Sunday, 30 June 2019

The MP, the Clown and the Useful Idiot


It's been several months since I last blogged. Everything that needed to be said, it seemed to me, had been said - somewhat ineptly by me, more eloquently by others. How many times can you state the bleedin' obvious about the current Labour Party antisemitism fiasco without starting to lose the will to live?

To restate the bleedin' obvious yet again, because apparently it needs to be done:
  • There is nothing inherently antisemitic about criticising Israel
  • There is nothing inherently antisemitic about criticising Zionism
  • Many Jews are critical of Israel, and  many are non-Zionist or anti-Zionist
  • The Labour Party does not have a serious anti-semitism problem
  • Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong anti-racist - not an anti-semite
  • Many Jews support Labour and Corbyn
  • The supine response of the Party to accusations of antisemitism has exacerbated the problem
The last of those points forms the gist of the innocuous comment which led to the suspension of Chris Williamson, and which apparently - in the arsy-versy world we currently inhabit - provides irrefutable proof of his vile antisemitic beliefs.

In the light of the nonsense over this past week about Chris's readmission into the Party, and his subsequent re-suspension (if indeed that's the latest state of play by the time you read this, as the soap opera rolls on from day to day), it's worth quoting his comment in full. Chris said this:

“The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party. I have got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion… we have backed off too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic.”

I completely concur with Chris's sentiment here - indeed, I've said as much myself in previous blog posts and in public meetings.

Whether one agrees with Chris or not, it's hard to think of a single comparable instance where an innocuous comment of this sort has led to such a risible media circus, or to such a sustained campaign of personal and political vilification.

The treatment of good old Boris, our next Prime Minister, makes for an interesting contrast. The man who is apparently destined to lead our country has a clear track record of actual, as opposed to bogus, racism and bigotry. He's the man who has talked about "watermelon smiles" and "piccaninnies", described women as "hot totty", professed his inability to distinguish between burka-clad women and letter boxes, and derided gay men as "bumboys". Indeed, he had this to say on gay marriage:

""If gay marriage was OK [..] then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog."

Every single one of Johnson's vile, bigoted comments has been allowed to pass by the media and the Westminster establishment. Because, after all, it's just "good old Boris" talking. Maybe he's a bit of a clown, but there's no harm in the guy. As an upper class Tory xenophobe he gets a free pass.

Jon Lansman, self-appointed leader of Labour's Momentum group, joined in the attacks on Williamson this week. Lansman was particularly irate that Chris had tweeted about the wide support he'd received. Lansman responded thus:

“This [i.e. Williamson's] tweet reveals not one iota of contrition nor any acknowledgement of wrongdoing [..]. Such contempt for the party’s verdict! He has to go!”

One is moved to ask, "contrition" for what, exactly? For pointing up an obvious truth? For expressing something that many - perhaps most - Party members would agree with?

Given Lansman's track record, his attack on the beleaguered MP doesn't really come as a surprise. He is perhaps best described as a useful idiot whose interventions, whatever his personal views on the Israel/Palestine issue, have tended to undermine Israel's critics in the Party.

Taken alongside other developments however, it does raise a number of troubling questions. As Party members, can we talk openly about how to counter allegations of antisemitism without ourselves being smeared as antisemites? Can we criticise Israel's conduct, or express support for the Palestinian struggle, without facing suspension? Can we look critically at the history of the Zionist movement - indeed, can we even use the word 'Zionist' - without bringing media denunciations and administrative sanctions down on our heads?

I believe that we must continue to speak honestly, openly and without fear. There is an Israel lobby in this country, and it is heavily embedded in the Labour Party. Its project is to ensure that robust oversight of Israel's behaviour, let alone anti-Zionism, is automatically conflated with antisemitism. It is currently winning that fight in the public sphere, even as it loses it amongst the broader population, and particulary amongst young people - hence the current ramping up of the lobby's campaign.

As Chris has discovered to his cost, these are difficult times for anyone who questions the dominant narrative about Labour Party 'antisemitism'. But it's precisely in difficult times that we have the greatest duty to speak out. Whatever sanctions we might face as a consequence, they pale into insignificance compared to the daily travails of the Palestinian people. We just have to keep on keepin' on, comrades!