Corbyn waves the flag of anti-Semitism

A New York lecture

Daniel Johnson

Palestinian flags at the 2018 Labour Party Conference (©Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Jews in Britain, and more widely across Europe, are confronted by a new mutation of the oldest hatred: the anti-Semitic alliance of the Left and radical Islam. As Dave Rich argues in his new book The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism (Biteback, £12.99), the impact of the Leftist and Islamist nexus on the Labour Party during the three years of Corbyn’s leadership has been toxic.

It was Standpoint, the magazine of which I am the founding editor, that brought the Labour Party’s “Jewish problem” to wider attention in 2014, when the well-known actress Maureen Lipman, a lifelong Labour supporter, declared that she could no longer vote for the party because of its extreme hostility to Israel and its intolerance of any other views. She castigated the then leader of the party, Ed Miliband, as a secular Jew for ignoring the problem and, indeed, being part of it. Her protest had a wide resonance, but the scale of the Left’s Jewish problem emerged only after Corbyn came to office in 2015 following Miliband’s defeat in the general election.

I too come from a family for whom this problem is personal. My father, Paul Johnson, was the editor of the New Statesman from 1965 to 1970 and one of the Left’s strongest voices in support of Israel. I still recall our jubilation at the outcome of the Six Day War and the boxes of Jaffa oranges that would arrive from the Israeli embassy when my father had written a particularly trenchant essay in Israel’s defence. (I suppose those oranges would be enough to land us in trouble under a future Prime Minister Corbyn, or even be used as evidence of the imaginary Israeli conspiracy to control British politics that he regularly demands should be investigated.) My father left the Labour Party to join Margaret Thatcher in 1977 while I was in Israel; I vividly remember the front-page news item about him in The Times and wondering where this bold move, fraught with professional risk, would lead.

Forty years later, as we celebrate my father’s 90th birthday, he has been vindicated. There are still decent people in the Labour Party, but many of them have despaired of reforming it. The long march though the institutions that began in the 1970s has brought the enemies of society, as my father called them back then, to the brink of power. If Brexit goes badly — as it may well do, given the malice of Brussels and the muddle of Westminster — then the public will blame the Conservatives. Britain could elect a Labour prime minister who is not only unfit to lead his country, but who hates it so much that he has refused to sing the national anthem.

So I shall start with the flags. Some of you may be familiar with the British tradition of the Last Night of the Proms, when the Royal Albert Hall resounds to patriotic music, with a great deal of singing, swaying, stamping and waving of flags. The flags in question are of course mainly the Union Jack, though since the vote for Brexit they have almost been outnumbered by great variety of European flags and especially the EU flag. There is much disapproval of any public display of national symbols in Europe, in stark contrast to the United States; indeed, the main thing that unites otherwise disparate European elites is fear of and hostility to populism and nationalism. So those who wave the Union Jack at the Last Night of the Proms are the target of condescension and disdain or worse, even from the BBC, which actually sponsors the event.

Yet no such animosity greeted the unprecedented (though by no means spontaneous) flag waving that erupted at the Labour Party Conference last month. Not that any member of what was once the party of Clement Attlee and Tony Blair would be seen dead waving a Union Jack. No, the eruption of flags brandished by the far-left delegates who now dominate the largest “progressive” party in Europe elicited no censure. That’s because they were Palestinian flags.

The flags alone were disturbing enough. But the context made them even more provocative. The Labour Party has been embroiled in the burgeoning scandal of left-wing anti-Semitism ever since Jeremy Corbyn became its leader in 2015. Last summer new revelations of institutional prejudice against Jews or extreme attitudes to Israel, together with attempts by the leadership to suppress criticism or to purge the critics, made the front pages almost daily. So it was striking that Labour was so indifferent to the pain of the Jewish community, not to mention the damage done to its own reputation, that it could mount a pro-Palestinian demonstration at its annual gathering.

It wasn’t just the flags. In his speech to the conference, Corbyn announced that his first act on becoming prime minister, on day one, would be to unilaterally recognise Palestine as a sovereign state. This was to add injury to insult. For he gave no indication of where the borders of this Palestinian state would be. Many Palestinians would prefer a one-state to a two-state solution. While some genuinely envisage a binational state, many more dream of erasing Israel and its Jewish inhabitants from the map. Corbyn identifies not just with the Palestinians, whom he sees as the great cause of our time, but with the most radical elements within their leadership.

One indication of how far he might go is the row over Raed Salah, a prominent Palestinian who in 2011 was leader of the Islamic Movement, an extremist organisation in Israel close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. This man was deemed so dangerous by the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister, Theresa May, that she banned him from entering the UK. One example of Saleh’s repertoire must suffice: in 2007 he gave a speech in Jerusalem in which he endorsed the medieval blood libel, accusing Jews of mixing the blood of “the children of Europe” in their “holy bread”. Yet such a man was invited by Corbyn to “take tea on the terrace” of Parliament. He and his friends mounted an ultimately successful campaign to have the ban on Saleh lifted, accusing Theresa May of prejudice and suggesting that her decision could have been influenced by Jewish donors to the Conservative Party. So those who object to the public propagation of the most ghoulish fiction in the whole demonology of anti-Semitism are themselves targeted as sinister manipulators of the political system.

Another example of Corbyn’s pathological refusal to face the truth was his reaction to the suspension from the Labour Party of his old ally Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, for repeating the outrageous lie that Hitler was a Zionist — implying that Zionists were therefore in some sense accomplices and successors of the Nazis. According to a reporter for the left-wing Vice magazine, Corbyn’s only reaction was to ask: “Can anyone tell me what Ken’s done wrong?”

Corbyn saw nothing anti-Semitic in a mural painted in London’s East End by the American graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, also known as Mear One. It depicted hideous hook-nosed capitalists playing Monopoly on the backs of the oppressed. When Jews protested and even the borough mayor, a notorious Islamist, ordered the mural to be removed, Corbyn protested.

These incidents are no aberration. Corbyn’s offensive conduct towards Jews and anyone else who challenges his complicity in anti-Semitism forms a consistent, lifelong pattern of behaviour. He personifies the pathology of the Left throughout the West, admittedly in an extreme form. For hardline Leftists, Israel is the archetypal enemy of the archetypal victims: Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular. The creation of a Jewish state was the root of all evil, because it has given Western imperialism and capitalism a permanent bridgehead in the world of Islam, a bastion of the global bourgeoisie in the midst of the new proletariat. The existence of Israel is a challenge even to liberal Europeans, because its proud defence of its national identity and independence calls into question the internationalism of the EU. But for the hard Left, Israel is not merely an awkward anomaly, to be alternately chastised or cold-shouldered. For them, Israel is an arch-enemy that must be crushed. Hence Corbyn shares platforms with his “friends” of Hamas and Hezbollah, broadcasts on Iranian TV and lays wreaths to commemorate the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes. We have the extraordinary spectacle of a man with every likelihood of becoming British prime minister who deliberately aligns himself with those who advocate a second Holocaust.

One might suppose that if Corbyn were to find himself in Downing Street, the mandarins of Whitehall would sabotage any attempt by his government to carry out extremist policies. But that assumption does not hold water. The election of a Corbyn government would usher in a period of such chaos that any resistance within the British establishment would struggle to organise itself. The United States and Israel, which have always shared intelligence and much else with Britain on a mutually beneficial basis, would have no choice but to desist from all co-operation with Corbyn’s revolutionary regime. But that would also weaken the opposition. And we know from our experience of Brexit just how much we can rely on our European partners.

One opportunist, though, would scarcely fail to seize his chance. The Kremlin’s offer of an Anglo-Russian reset would be irresistible to Corbyn. We know this because he has never knowingly criticised any policy emanating from Moscow; and because from Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov, known as Lenin, to Vladimir Putin, Russian leaders have known exactly how to exploit the useful idiots of the West. From a Jewish point of view there is an ominous continuity in Russian policy, which has always been implicitly or explicitly anti-Semitic, often thinly disguised in campaigns against “cosmopolitanism”, openly hostile towards Zionism or any other assertion of Jewish identity, and generally supportive of Israel’s enemies.

Corbyn is not alone. There are plenty of useful idiots among the elites of the European Union who, given the chance, would follow the example of Gerhard Schröder, the last Social Democratic Chancellor of Germany, who has been a pawn in Putin’s game since the day he left office. And the ideological currents run deep. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, gave a speech earlier this year in Trier, the birthplace of Karl Marx, on the bicentenary of his death. Juncker is no Marxist, but he praised Marx uncritically as a prophet of the European idea. Among his many other lethal legacies, which have cost a hundred million lives and still legitimise the greatest tyrannies on earth, Marx was the most important begetter of left-wing anti-Semitism. His imagery of the Jew as a worshipper of money and his demand for the “emancipation of society from Judaism” still pollutes the mainstream of European thought. Marx is of course not the only source of this poison. Centuries of Christian anti-Judaism prepared the ground for secular anti-Semitism, which has returned to Europe with a vengeance, as the memory of the Shoah fades. And it finds its most fertile ground in the Ummah, those who have inherited the cities of a Europe that imagines itself emancipated from its Judaeo-Christian history. The oldest hatred flourishes, in the late V.S. Naipaul’s phrase, among the believers.

