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Palestinians must speak out in defence of Jeremy Corbyn

The need for Palestinians to come to the aid of the Labour party leader has never been more pressing

Jeremy Corbyn’s slow crucifixion over the last few months has been painful to watch. His ascendance to the western political stage in 2015 as Britain’s Labour Party leader and possibly its next prime minister has been of monumental significance for Palestinians, which is why they must now be at the forefront of his defence.

On Sunday members of the Joint List in the Israeli Knesset published a letter defending Corbyn “as a champion of peace and justice” and noted his opposition to all forms of racism, "whether directed at Jews, Palestinians, or any other group”.

Most Palestinians do not live in the West, and may not always be aware of what goes on in British politics, but this issue must not be dismissed as something that is happening "over there". It is relevant "over here" too and indeed for Palestinians everywhere.

A dramatic precedent

If Corbyn is elected prime minister he will be the first Western leader to have adopted the cause of Palestine officially and without caveat. The memory of his speech at the 2017 annual Labour Party conference in Brighton, England, which I attended, will remain with me for years. In that speech he proclaimed his intention to help end what he called the oppression of the Palestinian people and the occupation of Palestinian land.

The standing ovation and wild cheering that followed his words were louder and longer than for almost any other issue he raised. It was clear the whole of that vast auditorium was filled with fervent Labour Party friends of Palestine.

If Corbyn is elected prime minister he will be the first ever Western leader to have adopted the cause of Palestine officially and without caveat

I remember thinking then that every Palestinian who had ever despaired of overturning the tired, old Western knee-jerk apologia for Israel’s crimes must be ready to help the Corbyn project succeed. If it happens it will have created a dramatic precedent in a western politics traditionally subservient to Israel, and could well embolden other leaders to follow Corbyn’s example.

His enemies, however, have been just as enthusiastic to ensure the opposite happens. Ever since his election as party leader in 2015, they have been gathering their forces to remove him from the leadership. One enemy group are the right-wing members of his own parliamentary party who rejected him from the start. 

Corbyn's enemies 

Despite a leadership election which gave him a 40 percent lead over his nearest rival, larger than Tony Blair’s in 1994, these MPs have tried to unseat him by orchestrating a mass resignation of the Shadow Cabinet, and when that didn't work, by forcing a humiliating leadership contest on him in 2016, (which he won with an increased majority).

People wear flag of Israel glasses and hold up placards as they gather for a demonstration organised by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on 8 April, 2018 (AFP)

Apparently unimpressed by his capacity to have increased the party membership to 600,000, more than any other party in Europe, his deputy leader, Tom Watson, along with the previous Labour leader, Ed Milliband, tried in 2016 to persuade him to stand down. Sniping at him in public remains a regular pastime of his critics.

Another enemy group are the upholders of the neoliberal economic order that has impoverished millions and become the norm in Britain and other western democracies, and for whom Corbyn's mild socialist policies are seen as a mortal threat.

The last and most effective enemy group is the pro-Israel lobby whose imperative is to keep western leaders compliantly on Israel's side no matter what it does, and for whom Corbyn’s pro-Palestinian stance is the antithesis of their project.

The most effective enemy group is the pro-Israel lobby whose imperative is to keep western leaders compliantly on Israel’s side no matter what it does, and for whom Corbyn’s pro-Palestinian stance is the antithesis of their project

It is this camp that seems to have succeeded in finding the best way to undermine - and possibly destroy - Corbyn. Their contrived anti-Semitism campaign against him, whose aim is to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and make criticism of Israel equate to Jew-hatred, is beginning to bear fruit.

The flawed definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), in line with this false equation, is being foisted onto the party which, if rejected, will invite further accusations of anti-Semitism. If that happens, no amount of backtracking or apology will appease the lobby.

Just causes supporter

The result of all this has been a level of hostility almost unseen against any major western political leader of our time, underpinned by a ferocious media onslaught. A survey of eight British national newspaper carried out by researchers at the London School of Economics in 2016 found that 75 percent of articles on Corbyn distorted or did not properly represent his views. And that anti-Corbyn media bias has only worsened.  

There is no room for complacency over Corbyn’s political future. A relentless campaign of intense and continuous attacks on his leadership abilities and political credibility over three years has nearly succeeded in transforming his reputation as a man with a lifetime’s history of support for just causes and the right of ordinary people to live in freedom from exploitation by the rich and powerful into one of a racist Jew-hater and friend of terrorists.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold placards and chant as they protest against the conflict in Gaza outside Downing Street in London (AFP)

It is well known that Corbyn has opposed violence and war throughout his life, voted against the Falklands wars in 1982, opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, voted against the bombing of Libya and Syria; was against the sanctions imposed on Iran, and demanded an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia to stop the suffering of Yemeni civilians.

He has supported every revolutionary movement that seeks to liberate the people from tyranny and foreign exploitation. In recognition of his work for peace and social justice, he was awarded the Gandhi International Prize in 2013, and a joint share in the Sean MacBride Peace Prize for disarmament and peace in 2017, alongside Noam Chomsky.

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He has soldiered on despite it all, but as his hunters scent victory, true to the dictum that a lie told enough will finally stick, the need for Palestinians to speak out in Corbyn’s defence has never been more pressing.

They must flood the airways and the media, social or otherwise, with their perspective, tell the squalid truth about Israel and contrast it with Corbyn’s decency and morality. They must expose the anti-Semitism hysteria for the ploy to cover up Israel’s crimes it is, confront Israel’s hidden army of schemers, and break up the propaganda machine that drives them.

Only the authenticity of the Palestinian voice and experience can help disperse the black cloud over Corbyn. His defeat will be the Palestinians' defeat, and that cannot be allowed to happen.

- Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian doctor, academic and author.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, gestures as he addresses delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in east London, on 6 November 2017 (AFP)