by Owen Jones on Tumblr
Disclaimer: I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for years, and I support his against-all-odds leadership campaign.
In his decades of political activity, Jeremy Corbyn has attended who knows how many meetings and protest rallies, but it will surely number in the thousands. He’s now under attack from the British media for having shared a platform or met people with vile views, specifically anti-Semitism and vile Holocaust denial.
Anybody who knows Jeremy Corbyn knows that he doesn’t even have a trace of anti-Semitism, that abhorring racism and anti-Semitism is absolutely central to his whole political DNA. But as these guilt-by-association smears escalate, I thought it was worth writing this.
I speak at a huge number of events each year – meetings, conferences, rallies, protests. Now, I’ve been doing this for a much shorter space of time than Jeremy Corbyn. But I must have shared a platform, or been at the same event, as thousands of people. I often have no idea who is going to be there: I’m invited, and then they go on to invite other speakers, there are other speakers later in the day, and so on.
I was once invited to speak at a conference about Islamophobia, organised by a Muslim organisation that has worked with both Labour and Conservative MPs. In the end, I couldn’t actually make it. But a blog appeared on a left-bashing website suggesting that I was going to share a platform with a gay-hater. Now, I’d never heard of this individual until this blog appeared. They were, apparently, due to speak later in the day at this conference. I came under attack, nonetheless, and it’s still occasionally dredged up even now.
Another time, a woman asked for a photograph with me and Tony Benn at a fundraiser. She went on to organise a celebration of Margaret Thatcher’s death – and the Telegraph and a right-wing blog ended up linking me to her.
Now I must have met all sorts of people at these conferences, talked to them – without knowing anything about them.
I could of course insist on a detailed list of every single person invited to all protests, meetings and conferences, and then do detailed background checks on all of them. I probably don’t need to explain how ridiculously impractical this would be.
And here is the problem facing Jeremy Corbyn. If he knew somebody had anti-Semitic views or indulged Holocaust denial, he would find their views utterly repulsive. But having spent his life attending more meetings and protests than virtually any other MP, he will have encountered and met countless people. I can’t remember people I’ve shared platforms with and met (which has led to many embarrassing moments in my case) and the idea an MP like Corbyn juggling his constituency and campaigning work and meeting the number of people he does will remember is pushing human capabilities to an extreme degree.
Obviously meetings Jeremy Corbyn has attended are being trawled for other participants, with the intent of linking him to unsavoury individuals. Repeated denials of anti-Semitic links will be sought so headlines like ‘Corbyn denies anti-Semitic links’ can be manufactured with an obvious intent.
There is a real problem that comes out of this which must be addressed. The vast majority of people in the Palestine solidarity movement are motivated by justice. But a minority are anti-Semites, and they need to be tackled and driven out of the movement. The failure to do so will mean that people like me – who support the Palestinian cause out of a sense of justice – will risk meeting or sharing platforms with people who indulge or possess anti-Semitic views.
It’s also worth exploring the obvious double standard at work. Our government arms dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, an extremist regime that beheads people for being gay or being “sorcerers”, and which is deeply complicit in the rise of extremism which is a clear and present danger to the people of the Middle East and of this country, too. Someone like Tony Blair can work for murderous dictatorships like Kazakhstan or Egypt, regimes that kill and torture their own people. But this is regarded as perfectly acceptable, with minimal scrutiny.
The current media campaign against Corbyn is tawdry indeed, and intended to smear a man who has less malice than virtually anyone I’ve ever met, who is more passionate about anti-racism than practically any other cause. But it will be like nothing compared to what will be unleashed if he wins. I’m one of his only defenders in the mainstream media, and will do my utmost with the platform that I have to challenge these smears – but it will need far more voices than just me.