By Raoul Wootliff, The Times of Israel
Many in the UK Jewish community had hoped Thursday’s general election would be the last nail in the coffin for Jeremy Corbyn. A predicted resounding loss for the controversial Labour chairman, and his subsequent ousting, would end a period of perceived lingering anti-Semitism within the party and uncertainty over its attitude toward Israel, they anticipated.
But as exit polls were published at 10 p.m. local time and the real election results flowed in overnight, those hopes were dashed, with the news that the Conservatives had unperformed and, while still securing the most seats, lost their parliamentary majority.
Taking to the podium in his home constituency of Islington North, a buoyant Corbyn said Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May had not received a mandate to lead the country and called on her to step down. Corbyn’s party, which had sensationally gained 29 seats rather than suffering the collapse his critics had anticipated, was “ready to serve,” he declared. Far from being finished as Labour leader, his position at its helm was cemented.
[Journalist Jonathan Cook points out that Corbyn “proved himself the most popular Labour leader with the electorate in more than 40 years.”
While Labour stunned pollsters and pundits by clawing back from a deficit that at one point stretched to 26 points, no party gained the necessary 326 seats in the House of Commons to form a majority government, and none can therefore claim the election was an absolute triumph.
For the Jewish community and Israel, however, the result was unequivocally a “loss,” at least according to Jonathan Arkush, the lay leader of British Jews as the president of the Board of Deputies umbrella group.
“If the governing party, which is a strong supporter of Israel, loses so much ground, then of course it has to be something of a loss for Israel and the Jewish community,” Arkush, who is currently in Israel, told The Times of Israel in an interview Friday morning.
And that loss is compounded, he said, when it comes to the gains by Labour. Corbyn’s party, said Arkush, “has policies that are supportive of Israel, supportive of the two-state solution,” but will see its “far-left faction, which is far less sympathetic to Israeli concerns,” bolstered by the strong showing.
Corbyn’s Jewish problem
Corbyn, who became the head of Labour in 2015, is a hard-left politician whom Arkush has previously said “most people in the Jewish community can’t trust” due to his past praise for Hezbollah and Hamas and perceived failures in addressing anti-Semitic rhetoric by some of his supporters.
[Editor’s note: Charges of alleged “antisemitism” frequently refer to statements critical of Israel. For more info go here.]
In the year and a half since Corbyn became Labour leader, controversies about anti-Semitism in the party, and his continued criticism of Israel’s policies, have dogged media coverage. Many Jews who were lifelong Labour voters said they couldn’t bring themselves to put a cross next to the Labour candidate’s name on the general election ballot. Some have questioned Corbyn’s sincerity in his efforts to reach out to the Jewish community.
May’s Conservative Party on the other hand, is perceived as taking a much more pronounced pro-Israel stance, and has won wide-support among many in the Jewish community. In a 2016 Rosh Hashanah message, her first direct address to the Jewish community since she succeeded David Cameron, May praised the relationship between the UK and Israel and reaffirmed the British government’s long-held position of support for Israel’s right to self-defense.
“Overall, without question, the result will be disappointing for Israel and disappointing for the Jewish community,” Arkush said Friday, adding that “the smell of anti-Semitism still lingers around some sections of the [Labour] party.”
“Remember,” he advised, “when you are one half of one percent of the population, the overwhelming majority will probably have no idea about Jews and may have never even met one. The anti-Semitism discussion probably meant rather little to them.”
‘I think the issues will go on and continue to plague Labour, I don’t think that will change very much,’ Arkush says. ‘Equally, I think Corbyn’s seeming reluctance to address these issues with a genuine desire to get past it, I don’t think that’s going to change either.’
Questioning whether a roaring Labour loss would have forced the party to reassess its position toward Israel and the Jewish community, Arkush — who noted that the party as a whole had worked to remove members perceived to have made anti-Semitic comments — said he believed the tension was likely to persist.
“I think the issues will go on and continue to plague Labour. I don’t think that will change very much,” he said. “Equally, I think Corbyn’s seeming reluctance to address these issues with a genuine desire to get past them — I don’t think that’s going to change either.”
But Arkush rejected the notion that if Corbyn had won outright — or even if he manages to shock the establishment again and form a coalition to become prime minister in the coming weeks — some in the Jewish community would be reconsidering their place in the UK.
“I don’t think we’d have necessarily liked his attitude to Israel, but I don’t think he presents a threat to the Jewish community, and I really thought those conversations were overdone,” he said of the suggestion that a prime minister Corbyn would force Jews to consider aliyah (immigration to Israel).
After all, Arkush noted, Corbyn’s Labour is supportive of shechita ritual slaughter and faith schools and, ultimately, his manifesto policy on Israel (which included a promise to immediately recognize a Palestinian state) was “basically much the same” as in previous years.
“Although of course many people would have been unhappy about some of the policies, I think it would be business as normal with something like a recognition of the Palestinians,” Arkush said. “But no, I don’t think it would be anything like a driver to aliyah.”
