. The only ‘evidence’ that the Mail produces is a photograph allegedly taken of Corbyn at a DYR event. DYR used to hold annual fundraising concerts in support of the Palestinians, the money raised going to Medical Aid for Palestine”.

Although it’s not open to question that Corbyn attended the Deir Yassin Remembered event in April 2013, the fact that Corbyn was involved in supporting Medical Aid for Palestine during this year is beyond doubt – it is backed-up by the group itself, in their newsletter from 12th September 2013. All told, there is no real evidence to support Eisen’s claims in their own right – and even he did not suggest Corbyn approved of his viewpoints on the Holocaust; nor that he knew about them. Should any doubts remain, Corbyn attended the Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2015. As described by the Islington Gazette:

“More than 200 people were at Islington Assembly Hall on Holocaust Memorial Day to hear from survivor Joan Salter and see a presentation from Bosnian refugee Zrinka Bralo. The pair, who were joined by Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, Islington Council leader Cllr Richard Watts and deputy mayor Cllr Richard Greening, then lead a discussion on lessons to be learned from the genocide as well as taking questions from the audience.”

Corbyn had made his views on the safety of Jewish people perfectly clear in a Parliamentary debate, a month later; when he asked the Minister for Security and Immigration if he would join him in:

“congratulating the many voluntary organisations that stand up against racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia? Does he agree that we all have a duty to stand up against all such forms of racism and extremism, as well as against those far right extremists who are promoting racism within our society at the present time?”.

The Daily Mail and James Bloodworth may not see a problem with taking the claims of a Holocaust denier at face-value to implicate somebody in holding anti-Semitic views; but thanks to evidence, sense can prevail on the matter.

Where Corbyn’s critics herein do have a more substantive point is in regard to Raed Salah. Salah is undoubtedly a highly controversial figure – an Israeli citizen, and a branch-leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel; with a history of dissidence, and open conflict with legal authorities in his home country.

Bloodworth contends in his Guardian piece that Corbyn had:

“taken tea on the parliamentary terrace with Raed Salah, who he described as “a very honoured citizen” despite that fact that Salah was charged with inciting anti-Jewish racism and violence in January 2008 in Jerusalem and sentenced to eight months in prison. He was found by a British court judge to have used the “blood libel”, the medieval antisemitic canard that Jews use gentile blood for ritual purposes”

What Bloodworth writes here is mostly accurate – yet not quite true. Nor is it the whole story. Firstly, the reference to Corbyn having ‘taken tea’ with Salah relates to something Corbyn had said during a press conference discussing Salah’s appeal against a deportation order. This was not said “despite” Salah being sentenced to eight months in prison: Salah was imprisoned for incitement in 2013, not in 2008; whereas Corbyn’s involvement with him here had occurred in 2011. At this point, Salah had not been tried and convicted. It is possible that Bloodworth has merely got the relevant dates mixed-up here – the various indictments, and the belated prosecution of Salah within Israel, are convoluted. However, the two legal rulings Bloodworth refers to in the paragraph quoted relate to the same incident – a speech Salah had given at Wadi Joz, a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, during 2007; in which Salah undoubtedly had cited the notorious ‘Blood Libel’. What Bloodworth neglects to mention here is significant, however; and is important to account for when considering the appropriateness of Corbyn’s involvement with Salah.

Unfortunately, this is where the inimitable murkiness of the Israel-Palestine conflict makes matters complex. Salah had participated in protests between February-March 2007, against a supposed excavation under the Temple Mount, by Israeli authorities; which was deemed liable to result in the Al-Aqsa Mosque collapsing. Salah was tried, but subsequently acquitted, of inciting riots – on the grounds that the accounts of Israeli police officers proved inconsistent with witness testimony and video evidence. It was in February, however, that Salah was documented making his ‘Blood Libel’ reference. In a separate incident, he would later be convicted of having assaulted a police officer during the same month.

In June 2011, Salah arrived in Britain, in order to attend a Palestine Solidarity Committee event in the house of Commons, featuring Corbyn – only to be arrested and detained on the grounds of breaching a travel ban to the UK. The intricacies of his arrest and deportation from Britain are one thing; the case made against him is far more problematic, and revolved around allegations that he had a “history of virulent anti-Semitism”, as the Conservative MP, Mike Freer, put it.

To put it succinctly, following an appeal against the Home Office’s decision, the case against Salah was found to be overwhelmingly false; and was subsequently dismissed by a UK Upper Tribunal. This did not exonerate Salah on the charge of making his ‘Blood Libel’ statement – on the contrary, despite Salah denying the obvious meaning of his words, the Tribunal deemed his excuses “wholly unpersuasive”.

