The Zinoviev letter
In January 1924, the Labour Party formed a government for the first time. It was a precarious minority government; at the mercy of the Liberals and Conservatives should they combine in opposition. In October of that year, the government was defeated in a confidence vote and so a general election was scheduled for later in the month. Four days before the election, the Daily Mail published a letter it claimed to have intercepted. The letter purported to be from Grigory Zinoviev, Head of the Communist International in Moscow, to the Communist Party of Great Britain. It conjectured that another Labour government would be best for Anglo-Soviet trade and diplomatic relations and that this would assist in revolutionising the British proletariat.
Needless to say, the letter certainly did not help the Labour Party’s election campaign. The Tories won and Stanley Baldwin replaced Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister.
As soon as it was published, MacDonald cast doubt on the authenticity of the letter, but it was accepted by key government officials, including the Foreign Office, although it was under MacDonald’s control. Most of the press, being uniformly rightwing, assumed the letter to be authentic. Academic research during the 100 years since the letter was first published has come to the conclusion that it was a forgery, probably attributable to exiled White Russians and probably produced with the connivance of officers of the British security service, MI5.
The British ruling class had indulged in a conspiracy of dirty tricks in order to engineer the defeat of the Labour Party in a general election.
Antisemitism and the Labour Party
We have again seen a conspiracy assisting in the defeat of Labour in a general election, this time by smearing the Party and, in particular, its Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, with the egregious prejudice of antisemitism.
When in July 2015, polls showed that Corbyn had a decisive lead among Party Members in the run-up to the leadership election, all hell was let loose. Blair, Kinnock, Blunkett and others from among yesterday’s men from discredited New Labour were woken from their slumbers to join the ranks of rightwing Labour MPs, Lib-Dem and Conservative MPs and the media in slagging off Corbyn for all manner of sins. He was described as a friend and funder of Hamas, Hezbollah, holocaust-deniers and anti-Semites. The Jewish Chronicle, in a front-page editorial, claiming to speak for the majority of British Jews, expressed deep foreboding at the election of Corbyn as Labour Leader. This was echoed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Although unelected and with many members declared Tory supporters, the Board repeatedly claimed to speak for the Jewish community and the broadcast media were delighted to give it and the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mervis, ample air-time.
The excited press now had a story with legs, which could run for months, with multiple sources feeding it daily. Between 15 June 2015 and 31 March 2019, national newspapers ran 5,500 articles on Corbyn, Labour and antisemitism. This statistic comes from Bad News For Labour:Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief by a group of five academics: Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and David Miller (Pluto Press, 2019).
“The former Labour Leader was the victim of a carefully planned and brutally executed political assassination.” So said Peter Oborne (one-time Chief Political columnist of the Daily Telegraph) and David Hearst (former chief leader writer of the Guardian) in The Middle East Eye, June 2020. In a joint article, they continued: “We don’t hold a candle for Corbyn. Neither of us are Labour Party members. Both of us care greatly about accurate, truthful journalism … That is why we believe everyone should be concerned about the picture painted of Corbyn by the British media for the four years he was leader.”
No dregs were too old, or too trivial to be dragged up against him. In November 2015, Corbyn was attacked for not bowing when laying a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day. When it was shown that he had, in fact bowed, he was accused of not bowing low enough. Even this was not the most dishonest and puerile of barrel-scrapings.
In May 2017, the Sun and the Telegraph accused Corbyn of laying a wreath at the grave of Palestinian terrorists who had been involved in the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The Labour Friends of Israel (largely comprising Labour MPs and peers), which has gleefully engaged in Corbyn-bashing throughout this long-running saga, found it almost “unbelievable” that any Labour MP would participate in such a ceremony. It was explained, on Behalf of Corbyn, that although he did not lay a wreath, he did attend a ceremony marking the death of two Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) men who were killed in the bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis in 1985. One of the two had met with the US Ambassador in Tunis, being recognised as a pragmatist, who was shifting PLO policy. The second man was the PLO’s liaison with the CIA. Between them they had helped create the backchannels that led to the Oslo conference and the Oslo Peace Accords. In other words, they could not possibly be considered as terrorists.
