Opinion

Am I, Too, Part of a Jewish Plot to 'Take Out' Jeremy Corbyn?

When Gideon Levy dismisses anti-Semitism in Labour as 'Jewish-Israeli propaganda,' it's not only a betrayal of the truth and of UK Jews. It turns him into the mirror image of the Israeli leader he so despises

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a rally in central London, Britain, May 12, 2018
\ Toby Melville/ REUTERS

This morning, I woke up from uneasy dreams to find Gideon Levy transformed into Benjamin Netanyahu.

Like Bibi, the self-appointed King of the Jews, the veteran Haaretz columnist feels he can ignore what Jewish communities say about the politicians they have to deal with.

The Israel prime minister has proven his skill in legitimizing those he finds strategically useful, like Viktor Orban and Donald Trump, with his own version of a kosher stamp.

Gideon Levy poses in his home on August 12, 2014 in the coastal Israeli city of Tel Aviv
\ Gil Cohen-Magen

With his astonishing endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn as Britain’s next prime minister, Levy is giving the Corbynites the same kind of hechsher. He thinks they agree on Israel-Palestine. But, blinded by ideology, he’s wrong.

It pains me to write this about someone whose journalism I have always admired. For decades, Levy has been steadfastly covering stories otherwise ignored in the Israeli media. And he has endured endless ad hominem attacks because of it.

(One of the many cliches about Israeli journalism is the number of people who tell you gleefully that "Gideon Levy can’t speak Arabic," or disclose with a sneer that he lives in Sheikh Munis – the Palestinian village that is now Ramat Aviv, as if this somehow undermines the importance of his journalism.)

I can also quite understand that, living in Israel, Levy is used to seeing Jews as overwhelmingly the agents of an oppressive state. It looks a little different, here in the Diaspora.

But it’s not his distance from the events of British politics that is the problem. One of the most important skills for a journalist is to know what they don’t know. Then you can come up with the questions.

Now he has done what his critics have long accused him of: being so blinded by hatred, he puts ideology before the facts.

Levy lauds Corbyn for his pro-Palestinian activism and wilfully ignores his record on a host of other issues – Syria, Russia, and acting as mouthpiece for conveniently anti-imperialist oppressive regimes like Iran.

Corbyn is "one who has fought his whole life for the values he believes in" - and he has indeed stood up for his principles, and continues to do so, even when so many of them are wrong. Opposing apartheid in the 1970s was one thing; refusing to call for the downfall of Assad four decades later is another.

Levy goes on to combine classic whataboutery with straw men arguments aplenty. He argues that the situation of any Jew in Britain is "better, safer, more egalitarian and freer" than Palestinians in either Israel or the occupied territories (a fact which gives British Jews no comfort at all).

Protesters hold placards and flags during a Jewish community demonstration against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Parliament Square, London. March 26, 2018
\ HENRY NICHOLLS/ REUTERS

"When Israel enacts the apartheid law and its soldiers kill 160 unarmed demonstrators on the Gaza border, the only response is to accuse anyone who criticizes this of anti-Semitism," Levy writes, and, from that point on, he slides unpleasantly close to conspiracy theory.

The Jewish establishment in Britain and Israeli propaganda have apparently, "taken out a contract" on Corbyn so as to foil the election of a true socialist who will bring freedom to the Palestinian people.

I don’t really care whether Corbyn is personally an anti-Semite, or not. Somehow, I feel he lacks the imagination and the intelligence to fall on either side of that question. But there is a real problem with anti-Semitism in Labour, and just because the political right is exploiting it doesn’t make it any less true.

I confess my unease is also personal, not least because I respect Levy’s past body of work. I am baffled. As a Jewish, left-wing and previously dedicated Labour voter, not to mention a journalist who has written reams of critical material about both the Anglo-Jewish establishment and Israel – how am I now part of a Jewish plot to take out Corbyn?

Was I part of a conspiracy all along and never knew it? Am I part of this "Jewish-Israeli propaganda" machine? If so, my check seems to have been lost in the post.

It is nauseating to feel you have to try and prove your credentials as the "right" kind of Jew to be heard on this issue.

But I have no interest in defending Israel from anything. Neither have I any interest in its continuation as a Jewish state; godspeed the day it prioritizes democracy over Judaism. I have argued here before that BDS is a legitimate and legal tactic, and cheered on the ICC’s attempts to investigate the IDF over alleged war crimes.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K's opposition Labour Party, during the 'Labour Live' festival in London, U.K. June 16, 2018
Bloomberg

The atmosphere in Britain is toxic right now, a catastrophe fed by divisions over Brexit and the plummeting level of discourse on both the right and the left.

And perhaps the worst thing about the current anti-Semitism crisis in Labour is the sense of betrayal.

There’s a growing queasiness as you realise that people you thought of as natural allies – colleagues, people you grew up with, those whose convictions you feel you share – are willing to turn a blind eye to the situation within the Corbynite wing of Labour.

Tribalism on the left is no less nauseating than that on the right. And Levy’s column - virtue signaling rather than journalism – has not helped. What need do Corbynistas have for introspection when given the seal of approval by none other than the venerable Levy?

I wrote here recently about Seymour Hersh and the sad phenomenon "whereby angry young reporter becomes angry old reporter at the cost of all their critical faculties."

Levy has similarly ignored facts in favour of dogma. How ironic that this should turn him into the mirror image of an Israeli leader he so despises.