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How Opponents of U.K. Labour Leader Corbyn Advanced a Political Coup With Antisemitism Smears

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Reprinted from Alternet

Inside the pro-Israel campaign to crush Labour's left-wing insurgency.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
(Image by garryknight)
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Chris Mullins' 1982 political thriller, A Very British Coup, introduced British readers to a Marxist former steelworker named Harry Perkins who sends his country's political elite into a frenzy by winning a dramatic election for prime minister. Desperate to foil his plans to remove American military bases from British soil, nationalize the country's industries and abolish the aristocratic House of Lords, a convergence of powerful forces led by MI5 security forces initiate a plot to undermine Perkins through surveillance and subterfuge. When their machinations fail against a resolute and surprisingly wily politician, the security forces resort to fabricating a scandal, hoping to force him to abdicate power to a more pliable member of his own party.

Adapted into an award-winning 1988 television miniseries, Mullins' script closely resembles the real-life campaign to destroy the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. A left-wing populist with pronounced anti-imperialist leanings, Corbyn is seen by his opponents in much the same light as Perkins was in Mullins' treatment: "You're a bad dream. I could always comfort myself with the thought that socialism would never work," Percy Brown, an aristocratic MI5 chief sworn to the prime minister's ruin, told his enemy. "But you, Mr. Perkins, could destroy everything that I've ever believed in."

After years as a backbencher in parliament railing against Tony Blair's business-friendly agenda and mobilizing opposition to the invasion of Iraq, Corbyn emerged last summer as a frontrunner for Labour leadership. Against vociferous opposition, he stunned his opponents with a landslide victory, winning nearly 60% of the vote with help from a grassroots coalition of Muslim immigrants, blue-collar workers and youthful left-wing activists.

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Just as Corbyn's success stunned the party establishment, his rise infuriated the country's powerful pro-Israel forces. Corbyn's parliamentary office has served as a hub for the Palestine solidarity movement and his name has been featured prominently on resolutions condemning Israeli atrocities. At an election forum convened last year by the Labour Friends of Israel, Corbyn redoubled his support for key components of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that is pressuring Israel to respect the human rights of Palestinians while Blair's favored candidate, Liz Kendall, said she would fight it with "every fiber in my body."

Just after Corbyn's victory, Chris Mullins predicted that Labour's new leader would face a blizzard of smears not unlike the kind Perkins confronted. "The media will go bananas, of course," Mullins told the Independent. "There will be attempts to paint [Corbyn] as a Trot[skyite]. I think that may already have started. Every bit of his past life will be raked through and every position he has ever taken will be thrown back under him. Former wives and girlfriends will be sought out. His sanity will be questioned."

Distracting from inequality

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron set the tone for the coming smear campaign when he tweeted a day after Corbyn's election, "The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security."

It was around this time that allegations about Labour's "antisemitism problem" began to gain steam. As this week's local elections approached, the chorus of outrage erupted into the mainstream, with outlets from the Daily Mail -- the tabloid still owned by the Rothermere family that supported the British Union of Fascists and expressed admiration for Hitler during the 1930s -- to the liberal Guardian howling about a plague of Jew hatred spreading through the ranks of Labour since it opened up to the so-called Corbynistas. Even the Israeli government has gotten in the act, with its ambassador denouncing Corbyn on national TV while Israel's Labor Party threatens a boycott of its sister party in the UK.

Behind the manufactured scandal is a real struggle over the future course of Labour. The right-leaning elements empowered by Tony Blair are determined to suppress the influence of an increasingly youthful, ethnically diverse party base that views the hawkish, pro-business policies of the past with general revulsion. With the British middle class in shambles after three decades of constant benefit cuts and a new generation in open revolt, Labour's Blairite wing has embraced a cynical strategy to shatter the progressive coalition that brought Corbyn to power.

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By branding the solidarity with the Palestinian cause flourishing among British Muslims and radical leftists as a form of antisemitism, the elements arrayed against Corbyn have managed to manufacture a scandal that supersedes more substantive issues. Right-wing bloggers have been dispatched to trawl through the social media postings of newer Labour members to dredge up evidence of offensive commentary about Israel and Jews or invent it when none exists. In the paranoid atmosphere Corbyn's foes have cultivated, virtually any fulsome expression of anti-Zionism seems likely to trigger a suspension.

For Prime Minister Cameron, the scandal generated by Corbyn's intra-party foes provides a chance to distract from the row over his family hiding its wealth in an offshore tax shelter, the chaos over the Brexit debate and the disastrous results of his Islamophobic attacks on the Muslim candidate for London mayor, Sadiq Khan. Among the most eager to join the pile-on was London Mayor Boris Johnson, who claimed "a virus of antisemitism hangs over Labour" just days after ranting that Barack Obama's "part-Kenyan" heritage gave him "an ancestral dislike of the British Empire."

Suddenly, Corbyn and allies who launched their careers in grassroots anti-racism struggles find themselves on the defensive about bigotry -- and from a few accusers who have actual records of racist rhetoric. With nearly 20 party members already suspended for supposedly antisemitic comments, the witch hunt claimed Jackie Walker, a veteran black-Jewish anti-racism activist and leftwing Labour stalwart. Walker's sin was harshly condemning the transatlantic slave trade as the "African holocaust." Filched from her social media postings and publicized by a group called the Israel Advocacy Movement, her comments triggered an immediate suspension. "If they can do this to me," Walker said, "then they can do it to anyone."

Those behind the escalating crusade will not be satisfied until they claim Corbyn as well. Indeed, the manufactured scandal around antisemitism appears to be just one step on the way to a bloodless coup.

Fabricating a scandal

Far from the gaze of the mainstream British media, a researcher named Jamie Stern-Weiner has conducted perhaps the most thorough investigation into the claims of an "antisemitism problem" within Labour. Stern-Weiner found that out of 400,000 party members, perhaps a dozen had been suspended for supposedly antisemitic remarks.

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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute. His book, (more...)
 

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