The ceremony in question had nothing to do with the Munich massacre. The Tunis bombing was carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). It suited Israeli government policy to kill off Palestinians who might be working towards a two-state solution and a peace settlement, especially if they had the ear of Washington. Were these erroneous press reports about Corbyn corrected? Of course not. Why spoil a good story with the facts?
Dame Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking & Dagenham, has made her campaign against Corbyn an all-consuming battle, a veritable industry. Her every utterance has been leapt on by the hungry media. She claimed to be the victim of scores of antisemitic attacks by Party members on social media platforms. As the problem with social media is that idiots can propagate all manner of poison anonymously, it is difficult to fathom how Margaret Hodge was able to identify her antisemitic detractors as Party members. She had not bothered checking. Why should she? The media are bound to swallow it, hook, line and sinker. When it transpired that most of them were not, in fact, Party members, did she correct her initial claims? Of course not.
Of the 70 complaints of antisemitism in the Labour Party investigated in detail by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), 59 involved use of social media. The EHRC appropriately concludes that “This shows how vital it is that this form of antisemitic behaviour is tackled.” How true. Wider society is increasingly concerned that the internet, great blessing though it is, has its downside, which is very difficult to tackle, particularly where malicious content is ‘liked’ or ‘shared’ and spread further without added comment.
In July 2019, 64 Labour peers published a full-page advert in the Guardian asserting that Corbyn had failed to deal with widespread antisemitism in the Party. I chose to write to each one of them, asking them to give me an example of any antisemitic utterance heard in a Party meeting during the past two to three years. I did not specify whether it should be a meeting of parliamentarians or of local constituency members, or any other members’ gathering. Not one of them responded to that request, although most referred to the unquestionable conclusiveness of the multiple allegations of antisemitism given common currency in the press. One smart-arse, noting my home address, snidely thanked me for my letter from “the socialist bastion of Chislehurst” , alluding to the fact that the constituency in which I live – Bromley and Chislehurst – has one of the biggest Tory majorities in the country, something for which I am not entirely responsible, I think.
(By the way, I can remember when Chislehurst had a Labour MP, between 1966 and 1970. Boundary changes, instituted by a Tory government review, have made sure that will never happen again.) I can also affirm that in 60 years of attending Party and trade union meetings, I have never yet heard anything said that could, with any justice, be considered antisemitic.
In the 2017 general election, Labour, led by Corbyn, gained 31 seats, the first Labour gains since the 1997 landslide. Despite the years of vilification in the press and the sabotage from within, Corbyn won the Party its highest vote share since the 2001 election and the closest Conservative/Labour result since 1974. This result came as a considerable shock to the PLP saboteurs. They now had to redouble their efforts to discredit him.
Your digital history will come back to haunt you, especially if your enemies have the manpower to toothcomb the archive.
When he became Leader, Corbyn should have had his Facebook account deactivated. The Party machine, led by Iain McNicol ( a rightwing viper) failed to provide him with a sufficient back-up team; too often he was left to sink or swim, when he should have been protected, well away from the water.
“Then went the Pharisees and took counsel how they might entangle Jesus in his talk. They brought unto him a penny bearing Caesar’s image and said, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar?” Jesus’s well known, knockout response was immediate: “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God, that which is God’s.”
Jesus had God on his side; Corbyn did not. He could not even count on the Party Leader’s office staff to support him
In September 2012, the American artist, Mear One painted a mural near Brick lane in London’s East End. It pictured suited rich-looking men playing a game of Monopoly on a board balanced on the backs of naked, downtrodden figures. Two of the rich men were stereotypical caricatures of Jews. In all, on examination, the picture resonated with the Nazi propaganda of 1930s Germany.