Anti-Semitism has its own tradition in Islam, as we have been all too forcibly reminded in recent decades. The Salafists and other Islamists do not need to borrow ideas from the putrifying ideologies of either Nazis or Communists in order to pose a mortal threat to Jews everywhere. Yet the political Islam that has emerged in the last half-century is, like Nazism and Communism, hostile not only to Jews, but to Western civilisation as such. It has made great strides in marginalising those Muslims who seek integration and view the West positively. For political purposes, it is the Islamists who have mobilised the Muslim masses and made themselves essential to the cause of the Left.

A quick tour d’horizon shows a European Union falling apart at the seams, even as its political doctors prescribe the same medicine that has made the patient worse. Mass immigration, intended to solve the demographic symptoms of a society that had lost faith in itself, is bringing on a political crisis that is sweeping away hitherto dominant parties, policies and politicians.

 In France we have witnessed a populist movement led by a president who defines himself as the anti-populist. Emmanuel Macron is still riding high and faces no opposition, but his support is shallow and the foundations of French civil society are still crumbling. “More Europe” isn’t the solution, nor even the right problem, however often Macron repeats the mantra. More nationalism on the model of De Gaulle might be part of the answer, but although Macron recently made a pilgrimage to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises to celebrate 60 years of the Fifth Republic, he increasingly resembles a less auspicious role model: Napoleon III, the first president of France who made himself emperor after a coup d’état but whose reign ended in defeat and humiliation.

In Germany the party system has not collapsed but instead fragmented: six parties vie for the votes of an ageing, anxious and angry electorate. Observers are mesmerised by the sight of new-Nazis on the march, openly defying the law with Hitler salutes in city centres. The Alternative for Germany has broken the taboo on right-wing politics and put Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats under huge pressure. But the malaise runs deeper: the venerable Social Democratic Party is on life support, as more radical parties of the Left replace it with their formula: if you can’t beat the Islamists, join them.

Italy is perhaps the most dramatic example of the havoc wrought by the custodians of a civilisation that has turned against its most ancient traditions. It was no accident that the founding treaty of the EU was signed in Rome more than 60 years ago: it was a conscious attempt to evoke the grandeur of both ancient and medieval Roman empires, with a large admixture of Marxism from the Italian Communist visionary Altiero Spinelli, after whom the European Parliament names its largest building. What actually emerged was a form of federalism that, unlike its American counterpart, rejected the legitimacy of the nation state, which was deemed to have failed in Europe. Yet it is not the nation state but the European superstate that is blamed for the present crisis — and rightly so. Italy has been the first port of call for the most recent wave of migration from the Muslim world, yet is powerless to control its borders, which has made the electorate acutely aware of the loss of sovereignty implied by membership of the eurozone. With the moral architecture of this European experiment in ruins, Italians have abandoned their postwar parties and elected a government that is unashamedly nationalist. The interior minister has promised to deport half a million illegal migrants and spend far beyond the budgetary limits imposed by Brussels, with which Rome is now on a collision course. Italy, hitherto the most fragile of nation states, is uniting against the enemy: the European dream of abolishing nations and borders — a dream that has become a nightmare.

And the migration problem — itself a euphemism for the political and cultural problem of unassimilated Islam — divides the whole of Western and Northern Europe. Swedish politics and society are if anything in worse shape than Germany’s, for example. Only in Central Europe is there something approaching consensus in favour of a nation state based on common values. These values are essentially Judaeo-Christian, despite generations of Communist rule. And even in Western Europe the only values that offer hope of restoring equilibrium are the biblical ones: filtered through enlightenment and modernity, to be sure, but with the God of Israel still discernible amid the chaos, the creator of a rational universe and a moral order, whose commandments serve as the ultima ratio for a humanity formed in the imago Dei.

Islam presents a direct challenge to the survival of this irreducible core of Western civilisation. The Koran posits a different universe from the Bible. Hence Oriental and Occidental civilisations have often clashed. It is as yet impossible to foresee whether the nations of Europe will be able to find a modus vivendi with Islam. Such a modus vivendi would enable Jews, Christians and others to reach a mutually respectful accommodation with a Muslim minority that is fast becoming a majority in many European cities. The alternative scenarios are too unpalatable to contemplate: a segregated society heading for civil war, or the mass conversion and Islamisation of parts of Europe and the disintegration of Western civilisation. Jewish emigration would be one of the first warning signs that Europe has failed to rise to this challenge. That emigration may already have begun. The prospect of a Corbyn government has even prompted talk of emigration among British Jews — a spectre that not even the threat of a Nazi invasion had ever raised before.

This brings me back to flags. It is a bad sign for Jews if Christians abandon their own identity in favour of an Islamic one. To paraphrase Evelyn Waugh: we British need to put out more flags — only not the black, white, red and green of the Palestinians, but the red, white and blue of the Union Jack. From Pittsburgh to Paris, Jews need strong nation states to protect them.

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