Before I address Mr Corbyn, let me lay my cards on the table. As I said in my On Prejudice post, I admit I am prejudiced, and these prejudices make me dislike Jeremy Corbyn and desperately hope he fails to win the Labour leadership.
I am a lifelong Labour voter who has lived in a succession of safe Tory seats. My parents are/were firm Tories but not in the least politically active. I grew up during the boom and bust 80s, with riots in Toxteth and Brixton, the miners’ strike, alternative comedy, The Young Ones, The Red Wedge and Spitting Image and was a student at the height of the Thatcher Out movement that saw the Poll Tax riots.
I was lobbying in the House of Commons as the news broke that Thatcher had resigned (the coach ride back to Liverpool that day was a very happy one!) And I went to Berlin in 1990 and hacked a piece off the Wall with my own hands. Good times.
I joined the Labour Party, Amnesty International and the Anti Apartheid Movement, demonstrated outside the South African embassy (and outside the Chinese after Tiananmen Square), cried when Mandela was released and again when he was elected president. 1 May 1997 was one of the best nights of my life. The whole world seemed to smell better the next day.
So my creds are OK.
At the same time as all this, my “other” identity, as a proud Zionist Jew, was also developing. I remember Begin and Sadat shaking hands in 79. I saw the campaign of hijackings and bombings carried out by the PLO and looking back, most people were pretty sympathetic with Israel back then. There certainly wasn’t any conflict between being a “progressive” and being pro-Israel.
My first experience of antisemitism was having pennies thrown at my feet by the kids at the Catholic School opposite my home. This was a regular occurrence through my childhood.
There was ribbing (these days you’d call it banter) at school, but since half the pupils were Jewish, I took no real notice (other than the time when a bully forced a ham sandwich down my throat). Teens being teens, we made fun of everyone and used every insult in the book – we definitely hadn’t heard of political correctness back then.
We studied the Arab/Israeli conflict for ‘O’ Level history, using a text book written by our teacher. With my then half-baked ideas, I remember it being rabidly anti-Israel and our lessons tended to be arguments between him and me. When I got my A (they didn’t do A*s back then, my first thought was “Ha. That’ll show you, Mr X.”
But it was at University that I first encountered what has become a pervasive problem – progressive antisemitism. The first intifada was in full swing and you’d have to have your nose buried very deeply in your books not to notice that left wing groups such as the Socialist Workers Party were firmly on the side of the Palestinians.
I was active in the Students’ Union and in the Jewish Society and only opened a book the night before deadline, so the atmosphere of “right on” anti-Zionism was right in my face.
I was told to my face that the Holocaust was a hoax, spat at, shouted down, told to leave open meetings on campus – even when I said nothing. I was simply a well-known advocate on Jewish and Israeli matters. If I had not been so stubborn, it might have got me down. As it is, it simply spurred me on.
For avoidance of doubt, all this came from so-called “progressives” (there was no noticeable far right presence on a Liverpool campus at that time). I (along with anyone else who dared to be anything other than 100% anti-Israel) was accused of being a fascist and no amount of moderation on my part could convince them of any less.
Of course, the majority of the student body couldn’t have cared less either way – I successfully stood for election to the Student Union executive.
So, where does Jeremy Corbyn come into this?
Jeremy Corbyn has been an MP for as long as I remember (I do remember things before 1983 obviously but not the names of backbench MPs).
When I became politically active in the late 80s, his name cropped up from time to time as one of those on the Labour left who were more allied with Tony Benn than Neil Kinnock, but I paid him little attention.
Remember, this was long before the days of 24-hour rolling ubiquitous news and the revolution brought about by social media, so a backbench MP had to do or say some things pretty unusual to come to an ordinary person’s notice.
As the 90s moved on, however, his name became more and more associated with the growing campaign to delegitimise Israel and to demonise its government and all its actions.
In 1996, as has recently come to light, he campaigned against the conviction of two people who bombed the offices of a Jewish charity (and the Israeli embassy). I don’t need to repeat here the long history he has of closeness to some violent, racist and outright reactionary people and groups. I am not saying he is antisemitic but he is certainly mates with people who very definitely are.
Suffice to say, to anyone involved or interested in the Middle East, the concerns about him long pre-dated his decision to stand as leader. When he announced his candidacy, I wasn’t concerned. I thought he was too extreme, that he would be noisy but a marginal figure, that his policies woukd be seen as the idealist fantasies they are, that he would finish a distant last in the election.
How wrong I was.
Like almost everyone else, I have been taken unawares by Corbymania and by the tide of Corbynistas flooding to register for the vote. I think the system being used is ridiculous (regardless of Corbyn) and that only people who were members at the time Milliband stood down should be able to vote, but it is what it is.
Now I get why people like him. He is not bland, he is not tarred by association with Tony Blair or the Iraq war (though it is deeply puzzling why these are so obsessed about – but that for another time), he has not changed his views despite the changing times and he delivers a message very different to that heard from any mainstream party leader for at least 20 years.
But here’s the rub. There are two things I simply don’t understand.
First – Why is Anti-Zionism seen as a progressive cause?
And second – How can any progressive support a man who is clearly an apologist for racists and terrorists?
Yes, Israel has done Bad Things (but so has nearly every country in the world). Yes, ordinary Palestinians are suffering and Israel has (at least in part) been the cause of that suffering. But a cold-eyed view of the opposing parties paints a stark picture.
In Israel, discrimination exists, but it is illegal. People of all faiths and none are free to worship as they please and to own land, to study, be involved in politics, the judiciary etc or any profession they choose. There are few friendlier places for LGBT people, women are in every sense equal, there is a vibrant free press and a judiciary that goes out of its way to demonstrate its independence from government. The democracy is, if anything, too vibrant, with dozens of political parties representing every conceivable group. There is a state religion, but the majority of the people (and their elected leaders) are staunchly secular.
In short, Israel is one of the most liberal places on Earth.
Compare this with the situation in Palestinian-run areas of the West Bank and Gaza and you see the absolute opposite of everything I have said about Israel. Hamas and Fatah are, without a shadow of a doubt, reactionary regimes that are closer to fascist dictatorships than the socialist paradigm.
Even if you have sympathy with the Palestinian desire for a state of their own (which many Zionists do), how can you fail to notice that their leaders (and those of the neighbouring Arab states) have utterly failed their people and have contrived to do nothing but make their own people’s lot far worse at almost every turn.
I stress – this is not about the rights of Israel and/or Palestine to exist. Not about whether one side has done wrong to the other (both clearly have). It’s just an objective analysis of the societies that each has built.
Second, I don’t care how “fresh” Corbyn’s message is. I don’t even care if his economic, social and domestic policies are good and fair and right and, most importantly, workable (which is certainly a dubious proposition).
If the most likeable person in the World stood for a position of political influence with the most endearing set of policies ever devised, I would still campaign against him (or her) if he is an apologist for terrorists and racists.
That failing is not just a weakness (nobody’s perfect) it’s a fundamental flaw that surely outweighs any positives.
Let me put it this way*. If a brilliant Catholic theologian, speaker and thinker, who knows the Bible inside out and has a record of being the kindest person who is endlessly generous with his time applies to be the Pope with just one flaw – he’s married – how many Cardinals would vote for him?
So please. If you have a vote in this election and have not cast it yet, please do NOT vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
* It’s not a perfect analogy, I know.