Hearing that his picture was considered offensive and was to be effaced, Mear One sent an image of it to Jeremy Corbyn, seeking his support for retention of an anti-capitalist public artwork. Rushed off his feet, as usual, and with his mail not being screened, Corbyn gave an immediate and ill-advised response, defending the picture on grounds of freedom of expression. The artist was unknowingly laying a bear-trap. Three years later the Jewish Chronicle caught up with the story. Tardy as ever, the Leader’s staff eventually appreciated the gravity of the problem and Corbyn released a statement: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and antisemitic.”
This was just the beginning; the temperature of the anti-Semitism crisis was now to rise inexorably. The situation was not helped by motor-mouths like Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone venting their spleens and unintentionally providing more ammunition for the anti-Corbyn campaign. Marc Wadsworth and Chris Williamson ─ well known anti-racism campaigners ─ became sacrificial lambs. The media, aided by Labour’s in-house saboteurs, had whipped up a bloodlust.
In September 2015, Corbyn was elected Leader with 59.5 per cent of first preference votes. One year later there had to be another leadership election, because the majority of labour MPs demanded it. Corbyn was re-elected with an even stronger mandate, winning 61.8 per cent of votes cast. This decision by the Party’s members drove the MPs into a frenzy. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was used to ruling the roost, without this blatant interference by the grassroots members, who should know their place and keep to it: paying their subs, leafleting, canvassing, knocking up voters, raising money and supporting, without question, the Party policies handed down by their betters, the law-makers in Parliament.
The working definition of anti-Semitism drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has been the subject of much damaging controversy in the Labour Party.
In July 2018, the Party decided to adopt the IHRA definition, but not in its entirety. Accompanying the definition there are eleven illustrative examples of antisemitism, some of which have been criticised by academics and others for attempting to stifle free speech in relation to Israeli government policies. The decision not to adopt all the examples stimulated 68 rabbis to sign a joint letter in the Guardian arguing that failure to adopt the IHRA definition without amendment was arrogant and insulting towards the Jewish community. Several Labour MPs voiced a similar view.
The Israeli Embassy has been an active participant in the anti-Corbyn campaign. There is a generously funded department promoting defence of the Netanyahu government and organisations which seek to undermine Palestinian interests. There can be no doubt that the embassy has played an active part in encouraging the anti-Corbyn and anti-Labour campaign. This criticism of the Israeli Embassy is bound to alert the Party witch-finders, who will probably find it to be antisemitic.
The pro-Israel lobby, represented in the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel, which organisations largely aver that Israel can do no wrong, was out in force and again Corbyn was their principal target.
A few days after the Party’s decision, Margaret Hodge confronted Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons. Temporarily forgetting her dignified status as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she said to Corbyn, “You’re a fucking anti-Semite and a racist.” Friends of Hodge denied that she had sworn, although her words were reported on the radio that day, and one MP, who claimed to have witnessed the altercation, deplored Hodge’s behaviour as “shocking, bullying, intimidating and grossly offensive.”
Labour launched an investigation into Hodge’s intemperate outburst, but on the urging of the leadership, the matter was dropped. The Dame was not the least bit chastened. Notwithstanding the fact that no action was to be taken against her, she was quoted as saying; “On the day that I heard they were going to discipline me and possibly suspend me, I kept thinking: what did it feel like to be a Jew in Germany in the 30s? It felt almost as if they were coming for me.”This was OTT melodrama. Had she lost it completely? Had she lost touch with reality? Was she really likening herself to a victim of the Nazis? She was safe in assuming the media would not consider her to be unbalanced.
A few days later, Louise Ellman, Vice-Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, and Ruth Smeeth tabled a motion at a PLP meeting attempting to force all MPs to abide by the IHRA definition, including all of its examples. They wanted to rule out any criticism of Israel and any expression of sympathy with the Palestinian cause. Their even greater imperative – political imperative – was to inflict as much damage as possible on the socialist enemy , Jeremy Corbyn. They could not stomach the fact that he had won the overwhelming support of Party members. Might and main, never mind the cost, they had to discredit him and displace him before he had opportunity to form a Labour government.
