The British writer David Baddiel’s polemic, Jews Don’t Count outlines his critical observations of politically progressive minded people during Mr. Jeremy Corbyn’s stewardship of the Labour Party between 2015 and 2020. Baddiel’s thesis is that progressive people, at the very least, are beholden to a stubborn anti-semitic blind spot. How is it that progressives jump aghast at the slightest slight towards any given racial, religious or sexual minority but are amiss when people of Jewish faith are maligned or grotesque anti-semitic tropes are instrumentalised to score political points. Ipso facto Baddiel legitimately asks, “why is there not a level playing field around racism?”
First of all, lets the scene. Jeremy Corbyn was overwhelmingly elected as Labour Party leader in September 2015 to the dismay of all wings of the British establishment. Corbyn had opposed the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and domestically always battled for the less privileged in British society. In the leadership race, there was a phenomenal 40 per cent difference between Corbyn and his closest rival. Yet, Corbyn was seen as a hopeless and hapless figure for the next 18 months. In the run up to the June 2017 General Election opinion polls showed the Labour Party trailing Theresa May’s ruling Conservative Party by up to 20 per cent. Pollsters were projecting a shoe-in for May, an increase in the Conservative slim parliamentary majority and a welcome trouncing for Corbyn. Instead, Corbyn’s Labour defied expectations and eliminated the governing Conservative’s majority. He increased the Labour Party vote to the highest it had been since Tony Blair’s first election victory in the 1997.
Many of the episodes Baddiel chronicles in his polemic occurred after the 2017 election. This review will highlight some of those episodes and also focus on its main shortcoming.
In the spring of 2018, it was unearthed that Corbyn had come to the defence of an anti-semitic mural painted by a certain ‘Mear One’ whose real name is Kalen Ockerman. The mural is standard anti-semitic trope which shows grotesquely depicted Jewish financiers with customary hooked noses sitting at a monopoly boarded hoisted on the downtrodden of the world. The type of image Baddiel rightly states wouldn’t be out of place during Nazi rule in Germany. So rather than denouncing this caricature, Corbyn had come to its defence! Baddiel then gentlemanly offers an apologia for Corbyn’s condoning of this image. He argues that because Jewish people are not considered an oppressed minority or as contemporary victims of host societies, it was quite easy for Corbyn to overlook the blatantly obvious anti-Jewishness of the mural and focus on its supposed anti-capitalist message. In the words of Baddiel, Corbyn doesn’t see the “hooked-nose Jewish bankers holding the world to ransome”. He simply saw a “gesture against capitalist power”. Baddiel’s charitable opinion is that Corbyn saw the anti-capitalism in the image above all else. It was a case of priority of perception with Corbyn supposedly driven by his contempt of what he perceived to be the capitalist class.
Baddiel also makes short shrift of one Corbyn’s showbiz supporters, the legendry film director, Ken Loach toasting him for one of his unacceptable utterances dallying with the significance of the Jewish holocaust. Loach was asked a question at a conference about the need to question the holocaust, and in a scene reminiscent of a bad slapstick film Loach courageously walked into the ugly hole that had been dug. Loach, responded that “history is there for us all to discuss”. As profoundly academic as this may sound, in the real world there are only one set of people who creepily strut around questioning the holocaust. The virulent anti-Semites.
Another Corbyn supporter, Baddiel deservedly scorns is the former Liberal Democrat turned Corbyn supporter, Jenny Tonge. She connected one of America’s frequent gun crime massacres, this time aimed at a synagogue, into a rant against Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. She implied the massacre was a tit for tat against the Zionist entity. In effect justifying the massacre. As if white supremacists and the mentally deranged care about the actions of Zionists forces on the other side of the world. Tonge’s ugly notion that anti-semitism and anti-Semitic violence is brought about bankers, capitalism and the Israeli state is rightly characterised as “straightforward Nazism.” Baddiel then delivers a resounding response to Tongue’s sinister question, “Why have the Jewish people been persecuted throughout history?”: “all majority cultures need to have an alien hate object and for Christian cultures” [in Europe] “that position has long been filled by Jews.” In effect one can argue that for Tonge and her ilk the violence of the Israeli state towards the indigenous population of Palestine is further fuel for pre-existing anti-semitic inclinations.
