Jeremy Corbyn’s accumulated sayings over the last 40 years has proved to be treasure trove for his many critics.
From his inability to act as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians to currently defending the authoritarian Maduro government in Venezuela in the name of socialism, Mr Corbyn’s past is proving to be an albatross around the neck of the Labour Party.
While the business community fears a Corbyn government because of its domestic economic policies, there are many Jews who criticise him for his selective outrage when it comes to human rights abuses.
Mr Corbyn has often expressed his appreciation of “the socialist experiment” of Nicolas Maduro and his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Yet helping the poor to lose their chains was accompanied by a rise in antisemitism in this devoutly Catholic country. Both Maduro and Chavez peppered their criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish comments. In the 2013 campaign to succeed Chavez, Maduro said that his opponent, Henrique Capriles, was bolstered by the might of “Zionist capitalism” and that he was a tool of “the Jewish lobby” in Washington. A self-proclaimed Catholic, Mr Capriles’ grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. In the same year, the main Jewish organisation in Venezuela documented 4,000 antisemitic incidents.
As with many other examples, Mr Corbyn glossed over such racism. He placed the totality of social and economic advance above any harsh condemnation of human rights abuses. His world outlook presupposes that supporting a developing country chart its own independent pathway against great power interests effectively means turning a blind eye to anti-democratic behaviour and antisemitic utterances.
Standing up “for the many and not the few” reflects the essence of Labour’s socialism. But Venezuela’s Jews also see themselves as “the few”. Indeed, three quarters of the Jewish community have left Venezuela during the last 20 years – only some 5,000 remain.
It seems easier to avoid confronting the issue by raising the spectre of an American invasion led by an incandescent Donald Trump. Yet even Cuba has been muted in its defence of Maduro. Fidel Castro was never anti-Jewish and clamped down strongly on corruption and privilege in his early days. He would have been appalled at the suffering of the starving in Caracas and the total collapse of the national health service. While American sanctions have probably strengthened Maduro’s regime, the descent into chaos began long before Mr Trump entered the White House.
The identification of the far left with the cause of the developing world has led its adherents to disregard whether supporters of anti-imperialism are progressive or not.
It allows Mr Corbyn to support Palestinian Islamists, hesitate over official Russian involvement in the Salisbury poisonings and appear on Iran’s Press TV despite the fact that the Ayatollahs killed thousands of socialists during the 1980s. Any hint of foreign intervention – real or imaginary – evokes the invasion of Iraq. So it is better to refuse humanitarian supplies from neighbouring Colombia because they are carried in Mr Trump’s trucks.
One hundred years ago, Lenin advised his followers in Britain to join the Labour Party. But it was a change in party membership rules in 2013 that breached the dyke preventing ‘entryism’ and resulted in the election of Jeremy Corbyn. The influx of the far-left has led to an ideological fissure within the current ruling coalition such that the Corbynistas and supporters of the late Tony Benn, the then leader of Labour’s Left, continually try to paper over their differences on questions such as antisemitism or praise for Islamists.
The crisis in Venezuela is yet another example of ideological friction in the shadow cabinet. Ignoring the presence of socialists in the opposition to Maduro, the far left have rallied round the flag – collective letters to the Guardian, diverting blame to los yanquis and even wheeling out Ken Livingstone to protest outside the Bank of England.
While Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, did not endorse Juan Guaidó, in contrast to Mr Corbyn, she did call for targeted sanctions. Moreover, she said: “Under a Labour Foreign Office, I can also guarantee there will be no indulgence of human rights abuses because they are committed by less powerful countries, or by governments who call themselves ‘socialist’ but who, by their actions, betray every socialist ideal.”
The example of Venezuela is a test case of whether a Corbyn government would come to Israel’s aid in a clash with Hamas – even if international opinion found the Islamists to be in the wrong. At present, Labour’s foreign policy is a pantomime horse, with Mr Corbyn and the far left pulling in one direction, the Bennites pulling in another. Twenty years ago, Robin Cook, Tony Blair’s Foreign Secretary, promulgated an ethical foreign policy. He presided over British intervention in Sierra Leone, prevented mass expulsions in Kosovo and famously annoyed the first Netanyahu government by his opposition to the settlement drive on the West Bank. Criticised by some Jews then, in hindsight it represented a time when a moral pragmatism was attempted. This is in stark contrast to the unthinking promotion of textbook dogma by the leader of the Labour party today.
Jewish Chronicle 8 February 2019