Labour leadership candidates are openly throwing Corbyn’s ethical foreign policy under the bus

Labour leadership candidates 2020
Ed Sykes

One of Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest legacies was to move the Labour Party away from the disastrous Tony Blair era in terms of foreign policy. Corbyn placed ethics, international law, and human rights right at the centre of this agenda. But it seems that the people seeking to take over from him as leader are openly throwing this ethical legacy under the bus.

Bravery in the face of injustice

Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem reported previously that, between 19 January 2009 and 31 May 2019, Israelis killed 3,534 Palestinians; and Palestinians killed 191 Israelis. During Israel’s 2014 bombing campaign in Gaza (which reportedly killed at least 1,483 Palestinian civilians), 327 Holocaust survivors and their descendants wrote an open letter calling Israel’s treatment of Palestinians an “ongoing genocide”. They insisted:

Genocide begins with the silence of the world…

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“Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!

Jeremy Corbyn won the 2015 Labour leadership election in this context. A peace-prize winner, he was a longstanding critic of Israeli state crimes and firm supporter of Palestinian rights; and a vote for him marked not just a break from economic austerity domestically, but an ethical break from corporate warmongering and corrupt foreign policy. His strong, principled stances helped to push Labour membership over 500,000 – the biggest number since the 1970s.

As award-winning Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, however, some supporters of Israel have undertaken a “systematic campaign” to “blackmail… anyone who dares to criticise Israel” with accusations of antisemitism. And in the UK, veteran anti-racist campaigner Corbyn has been a key target of this campaign. A number of prominent Jewish left-wingers, meanwhile, have vocally opposed this propaganda. A new poll also suggests that a large majority of Labour members and left-wingers believe that antisemitism allegations against the party have been “wildly exaggerated by the right-wing media and opponents of Jeremy Corbyn”.

Cowardice in the face of propaganda

But this propaganda campaign against progressive internationalists isn’t going away just because Corbyn’s stepping down as Labour leader. The right-wing Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), for example, has now pushed all Labour leadership candidates to back a highly controversial list of demands. Many Jewish left-wingers have firmly opposed this divisive list – which, as Jewish Canary editor Emily Apple has written, essentially asks Labour to “ignore socialist Jews” and “Jews who don’t support the actions of the Israeli state”.

Rebecca Long-Bailey – the progressive frontrunner of the leadership race, with numerous promising policies – has apparently capitulated to her opponents already. Because she has backed the right-wing BoD’s exclusionary demands, disappointing and alienating many Jewish and non-Jewish left-wingers in the process. This is despite her apparently recognising the desperate need to resist the smear campaigns of the UK’s billionaire media and its right-wing allies. What’s more, her tactic hasn’t even stopped opponents coming after her with the same propaganda that Corbyn faced.

On 13 February, this debate intensified at the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) hustings, as Long-Bailey again disappointed:

As Canary co-founder Kerry-Anne Mendoza tweeted:

Novara Media‘s Aaron Bastani echoed this sentiment:

And sharing numerous examples of racism from before and after the establishment of the Israeli state, he stressed:

Who’s a Zionist?

Long-Bailey also called herself a ‘Zionist’ because she agreed with “Israel’s right to exist and right to self determine”.

The political Zionist movement was the ethno-nationalist call to colonise Palestine and establish the state of Israel. Some early Zionists supported “binationalism”, which sought “equal rights to Jews and Arabs in a unified democratic system”. But that never happened. And since its formation, the Israeli state has allegedly been responsible for war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid. As right-wing Zionism has increasingly dominated Israeli politics, meanwhile, leading Zionists and Israeli politicians have found themselves cosying up to fascists.

Left-wing Jewish group Jewdas has slammed the creation of a false link between criticising Zionist Israel and discriminating against Jewish people. It clearly wrote in its guide on How to criticise Israel without being anti-semitic:

Jews do not represent the Israeli government any more than British people represent the British government. …

There are many, many Jews and Jewish organisations that oppose the Zionist ideology and Israeli occupation and apartheid.

It also pointed out that:

political Zionism is a comparatively new movement within Jewish thought (150~ years old)… Jews do not have a responsibility nor a natural tendency to be Zionists.

Many people responded in shock to Long-Bailey calling herself a Zionist (especially considering that even the right‘s favourite candidate, Keir Starmer, didn’t do so):

In short, sucking up to supporters of Israel may not have helped Long-Bailey to get their support (the right-wing JLM, for example, backed Lisa Nandy); but it definitely has helped her to alienate principled internationalists on the left whom she should be appealing to.

Keep Corbyn’s ethical legacy alive

Labour leadership candidates may be throwing Corbyn’s foreign policy legacy under the bus. But a couple of deputy leadership candidates are still holding out.

Richard Burgon, for example, has pushed for an ongoing party commitment to peace and refused to accept the highly divisive BoD demands. He has also continued to vocally support Palestinian rights:

Fellow candidate Dawn Butler has also faced the wrath of the BoD for refusing to accept its demands.

So while the leadership candidates appear to be doing all they can to capitulate to supporters of the Israeli state and their bullying, a vote for a progressive deputy could still salvage Corbyn’s ethical internationalist legacy and help to keep it alive.

Featured image via Chris McAndrew (1, 2, 3, 4)

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