Jeremy Corbyn and his friends

Jeremy CorbynWell, no sooner have I nailed my colours to Jeremy Corbyn’s mast than I began (belatedly) to engage properly with the most serious reason not to vote for him: his choices of friends over the years.

A friend sent me a link to this article by Alan Johnson (note: not the MP of the same name), in which Johnson condemns Corbyn’s support for “the vicious antisemitic Islamist”, Raed Salah. Salah’s quoted comments include the following:

We have never allowed ourselves, and listen well, we have never allowed ourselves to knead the bread for the breaking of the fast during the blessed month of Ramadan with the blood of children. And if someone wants a wider explanation, you should ask what used to happen to some of the children of Europe, whose blood would be mixed in the dough of the holy bread. God Almighty, is this religion? Is this what God wants? God will confront you for what you are doing.

Both the authenticity and interpretation of this quotation have been contested. However, as a UK immigration appeals tribunal put it (albeit while overturning Theresa May’s decision to exclude Salah from the UK), “we do not find this comment could be taken to be anything other than a reference to the blood libel against Jews.” For Jeremy Corbyn to share a platform with a promulgator of the blood libel, of all things, strikes me as a serious error of judgement on his part. I can well understand why Johnson would regard this as a “deal-breaker”.

James Bloodworth sets out similar concerns, and suggests that what he describes as Corbyn’s “indulgence of tyranny” is the result of seeing the US as “the world’s most malevolent power”:

Thus because the US is the beating heart of capitalism, it must always and everywhere be the “root cause” (you will hear that phrase a lot) of the world’s problems; and by deduction, any movement that points a gun in its direction must invariably have something going for it.

All these are serious allegations being made against Corbyn from people on the political left. They deserve a serious response from him, which I hope they’ll get. As I commented on Twitter earlier, had I not been a Labour party member, these allegations would probably have been enough to put me off paying my £3 to vote in the election.

However, I am a Labour party member, and thus I can’t just consider Corbyn in the abstract, but in a context where I either have to vote for one of the other candidates or abstain altogether. And this response to Bloodworth from Sacha Ismail argues that Corbyn’s undoubted failures on this front (such as his “wrong and politically harmful comments about Hamas”) have to be put into the context both of the Labour contest as a whole, and (even more importantly) Corbyn’s more constructive actions during his career.

As Ismail observes:

It is not as if the other three candidates have a good record on international issues. On the contrary, they have all been complicit in New Labour’s appalling record.

And there is an important difference: Corbyn’s view of peace and international human rights is flawed, but he has one. The approaches the others take are decisively shaped by what they judge politically acceptable for a careerist bourgeois politician. […] Elect Burnham, Cooper or Kendall and the crawling to Saudi Arabia will continue!

The anti-war left has been (in many cases rightly) criticised by people such as Nick Cohen for turning its back on the victims of “anti-US” regimes — especially women and trade unionists. Corbyn, however, does have a track record of offering support, as Ismail describes:

Last year, when Workers’ Liberty was collecting signatures for the campaign to free jailed Iranian trade unionists Shahrokh Zamani and Reza Shahabi, there was a week in which I grabbed two Labour MPs at meetings and asked them to sign. One was Alison McGovern (now supporting Liz Kendall), who looked irritated and said she’d have to look into it. The other was Corbyn, who signed without hesitation and told me to contact his office for more help.

Ismail concludes that Corbyn’s failings do not “cancel out the huge possibilities his campaign offers for breaking the Blairite blockade of working-class politics.”

And yes: Sacha Ismail is writing for Workers’ Liberty, a Trotskyite organisation. Caveat lector and all that. But I think he still makes some valid points in Corbyn’s defence (or at least mitigation).

Here’s another post that addresses the main accusations being made against Jeremy Corbyn by his opponents. I’m unpersuaded by the defence offered in respect of Raed Salah (the writer claims that the “blood libel” quotations were “doctored”; I prefer to accept the immigration tribunal’s conclusions on the subject). Also, while the post defends Corbyn from the charge of being himself antisemitic (which I’m quite sure he’s not), the more widespread, credible and serious accusation is that he has been too willing to turn a blind eye to the antisemitism of some of those with whom he allies himself. The post does, however, offers some robust defences to accusations that Corbyn is pro-Putin, pro-IRA and soft on child abuse.

But to return to the accusation of cosying up to antisemites: as I said above, I can well understand why people would turn against Corbyn over his support for Raed Safah. I am deeply dismayed by it myself, and hope that Corbyn can offer a convincing explanation (and dissociation).

In the meantime, given that my choices as they stand are (a) vote for Corbyn; (b) vote for Cooper, Burnham or Kendall; or (c) abstain (and, to be frank, probably resign from the party altogether), for now I remain a wary supporter of Corbyn for the leadership – though I’m probably going to leave it for a week or two before returning my ballot paper, to see how this plays out. But assuming he becomes leader, his approach to “reactionary anti-Western movements and governments” will need to be watched carefully, and opposed vigorously if he slips back into a “diplomatic soft-soaping” of the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah and Raed Salah.

Update (18 Aug): it’s worth watching Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the allegations about Raef Salah and Peter Eisen in this interview with Cathy Newman: