Middle East Monitor / February 19, 2020
In September 2016, the Jewish Labour Movement in Britain held a small barbecue to establish a new youth wing. Thanks to the fact that an undercover journalist from Al Jazeera was among the tiny handful of attendees, we know in quite some detail what was said at the event.
The JLM’s then chairperson Jeremy Newmark stated that a year earlier, in September 2015, he and a small group of associates had met in a cafe and planned on “re-forming the JLM to do something with it”. That something was “utilising the rights and privileges” that the Jewish Labour Movement “enjoys as a socialist society” within Britain’s Labour Party. This plan to reconstitute the JLM came against the backdrop of what Newmark said was “the rise of Jeremy Corbyn” in Britain and “Bernie Sanders in the States.”
In private, speaking to his small cadre of young Zionist activists, Newmark admitted implicitly what he would not do in public: the JLM had been a dead organisation before left-winger Jeremy Corbyn unexpectedly became Labour leader in September 2015.
In close coordination with the Israeli Embassy in London, the JLM was re-founded just as Corbyn rose to prominence. It was a political weapon against the left-wing, pro-Palestinian grassroots base of the Labour Party.
For years as a stalwart of Britain’s pro-Israel, anti-Palestine lobby, Newmark understood well that the popular movements behind both Corbyn and Sanders were going to be more critical of Israel than ever before. There was, therefore, a pressing need to smash these movements on both sides of the Atlantic.
The JLM and the wider pro-Israel lobby played a key role in doing just that. Over the course of four years, Corbyn was beaten down, vilified, delegitimised, demonised and finally defeated in the General Election in December. The lobby and the Zionist movement as a whole were in the vanguard of the counterrevolutionary movement of the British establishment, the media and the Labour right-wing to remove Corbyn as party leader. Now, the pro-Israel lobby is attempting to repeat this feat in the US against would-be Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
In the US, as it was in Britain, another ageing, flawed left-wing leadership candidate backed by a massive popular movement is attempting to shift the political climate irreversibly and win an election from the left of centre. Neither Corbyn nor Sanders are communists or radicals. Neither has an anti-Zionist platform. Indeed, Sanders has described himself on more than one occasion as “100 per cent pro-Israel”.
However, both have discussed the possibility of very slightly easing the flow of Western military aid to Israel. Even this slight deviation from decades of social democratic parties’ unquestioned support for Zionism, though, is unacceptable to the pro-Israel lobby.
That is why an ostensibly Democratic group is the first to spend major lobbyist money attacking the leading candidate in the primary race to be the Democratic candidate for US president. That group calls itself “Democratic Majority for Israel”, although you wouldn’t know it from the election advertisements that it has been running ahead of key primary votes.
The TV ads state merely that they have been “Paid for by DMFI”, and their theme has nothing to do with Israel. They instead attack Sanders as “unelectable” and cast doubts over the state of his health. The group has reportedly ploughed roughly a million dollars into the adverts.
Exactly who is funding Democratic Majority for Israel remains unclear, but the group has very clear links with AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, probably the most influential and well-funded of pro-Israel, anti-Palestine groups in the US. AIPAC has also waded clumsily into the war against Sanders, launching a disgustingly racist attack against the Senator’s allies Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women to enter Congress.
In a short series of Facebook ads, AIPAC accused “radicals in the Democratic Party” of “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies”. The ads featured the images of Tlaib, Omar and their colleague Betty McCollum. All three lawmakers have campaigned for a bill against Israel’s abusive imprisonment of Palestinian children. A petition connected to the ads stated outrageously that the three lawmakers’ work was “maybe more sinister” than ISIS, the terrorist group which calls itself Islamic State. Despite AIPAC’s lies about anti-Semitism, it is clear that the lobby’s real concern is to protect Israel’s ability to torture and imprison Palestinian children with complete impunity.
The ads backfired, though, and AIPAC was forced to apologise. McCollum rejected their apology, calling AIPAC a “hate group” which is “weaponising anti-Semitism”.
So far, the pro-Israel lobby has yet to attack Sanders directly with anti-Semitism smears. But you can be sure that it is something that will happen, despite the fact that he is a Jew himself.
It is worth remembering that the attacks against Corbyn for supposed anti-Semitism did not start with direct accusations; it was all about guilt by association to begin with. Many of those so accused were themselves Jewish.
The only way to beat these lies is to completely and utterly reject them, loudly and forcefully. McCollum’s pushback is an encouraging sign. To ensure victory, the wider movement must sustain this stance uncompromisingly in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East