Here’s why John Bercow’s solid takedown of antisemitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn matters

John Bercow and Jeremy Corbyn
Ed Sykes

John Bercow entered parliament as a Conservative Party MP in 1997. But having finally stepped down this month, he has delivered a solid takedown of the antisemitism smear that the Tory leadership and its allies have been pushing against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. And this matters not only because Bercow is Jewish himself, but because he has known Corbyn “very well” for over two decades.

“Racism is a challenge across society”

Bercow was answering a question about antisemitism allegations against the Labour Party. He first stressed that “racism is a challenge across society”. And he continued:

I myself have never experienced antisemitism from a member of the Labour Party – point one. And point two – though there is a big issue, and it has to be addressed, I do not myself believe Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic. That is my honest view.

He also added that:

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I’ve known him for the 22 years that I’ve been in parliament.

Bercow started out on the right wing of the Conservative Party, though he has become more socially liberal over time. In 2018, he introduced Corbyn in parliament as someone “whom I’ve come to know very well, who’s passionate about young people, who says what he means and means what he says”:

Yet the smear campaign continues…

Corbyn is a veteran anti-racist campaigner. But this week, his political opponents have once again sought to weaponise antisemitism allegations to undermine his popularity.

The charge of antisemitism has perhaps been the most hurtful smear campaign against Corbyn and his supporters, with critics trying to convince the UK that there is an ‘institutional antisemitism crisis’ in the Labour Party today. As Jewish professor David Graeber recently insisted, Corbyn’s foes are ‘weaponising’ antisemitism accusations in a way “so cynical and irresponsible that I genuinely believe it to be a form of antisemitism in itself”.

In reality, numerous reports and polls show that antisemitism exists across society; but that it’s most common among far-right groups. Antisemitism allegations in the Labour Party reportedly relate to 0.06% of the party’s 500,000+ members. And if anything, antisemitism among Labour supporters may have actually fallen under Corbyn’s leadership. The party has also taken consistently firm action against such racism in recent years.

The following charts shared by Jewish Voice for Labour reflect this picture:

 

Cynical political games

None of the above has stopped Corbyn’s opponents from pushing the idea of a ‘crisis’, however, or cynically using the issue as a political football. And mainstream media outlets haven’t helped; because they’ve put out “misleading”, ‘distorted’, and “inaccurate” coverage exaggerating the scale of allegations.

People like Bercow may not believe the smears against Corbyn. And the evidence may not support the idea of a ‘crisis’ (especially when compared with endemic Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, which gets a fraction of the media attention and which the Tories have so far failed to investigate). But as award-winning Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has stressed, Corbyn is facing a “systematic campaign” against him for ‘daring to criticise’ Israel’s racistcriminal government and its brutal occupation of Palestine.

As long as Corbyn’s principled leadership continues, this smear campaign is likely to continue. But with the truth on their side, his supporters have a powerful tool of resistance.

Featured image via British GQ and Wikimedia/Sophie Brown

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    1. Figure 4 when viewed from disinterested stance is reminder of the difference between harbouring grudges/animosity and unthinking attachment to stereotypes. Stereotypes do not emerge from thin air. There is generally basis, historical or present day for a characteristic to be highlighted. That’s exactly what political cartoonists often do: exaggeration into the grotesque.

      The second, forth, and fifth stereotypes in Figure 4 may have (loose) foundation in fact, this arising from behaviour of some flamboyant individuals. Yet, stereotypes, e.g. garlic-breath Frenchmen and American golfers in garish clothing, generally cease to be amusing when used to characterise a whole group or an entire people with derogatory intent.

      Antisemitism, along with divers alleged ‘phobias’ regarding other topics, has been manipulated into a subject so fraught that mere hint of accusation bullies the weak minded into silence on matters meriting attention; for example, criticising Israeli behaviour towards Palestinians.

      Fear not, there is simple means to end this nonsense. It has for some while been customary in the UK for people to be asked, as in surveys, to self-identify their racial/ethnic origins. This is extending into sexual proclivities for which there is a daily expanding list of exotica. Adopting this principle of self-identification, members of the Labour Party ought declare themselves Jewish, if not already. We are at the point where nobody dare gainsay someone else’s self-identification. Although instances have occurred it is most unusual for someone claiming to be Jewish to be accused of antisemitism.

      Sadly, a once valid concept has been degraded by political opportunists drawn from among Gentiles and Jews.

    2. Anti-Semitism is bad, but so is all racism, and even more so is lying and bearing false witness, which are classed as acts of evil in many laws (secular and religious). I wonder though, does being a Jew automatically identify a person as religious, or is being a Jew just a label like me being a Briton is? I ask this as the word ‘Jew’ is used a lot, where to me it seems ‘Israelite’ isn’t but maybe should be. What is the importance or difference of identifying as a Jew instead of an Israelite? Is asking this question, or pointing out inconsistencies in people’s faith or beliefs wrong, or worse racist?

