The Labour Party has shown itself to be deeply disingenuous about the issue of anti-Semitism
The Daily Telegraph. If any Labour supporter was beginning to hope that the party had managed to draw a line under the row about anti-Semitism, the vote of no confidence in Joan Ryan MP, the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, by her local party will have abruptly disabused them. The decision of Labour’s National Executive Committee belatedly to adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism was designed to end the long-running clash, yet within 48 hours Ms Ryan was disavowed by activists in her Enfield North constituency association, whom she described as “Trots, Stalinists, Communists and assorted hard Left”. The story was covered in depth by Iranian state television, salivating with excitement at her fall.
To have chosen this precise moment to deselect the most prominent pro-Israel voice in Labour shows how disingenuous the Left is about the whole issue of anti-Semitism. It has prompted Tony Blair and David Blunkett to muse publicly about whether the Communist takeover of the Labour Party since September 2015 is irreversible, both clearly now privately believing that it is. The Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti might say that it is time to “come back into the room” and that she “will put the kettle on”, but Enfield North’s decision proves that the time for that has passed. (With her own reputation in tatters after accepting a peerage from Mr Corbyn within six months of her report whitewashing the Labour Party over anti-Semitism, she would have done better to have stayed out of the room altogether.)
“They clearly have two problems,” Jeremy Corbyn said of “thankfully silent Zionists” in his speech to the Palestinian Return Centre in 2013. “One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony.” As a non-Jewish Zionist, albeit one who has never been very silent, and one who has researched and written history books for over half my life, I would like to examine these “two problems”.
Zionists by their very definition study history, since it is primarily through the 3,500-year history of Jewish habitation of Palestine that they base their belief in the right of Jews to have a nation state there. They also know that, historically, that right, enshrined in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, precedes by two years the right of self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Versailles Treaty of 1919, upon which the Palestinians base their own demands that the State of Israel should be annihilated.
Zionists also study the historical facts of the Holocaust, which all too many of Mr Corbyn’s most vociferous supporters either downplay or deny altogether, which also lent moral power to Israel’s existential rights. How embarrassed and uncomfortable Mr Corbyn must feel when his views are commended by David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, yet how logical it is for Mr Duke to do this. When the Nazis and Soviets made their non-aggression pact in August 1939, the outlines of the inherent similarities of their ideologies became apparent. Such a moment is returning today, with Israel as the flashlight.
The sole hero of that benighted period of the Thirties, Winston Churchill, was a Zionist who studied and wrote history, “lived in this country for a very long time”, and regularly employed English irony. “When Herr Hitler escaped his bomb on July 20 he described his survival as providential,” Churchill told the House of Commons in September 1944, in a speech dripping with high English irony. “I think that from a purely military point of view we can all agree with him, for certainly it would be most unfortunate if the Allies were to be deprived, in the closing phases of the struggle, of that form of warlike genius by which Corporal Schicklgruber [his nickname for Hitler] has so notably contributed to our victory.”
Much of Churchill’s sense of self-belief stemmed from what he recognised as the central irony of his life, which was, as he put it in a CBS interview in New York in March 1932, that “sometimes, what looks like bad luck may turn out to be good luck and vice versa. I’ve done a lot of foolish things that turned out well, and a lot of wise things that have turned out badly. The misfortune of today may lead to the success of tomorrow”. Or, as he put it about “the goddess Fortune” on another occasion: “Sometimes when she scowls most spitefully, she is preparing her most dazzling gifts.”
Churchill understood the many ironies and paradoxes of Zionism, principally that the most vicious anti-Zionists are often Jewish (step forward the “Jewish Voice for Labour” group), and that Israel is always expected to defend itself using a far more elevated and self-denying set of rules of engagement than any of its enemies, despite their openly calling for its destruction.
It was part of the glory of the Greatest Englishman that he was brave and eccentric enough to ignore the mores of his class and background and actually liked Jews. Perhaps it was partly because – clearly unbeknownst to Mr Corbyn – Jews virtually invented the concept of irony.
If Churchill were alive today he would also appreciate the irony that, despite the fact that Israel is the only truly liberal democracy in the Middle East – a country where women, gays, Christians and Arabs have equal civic rights with the majority population – progressives who claim to care about feminism, homosexual and minority rights hate the Jewish state with denunciations they do not use against the genuinely oppressive laws of its neighbours. If there was a long history of Corbynites denouncing countries like Iran, Algeria and Morocco for their laws curtailing religious freedom, for example, they might not sound quite so obviously anti-Semitic when they rail against the only Jewish state in the world.
It is true that people generally, in Mr Corbyn’s phrase, “don’t want to study history”, and he is very lucky they don’t. It is depressing to watch the seeming refusal of the younger generation to study the history of the Seventies, when many of Mr Corbyn’s panaceas of nationalisation, high taxation, powerful trade unionism and centralised state control were actually put into effect by Labour, with universally catastrophic results by the end of that decade. If Britain’s young people were taught the history of the Seventies in an objective way by non-politicised teachers – small hope, I know – then Jeremy Corbyn would not have been elected leader, let alone re-elected. Far from denouncing historical ignorance, he ought to be the first person to embrace it.
If Mr Corbyn ever does become prime minister, one wonders whether his own sense of English irony, honed by his having “lived in this country for a very long time”, would ever allow him to notice how he was leading the country to the same disastrous plight as Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and his hero Tony Benn did back in the benighted Seventies. One hopes so, especially since his favourite political philosopher said that history repeated itself as farce. But Karl Marx was a Jew with a profound sense of irony.
Andrew Roberts’s ‘Churchill: Walking with Destiny’ is published by Penguin next month
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