The Board, Corbyn and Chanukah

There has been much criticism over the Board of Deputies’ invitation to the Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, to represent the Labour party at a Chanukah service in the House of Lords.

Such opprobrium omits any recognition that political differences exist between Jeremy Corbyn and many on his front bench.

Ms Rayner, who has voiced concern for Palestinian rights, has been approvingly quoted on numerous occasions in the right-wing Daily Mail stating that the left had a problem with antisemitism and not enough was being done to deal with it.

If the Board had instead invited Mr Corbyn, an ideological anti-Zionist, then it would have been a different matter.

The Board’s detractors do not seem to realise that Labour is more than the Corbynistas and its philosemitic opponents.

Beneath the orchestrated adulation for Mr Corbyn, divisions exist within his supporters. Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts, in their recent book, Corbynism: A Critical Approach, demonstrate how a mythical Corbyn has been utilised in a populist campaign to promote Labour.

They write: “The notion that Corbyn himself sits in a moral realm, high above the tainted institutions and processes of liberal democracy and the corrupt ‘establishment’ is fundamental to the approach to politics adopted by the Corbyn movement.”

Yet this imagery of Mr Corbyn as a socialist messiah came crashing down when Labour’s National Executive Committee shunted him into the sidings over the IHRA definition because they were sick and tired of the albatross of antisemitism around Labour’s neck and Mr Corbyn’s pro-Palestinian intransigence. In this instance, Mr Corbyn had become a liability in the forward march of Labour towards government.

Depicting the establishment of a socialist Hebrew republic in 1948 – a state which the late Tony Benn supported at the time – as “a racist endeavour” indicated both the superficiality and impracticality of his views. The Board has therefore been clever in approaching people like Ms Rayner and widening the split between Mr Corbyn and his shadow cabinet.

The Corbynistas are in fact a coalition of newcomers from the far left and the Bennite wing of Labour. Mr Corbyn and his inner circle – many of whom were originally aligned with the pro-Kremlin faction of the Communist party – believe in a strong Leninist central control.

This is why they opposed Jon Lansman’s candidature as party secretary-general – they disliked his independent stand and his close past association with Tony Benn. Unlike the sluggish ambivalence of Mr Corbyn, Mr Lansman has been clear on taking a stand against left wing antisemitism and the attainment of peace between Israel and Palestine.

Mr Corbyn, on the other hand, has never acted as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, but only as a propagandist for one side only.

Several Corbynistas, like many Jews, do not share Mr Corbyn’s selectivity whereby some wrongs in the world are recognised while others are ignored. Mr Corbyn and the far left place the totality of social and economic progress ahead of respect for human rights and indeed freedom of expression.

This is why he can fall silent when it comes to hunger queues in Maduro’s Venezuela or protests in the Ayatollahs’ Iran. When asked, Mr Corbyn, like Donald Trump, escapes confronting the issue through a moral equivocation between the oppressed and the oppressors. In essence, Mr Corbyn’s approach challenges the very meaning of socialism.

Mr Corbyn’s world outlook often clashes with some fundamental Jewish values – especially the notion that all injustices should be opposed. That Jewish value is why many British Jews are willing to criticise Mr Netanyahu’s policies when necessary – several surveys indicate that a majority of British Jews oppose the settlement drive on the West Bank, whereas Mr Corbyn remains silent on Islamist violations of human rights in Gaza.

Many of the Board’s critics are uninterested in the minutiae of left-wing ideology. However, an understanding of this is the key to creating a conversation with younger Corbynistas, often ignorant about the historical odyssey of the Jews and the emergence of Zionism – people who may find themselves in leading positions in government in the not-too-distant future.

The Board’s leadership has therefore shown itself to be far-sighted in this regard.

Jewish Chronicle 27 November 2018

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