Lost in the continued maelstrom over the extent of anti-semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the British Labour Party between 2015 and 2020 is a very important question: what exactly is Corbyn’s position on the Zionist colonial entity? While leader, Corbyn “rarely spoke” about the Zionist colonisation of Palestine, that is the Palestinian cause. Yet on three occasions he revealed his actual stance. Herein, I show far from being any kind of anti-Zionist, Corbyn was very loyal to and appreciative of the Zionist-colonial project in Palestine.
Firstly, within a year of Corbyn becoming leader of the Labour Party in September 2015 the Blairite old guard, which had dominated the Party since the mid-1990s, were agitating to cast him asunder and rid of him. In the summer of 2016 Corbyn faced a leadership challenge and during a debate with challenger Owen Smith (Member of Parliament for Pontypridd), Corbyn waxed lyrical about the Zionist colonial-settler state. He declared in front of an audience of prospective voters that he admired, “the verve and spirit of the towns and cities in Israel, the life and the way people conduct themselves…the separation of legal and political powers, and the system of democratic government that’s there. And I admire many of the technical and industrial achievements that Israel has made, and its very advanced technology in so many ways, that it has developed in medicine as well as in telecommunications technology.” It is quite clear that Corbyn is a veritable admirer of the Zionist-colonial project. Actually, this type of glowing admiration would not be out of place at a Neo-conservative or Donald Trump conference.
Secondly, 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, Corbyn sent a video message to 300-odd demonstrators (this author among them) commemorating the event with a rally in central London. On the anniversary, Britain signed a death warrant for the indigenous 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.”
In Corbyn’s fairy tale interpretation, the assumption is that there are two parts to 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 ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the creation of the Zionist entity. The second part of the pledge which Corbyn identifies as Palestinian “basic rights” remains unfulfilled and as such Corbyn thinks the British state has a special responsibility to make these “basic rights” manifest. Quite like requiring the arsonists to put out flames. So rather than condemning the imperialist Balfour Declaration, Corbyn dubiously claims the British Empire fell short of implementing it. 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.
Thirdly, in 2018 in an article for the London Guardian, Corbyn was once again reinterpreting history by claiming that Zionism is not racism even though 750,000 indigenous Palestinians were ethnically cleansed by European Jewish settler-colonialists in 1947-8. The Austrian-Hungarian political founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl actually said in London in 1899 the Zionist idea is a “colonial one”. Or are we to incongruously presume Herzl is the first European colonialist in the nineteenth century who didn’t hold the people of Asia and Africa in a very low racial regard? In this same article he clearly implies that Zionism is a form of “Jewish self-determination” which is the equivalent of mythologising the first white European settlers in the North America or Australia were engaged in “Christian self-determination”. However, in the article he does kindly pay lip service to the fact that Palestinians are victims of racism and discrimination and insinuates that this may have something to do with an “occupation”.
To recap, Corbyn, waxed lyrical about the colonial-settler project in 2016. In 2017, he fully endorsed the Balfour Declaration per se but thinks that the imaginary Palestine state contained within the Declaration had not been implemented and in 2018 he claimed Zionism is not racism and that Zionist colonial entity is an expression of “Jewish self-determination” i.e not a colonial enterprise.
Admittedly, Corbyn has supported the rights of Palestinians but always within the context of British imperialism. As can be easily inferred he has never come out in opposition to Britain’s Zionist-colonial project in Palestine. Therefore, at best, Corbyn seems agnostic when it comes to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the 1940s. Actually, Corbyn’s position on the colonial entity in Palestine exemplifies Malcolm X’s refutation of supposed “progress” in the condition of African-Americas in the United States:
“If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made…They [Government] won’t even admit the knife is in.”
When it comes to the Palestinian cause Corbyn’s position is a manifestation of the knife being pulled out six inches, while Britain’s Establishment politicians and media do not even admit the “knife is in”. (Corbyn is not opposed to the knife, that is, the Balfour Declaration). If there is to be progress on the Palestinian cause in Britain then the Corbyn-Establishment spectrum needs to be, at the very least, challenged, if not overhauled.