Change from within
Despite the animosity from many within the community, Jewish rejection of Labour was not all encompassing.
A poll of voting preferences before the election showed that while only nine percent of Jews over the age of 55 supported Labour, that number rose to 23% among the 18-34 set. Still low, but not negligible.
In an attempt to utilize the Jewish vote for the party, two leaders of the Jewish Labour Movement ran against two pro-Israel Conservative MPs in areas with large Jewish populations.
JLM Chairman Jeremy Newmark and Vice-Chairman Mike Katz challenged Mike Freer and Matthew Offord, respectively, in the adjoining London constituencies of Finchley and Golders Green — Margaret Thatcher’s old seat — and Hendon. Both seats are in the Barnet heartland of the northwest London Jewish community.
Both Newmark and Katz ended up coming short but succeeded in increasing Labour’s share of the vote.
Some in the Jewish community criticized JLM for targeting the constituencies of pro-Israel MPs. Arkush said that while he was pleased so see Freer and Offord retain their seats, he understood and commended the “controversial” efforts to influence Labour from within.
JLM’s strategy, Arkush said, “was to say after the election, hand on heart, that we did everything to work for a Labour victory, even despite our very clear and open opposition to the leader of the party.” No one from within the party could accuse them of being “traitors” or have having tried to damage the Labour cause in any way, he added.
“That will enable Jewish Labour Movement members to say loudly and proudly: ‘We worked hard for this election, you must take our concerns seriously. This is our party just as much as anyone’s party and you must listen to us after the election, even more carefully that you did before,’” Arkush said, calling it the correct strategy.
Accepting a narrow defeat of around 1,600 votes, Newmark, speaking in his Finchley and Golders Green constituency, pledged Friday to “continue to fight racism and anti-Semitism in society, in Parliament and, if necessary, in my own party. The results across Barnet indicate that many people think it is.”
Originally published by The Times of Israel. Raoul Wootliff is The Times of Israel Knesset correspondent.
The Relentless Pulse of Pro-Israel Propaganda in Our Lives: Tim Sanders’ BBC documentary misleads listeners
By Thomas S. Harrington, Counterpunch:
There are times when one can only nod in admiration the ability of Israel and its small but influential set of supporters around the world to implant wholly deceptive and self-serving narratives at the highest levels of the western media system.
Two nights ago, while crawling along the darkened byways of the Hudson Valley, I happened upon a BBC radio documentary produced in April called Tim Samuels’ Sleepover: Inside the Israeli Hospital in which a British reporter with strong Zionist ties, if not deep-seated Zionist beliefs, (article here) tells the heartwarming story of how Israeli doctors operating at Ziv Medical Center in Galilee selflessly and disinterestedly repair guerrillas and assorted other people fleeing from the Syrian Civil War.
The half-hour piece opens with gentle and plaintive piano music and then moves quickly to an interview with a Russian-born physician at the hospital, Dr. Lerner, who is described by our reporter as a “dapper doctor with kindly eyes”. We are subsequently told of his “irrepressible energy” and his “reassuring mustache and smile”.
We then follow him as he describes the many ways in which the doctors at Ziv have served the poor Syrians fleeing from the festival of savagery just across the border in Syria. We are subsequently treated to interviews with grateful Syrian guerillas who detail the terrible crimes of the Assad regime—no crimes of ISIS or the numerous other, mostly Islamist, guerilla groups being supported in one way or another by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are ever mentioned—and who, when prodded by the reporter, recount how they have come to realize what wonderful humanitarians the Israelis can sometimes be. We even hear about what beautiful views of the Dead Sea the fortunate Syrians have from their rooms at Ziv.
Shortly thereafter, listen to the views of an Israeli-Arab doctor and Israeli-Arab social worker who work at Ziv with the smiley-eyed Russian-born doctor. Much like the segregation-era Southern whites who talked about their black mammies being part of the family, our intrepid reporter tells us how, in what we are meant to believe is the fluidly democratic and multicultural state of Israel, it is “no big deal” to have such people working side-by-side with Jews at the same humanitarian tasks.
To his credit, our reporter does not edit out the Palestinian doctor’s very pointed demurral and then subsequent, subtly-phrased doubts, when asked about Israeli motives for providing such fulsome help to these fleeing Syrians.
What’s wholly lacking, of course, is any reflection upon why the native-born Palestinian doctor, living in the “only democracy in the Middle East”, would, unlike his Jewish colleagues born in far off lands, feel so inhibited about expressing the full depth of his opinions on air to a BBC reporter.
We are then taken up to the “Israel-Syrian border” where we hear the sirens announcing the arrival of injured soldiers from Syria who will be subsequently taken down to Ziv for treatment.
No mention of course, of the fact the Israeli side of what our reporter calls Israel-Syrian border is not, in all likelihood, Israel at all, but rather Syrian land of the Golan Heights illegally occupied by Israel for 50 years.
