An open letter to Jeremy Corbyn

As the most left-wing candidate you should get my vote. But you won't. And here's why.

 

Congratulations!

By securing a place on the ballot to become the next Labour leader you have put a spring in the step of many party members and trade unionists who feel that you embody their values better than any other candidate. (You embody only some of mine, trampling on some others, but I will get to that.)

You represent a clear alternative to the suffocating consensus that says there is no alternative to neoliberalism: marketisation, deregulation, privatisation, financialisation, an assault on the bargaining power of labor, regressive tax regimes, and cuts to welfare.

You will not tell us to be ‘intensely relaxed’ about people getting ‘filthy rich’ and you will not sneer at the trade union movement.

You are acutely aware that the transformation of European social democracy into a political force pursuing only a slightly kinder and a slightly gentler neoliberalism has caused the erosion of the emotional connection between the party and the working-class.

And you know that neoliberalism has eroded local democracy and the public realm, pushing aside actors other than those at the center, and then micro-managing Britain through a grim and relentless bureaucratising cult of quasi-government bodies.

On that basis you will secure the votes of many party members and trade unionists.

But you won’t get my vote.

You won’t get it because Labour’s best traditions also include anti-fascism and internationalism while your support – to me, inexplicable and shameful –  for the fascistic and antisemitic forces of Hezbollah and Hamas flies in the face of those traditions. In particular, your full-throated cheer-leading for the vicious antisemitic Islamist Raed Salah is a deal-breaker.

Why did you lend your support to Raed Salah? No, he is not a ‘critic of Israel’, but a straight-up Jew hater.

You said in 2012, ‘Salah is far from a dangerous man’, even though the left-wing, anti-Netanyahu Israeli newspaper of record, Ha’aretz, reported that Salah was first charged with inciting anti-Jewish racism and violence in January 2008.

You said ‘Salah is a very honoured citizen’, even though Salah was found guilty of spreading the blood libel – the classic antisemitic slander that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make their bread. He did so during a speech on 16 February 2007 in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Wadi Joz.

I mean, just listen to Salah: ‘We have never allowed ourselves to knead [the dough for] the bread that breaks the fast in the holy month of Ramadan with children’s blood’, he said. ‘Whoever wants a more thorough explanation, let him ask what used to happen to some children in Europe, whose blood was mixed in with the dough of the holy bread.’ (The UK Appeal Court decided that ‘We do not find this comment could be taken to be anything other than a reference to the blood libel against Jews.’ It also decided that this would ‘offend and distress Israeli Jews and the wider Jewish community.’)

You said: ‘Salah represents his people extremely well’, even though after the 9/11 terrorist attacks Salah wrote this in the October 5, 2001 issue of the weekly Sawt al-Haq w’al-Huriyya (Voice of Justice and Freedom): ‘A suitable way was found to warn the 4,000 Jews who work every day at the Twin Towers to be absent from their work on September 11, 2001, and this is really what happened! Were 4,000 Jewish clerks absent [from their jobs] by chance, or was there another reason? At the same time, no such warning reached the 2,000 Muslims who worked every day in the Twin Towers, and therefore there were hundreds of Muslim victims.’

You said ‘Salah’s is a voice that must be heard’ even though he has called homosexuality a ‘great crime’ and recently [preached that ‘Jerusalem will soon become the capital of the global caliphate’ which will ‘spread justice throughout the land after it was filled with injustice by America, the Zionist enterprise, the Batiniyya, reactionism, Paganism and the Crusaders.’ i.e. everyone who does not follow his brand of Sunni Islam.

You said ‘I look forward to giving you tea on the terrace because you deserve it!’, even though the Islamic Movement [the northern branch of which Salah heads] has eulogised Osama bin Laden and Salah has incited Muslims against Jews by writing incendiary lies such as this: ‘The unique mover wanted to carry out the bombings in Washington and New York in order to provide the Israeli establishment with a way out of its entanglements.’ Who do you think he meant by ‘the unique mover’?

Why is that kind of conspiratorial antisemitism, dripping with threat and menace, worthy of tea on the terrace?

And it isn’t just a problem with Salah, is it? You said it was ‘my pleasure and my honour’ to host ‘our friends from Hezbollah and our friends from Hamas’ in the Commons.

Really?

Why do you not care that the Hamas Charter states that ‘Islam will obliterate Israel’ and enjoins all good Muslims to kill Jews, whom it blames for all the wars and revolutions in classic antisemitic fashion?

Why don’t you challenge your ‘friends in Hamas’ about the inclusion in their Charter of this canonical Hadith: ‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’

And why are Hezbollah your friends? They are an antisemitic Islamist goose-stepping ‘Party of God’ who persecute (and assassinate) liberals and democrats in Lebanon whenever they can. The Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said ‘If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.’ (NY Times, May 23, 2004, p. 15, section 2, column 1.)  Your ‘friends’ were enthusiastically slaughtering Syrian civilians on behalf of the Assad regime long before ISIS or Jabhat Al-Nusra joined the fray.

Yes, you will say I am part of the Israel lobby and people should pay no heed. Yes, I work at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. But here’s the thing. I have the same views now about the Israel-Palestine conflict as I did when I was a member of the Socialist Organiser Editorial Board and you were with Labour Briefing back in the 1980s. (I think our two organisations may have even ‘fused’ at some point, though those days are a bit hazy now.)

My views have not changed since I was a member of the editorial board of Historical Materialism. They are the same views I had when we debated each other at Birmingham University some years ago: I believe in two states for two people, a secure Israel and a viable Palestine, a democratic solution to an unresolved national question based on mutual recognition and support for the right to national self-determination of both peoples.

I edit a journal, Fathom, which publishes many voices critical of the current Israeli government, from the Israeli left, from Israel’s Arab citizens, and from Palestinians.

I just do not understand how you can support so unthinkingly those political forces which oppose to their dying breath everything  – literally, everything – the labour movement has ever stood for: trade union rights, freedom of speech and organisation, women’s equality, gay and lesbian rights, anti-racism, the enlightenment, and reason.

But as long as you do support those forces you will not get my vote. As long as you do, I will just have to remain politically homeless. Which is a pity, because there you are on the TV screen, talking with élan like a proper social democrat about full employment.

I want to cheer you on. Can you respond in such a way that I can?

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)

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