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On meeting dodgy people

by Owen Jones on Tumblr

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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.

3 Comments

  1. As an American, I know very little in regard to British Politics, since I am primarily concerned with our own problems here in the Empire’s “Homeland”. Moreover, now that I’ve been banned by the losers over at the Guardian, I spend much less time perusing their articles than I once did.

    That being said, I did notice from my reading here that the Guardian has really gone after Jeremy Corbyn in what would seem to be a calculated effort to denigrate the man. Until now, I had wondered about the reason for their tenacity. However, it now appears that their concerns relate to reputational and career self-preservation.

    In an era in which our friends at the Guardian have been particularly guilty of supporting NATO’s aggressive actions in the Ukraine to the point of publishing laudatory articles in praise of Neo-Nazis, their concerns in regard to an outspoken guy like Mr. Corbyn are not unfounded.

    Below is a link to a nice little article about Tony Blair and his inability, so many years after the fact, to escape his culpability for the Iraq War. The article discusses the looming Chilcott Report and ends with a one-minute video clip in which Mr. Corbyn emphatically argues that all of those responsible for war crimes, up to and including Tony Blair, should be tried.

    What a quaint proposition! The man must be crazy—or maybe not. As our friends at the Guardian well know, any examination of British Politicians for their involvement in War Crimes must ultimately lead to an examination of the role of the British Media. This means that Mr. Corbyn’s rise could very well threaten the careers of the stenographers, hagiographers and professional propagandists at the Guardian and elsewhere who march in lockstep support for every military intervention, from Iraq to the Ukraine.

    To my knowledge, only one “journalist” has ever been censured for playing a role in promoting the Iraq War. That person was Judith Miller, of the New York Times. Ms. Miller took the hit for both the Bushies and The Times when she was bounced with grotesque fanfare as a cover for The Times other culpable writers and editors. Now, 13 years after the fact, Ms. Miller is hawking her new book to no takers in an effort to vindicate herself with the same old lies.

    Now, while it might eventually be somewhat gratifying to see hacks like Sean Walker hawking their self-justification novellas in the tubes of London while hocking heirlooms to eat, it would have to mean that the intermittent years would not be a good thing for the Ukrainians. In fact, none of us might be around if the war he is promoting ultimately goes nuclear. Therefore, the time to expose and investigate all of these pimps for permanent war, from the Blairs to the Walkers, is right now.

    Finally, if any examination of the role of politicians or so-called “journalists” is ever to be undertaken, it will have to start in Britain. Even then, it is doubtful that any such self-examination would ever take place here in the Amerikan “Homeland”, since we are an exceptional people and clearly above reproach. Still, one can always hope and Britain is the key.

    Here’s that link, I promised above!

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article42750.htm

  2. Guest says

    It’s interesting how the writer States he is the only defender in the MSM.
    This really highlights the lack of diversity in the media and public life.
    The media all sing from the same hymn sheet.

  3. “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.”
    Labour Party Central Office could probably help you out with that.

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