However, what came to light during this tribunal was that most of the allegations of anti-Semitism made against Salah were baseless, and in at least one instance was predicated upon fabricated material. Various quotes attributed to Salah had been compiled in a report by Michael Whine of the Community Security Trust, and given to the Home Secretary, Theresa May. As the Guardian reported:

“Saleh’s legal team say the quotes he is alleged to have said and written were doctored to make them sound antisemitic. There is no suggestion that CST doctored the quotes”.

Salah’s lawyers were overstating matters; but nonetheless, it was indeed the finding of the tribunal that fabricated material had been used against Salah. The crux of this was a poem, allegedly written by Salah in 2003, containing anti-Semitic material (see paragraphs 44-48 of the tribunal ruling). The relevant passage in this poem had not been written by Salah, however; and was found to have been doctored – though it remains a mystery who had originally done this, the distorted version was published by the Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post. The charge against Salah relating to this was dismissed; and the decision for barring his entry to the UK was ultimately overturned by the immigration tribunal.

This did not prevent Salah’s various critics accusing Jeremy Corbyn of being anti-Semitic for his support of Salah, however. The Community Security Trust, the Jewish Chronicle, and the website Harry’s Place all published pieces suggesting – with varying degrees of subtlety – that Corbyn had bemoaned a conspiracy at work within the Home Office. Their accusations centred on one quote given by Corbyn during a press-conference:

“I think a public inquiry is the best course of action to take. Normally one would have said that the appropriate Select Committee in Parliament would undertake this inquiry, but I think the issues go far wider than just the parliamentary procedure, they go to the heart of what’s going on in the Home Office and the way the government makes decisions, so I strongly support that and I will be writing to the Home Secretary accordingly”

No further comment seems necessary here. This evidently does not relate to conspiracies of any kind, but to faults in the decision-making process of the Home Office. Moreover, the CST had played an active role in this case – having provided a report to the Home Secretary, which she subsequently acted upon. Her decision was erroneous – and it is therefore fair to question the mechanisms behind this.

That is not the impression readers of the Jewish Chronicle piece might be left with, however. Its author – Martin Bright – purports that

“Sitting by Mr Corbyn, Mr Salah’s lawyer, Tayyab Ali, said that there should be an independent inquiry into “the mechanism that was used to provide information to government departments, the Prime Minister himself, and his relationship to pro-Israel lobbying groups.”

He singled out Bicom chairman Poju Zabludowicz, “who I understood supported the Conservative Party quite strongly with financial donations, and is also, I think, a trustee of the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust”. (Neither is the case.)

Mr Corbyn then said: “I think a public inquiry is the best course of action to take. Normally one would have said that the appropriate Select Committee in Parliament would undertake this inquiry, but I think the issues go far wider than parliamentary procedure, they go to the heart of what’s going on in the Home Office and the way the government makes decisions, so I strongly support that and I will be writing to the Home Secretary accordingly.”

This is a highly selective representation of the dialogue exchanged by Corbyn and Ali; which misrepresents matters badly. Firstly, Poju Zabludowicz may not be a trustee of the Board of Deputies or the Community Security Trust; he is, however, a member of the CST’s advisory board. It is also true to claim that he has supported the Conservative Party with financial donations, because it is a matter of public record that he has done so.

Far more egregious, however, is the way that Bright has juxtaposed these three paragraphs, in a manner which clearly suggests Corbyn was giving his approval to Ali’s comments about the ‘Pro-Israel Lobby’ – which are themselves only partially quoted. Bright’s article is end-noted by a video of this press conference; and what Corbyn agrees with here is quite different. Ali was bemoaning the inability of people subject to deportation orders to challenge these decisions by any other mechanism than Judicial Review. As he says:

“they have to rely on judicial review…that does not look at the facts in the way as the tribunal looks at the facts”.

This is true enough – Judicial Reviews merely evaluate the decision-making processes made by Parliament and government ministers, rather than the actual facts of a case. Ali then calls for an “independent judge-led inquiry” to be “commissioned under the inquiries act of 2005”. It is at this point that Corbyn interjects, and says “Can I just add to that, I think a public inquiry is the best course of action to take” (etc). It is very obvious what Corbyn was concurring with here: the call for an independent public inquiry. Bright has clearly misreported this exchange. His case against Corbyn is therefore devoid of basis. It is perhaps worth considering, however, who Bright and the Jewish Chronicle are misleading herein -namely their own readers. It is also noteworthy that the video itself is entitled, quite erroneously, ‘Raed Salah’s Supporters – Investigate The Devious Jews!’; and that this video was – apparently – created by a contributor to the Harry’s Place site.

