- 20 Aug 18
Jeremy Corbyn’s support for Palestine continues to be an excuse for flagrantly false accusations of anti-semitism to be slung in his direction.
The best poem written about British politics in recent years arrives from Galway.
“The fucking dame is fucking furious/ and not fucking having it/ fucking up is fucking down/ fucking in is fucking out/ fucking master is fucking slave/ fucking Palestine is fucking never/ fucking Goliath is fucking David/ fucking catapult is fucking atom bomb/ the fucking wall was fucking built/ to keep the fucking Arabs off/ the fucking land fucking snatched/ fucking fair and fucking square/ and if you lot dare say I stalk about the fucking/ House of Commons spitting /words like ‘fucking’ or mention/ the fucking bust of fucking Lenin/ I fucking bought and fucking placed/ in Islington Town fucking Hall when/ I was first elected fucking queen/ you’ll be hearing from/ the fucking lawyer my fucking hubby/ gifted me our first night together/ sincerely fucking yours, Margaret Hodge.”
That’s Kevin Higgins referring to Labour MP for Barking and former cabinet minister, Margaret Hodge.
A couple of weeks back, Hodge confronted her party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, behind the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons, calling him “a fucking racist and an anti-semite.” Is there another political party on earth in which a member could spit such bile into the face of the party leader in public and expect to remain a member?
But Corbyn responded that Dame Margaret “has a good heart” and that they should both try to put the incident behind them. Did Hodge simmer down and withdraw her vile accusations? Not a bit of it.
Asked to apologise, she said she’d do no such thing. She stood by what she had said, adding that Corbyn would be remembered as a “blip” on the party’s record.
She maintained she had not said “fucking,” that MPs who believed they had heard the word must have misheard.
“Fucking” is one of the clearest words in the English language. It jumps out – especially when deployed in such an august setting: well, that’s how it’s seen by Hodge and her ilk. I believe she said it and that she’s not telling the truth now.
Every Irish newspaper and/or at least one of its columnists has commented on the dispute. I am not aware of any suggestion that Hodge was well out of order. One Dublin newspaper carried a column in which it was stated as fact that “the leader of the opposition refuses to condemn anti-Semitism in the ranks.”
How can an Irish outlet have published such a blatantly false and libellous statement? I suppose that to some extent it was just echoing its British counterparts, from The Guardian to The Sun. And perhaps, too, it felt emboldened by the rush of “respectable” right-wing Labourites to join in a barrage of attacks on a man who has never uttered an anti-semitic opinion in his life and who for decades has been an indefatigable opponent of racism in all its forms.
One important reason for the attacks is that followers of Tony Blair who yearn for the days of New Labour have never accepted Corbyn as leader – despite his overwhelming victories in two leadership elections. These are people who for many years have regarded the party rank-and-file as essentially irrelevant, their role being to turn out the traditional Labour vote at elections. It’s their party and, as one of Corbyn’s parliamentary enemies put it: “We want it back.”
Another significant reason can be detected in a flurry of controversy in 2016, when Britain’s top soldier, chief of the general staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, suggested that Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear weapons made him “unfit” to be prime minister. Right on cue, Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle popped up to declare that Houghton had been “within his rights” to declare her party leader unacceptable as Prime Minister.
This is not normal.
Israel hovers on the edge of the argument.
Corbyn has been a long-time supporter of the Palestinians. This has become his greatest sin in the eyes of his opponents. To support freedom for the Palestinians is to oppose Israel, runs the argument – and thus is the same thing as anti-semitism.
On this basis, France Black’s recent Senate motion on Palestine was anti-semitic. Likewise, the Irish trade union movement, whose conference voted unanimously for BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
The birth of the Israeli state involved the ethnic cleansing of three quarters of a million Palestinians, scattered into refugee camps across the region. It is not anti-semitic to argue that the circumstances of its foundation casts a shadow of illegitimacy on the state, compounded by current Israeli policy of corralling Gaza in misery and imposing Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank.
Is there anti-semitism in Britain and Ireland? Yes, and more than is generally acknowledged. It is not commonplace to hear openly anti-Jewish remarks, but it’s not a rarity either. Anybody who smears Jews under the guise of supporting Palestine should be called out on the instant and treated as a pariah.
But it’s just as despicable to wield the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of Europeans as a weapon in an effort to undermine the Palestinian cause and bring down a decent man like Jeremy Corbyn.
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- 22 Apr 21