The roll call of chief saboteurs includes Margaret Hodge, Ann Coffey, John Mann, Yvette Cooper, Louise Ellman, Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Ian Austin, Joan Ryan, Wes Streeting, Chris Leslie, John Woodcock, Mike Gapes and Tom Watson, who all much prefer to see a Tory in Downing Street, rather than Corbyn.
Being in opposition, without the daily burden of ministerial portfolios, They all had plenty of time to conspire, concoct, lobby, brief and infiltrate their poison from the Westminster bubble to the all too receptive media. The tearoom conspirators were in permanent conclave.
Corbyn is , indeed, an upstart crow. Rising from humble origins, he stole the leadership from those who are more worthy. He did not go to Oxbridge; he has held no ministerial or shadow positions and has been a thorn in the side of the PLP since the day he first entered the Commons. He has persistently promoted leftwing policies which are anathema to the PLP.
The war between the mass of Party members and the PLP will continue until either there is an exodus of thousands of Party members or re-selection of MPs. As I write, in December 2020, the Party machine is achieving that exodus. We are witnessing a repeat of the political cleansing achieved by Blair’s New Labour. The Iraq war and other escapades abroad saw off thousands of protesting members and there was ruthless vetting of all candidates for local council and parliamentary seats.
Jeremy Corbyn, seeking to protect inner Party unity, would not allow reselection of MPs, even though CLPs were clamouring for it. There is no reciprocal soft-heartedness now.
There is a parallel episode in English history. During Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, 1653- 1660, following the 1652 Act of General Pardon and Oblivion, many royalists were allowed to return from exile. Church, Crown and royalist lands which had been confiscated were restored. Following restoration of the monarchy, in 1660, the new king did not show similar restraint. He and his Council were determined to punish those who had played any leading part in the revolution and the execution of his father. This was despite Charles’ declaration, made before his return from exile not to bring judgement against any of them. At Charles’s behest several of Cromwell’s allies were butchered in public.
We see an echo of such vindictiveness from Kier Starmer, despite his stated aim as Leader to unite the Labour Party. His vengeance is particularly aimed at Corbyn and his allies. Although the clamour of the membership forced him to end Corbyn’s suspension, Starmer has not restored him to the PLP.
In April 2016, Corbyn asked Shami Chakrabarti to conduct an inquiry into antisemitism within the Party. She presented her findings in June 2016. Although she considered antisemitism and racism not to be endemic within the Party, there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”. The report recommended improvements to the Party’s disciplinary processes and it was generally considered a positive step towards ensuring the Party is a welcoming place for all minority groups, members being expected to act in a spirit of tolerance and respect, while maintaining free speech and open debate.
For the anti-Corbyn forces, the Chakrabarti report was a whitewash.
For them there must be an impenetrable protective wall around Israel. Any criticism of Israeli government policy and any expression of support for the Palestinian cause ─ Be it protest about the economic Blockade of Gaza; criticism of the IDF for yet another killing of a Palestinian child; Support for the Palestinians’ right of return, as protected under international law; objection to the blatant ignoring of international law and UN resolutions in the establishment of settler communities in occupied territories ─ anything that is considered to put the security of Israel at risk is given the toxic label, antisemitism. Criticising a Jewish politician on any grounds is denounced as antisemitism. Criticism of Israel’s ruthless settler policies is viewed as an attack on Zionism and, by definition, antisemitic.
Israel has the most technologically advanced military in the world, replete with nuclear weapons, thanks to the gigantic financial backing of the USA, which sees Israel as its fortified forward base in the troubled Middle East.
In the years after WW2, the idea of a secure homeland for the Jewish people, the survivors of the Holocaust and their successors was uncontestable. The 1958 book, Exodus, by Leon Uris and the eponymous film, starring Eva Marie Saint and Paul Newman, helped to create the image of the gallant young kibbutzim building socialist collectives and making the desert bloom, winning the hearts and minds of all political trends, especially the Left. No one could possibly fail to empathise with the young Jewish martyrs in the Andzrej Wajda film, Kanal (1956), depicting the last, desperate days of the 1944 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
But there came a rude awakening with the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel’s military supremacy crippled the Egyptian, Syrian and and Jordanian forces. Around 300,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from the West Bank of the Jordan and over 100,000 fled from the Golan Heights. Israel had now fulfilled its ambition. It had the entire British mandate territory of Palestine under its control.