The significance of this is brought to light by the Left Foot Forward article, penned by Alan Johnson; who had been more verbose on this issue than Bloodworth or Bright; fulminating at length against Corbyn’s connection with Raed Salah: the upshot being that Corbyn supposedly sympathises with “conspiratorial antisemitism, dripping with threat and menace” [3]. Virtually all of the links and sources cited by Johnson come from the same piece on the Harry’s Place site which Bright had used; entitled ‘Labour MP calls for public inquiry into Jewish influence in the Conservative Party‘. Needless to say, these aspersions fail to pass basic tests of evidence. In addition to the aforementioned video, the Harry’s Place article provides a second one which features Corbyn speaking. Corbyn’s focus in this segment was on the deportation order imposed on Salah, by the Home Secretary; and what Corbyn saw as Theresa May abusing her power, by deciding who could or could not be invited to Parliament by its Members. Corbyn also goes on to mention Salah representing “his people extremely well” and states that “his is a voice that must be heard”. What is his reasoning for this? He explains:

“The solutions to the issues facing the Palestinian people are not going to be achieved by overwhelming powers being used by European cabinet ministers, in this case the Home Secretary, to try to prevent him being heard”.

Given that the tribunal dismissed the case against Salah, Corbyn’s point here is evidently right. The Home Secretary had been lobbied by the Community Security Trust. While this was fair enough in its own right, some of the material its report contained had been fabricated; and the tribunal clearly did not consider Salah to be a dangerous person, posing grave risks to the UK. Theresa May’s decision-making on this fits the basic facts outlined in the tribunal summary; and meets the description provided by Corbyn, and Salah’s lawyer. The suggestion that Corbyn somehow says, or approves, of Salah’s ‘Blood Libel’ is nonsense. There is simply no evidence to back Johnson’s insinuations up. The descriptions of these exchanges by the Harry’s Place site, along with those by Johnson, Bright, and Bloodworth are distorted, and wrong. At no point was Corbyn even close to asserting belief in a mystical fantasy of conspiracy – he was addressing a concrete political reality, which was documented.

Unfortunately, Salah’s supporters were not much better than those accosting him on this, with regard to being selective – for example, the website Electronic Intifada published at least two pieces by Asa Winstanley – the first on 8th April 2012, the second on 9th April 2012 – in the wake of the Upper Tribunal’s ruling; each article omitted mention of Salah being found to have used the ‘Blood libel’. Neither Salah’s supporters nor his critics seemed willing to look at this incident carefully enough. It is obvious why the kind of statement made by Salah would gall many listeners, and alienate people; but then, it is equally obvious where the anger behind it is coming from: it is not borne of irrational prejudice, but by the mistreatment suffered by people living either under blockade in Gaza – or under occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is noteworthy that this context is invariably absent from the articles and pieces which criticise Corbyn for his past affiliations with Salah, or with other problematic representatives of Palestinian groups. It is even more significant that all of these cases relate to the middle east, and specifically, the Israel-Palestine conflict; rather than to any kind of sectarian hostility aimed at people for being Jewish.

Nonetheless, however devoid the case made against Salah may have been overall, he has still proven a highly controversial figure; and has undoubtedly made at least one public statement which was anti-Semitic. A question needs to be asked, and given consideration, therefore: should a history of objectionable views or behaviour lead to somebody being ostracised from Parliamentary talks? Is it appropriate or right for a British Member of Parliament to engage in meetings with such a problematic figure?

Opinion will undoubtedly be divided on this. Personally, I think the answer should be unequivocally yes. Not only is it justifiable, but it is also necessary. If people who believe in democracy and reason are not prepared to engage in public debates with those they disagree with, however strongly, what does it say about them and their ideals? Moreover, what basis could exist for mitigating conflict, and progressing towards any effective political resolution of violence, if somebody automatically rules-out talks with people who are involved in this, whose views they do not like? There are evidently compelling reasons, therefore, for Corbyn to have engaged in discussions with Salah – despite the fact that he is a controversial personality. Corbyn’s critics are wrong – his reasons for sharing platforms with such figures do hold up.

All told, the various allegations that Corbyn is implicated in anti-Semitic viewpoints, by virtue of his past associations, are evidently baseless. This does not preclude his choice of company from being problematic. Nonetheless, those implying that Corbyn is somehow guilty by association are incorrect. Unfortunately, in several cases it is obvious that they do not care. Those directly involved in distorting the documentary record are not people who value the truth.

