When Jeremy Corbyn endorsed Zionism and the British Empire

One naturally assumes by virtue of the vitriol aimed at the former leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn there was indeed, inter alia, a heroic anti-imperialist leader ready to take over the helms of the British state and begin to pull the nation away from centuries of imperialist foreign policy and the attendant gung ho military belligerence. The simple logic behind this assumption is that if the right-wing media despise you with the venom shown to Mr. Corbyn during his leadership between 2015 and 2020, then there must be something worthy of this vitriol or at the very least he must be beholden to convictions genuinely hostile to the old British imperialist order.    

Among the pejoratives and derogations thrown at him over the course of his five-year tenure was that he was somehow an anti-semite or a facilitator of anti-semitism. The accusation continues to be insinuated and made against Corbyn and the way he ran the Labour Party even after a new leadership has now taken over the helm and direction of the party. In this essay, I show that far from being any kind of anti-Zionist, Corbyn was very loyal to the Labour Party’s historic position on Zionism.

Before becoming leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Corbyn could always be seen opposing British and American military campaigns and showing solidarity with oppressed groups. Among the latter are the Palestinians who were mostly ethnically cleansed from their lands by British trained Zionist militias in 1947-48 to create the new state of Israel. Zionist supporters have adopted a strategy to deflect attention away from the ethnic cleansing foundations of the Zionist state and its continued campaigns of occupation and argue most criticism of the Zionist colonial entity is anti-semitic.

Admittedly, Mr. Corbyn has always supported the rights of Palestinians as he has other dispossessed and oppressed peoples, but he has never come out in opposition to the Zionist-colonial project in Palestine. Indeed, a closer inspection of what he actually has to say about Palestinian history reveals his position not too distant from mainstream political convention.  

During his tenure as party leader and on no less an auspicious occasion than the centenary of the British Empire issuing the Balfour Declaration in November 1917 which guaranteed a Jewish home in Palestine, Mr. Corbyn sent a video message to 300-odd demonstrators (this blogger among them) commemorating the event with a rally in central London. On the anniversary, Britain signed a death warrant for the people of Palestine by guaranteeing their country to European settlers, Corbyn declared the main flaw with the Declaration was that it was not fully implemented or as he claimed:

 “The second part of Britain’s pledge has still not been fulfilled and Britain’s historic role means we have a special responsibility to the Palestinian people, who are still denied their basic rights.”

The assumption here is that there were two parts of the Balfour Declaration and although the British Empire implemented the first part of it, the second part of it remains unfulfilled. The first part of the pledge was met by the British Empire, that is, by allowing mass Jewish colonial-settlers from Europe to migrate to Palestine, training Zionist paramilitaries and denying Palestinian democracy which were all essential for the creation of Israel. The second part of the pledge which Corbyn identifies as Palestinian basic rights remaining unfulfilled and as such Corbyn thinks the British state has a special relationship to make “basic rights” manifest. So rather than condemning the imperialist Balfour Declaration, Corbyn dubiously claims the British Empire fell short of its commitments. As we all know the British Empire had spent the previous three centuries fulfilling “pledges” in Africa, India and China.  

Note that on this auspicious day in November 2017, Corbyn had no issues with imperialism, colonialism and the white supremacy which underpin the Balfour Declaration. Balfour whose name is on the declaration was the Foreign Secretary of a British government headed by Prime Minister David Lloyd-George. Both were unabashed imperialists and white supremacists. At a disarmament conference in the inter-war period, Britain refused to ban the bombing of civilians with Lloyd-George insisting on the Empire’s “right to bomb niggers”. When the British government issued a report into the Palestinian Arab uprising of 1936-9 which was eventually crushed by the British Empire and its Zionist proxies, Winston Churchill unsurprisingly justified the inevitable dispossession of the indigenous population and colonisation of Palestine in genocidal terms. He told the commissioners of the report:

“I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia…I do not think the Red Indians had any right to say, ‘The American Continent belongs to us and we are not going to have any of these European settlers coming in here’. They had not the right, nor had they the power.”

The interesting feature about Corbyn’s sympathy with Palestinians is that it certainly is against the grain of Labour Party history. All the Labour Party heroes, Clement Atlee, Ernest Bevin, Tony Benn, Michael Foot, etc., were unabashed supporters of Zionism and Israel. Obviously, these leaders of the British labour movement didn’t support Britain’s Zionist project in Palestine in imperialist terms, but by deceptively claiming the inter-war Zionist settlers in Palestine were actually implementing socialism under the auspices and guardianship of the British Empire! These characters socialist-washed the Empire’s colonial project. Ramsay McDonald, the first ever Labour Prime Minister of Britain had even written a book, A Socialist in Palestine justifying the colonial project.

Actually, there is every indication that had Corbyn become Prime Minister, he would’ve remained loyal to the Zionist project in Palestine like all other Labour Party leaders have done. A Labour party activist recently noted that during his leadership up to the general election in December 2019, Corbyn, “rarely spoke of the Palestinian people and their struggle, never mind firmly in their defense.” In other words, Corbyn has sympathy and pity for Palestine which does not extend into politics. He had already thrown the cause under a bus in anticipation of becoming Prime Minister. More so, the fact that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-1948 happened under the watch of Labour leaders, Atlee and Bevin would be difficult for him to acknowledge.

This history compels us to tackle an essential question. As Corbyn’s Labour heroes were facilitators and supporters of colonialism and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestine, why does Corbyn show some sympathy towards the Palestinian cause? The only rational answer that comes to mind is because Corbyn has been involved with South American left-wing revolutionary politics for a long time and very few in that milieu consider Britain’s Zionist entity in Palestine to be a socialist project but a naked colonial one. Up until recently, all shades of the British left had an appetite for empathy with South American nations struggle against American imperialism and for socialism as there is relatively little British capitalist interest in this region. South American solidarity activity became a platform the British left can safely flex their “internationalist” muscles without naughtily trespassing on major British imperialist interests. So, it may well be through his South American solidarity activities that Corbyn first learnt the true history of the Palestinian struggle against British imperialism and Zionism. Hence there was a need to dovetail his glittering solidarity with Latin American revolutionaries with a careerist loyalty to the Labour Party’s imperialist commitments. So, on the hundred-year anniversary the British Empire issued its Palestinian death warrant, the Balfour Declaration, the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, nonchalantly declared his commitment to continue fulfilling the white supremacist British Empire’s “pledge”. I remember him smiling as he spoke.

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