Sunday, August 16, 2015

The 'Mail' finds a link - or does it?

AS Jeremy Corbyn's campaign for the Labour Party leadership has rolled on in the past few weeks, with the bearded Left-wing veteran addressing huge public meetings around the country, from Birkenhead to Camden, Llandudno to Aberdeen,  I have been impressed by his energy and stamina, and the way he keeps his cool, explaining his ideas and the kind of policies he wants Labour to adopt, and leaving it to his opponents to just keep saying he can't win, or their friends to make the personal attacks with whatever they can find. 

It is not easy for them. At a time when Parliament and MPs have long declined in the public's estimation, Jeremy Corbyn, whether or not you agree with him, stands out as clean, well-liked by his constituents and the wider public that is getting to know him, honest and frugal to a fault, while generous with his time.

One accusation that has come from sources scraping the barrel is that Corbyn is not only "anti-Israel", that is favourable to the Palestinians, which he and his supporters would freely admit, but "antisemitic" or at least associated with antisemites.  This has come as news to Jewish friends in his constituency who say they have known Jeremy for years, and it will also surprise those who attended the European Jews for Just Peace (EJJP) conference held at Archway some years ago, who were delighted that the MP dropped in at short notice and gave a friendly question an answer session. If there was anything antisemitic about what he had to say it went undetected.

Less surprising perhaps, and even less impressive, are the publications from which these accusations are coming. The Jewish Chronicle,whose editor Stephen Pollard is notoriously not just opposed to Left-wing views on the Middle East but on the NHS and anything else: and the Daily Mail, which scores full marks for chutzpah, having not only admired Hitler and Oswald Mosley in its inglorious past, but in more recent years gone for Labour leader Ed Miliband by attacking his father, a refugee from Nazism, as "anti-British", on the basis of an essay he wrote while 17 years old criticising British society. It wasn't too hard to spot the dog-whistle antisemitism addressed to Mail readers, or to note that young Ralph Miliband went on to serve in the Royal Navy in the War, while the Mail editor's dad was performing sterling service reporting the West End night club scene.

But the story in the Mail on August 7 seemed a real shocker - so long as you didn't know better.  

EXCLUSIVE: Jeremy Corbyn's 'long-standing links' with notorious Holocaust denier and his 'anti-Semitic' organisation revealed

Note the use of quotation marks. This is the 'Mail' headline writer's concession to honesty, that neither  the "long-standing links" nor the "antisemitic" label are straight-forward facts.

The story by Jake Wallis Simons concerned Jeremy Corbyn's supposed "long-standing association" with a man called Paul Eisen, and an organisation called Deir Yassin Remembered, which Simons explained, " focuses on controversial allegations that Jewish soldiers killed about 100 Arab villagers in the run-up to the war of 1948, and seeks to promote its remembrance at annual events."

It will be news to those of us who have heard of Deir Yassin that there is anything "controversial" about this. The facts were well known at the time. Members of the Irgun Zvei Leumi and Lehi were sent in to capture Deir Yassin, on April 9, 1948, and massacred those they captured as prisoners. This was recorded by Israeli and UN witnesses, and the only controversies were about the overall responsibility (whether the main Zionist military force Haganah authorised the operation at Deir Yassin) and the number of people killed ("about 100" is a rather conservative estimate.Some accounts say there were more than twice that number).

Deir Yassin had been in the area set aside as an international zone under the UN Partition Plan. Its inhabitants had hoped to stay neutral in the looming conflict. The massacre took place six weeks before the State of Israel was proclaimed. Menachem Begin, who was the Irgun's commander in chief, wrote in his memoirs that Arabs began fleeing the country crying "Deir Yassin!". In other words, he boasted of his men's part in creating the Naqba. Maybe the crime has only become "controversial allegations" since the Irgun's successors have been entrenched in government.