But this military victory came at a cost. Israel now seemed no better than a typical European colonial power and the Palestinians now attracted sympathy as a subjugated people, displaced by a ruthless settler state. Israel’s ruling centre-right Likud Party moved well to the right and has always been happily in alliance with extreme, belligerent rightwing religious parties. The social democratic policies of the founding fathers, survivors of the Holocaust, were all jettisoned.
Those of us who have honest concern for the long term security of Israel deplore the country’s readiness to follow the bidding of the USA, isolating itself in a sea of hostile neighbouring states. Real security for Israel can come about only if there is a peace settlement with the Palestinians
The founding days of Israel, in 1948, saw the bombing of the British military headquarters in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel and the ethnic cleansing of three-quarters of a million Palestinians into a life of exile in sordid refugee camps all over the Middle East and there they remain. Following the 1967 war, Israel’s next assault on Palestinians, carried out by proxies, took place during the Lebanese Civil War ((1975-1990).
Lebanon, after the end of the French Mandate and colonial administration, developed as an uneasy multi-ethnic country, with Sunni and Shia Muslims, Druze and Maronite Christians. The Muslims included around 100,000 Palestinians displaced in 1948 and 1967.
Fighting broke out in 1975 between the Maronites and the Palestine Liberation Organisation(PLO). Neighbouring states became embroiled. Attacks by the PLO across the border with Israel led to the IDF occupying part of southern Lebanon. Allied with the IDF were extreme rightwing Christian Phalangists, sworn enemies of the Muslims.
In 1982, between 400 and 5,000 Palestinians, mainly Shiites, men, boys, women and children, including babes in arms, were cornered in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps and were systematically slaughtered. The gun-wielders were Phalangists, who were provided with their guns, ammunition, uniforms, medical supplies and training by the IDF. While the massacre took place, the IDF stood by. Their bloody work was being done for them.
In merely recounting this story, drawing on the eye-witness account of the eminent journalist, Robert Fisk, I may earn from the Labour Party machine the label, antisemite.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in its investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party, begun in May 2019, swallowed all the media poison and produced a report which grossly exaggerates the extent of the problem.
The EHRC investigation, as the Report’s Foreword explains, “was prompted by growing public concern about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and followed official complaints received by us.”
The Report does not reflect on the role of the media in stimulating and compounding that growing public concern.
The Report acknowledges that the Party’s processes for dealing with complaints improved after Jennie Formby replaced Iain McNicol as General Secretary in 2018. After the Party submitted its final evidence to the EHRC, a 850-page report titled ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to anti-Semitism, 2014-2019’ was partially leaked to the press in April 2020. Although this report remains unpublished and unavailable to Party members, the leaked parts were taken into account by the EHRC.
The EHRC “found evidence of political interference in the handling of antisemitism complaints and the evidence shows that staff from the Leader of the Opposition’s Office were able to influence decisions on complaints, especially decisions on whether to suspend someone.” The Report recognises that this political interference by unnamed staff in the Leader’s office was primarily to the detriment of those accused of antisemitism, as opposed to being to their advantage.
Data released by Jennie Formby showed that, up to 2018, the number of anti-Semitism complaints against the party’s membership of over half a million amounted to complaints against 0.1 per cent of the membership. Of the complaints received, more were found to be against non-members of the Party than against members, and 90 per cent of all evidence submitted by complainants had to be dismissed as unfit or vexatious. These data were released to the national media, but were ignored. Of course. Why spoil a good story with a bit of non-fiction? The polling and market research agency, Survation, found that the general public, presumably on the basis of what they learned from the media, believed over a third of Labour members were embroiled in complaints of antisemitism. As a Party member I was being tarnished by the ghoulish antisemitism smear being promoted by the conspiracy of internal saboteurs, aided by the heavily biased anti-Corbyn media.
