Pete Firmin

Swimming against a toxic tide

Pete Firmin
Swimming against a toxic tide

THE ESTABLISHMENT, together with its allies in the media and party, have been doing their utmost to undermine Jeremy. They oppose him for the same reasons others flocked to support him - his rejection of austerity and the agenda of neo-liberalism, his internationalism and opposition to imperialism’s wars. Worse still, he didn’t restrict his politics to the Westminster bubble, but campaigned outside, on the streets and picket lines.

One of the weapons in this long war of attrition has been the efforts of the party bureaucracy. The Compliance Unit trawled through members’ social media posts to find reasons to make them ineligible for party membership. Others were deemed unacceptable because they were associated with organisations whose values were deemed not compatible with Labour’s.

The process was arbitrary. Little action was taken against those on the right of the party who broke party rules - and most of those suspended were reinstated once the second leadership election was over. It was an open secret that the party machine, overseen by general secretary Iain McNicol - who was given a standing ovation at the Labour Friends of Israel fringe meeting at party  conference  - was working to block Corbyn and his supporters at every opportunity.

When challenged, McNicol could produce examples of vile abuse by Corbyn supporters, just as there were examples of holocaust denial and other examples of antisemitism. What is disputed is how widespread these things are. McNicol resisted the implementation of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report in respect of both a clear complaints procedure and natural justice in disciplinary action. Instead, allegations were often leaked to the media before the person complained against was informed and immediate ‘administrative suspension’ was used as a first rather than last resort.

Ever since Corbyn entered the leadership race, he has been attacked by supporters of Israel, because he has a long history of supporting the struggle of the Palestinians for justice. Despite trying other points of attack (Brexit, Czech spy, soft on Putin, nuclear weapons), Corbyn’s opponents have always returned to this issue, for two reasons. First, it is well resourced - there is plenty of evidence for the Israeli government financing attacks on its opponents around the world. Second because they believe that by making the issue one of ‘antisemitism’ they get Corbyn and his supporters on the back foot.

Moral panic is created. What socialist wishes to be accused of any kind of racism? Yet leading proponents cannot help themselves giving the game away. Avi Gabbay, leader of the Israeli Labour Party, referred to Corbyn’s “very public hatred of the policies of the government of the state of Israel… policies where the opposition and coalition in Israel are aligned.” That would be  policies  like the shooting of unarmed demonstrators and the expulsion en masse of African asylum seekers.

Antisemitism is seen as the only racism, despite all the evidence showing that Islamaphobia and other forms of racism are much more prevalent. The many examples of racism by Tories and even members of the PLP attacking Corbyn are ignored. Why did Labour MPs support a demonstration called  by   the   Board   of    Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council - both

dominated by Tories - alongside the likes of Norman Tebbit and the DUP? Why is a media which has refused for years to report demonstrations of thousands against Tory policies suddenly giving lengthy coverage to much smaller protests against Corbyn? Why are the practising Jews of Jewdas unacceptable as compared to the Jewish Board of Deputies? Why are self-appointed 'community leaders’ accepted as the sole determinants of what is antisemitism, especially when their conditions for meeting Corbyn effectively demanded handing over the party’s education and disciplinary procedures to them?

The aim is to create a toxic atmosphere in which we are afraid to argue against this weaponisation of antisemitism for fear of being accused of it ourselves - an atmosphere similar to that created by McCarthyism in the US in the ’50s.

Nothing   short   of   the   destruction of   Corbyn   and  the    movement    of his supporters will satisfy Corbyn’s opponents. Staying quiet, conceding to their arguments, only emboldens the attackers. Momentum refused to oppose the moral panic around antisemitism, and did not even campaign against the general purge of members and supporters during the leadership campaigns. None of this has discouraged attacks on Momentum.

There has been resistance to this attack. At last year’s party conference, the emergence of Jewish Voice for Labour, and the support given in conference for speeches by some of its key activists, encouraged Corbyn to call for justice for the Palestinians in his conference speech. The right and the supporters of Israel redoubled their efforts. They overshot themselves by attacking Moshe Machover and Glyn Secker - who were rapidly reinstated - but they have made it clear they intend to continue their fight, particularly with their efforts to ensure Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone are expelled.

Hard as it is in this atmosphere of moral panic, the left has to resist. We want action against genuine racists, but we must fight sham attacks whose sole aim is to weaken us.


CWU and Hampstead & Kilburn CLP