There are other examples in this engaging polemic showing how Corbyn, his supporters and other progressives interlace their politics with oblivious to contemporary Jewish sensitivities and even anti-semitism. However, the book falls short with Baddiel’s brief discussion of Israel, the Zionist entity. He claims that people expect him to care about the plight of Palestinians or even care about Israeli criminality on the basis of his Jewishness. He rightly insists that he shouldn’t care about Palestine or Israel any “more than any other country, and to assume I do is racist” and further down the line he reiterates his position that he cares no more “about the Palestinians”, than he does about the “Rohingya, or people suffering in Syria, or Yazidi women, or starving children in Burkina Faso” which is a fair point, a liberal one, but fair yet completely historically ignorant.
Not one of the states (or the vast majority of today’s states) Baddiel mentions have their roots in a colonial document issued by a white supremacist and imperialist Empire issued in the latter stages of World War One. During the years of Corbyn leadership, the UK Zionist ambassador, Mark Regev released 99 balloons in 2016 to celebrate the Balfour Declaration. The following year, then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson spoke of Britain’s great pride in the Declaration and how it laid the basis for the creation of Israel but has yet to create a coterminous state of Palestine. When this Declaration was issued by the Empire in 1917 (as Britain came to occupy what became Palestine), the population of Palestine was about 8% Jewish, over 90% Palestinian Arab, Muslim and Christian. In the following decades Britain was to allow Jewish immigration, overwhelmingly from Europe, to colonise Palestine under its auspices. Seeing the imminent danger to their presence in the country, the indigenous Palestinian population rose against the British authorities and its Zionist colonial settlers in 1936. By this time the settlers had grown to over 30% of the population and numbered well over 300,000. The Arab revolt as it was called was violently crushed by British Empire and its Zionist colonial-settlers. Asked what the roots of the rebellion are in the midst of the upheaval, the British Colonial Secretary in this period, William Ormsby-Gore, stated in the British parliament that:
“…The Arabs demand a complete stoppage of all Jewish immigration, a complete stoppage of all sales of land, and the transfer of the Government of Palestine…to what they call a National Government responsible to an elected democratic assembly. Those are their three demands, and quite frankly, those demands cannot possibly be conceded.”
The British war time leader, Winston Churchill who was a great supporter of colonialism, genocide and also the Zionist project in Palestine was expectedly and brutally candid about the coming fate of the indigenous population of Palestine. He declared to a parliamentary committee in the 1930s that:
“I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time…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.”
When the mass ethnic cleansing and expulsion of the indigenous population by Britain’s trained Zionist colonial settlers occurred in 1947-48, the majority was carried out under the auspices of Labour Party government which had come to power in 1945. The mass destruction of over 500 villages and towns, ethnic cleansing, plunder and rape was all the result of Britain’s Balfour Declaration. Obviously, no one expects Baddiel, a former football comic, to provide a basic historic understanding of the origins of the Zionist colonial-settler state, but the irony is neither does Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters or most other “progressives” Baddiel is railing against.
During the years Baddiel is addressing, Corbyn as Labour leader rarely uttered a word about the Palestinian issue. On the one rare occasion he managed to remember Palestine, it was simply to rehash Boris Johnson’s endorsement of the Balfour Declaration. In 2017, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a British pressure group which claims to support Palestinians, organised a demonstration to commemorate the Balfour Declaration and Corbyn sent a video message where he endorsed the Balfour Declaration but said that its shortcoming was that:
“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.”
