Appeasing Zionists is a losing game

Nu’man Abd al-Wahid

Mondoweiss  /  July 23, 2023

In “Weaponising Anti-Semitism,” Asa Winstanley effectively debunks the allegations of antisemitism the Israel lobby used to “bring down” Jeremy Corbyn, but downplays the role of British imperialism in creating the Palestine problem.

How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn

by Asa Winstanley
310 pp. OR Books, NY/London $18

Asa Winstanley’s book, Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn is about the anti-Semitic slurs, smears, allegations, and insinuations directed at the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership between 2015 and 2020. As a journalist for the pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist Electronic Intifada, Winstanley has had a front-row seat to the unfolding political drama in real-time. Corbyn primarily offered the British electorate an escape from the domestic neoliberal policies that had dominated politics from the 1980s. Winstanley’s thesis is that certain individuals and Zionist advocacy groups, sometimes working in tandem with elements of the Zionist colonial Apartheid state, “brought down Jeremy Corbyn.” 

Winstanley identifies the main characters undermining Corbyn’s Labour Party. Zionist advocates such as Jonathan Hoffman, Ella Rose, Ruth Smeeth, John Mann, Richard Millet, and towering above them all, Jeremy Newmark (who Winstanley claims is a “veteran professional Israeli Lobbyist”), took it upon themselves to unsettle the leadership and his closest allies. Newmark is somewhat of a Teflon character who came to prominence attacking the University and College Union (UCU), the trade union for university employees. In the early 2010s, as CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council (JCL) he was a key figure in the lawfare against the UCU, accusing it of engaging in anti-Semitism because of its advocacy for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) in support of Palestinians struggling and resisting the Zionist-colonial apartheid regime in occupied Palestine. Although the JCL’s campaign against the pro-Palestinian voices in universities ended in failure, with one judge “insisting” that Newmark had given “untrue” testimony, Newmark’s campaign achieved “a sort of victory,” according to Winstanley, because the discussion “of the academic boycott of Israel was severely chilled in the trade union movement.” The experience Newmark gained and the strategy he employed were later used during Corbyn’s leadership tenure of the Labour Party. 

The antisemitism charge and the hypocrisy of European civilization

Newmark’s main strategy is simple — to tarnish anyone who criticizes the Apartheid colonial entity in occupied Palestine as anti-Semitic. This was a powerful and effective strategy, because in imperialist-rooted British (and Western) political culture, the Holocaust was an evil like no other. But the fact is that Hitler was inspired by the British Empire, seeing it as the blueprint for his own imperial project, the Third Reich. Under British rule, millions of Africans were enslaved, and millions of Indians died because of British economic policies over a 300-year period.

Other Western imperialist countries had perpetuated genocides in their Empires, yet Europeans are conditioned from cradle to grave to believe that Hitler and the Holocaust against the Jewish people and others is an aberration of European civilization, not a natural outgrowth and continuation of it. In reality, European civilization was simply brought back from Africa and Asia and administered on home territory. For this reason, those accused of anti-Semitism have committed the ultimate political sin.

Winstanley takes the reader through the most consequential and ludicrous cases of anti-Semitic allegations aimed at Corbyn’s Labour Party. He begins with the Oxford University affair, where Labour students claimed the Oxford Union Labour Party of becoming anti-Semitic. He proves quite convincingly that there was no evidence for this charge, regardless of how the mainstream media amplified the story in real-time. What happened is that a group of Labour students endorsed “Israeli Apartheid Week…an annual series of talks held by the Palestine solidarity movement the world over.”

The right-wing of the student Labour Party, those that supported a continuation of neo-liberalism, spun this as anti-Semitism. Winstanley also debunks the “anti-Semitic” reasons for the expulsion of stalwart anti-racist campaigners such as Jackie Walker, former mayor of London Ken Livingstone, Marc Wadsworth, and many others. Wadsworth took a lead in setting up the political campaign to bring to justice the racist killers of teenager Stephen Lawrence, and introduced the Lawrence parents to Nelson Mandela, but even this didn’t save him from being booted out of the Labour Party and literally thrown under a bus by his long time “comrade” Jeremy Corbyn.