      I am a little confused as to what being Jewish means to a person identifying as such, and I am sure there would be many perspectives on that. I ask as I feel there is something that is being missed or manipulated, something that is being dishonestly abused. For example, does identifying as a Jew identify a person as believing in a Jewish Religion, or is it more a statement of Statehood/Nationality?

      I am actually also not sure of what a Semite is? I was born in the UK so I identify as British, English, and as a Brit, none of which necessarily have a religious identifier. As anti-Semitism is a racism issue (or so it appears to me), I take it that identifying as a Semite, Jew or Israeli/Israelite is also a non-religious identification, or shouldn’t be taken as a marker of religious persuasion?

      I ask these questions because something is bugging me, and I can’t put my finger on it. For example, in many news reports over the years, whenever ‘Jews’ are talked about in the Media, there are almost always pictures/videos showing clearly Religious sites and people engaged in religious observances. Is this media-driven stereotyping? or is Israel a very religious place that has many people practising their religion openly (I am aware of Israel’s secular and religious history. but not an expert)?

      I think what is troubling me is that the word ‘Jew’ may be being wrongly used/understood, or at least portraying a stereotype, conflating religious Jews with secular Jews, but I’m still not sure as I don’t see why identifying as an Israeli, Israelite, Semite or Jew would necessarily be different.

      Now I bring all this up as I feel that the issue of anti-Semitism is being clouded, and deliberately conflated with something that it isn’t, but also because I need to clarify what is actually going on.

      If being a Jew automatically identifies a person as being of a Jewish Faith, then the point I am trying to make is that we all (atheists included) should be able to call out people based on the secular AND religious laws they claim to represent, not just the secular laws they are bending or breaking. So for example, criticizing Israel for it’s actions towards Palestine is not racist or creedist, but neither would criticising them for the religious laws they are breaking by doing so, and they should be called out on their hypocrisy, even by those not of the same creed.

      So in my book (and I hope many other’s) pointing out to a Jew, Muslim or Christian (etc) that they are are breaking their own God’s/gods’ laws, regardless of what their station in life is (janitor, or Prime Minister/President), is not a racist, or creedist thing. Far more people and nations should, and need, to be brought up on this, in the same way as we should all recognise that religion is not the cause of the World’s problems, it is Mankind, period. Blaming religion for Mankind’s evil, is like blaming a rock for the formation of The Universe.

      This may appear to be unrelated to the article, but I wanted to raise an issue that anti-Semitism appears to be a very special kind of racism, treated as far superior to any other racism, when it is in reality not widely understood (along with what Zionism is), nor does it need or deserve special-case status. It has been deliberately nurtured to life for the express and sole purpose of being used as a weapon against the innocent, and that is in itself pure evil.

      No one should be afraid to call out what is true from what is false.

      Any who live by the laws of Man and God/gods, should be judged by both, not one or the other depending on what suits them.

      Any who live by both Secular and Godly laws should already have higher standards for themselves, and expect to be judged according to both sets of laws, for all their good and bad works.

      Those who do not believe in religion or God/gods (Atheists and others), should only be judged by their fellow man’s secular laws, unless the laws of the land are already non-secular laws, or they expressly wish to be judged by both systems.

      Our legal systems should recognise the importance of this too, so for example any Prime Minister (leader) that uses their religious affiliations to promote themselves, must also be judged by those religious laws as well as the secular laws, because no one needs a person who claims to love God, but who demonstrably breaks all of God’s laws too, particularly when it is obvious they are lying to gain favour or favourable conditions in contradiction of their own supposed faith.

      I have used the term God/gods to indicate that I am trying my best to not be offensive to others. I personally do not know whether there really is a God or are gods, I am not an Atheist, nor am I an Agnostic, Contrarian or any other such person. What I truly am is ignorant, but choose an anti-ignorance stance, and accept that there might be a God or gods, but I am certain there is something that we have for aeons struggled in vain to identify, which may just turn out to be the connectedness of life itself (I have theories).

      What I do know however, is that calling out Israel for its crimes against others, or calling out a single Jew/Christian/Muslim/Buddhist for their actual crimes, is not racist, or creedist, however trying to make it that way is possibly worse than racism, and against most, if not all of the World’s religious laws.

      Lying with the express intent of causing others harm is potentially, if not actually, the worst type of evil possible, and we certainly should be seeing nothing of that kind from our leaders, any of them, let alone the abandonment of nearly all sense, law, and humanitarian principles by those who claim to have our interests at heart.

      A house divided against itself will fall, usually with the highest parts crushing the lowest parts … just sayin’.

    3. The fake antisemitic smear campaign I think is all about the deep military state of mind/money dominance over the very modern concept of human rights. It is a poltical football with no regard for antisemitism at all.
      In fact the whole issue is losing its credibilty through these fakers.
      It’s time journalism revealed who so interested to persist in this corruption of an issue, and why.
      I’d say the Canary is doing a far better job in revealing the social corruption of this politic than anyone else I’ve read.
      Congratulations on your courage.
      The song of the Canary still sings

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