Moreover, this furore is very clearly not about Corbyn’s supposed attitudes towards people who are Jewish: it is about his views on resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict – something he has been actively involved in trying to facilitate, rather than merely paying lip-service to as an issue; which means that he has at times been affiliated with disreputable individuals, who are problematic, yet also a party to the conflict. Faulting Corbyn’s approach is one thing – but inventing opinions for him is quite another. The conflict in the Middle East is complex, and evidently requires being approached with far more care than those authors discussed herein have managed. What remains particularly troubling here, however, is not merely the fraudulent nature of the claims made against Corbyn, but the ease with which they made headlines, and were accepted as accurate. The number of otherwise sensible people who have taken these accusations at face value, and made presumptions of guilt – with a shocking indifference towards evidence – has been cause for serious concern. It has proven one of the most profoundly dispiriting episodes of recent years to see so many people have such little regard for the truth, when it arguably matters most.

 

 

References

[1] Several other people previously affiliated with Corbyn were mentioned in articles on this subject. For example, the Daily Express referred to the Hamas-supporter Azzam Tamimi; while the Daily Mail alluded to a British Reverend, Stephen Sizer; and the Guardian cited a Belgian activist named Dyab Abou Jahjah. I’ve opted not to offer in-depth evaluations of the claims made against Corbyn with regard to these people, for several reasons. Firstly, while all three of these individuals have made controversial statements in the past, the evidence against any of them being anti-Semitic is highly questionable, to say the very least. Secondly, it would mean essentially going over much of the same ground as in the case of Raed Salah.

For example, according to the Church Of England statement on Sizer’s case, it revolves around him linking to a page on the Wikispooks website called “9/11 Israel did it”. Even without being able to access the actual page in question, it is obvious what kind of material this was. However, as reported by the Independent, Sizer had made his post on the Facebook site, linking to the article, adding: “Is this anti-Semitic? If so no doubt I’ll be asked to remove it. It raises so many questions.” It arguably raises questions about the level of acumen Sizer possesses, if nothing else. Does it make him anti-Semitic? Probably not. Sizer’s concerns are evidently focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict; and perhaps more to the point here, he removed the post and apologised for it. There appears to be no other evidence against him. It is significant that this incident seems to have occurred in January 2015. According to various news articles, Corbyn wrote a letter on behalf of Sizer – which none of them provide a link to – and the key quote these pieces cite is as follows:

“Reverend Stephen Sizer seems to have come under attack by certain individuals intent on discrediting the excellent work that Stephen does in highlighting the injustices of the Palestinian Israeli situation”.

As it happens, however, the full paragraph in Corbyn’s letter here reads somewhat differently:

“Reverend Stephen Sizer seems to have come under attack by certain individuals intent on discrediting the excellent work that Stephen does in highlighting the injustices of the Palestinian Israeli situation, in particular by his very thorough analysis of “Christian Zionism”. Might I suggest that such criticism is part of a wider pattern of demonising those who dare to stand up and speak out against Zionism, a philosophy that precludes the existence of the state of Palestine?”

This underlying reality is not really open to question; and it certainly does not indicate that Corbyn approved of Sizer’s offending post. How could it? Corbyn’s letter was written in April 2012 – not during 2015. The document was uploaded to Stephen Sizer’s personal site:

http://stephensizer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/jeremy-corbyn-mp-challenges-accusations.html

As indicated by the Harry’s Place web-page, dedicated to misrepresenting the meaning of its contents.

Dyab Abou Jahjah is one of the more abrasive personalities concerned herein. As with the others, the allegations against him relate to the Israel-Palestine conflict; and he does have a track-record of making highly objectionable statements on both this subject, and Britain’s foreign policies in the Middle East. The evidence that Corbyn had any substantive dealings with him is very scant, however. For instance, the Telegraph bewail that Corbyn ‘denied’ knowing Jahjah; but reading the actual quotes indicates a lack of recollection, not a denial:

“Asked on BBC Radio Four’s World at One about links to Mr Jahjah, Mr Corbyn said: “Sorry, who? I saw the name this morning and I asked somebody: ‘who is he?’” Pushed to confirm that he had never heard of Mr Jahjah, the Islington North MP added: “I’m sorry, I don’t know who this person is.”

As it transpires, Corbyn had once attended an event with Jahjah, during 2009. As the Guardian note:

“In 2009, Abou Jahjah was invited to speak at a Stop the War Coalition meeting as well as in the House of Commons at the launch of a British branch of the International Union of Parliamentarians for Palestine, hosted by Corbyn”.