When Wadsworth was officially expelled from the Labour Party, no mention was made of anti-Semitisim as a reason for his expulsion. Livingstone, on the other hand, made comments about the relationship between Zionism and Nazi Germany that were spun by Corbyn’s detractors as making “Nazi comparisons”. The then right-wing Labour legislator, John Mann, piled in to smear Livingstone of being a “Nazi apologist”.

With friends like these

Another fake anti-Semitic episode that Winstanley makes short shrift of is the “Zionists don’t understand irony” saga that Corbyn was accused of making. Winstanley proves Corbyn didn’t exactly say this, and he was referring to specific pro-Zionist Apartheid advocates who had a track record of haranguing Palestine advocacy meetings. On one occasion, they berated the Palestinian ambassador for a speech he gave ridiculing the idea that “God have given Palestine to the children of God.” Corbyn was specifically referring to these Zionist advocate nuisances as lacking a sense of irony.  

What added further credence to the smears and slurs, according to Winstanley, was high-profile Corbyn supporters in the media, such as the Guardian columnist Owen Jones, Aaron Bastani, and his Novara Media colleagues such as Ash Sarkar, who acquiesced with the mainstream media more often than not each time the latter unleashed an “anti-Semitic crises” episode. All three seem to have had a particular distaste for Jackie Walker, a long-time veteran of the left-wing causes. Walker is black, Jewish, and unlike them, an anti-Zionist supporter of Palestinian liberation. But what rendered her beyond the pale in the eyes of this coterie is that she broached sensitive subjects, including that of some Jewish peoples’ complicity and engagement in slavery in the Caribbean. For this and other opinions, Jones demanded her expulsion from the Labour Party in a speech delivered at the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) conference.

The JLM was, at one time during the Corbyn years, led by Newmark. Sarkar was later to pejoratively refer to Walker as a “crank,” and Bastani denied her Jewishness. For good measure, a former Zionist Apartheid London embassy employee and a former National Director of the JLM, Ella Rose, was recorded physically threatening Walker with Krav Maga, the Israeli-style combat martial art. Newmark is a Labour council leader in Hertfordshire; Rose is a counselor in London; and Corbyn has been booted out from the Labour Party, never to return in the foreseeable future.    

‘Not interested in defending himself’

Time and time again, Winstanley shows how the anti-Semitic slurs against Corbyn’s Labour Party were contrived, and on each occasion, he conclusively shows the falsity behind the slurs. One can only commend Winstanley for exposing the exaggerated “anti-Semitic crises” that tarnished Corbyn’s tenure of the Labour Party. My one criticism would be his dealing with the Mear One (aka Kalen Ockerman) drawing, which Corbyn had initially ‘liked’ on Facebook well before he became leader. The drawing is in the grotesque anti-Semitic tradition of depicting a group of hooked-nosed financiers playing a board game hoisted on the backs of the downtrodden of the world. It matters not one iota how this was weaponized against Corbyn, he should be nowhere near commenting on such a drawing, let alone “liking” it.  

Winstanley is critical of Corbyn’s handling of the charges that were leveled at the Labour Party. Rather than standing up to the scurrilous slurs every time an “anti-Semitic crises” episode was unleashed, Corbyn simply accepted the media’s narratives and further appeased the establishment by disassociating the Party and himself from the falsely accused. At one point, Winstanley quotes a lawyer who claims Corbyn, although honest, was simply not interested in defending himself. A political party leader who didn’t defend himself, his staunchest allies, and long-standing friends, and continuously capitulated to his detractors without much of a fight, would inevitably find it hard for the voting public to accept his leadership of the country.

One of the gloomiest moments in this book is in the penultimate chapter, titled “Turning Point.” Winstanley argues that up until the middle of 2018, anti-Semitic allegations that were largely directed only at Corbyn’s staunchest supporters were now turned directly on Corbyn. He singles out Margaret Hodge, a fellow Labour legislator, who dramatically smeared him of being an anti-Semite in Parliament to his face. As Party leader Corbyn should have disciplined her but didn’t. Seeing that she had got away with this slander, a “rubicon” was crossed and others began to directly accuse Corbyn of anti-Semitism. The irony is that Hodge is a very wealthy person whose family ran a very profitable business in Apartheid South Africa, when anti-racist campaigners, such as Corbyn, were calling for boycotts and sanctions against the Apartheid regime.

