This week saw a parliamentary debate on anti-semitism that featured a number of attacks on the Labour leadership for its alleged failure to address the issue with the seriousness it deserves.
Joan Ryan MP, who spoke in the debate, followed this up with an article for Progress – shared in the media round-up section of a LabourList morning email earlier this week – containing a gratuitous and malicious slur on the newspaper I edit, the Morning Star.
Ryan’s assertion that the Morning Star has “fed” the “hard left” a “diet of Stalinist anti-semitism and hatred of Israel” could not be further from the truth.
Labour Party members inclined to believe this slur might be interested to know that the Morning Star has been rather more vocal in condemning the hard right racism on the rise across Europe, which she mentions in Poland and Hungary, than she has.
Our paper and its predecessor the Daily Worker have always prided ourselves on opposition to all forms of racism, regularly highlighting the important work being done by organisations including Hope Not Hate, Unite Against Fascism and Stand Up to Racism to build community cohesion and fight hatred and prejudice of all forms.
Ryan’s take on history, in which Labour takes the lead in confronting the Blackshirts and the rise of fascism in the 1930s, is rather selective. It ignores the fact that the strongest opposition to the British Union of Fascists, most famously at the Battle of Cable Street, was undertaken by the Communist Party in east London, which contained hundreds of Jewish members.
That’s not to say that Labour Party members were not involved. They were. But Ryan’s apparent belief that the “centre left” or “moderate” wing of Labour, as she would term it, has taken the lead in fighting racism while the “hard left” (again, using her terminology) is guilty of spreading racist ideas is not borne out by the evidence.
Communists and the Labour left took the lead in fighting racism in the 1930s. It has been the left that has led the anti-racist fight ever since – including Labour’s current leader Jeremy Corbyn, who co-ordinated local councillors and anti-fascists who took direct action to challenge the National Front when it decided to march from Ducketts Common, by Turnpike Lane Tube, to mark Hitler’s birthday in 1977.
Ryan chairs Labour Friends of Israel and hit the headlines early last year when recorded in conversation with Israeli diplomat Shai Masot about £1m of funds provided by the Israeli authorities to take Labour Party members to Israel.
She argues in her article for Progress that Israel is held to standards not expected of other countries, and that this is evidence of racism on the left. Yet the furore if we found agents of another embassy using state funds to influence politicians can only be imagined.
The Morning Star has consistently supported a two-state solution in which the national aspirations of Israel and Palestine alike are recognised. The biggest obstacle to such a solution is the current Israeli government and its policies of settlement expansion in the West Bank, depriving Palestinians of any coherent territory that could form the basis of a future independent state.
For that reason, as well as for obvious humanitarian reasons, the Morning Star condemns Israeli government expansionism and the routine violence meted out to Palestinians living under occupation or siege – as witnessed by the killing of dozens of unarmed protesters along the Gaza border in recent weeks.
If Ryan took the time to read the Morning Star, however, she would find that Israel is not singled out for criticism – and that our pages regularly detail the human rights abuses of other governments including those of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Colombia, Myanmar, the United States and for that matter Britain itself.
She would learn that the “Stalinist” mouthpiece she attacks is in fact a broad left paper that has not been owned by the Communist Party since 1946. It’s a readers’ co-op owned by its shareholders and with the representatives of nine national trade unions, many of them Labour affiliates, on its management committee.
It publishes a wide variety of articles from various left perspectives, from Labour MPs as well as members of the Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, numerous trade union activists from across the labour movement as well as peace and anti-racism campaigners.
Our paper is a firm supporter of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who has massively expanded Labour’s size and appeal and offers a way out of the dead-end free-market fanaticism that has blighted our politics for too long.
We have had the temerity to suggest – as have Jewish organisations including the Jewish Socialists’ Group and Jewish Voice for Labour – that some of the accusations directed at Jeremy Corbyn are motivated by hostility to his left-wing agenda, including on international issues, rather than a genuine concern that this man who has campaigned against racism all his life is actually guilty of anti-semitism.
No doubt that is why Ryan is keen to slander us as anti-semitic. I hope LabourList readers are not so easily taken in.
Ben Chacko is editor of Morning Star.