Quite clearly, for Corbyn the first part of the Declaration was approvingly achieved, that is, the creation of “Israel”. In effect, Corbyn’s criticism of the Balfour Declaration is that it did not create a Palestine state alongside “Israel”. In effect, he has no problem with British imperialism issuing the colonialist Balfour Declaration, the problem was its imperial implementation. In this respect he echoed Boris Johnson centenary remarks. Corbyn is a de facto committed Zionist just as much as any member of the British political establishment. The difference is that Corbyn hypocritically turns up on pro-Palestinian platforms to shed a few crocodile tears for the Palestinian refugees who were uprooted as result of the Declaration he endorses. This leads to one of the curious omissions in this book which is that Baddiel is prepared to let us know that Jenny Tonge is an “ardent anti-Zionist” but somehow overlooks Corbyn’s loyalty to British imperialism in Palestine and its Zionist colonial project. Surely, if Baddiel is prepared to let his readers know what a fringe politician’s position on Zionism is, then he should also let us know what Corbyn’s position is, since, after all, this book is about the anti-semitism that Corbyn’s stewardship of the Labour Party brought to the surface of British politics?
Also, as Baddiel is a critical admirer of Malcolm X, it would’ve been advisable for him to address this question posed by Malcolm back in the early 1960s: “Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property…?” Claiming you are “non-Zionist” (as Baddiel does in this book) is simply a very unconvincing fudge, the equivalent of saying you are “non-racist” or “non-genocidist”. You either oppose the latter evils or you don’t.
Other criticisms of this polemic is Baddiel, firstly, fails in justifying his own past racism. In the 1990s, on his football television show he occasionally dressed up as “blackface” to belittle and mock an underperforming football player. That he resorted to historical racial stereotype was unacceptable as he now recognises. But Baddiel explains this away as an individual error of judgement instead of what it was, pandering to the racism of many football supporters who decades later would also shout racist abuse towards his own ‘tribe’ which he naturally found offensive. He seems to be incapable of noticing a link between his contribution to fanning the flames of racism at football stadiums, which some years later, he found to be offensive when directed at him. Secondly, he doesn’t discuss what in Britain could be easily seen as an anti-semitic trope, the notion of an “Israeli Lobby” or “Zionist Lobby”. This Lobby, supposedly determines or helps to determine Britain’s policies vis-a-vis Palestine. Whatever, the influence of the “Israeli Lobby” is in the United States, the notion the British political elite with its centuries of history of imperialism and colonialism requires a political lobby group, “Israeli” or otherwise, to support policies of ethnic cleansing, war and colonialism is laughable. Thirdly, he’s notion that left-wing people of Jewish faith are critical of “Israel” because they have internalised “to some extent” western stereotypes of Jewish people is grossly unfair. Basically, he implies these kosher sobs are full of self-hate or “shame”. Or it may be that some Jewish people possess basic human decency and do not think the solution to historical European anti-semitism is to violently and colonially dispossess another people of their homeland in order to create a ‘safe haven’.
All in all, this is a very important book for exposing the extent that Corbynites and progressives interlace their politics, whether consciously or unconsciously, with anti-semitism. Unfortunately, as Baddiel shows, some anti-semites are using the Palestinian issue as simply a platform to disguise or conceal their anti-semitism. Baddiel is partly right when he says that we have “an objective corollary of what happens when anti-Semitism is allowed to run unchecked.” Without, sounding apologetic, it maybe that Corbyn, his supporters and other progressives find it morally easier to dally with anti-semitic tropes than face up to their own country’s major role in the ethnic cleansing and destruction of Palestine. Needless to say, it’s a pity that Baddiel doesn’t recognise the creation of the usurping Zionist entity, “Israel” in 1948 as an “objective corollary” of centuries of British colonial evil ‘running unchecked’. But then again, neither does Corbyn and the vast majority of his supporters.
©Nu’man Abd al-Wahid is the author of “Debunking the Myth of America’s Poodle.” A book Professor Gerald Horne, author of White Supremacy Confronted has called an “illuminating, scalding and scorching takedown of British imperialism.”
Dr. John Newsinger, author of the The Blood Never Dried has said, “everyone concerned with the history of and the fight against British Imperialism needs to read. Both scholarly and politically committed.”
Dr. Arun Kandnani author of the The Muslims are Coming! confirms the book is “a useful reminder that Britain’s foreign policy is driven by a distinct imperialist dynamic that continues to the present day.”
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