The Telegraph article also claimed that Corbyn had sent a letter to the Home Secretary of this period, Jacqui Smith, on behalf of Jahjah. This is not supported by any available evidence. In fact, the reference to this was subsequently removed from the Telegraph’s article, not that this was noted. However, the Huffington Post had also written an article claiming that “Corbyn ‘Lobbied Home Office For Visa’ For Muslim Extremist Dyab Abou Jahjah”, which contains the Telegraph’s original reference. There is no evidence provided that this letter was written. However, Corbyn did sign a letter at this juncture, published in the Guardian; which had been addressed to Hazel Blears. It concerned “the removal of Dr Daud Abdullah from his elected post of deputy general secretary of the MCB”. This is perhaps the letter in question; and has no bearing for Jahjah. As unpleasant as some of his past statements have been, therefore, there is evidently no substance to the claims that Corbyn is somehow implicated by association.

The same kind of problems attached to Corbyn’s working relationship with Raed Salah were also cited by several newspapers, with regard to Azzam Tamimi. Tamimi is arguably an even more problematic personality than Salah – he is an avowed supporter of Hamas; and has repeatedly stated that he would be prepared to undergo martyrdom. This was said on an episode of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘, during 2004; and Tamimi reaffirmed it in a subsequent interview on the programme in 2008. This is, to say the least, a divisive stance. Even the most objective of listeners could hardly hear a statement of this kind, and presuppose it to have benign intent. Tamimi is without any real doubt therefore a figure of considerable controversy; but this does not obviate every view he holds – to judge by his interviews, most of what he says is both legitimate and reasonable, if likely to divide opinion. What is more relevant herein, however, are the implications it has for Corbyn. While there are arguably less objectionable people to engage with, there are also few people better placed than Tamimi with regard to Hamas. Moreover, at no juncture has any evidence been brought to light that Corbyn shares any of Tamimi’s viewpoints – let alone the most problematic of them. Some of these came to light in a speech given by Tamimi to the School Of African And Oriental Studies, in 2010; portions of which were compiled in an article by the Jewish Chronicle. Presupposing that these are accurately quoted, the most inflammatory of these comments was arguably his statement that:

“Israel does not belong to my homeland and must come to an end. This can happen peacefully if they acknowledge what they did — or we will continue to struggle until Israel is no more.”

Again, therefore, as with the previous two figures, it is evident that the criticisms levelled at Tamimi revolve around the Israel-Palestine conflict; to which he is evidently a party. There appear to be no anti-Semitic comments to Tamimi’s name, however. In fact, if anything, precisely because Tamimi has expressed so many decidedly extreme viewpoints it is unlikely he would veil prejudice if he did hold it.

The third reason for not evaluating the case against these three people in any real depth is that life is far too short to devote significant amounts of time and effort to searching for evidence to evaluate claims made by people who have failed to provide anything resembling a proper case.

[2]  Both of the Left Foot Forward contributors are involved with the same organisation. As their respective pieces on the Left Foot Forward website explain: “Lorin Bell-Cross is a researcher at BICOM and assistant editor of Fathom Journal”, while “Alan Johnson is the editor of Fathom – For a deeper understanding of Israel and the region, and works for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM)”. Bicom describes itself as “an independent British organisation dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain”. Needless to say, this is not as benign as it seems. In fact, it appears to consist primarily of issuing press-briefings, in a way which puts the more problematic actions of Israel’s government in a positive light. One of the key figures behind this group is Poju Zabludowicz – the same person alluded to by Raed Salah’s lawyer as a Conservative Party donor, and affiliate of the Community Security Trust. The details of this can be accessed via the Powerbase website’s page dedicated to Bicom.

[3] Johnson’s ‘Open Letter To Jeremy Corbyn’ contains an allegation against Salah which has not been evaluated here – namely his supposed propagation of an anti-Semitic ‘9/11 conspiracy’ theory. This was not an issue referred to during Salah’s immigration tribunal; nor does it appear to have been cited against him to justify the original deportation order he received. However, it has a significance nonetheless. Johnson’s source for this was an article published in the Telegraph, by Michael Weiss – a key figure involved in the Henry Jackson Society group: a British neo-Conservative think-tank. Weiss ‘s own source for this claim was a PDF file created by Memri. The original material attributed to Salah is written in Arabic, which is not a language I speak. Is Memri a trustworthy source of material? No. On the contrary, it has a track-record of misrepresenting non-English documents, and issuing them as press-briefings; and is heavily involved in putting a positive spin on the reported actions of Israel’s government. Weiss and Memri are not reliable sources – and given the impossibility herein of evaluating their claims against the original documents, the matter will have to be left aside.

 

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