I wrote to Jerem y Corbyn, expressing my anger at being tarnished in this way and urging him, for pity’s sake to give the lie to all this antisemitism baloney. Reject it, name the guilty and move against them, especially those in the PLP, who are daily bringing the Party into disrepute. I knew the Party was shedding members by the hundreds, either because they were taken in by the media lies, or because, like me, they resented being associated with an allegedly racist organisation. These losses pleased the saboteurs, but Jeremy’s position was being undermined by his own inaction.
In the article cited above, Oborne and Hearst conclude that, “ …one of Corbyn’s problems was that he was too soft with his internal enemies as he tried to unite the Labour Party after his shock leadership victory in 2015.
“He was a flawed politician who made mistakes…But he also possessed personal decency and authenticity, which has scarcely been acknowledged amidst the thousands of hatchet jobs conducted against him in the press and wider media.”
As well as being a kindly, honest and decent man, Corbyn must have truly remarkable resilience. Day after day he was attacked by Labour MPs and media journalists who were happy to recount lies about him without undertaking even a modicum of fact-checking. Even In the Leader’s office he was surrounded by malevolent officials, some of whom, we now know, campaigned more assiduously against their leader than they did against the Tory government.
In 2019, Tom Bower, who specialises in unauthorised biographies, published, Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot For Power. The book lived up to its title. The author and his publisher were looking for sales through sensationalism, rather than authenticity. The book was reviewed by Peter Oborne and David Hearst and they refer to their review in the article cited above: “ …we investigated and exposed a farrago of falsehoods and misrepresentations.” One of the false allegations was repeated in the Mail On Sunday. The allegation had to be withdrawn and the MOS apologised. Oborne and Hearst point out that when such false claims as those made in Bower’s book “…face the prospect of being examined properly in a court of law by judges who are led by facts and evidence and who conduct their inquiry with due process, they tend to fall apart.”
Oborne and Hearst directly address the present Leader of the Party: “Sir Keir Starmer, a barrister by training, please note: due process matters. It has been absent for the past four years in the party you now head.”
It was an uncorroborated report by Tom Bower that led to the suspension of Marc Wadsworth for alleged antisemitism.
In its superficiality, the EHRC Report is a disgrace. It has taken the saboteurs’ campaign of egregious vilification at face value. It has failed to see through the Kafkaesque miasma of lies and exaggeration created by one side of the profoundly divided Labour Party. It has come down on the side of the anti-socialists. The EHRC found Labour responsible for unlawful acts of harrassment and discrimination.
Late in the day, Corbyn has roundly rejected the idea that the Labour Party is not a safe haven for Jews and has correctly described the scale of the problem assessed by the EHRC to be “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” Unfortunately, he then watered down this characterisation by saying: “I’ve made absolutely clear that those who deny there has been an antisemitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong.
For not caving in before the EHRC, Kier Starmer suspended Corbyn. The instant outcry from the membership forced the new Leader to reinstate Corbyn, but he remains excluded from the PLP.
Re-running the political cleansing perfected by Blair’s New Labour, Constituency Labour Party (CLP) officers have been suspended for ignoring diktats from the Party machine seeking to determine what members may and may not discuss. Now we find that merely questioning the findings of the EHRC is considered a new antisemitic offence. This Big Brother nonsense has now reached its peak of lunacy: some of the members suspended for anti-Semitism are Jews.
There are now so many purged Labour Party members that they have set up a campaign organisation ─ the Labour In Exile Network (LIEN) ─ opposing the suspensions of local officers who have ignored orders from regional offices about what may and may not be discussed ─ the unjust treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, in particular ─ by CLP and branch meetings. But for the current pandemic and the absence of real face-to-face meetings, one can be sure that members would be in uproar about the attempt to block all opposition to the attempted denial of internal democracy.
The conspirators hope they have seen off socialist policies and internal democracy. Supporters of Corbyn and socialism must stay in membership and fight to regain the Party. The rightwing control the machine and the PLP, but we are many and they are few.