I dare say that to some people the idea of remembering Deir Yassin is itself "antisemitic". But when Deir Yassin Remembered  literature from the United States first reached us in the UK there was nothing in it that was anti-Jewish or concerned with Holocaust denial. Rather it was perfectly legitimate historical publicity about the massacre at Deir Yassin, and a proposal to invite artists and raise funds for a permanent memorial. Anyone who has been there and seen the absence of so much as a memorial stone could not disagree with this idea. It is very much in line with Jewish ethics lehizkor - to Remember.

Hearing that Paul Eisen - whom I'd never met or heard of -was the UK representative for this project, I contacted him and arranged a meeting with the Jewish Socialists' Group one Sunday evening. He told us he was due to meet a couple of rabbis that week. Before long Eisen had a number of Jewish helpers and was able to stage a major fund-raiser with their help, featuring well-known artists. He did not achieve this by going round proclaiming himself a Holocaust denier or making antisemitic speeches.

Indeed for a while he participated in the Just Peace UK online discussion list, mostly Jewish and Israeli, and though he antagonised some of the people who had helped him and irritated others like myself, it took time for his increasing obsession with "Jewish guilt" to become clear enough for us to remove him from the list. It seemed to have little to do with Israel and Palestine, and had echoes of the dark side of European Christian tradition rather than any Islamicist excesses.

Regretting that "Deir Yassin Remembered" was becoming Deir Yassin Forgotten under Eisen's tutelage, I wondered whether he could not be replaced. But it seemed he had been put in place by some Catholic cleric in California who founded DYR, and the organisation had neither the members or democratic structure to remove him.  As his association with people like Israel Shamir, Gilad Atzmon,and the neo-Nazi Zundel began to emerge, we learned that DYR's prominent Israeli supporters had the same problem with Shamir, leaving them no option but to resign reluctantly from a cause they had wanted to support.(Shamir, who had initially presented himself to the world as an Israeli dissident, had a Russian background, and far Right connections. Moving from anti-Zionism through conspiracy theory to blood libel, he was uncovered by anti-fascists to have a double identity, as a Swedish Nazi),

If Eisen and DYR had been able to fool Jewish and Israeli people, or rather only emerged in their true colours quite late in the day, it is hardly surprising that they were accepted as genuine among Palestine supporters for a time, or managed to raise donations for what looked like a perfectly commendable purpose. The Daily Mail article quotes Paul Eisen as describing how he went to see Jeremy Corbyn fifteen years ago for a donation to Deir Yassin Remembered, and the MP got out his checkbook. But what does that prove except that Corbyn was prepared to make a donation to what seemed like a perfectly good cause?  The article notes that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign passed a resolution against having anything to do with Eisen - but this was in 2007. And if Jeremy Corbyn attended annual events commemorating the Deir Yassin massacre, where is the evidence that he or anybody else at these events thought they were there to support Holocaust denial? 

In fact, the claim that Jeremy Corbyn had a "long-standing association" with a "notorious Holocaust denier" comes from that denier, Paul Eisen. A highly reliable source!

The article by Jake Wallis Simons went on to tell us:
Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: 'Paul Eisen is a notorious Holocaust denier and if Jeremy Corbyn does have links with him this would be very alarming. We would ask Mr Corbyn to clarify the situation.'Notice the little word "if" that is key to that comment. We'd guess that Jonathan Arkush was rung for a comment and was careful to keep it conditional, rather than lend substance to the story.
It is a fair bet that however "notorious" Paul Eisen ought to be, few 'Mail' readers or anyone else have heard of him, or had until this month.

But the Jewish community has its own antennae monitoring real or imagined antisemitic threats and Holocaust deniers, and unfortunately also watching critics of Israel, like Jeremy Corbyn or me, and waiting for the slightest slip to pounce upon. And it's my guess that if they'd detected a "long-standing association" between Jeremy Corbyn and a Holocaust denier they would not have waited until now to start raising it.  Whereas the 'Mail' and other media....

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At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake Wallis Simons once published an article in The Guardian recalling how, when he was at his Orthodox Jewish school, the consensus amongst his class was that if the UK ever had a war with Israel, they'd fight on the Israeli side.

Simons' brother was a member of the Israeli Defence Force. It's important to know this background so his comments can be put into context.


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