Norman Finkelstein tells The Canary that anti-Corbyn smears have ‘nothing whatever to do with antisemitism’

Norman Finkelstein/Jeremy Corbyn
Peter Bolton

Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents have long used antisemitism allegations as a political football to attack the Labour leader. But now, renowned Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein has demolished the smear campaign’s arguments in an exclusive interview with The Canary.

Antisemitism smears emerged as the Israeli state “lost the battle for public opinion”

Finkelstein, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, began by explaining how smear campaigns based on bogus accusations of antisemitism have a long history. Israeli governments – as well as organisations acting under their command – have periodically used such smears to deflect criticism of the state’s policies:

Beginning in the ‘70s… there were particular periods where Israel’s PR was plummeting and then they would launch the [smear] campaign. But now, it’s almost nonstop. Israel has lost the battle for public opinion. And once you lose the battle for public opinion, then you have to start making resort to other kinds of tactics in order to stifle public opinion. You’re not going to win in an open debate anymore if you’re defending Israel.

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Historically, Finkelstein explained, these campaigns “used to be pretty much confined to the Jewish organisations defending Israel, acting essentially as agents of a foreign government”.

“The whole British elite has decided they’re going to use this antisemitism card”

Since Jeremy Corbyn – a consistent critic of Israeli crimes against Palestinians – became leader of the Labour Party, however, there has been a “unique” dynamic at play. As Finkelstein stressed:

The British elites suddenly discovered ‘we can use the antisemitism card in order to try to stifle genuine… leftist insurgencies among the population’. And so what used to be a kind of sectarian issue waged by Jewish organisations faithful to the party line emanating from Israel vs critics of Israel, now it’s no longer sectarian because the whole British elite has decided they’re going to use this antisemitism card to stop Jeremy Corbyn and the political insurgency he represents.

Finkelstein went on to discuss the damage that this has caused to the movement behind Corbyn and its attempt to change British society:

The problem is, even when you win, you lose. What do I mean by that? Because even if [scholars who specialise on the topic] can prove everything is a lie, first of all, there’s always the assumption ‘where there’s smoke, there must be fire’… But that’s not the bigger problem. The bigger problem is, it’s sucking so much energy from the Jeremy Corbyn campaign that he can’t talk about his platform. He has no time anymore to talk about his platform. All the headlines are about the antisemitism [issue].

“It’s a political agenda. It has nothing whatever to do with antisemitism.”

Finkelstein was also scathing about how Corbyn and those surrounding him have dealt with the smear campaign. He said:

He committed two fatal errors… based on a completely groundless assumption. The assumption was that there was a rational basis to these complaints…

Number 1, [Labour] adopted this completely idiotic International Holocaust Remembrance Association [IHRA] definition of antisemitism, which was clearly just designed to stifle criticism of Israel. That was a fatal mistake. I said from the Day One: ‘this is a disaster once you adopt that, because now it’s going to be used as it is now being used, to purge everybody who says anything… critical of Israel.’ The second fatal mistake was not to end the discussion. They could simply have said: ‘We don’t think this campaign is being waged in good faith. There is another agenda. It’s a political agenda. It has nothing whatever to do with antisemitism. However, we recognise that our party, like any party, is going to have some people who probably don’t belong there.’

In addition to these two issues, he pointed to an even graver blunder, insisting that:

The major error, which has been a complete and total disaster, has been the abdication by the Labour Party of the radical tradition – but also liberal tradition – which asserts the absolute value of liberty of speech…

The Labour Party, in the midst of this hysteria, has completely, totally, catastrophically abandoned that tradition and has turned into a thought police – expelling members for incorrect thoughts and trawling the web for any hint of a thought that might be politically awry.

How to defeat the smear campaign and move forwards

Finkelstein finally identified three strategies that he thinks Corbyn and his team should use to counter the smear campaign moving forward. He said:

There are three things.

Number one, there should be a small group of competent people… who will just answer the claims… It cannot consume the already limited resources of the Labour Party…

Number two: say ‘it’s over; we’re not answering as a party any longer any of these charges… The farce is finished.’…

And number three, in my opinion the most important, you have to revitalise, resurrect that tradition of free speech, and to tell your members ‘don’t be afraid to speak in our party’.

Hear Finkelstein’s full comments below:

Featured image via the author and Sophie Brown

Get involved

  • Finkelstein also discussed Israel’s growing association with the far right under Netanyahu’s government, and its emerging alliance with Saudi Arabia. The Canary will release his comments on these issues in Part 2 of this interview in the next few days.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Anyone with a brain can see the anti Semitic charges against Labour are nonsense. The elites and the media they control think they have found a way to stop a fair society run for the many not the few.

      What I find utterly disgraceful is that this shite and lies used to be confined to right wing comics like the express but as nobody reads or buys that crap anymore, every political tv show including news now trots the lies out on the elites behalf.

    2. Wonderful analysis of the times we live in. The irony being that if any LP member spoke as forthrightly as Mr Finkelstein they would be out of the door.

      The dirty little secret being that the people spreading this “dangerous nonsense” know it is just that…”dangerous nonsense”. We’re now in a situation were you can be accused of AS based on little or no evidence, if you contest the accusation that is taken as proof of your guilt and if anyone rallies to your support they are also gulity by association. So in effect the choice you have is to be hung separately or to be hung altogther.

      This “guilty until proven innocent”, or more correctly”guilty and I don’t care if you’re inncocent”, bludgeon has now resulted in a Green Party councillor having to apologise for making in effect similar statements to Norman Finkelstein.

    3. “If there be time to expose through discussion, the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

      – Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Whitney v. California (1927)

    4. So who in the Labour Party was instrumental in creating the two serious mistakes listed by Norman Finkelstein, apart from the assumption there was a rational basis to the smear campaign. A Party has a life of its own, and I don’t see Jeremy Corbyn as an active participant in this.
      People who think the leader is the Party is a fatal, and simple minded assumption to make in these tumultous times I’d say.
      With an General Election coming a voter would want to know who voted for what so a clarity is given to one’s decision on how to vote.
      I see this too as a ” Fogging the Mind so your Blind”
      Thank goodness for Jewish people who are wise to the technique descibed by Norman, to speak up in the crowd.

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