In the course of his visit to the area, the reporter tells us that the matter of how the Israelis know exactly when an injured Syrian rebel will be coming over the border for treatment are kept “deliberately vague to protect those on the ground”. That, of course, is a nice way of NOT talking about the fact that Israeli intelligence is deeply implicated supporting the mostly Islamist fighter cadres on the other side of the illegally established border.
As the Syrian wounded come over the “border”, our reporter talks with the young Israel officer leading the triage operation and asks (no leading questions here!): “Are you happy to risk your safety and go up to the border and bring it wounded Syrians?” He issues a quick “yes”, again reminding us for the extraordinary Israeli penchant for selfless sacrifice in the service of all humanity, regardless of national origin or the country’s strategic interests. The soldier’s soliloquy fades out into melodramatic background music that has accompanied us during much of our overnight sojourn with Mr. Samuels in the hospital.
The next segment opens with the sounds of birds tweeting in the backyard garden of an Australian-born Israeli physician, Dr. Harari. We learn how he is spreading Israeli medical goodness beyond the treatment for anti-Assad warriors to include a small number of medically needy Syrian children. We sit in on his meeting with a grateful Syrian mother, who, as if on cue in the middle of the conversation, suggests with a slashing movement across her throat that she will be killed by the Syrian government if it is learned she has brought her children to Israel for treatment.
The good doctor goes on to tell of us of how, in an Israel where marriage between Jews and Arabs is routinely and often brutally discouraged, where Arab parliamentarians are routinely shouted down and threatened with arrest or suspension for speaking their minds in public and where the inclusion of two Bosnian Muslims on the Beitar Jerusalem football club caused the majority of the team’s fans to boycott it games, there is an ironclad social consensus regarding the need to use scarce medical resources to treat wounded Syrians in the country’s hospitals. And then, in a long peroration, Dr Harari assures us that there is no absolutely political intention behind any of his hospital’s work with the Syrians in Galilee.
Having cleared up that matter, we are taken to a post-op interview in which a Syrian fighter, surrounded by the reporter and the good Israeli doctors, tell us how much better his leg feels with and Israeli-designed screw in it than the previously implanted Syrian one.
Near the end of the 27 minute piece, however, our reporter suddenly expresses some doubts about the purity of moral purpose among Israelis that he has just spent the previous 25 minutes telling us about in vivid and sympathetic terms against the backdrop of syrupy background music.
He asks himself if there could be more to this than meet the eye, or if he might have failed to pick up on certain hidden motives.
If ever there was a time to go back for another sit-down with that self-censoring Israeli-Palestinian doctor we met earlier in the story, this would appear to be it.
But, of course, doing that, or worse yet, mentioning the numerous reports of high-level Israeli officials spilling the beans and openly admitting country’s strategic goal in Syria is the promotion of an open-ended civil war designed to render the country impotent for years to come might run the risk of ruining his carefully crafted story line and make a mockery of its touching musical accompaniment.
And with facts alike these out in the open, people might begin to see that treating Syrian jihadis crossing into “northern Israel” for what it is: an integral part of Israel’s cold-blooded plan to prolong the bloody Syrian civil war, much in the way the US cynically prolonged Iran-Iraq war by providing arms and “humanitarian” aid to Saddam Hussein while also helping the Iranians to continue to fight.
So where does our intrepid reporter turn in his last-minute moment of doubt for the effective “last word” of his broadcast?
To “a former national security advisor to the prime minister, Major General Yaakov Amidror”, of course.
Who is Yaakov Amidror? He is a member of the ultra-right and blatantly racist Israel Home party who once referred to secular Israelis as “Hebrew-speaking gentiles”.
And so what does this paragon of non-tribal universal human values tell our suddenly and belatedly doubtful British Zionist reporter?
That his story line is (whew!) essentially right, that despite the present savagery of the Arabs, Israel is hoping that its selfless humanity will serve as down payment on a better more peaceful world in the future.
The final fade out is a scene of our Australian-born Israeli doctor sharing a warm and fond farewell with the mother of the Syrian children he has treated.
And with this, the propagandistic masterpiece is complete.
Left enhanced is the aura is the myth of Israel’s morally superior multicultural democracy, and with it, the reality of Arab (and more specifically Assad-sponsored) savagery on one hand, and Arab dependence on western goodness (not mention superior Israeli medical prosthetics!) on the other.
All explanations of larger historical and structural realities, not to mention present-day Israeli strategic initiatives and the out and out racism of the “expert” enjoying the last word on the issue at hand are completely suppressed.
After listening to this report, the western consumer of media can once again go to bed secure that his tax dollars and political influence are still working on the side of the angels in that oh-so-complicated set of conflicts in the Middle East.
- Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Iberian Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently released Livin’ la Vida Barroca: American Culture in a Time of Imperial Orthodoxies.