There’s much to admire in Winstanley’s debunking of most of the anti-Semitic allegations that bedeviled Corbyn’s Labour Party. There was certainly contact between British Zionist advocates and the UK’s Israeli embassy, but how far can you go to claim that “the Israel Lobby brought down Jeremy Corbyn” as the sub-title of this book states? The answer is not very far, and Winstanley once again provides the evidence.

He informs us of an opinion poll taken in the wake of the general election of 2019. The survey questioned 10,000 people, asking them for the reasons behind Labour’s defeat, and found the prime reason was that most of the British electorate didn’t find Corbyn to be an “appealing leader”. Second was the prospect of reneging on the Brexit vote to leave the European Union. Way down the list in fifth place was Corbyn’s Labour failing to address “the controversy over anti-Semitism in the party.” This sounds about right. Most of the smears were based on spinning criticism of Zionists and “Israel” into anti-Semitic slurs, and most British people possess little interest in foreign policy, so it’s no surprise that the “controversy” was fifth in the pollsters’ concerns.

Downplaying British imperialism

The main drawback of this essential book is that Winstanley, as is the custom of British writers, downplays, even absolves, the historical role of British imperialism in creating the Palestinian predicament. Three examples will suffice. Firstly, when he mentions that the Zionist colonial terrorist gangs began their ethnic cleansing campaign of the indigenous population in November 1947, he fails to mention this commenced while Britain still ruled Palestine, and that the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestine began under Britain’s watch. When Britain departed in May 1948 and the Zionist colonial entity became official, no less than 400,000 Palestinians, the majority of the indigenous population, had already been violently displaced.

Secondly, he argues that in 1945 Britain “began reneging on its pledge to hand Palestine over to the Zionist movement…,” but he fails to mention that it was Britain who had placed the Zionist movement in the position to take over Palestine. By 1945, Britain’s job was done. The Zionist colonial population had increased by hundreds of thousands from mere tens of thousands; the Palestinian population was still reeling from the military crushing of the Arab Revolt in the late 1930s; and Britain’s proteges, the Zionist colonizers, who had assisted the British in crushing the Palestinians, were now on the verge of finishing off the colonial job that Britain had begun. As the Palestinian revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani argued, the Zionists in 1947 were plucking “the fruits of the defeat of the 1936 revolt, which the outbreak of the war had prevented it from doing sooner.”

Thirdly, it is a moot point whether there was a relationship between certain Zionists and Nazi Germany in the 1930s or 1940s, as far as the plight of Palestinians under British imperial rule is concerned. In fact, it makes no difference whatsoever whether even Nazi Germany existed to the creation of the Palestinian predicament. Imperial Britain was determined to create a colonial entity in Palestine. It committed to this colonial enterprise in 1917 with the publication of the Balfour Declaration, while Hitler’s Nazis didn’t come to power until 1933.  

In the final chapter of the book, Winstanley shows Corbyn had always been on the so-called liberal wing of Zionism — the Zionism that grudgingly and humbly accepts that Palestinians are human beings and are entitled to some geographical patch on their historical homeland. This author’s own research shows that in 2016 Corbyn waxed lyrical about the Zionist colonial entity’s supposed technological advancement. In 2017, on no less an occasion than the centenary of the British government issuing its colonial death warrant on Palestine — the Balfour Declaration — Corbyn rubbed salt in the wound by sending a recorded message to a public commemoration, which repulsively endorsed this imperial document but critiqued its implementation.

Moreover, in a 2018 article for the Guardian, Corbyn declared that Zionism is not a racist form of colonialism but an expression of “Jewish self-determination.” While leader of the Party, Corbyn had even turned his back on the BDS campaign in support of Palestinian rights. The ultimate irony is that Zionists and the British media “weaponized anti-Semitism” against one of their own, albeit one who pays lip service to Palestinian rights. Imagine what Britain’s Zionist-colonial Apartheid warriors and its media bullhorns would do in the very unlikely event that a genuine anti-Zionist becomes the leader of the Labour Party.

Nu’man Abd al-Wahid is a Yemeni-English independent researcher specializing in the political relationship between the British state and the Arab World