Opinion

Why Jeremy Corbyn Loves Julian Assange So Much

The UK Labour leader's kneejerk support for the Wikileaks founder is entirely predictable, as is Corbyn's lack of response to the scent of anti-Semitism Assange exudes

Placard calling for freedom for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange held by a protestor at Belmarsh Prison in London, where Assange on remand awaiting sentencing for breaching 2012 bail conditions. April 15, 2019
AFP

Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to Julian Assange’s forced exit from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London last week was to laud him as a twenty-first century folk hero for exposing "evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan" - and to call on the British government to oppose extradition to the U.S.

That kneejerk support was hardly surprising. It follows the pattern that Corbyn has always pursued – to "expose" the inanities and immorality of Western capitalism at all costs, whilst ignoring or appeasing all other injustices. Not least, accusations of anti-Jewish racism.

His response to Assange's arrest triggered a furious response from many Labour MPs, who asserted that even the founder of Wikileaks was not above the law, and had to answer the Swedish authorities' questions about rape and sexual assault – investigations that he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012 in order to avoid. At Sweden’s behest a European arrest warrant was then issued.

Although Corbyn did mention the rape accusation, after a day’s studied silence, this episode offers an insight into and restatement of his ideological tunnel vision.

Why can Corbyn embrace some issues such as Palestinian rights with such enthusiasm, but remain silent on others, such as the repression, breakdown of its national health service and queues of hungry citizens in Venezuela?

Why did Corbyn appear so regularly on Iran's state-controlled Press TV despite the fact that the ayatollahs had mercilessly executed thousands of Iranian socialists during the 1980s?

Why does Corbyn constantly frame himself as a "life-long anti-racist" when he drags his feet with each new revelation of anti-Semitic behaviour by Labour party members?

Regarding Assange, Corbyn has characteristically ignored several accusations of racism directed at the erratic whistleblower. Before his self-imposed sojourn in the embassy in London, Assange was involved in an exchange with the satirical magazine, Private Eye, in which he mused about a possible plot by "Jewish" journalists at the Guardian – even turning the then-editor, Alan Rusbridger, into a Jew.

The novelist Andrew O’Hagan, wrote in the London Review of Books about his experiences as a potential ghostwriter for Assange’s autobiography, commenting that the Wikileaks founder uttered "late at night, many casual libels, many sexist or anti-Semitic remarks." O’Hagan had taped the conversations.

At that time, nearly a decade ago, Assange entertained the idea of a broad Jewish conspiracy out to subvert him and to block his work.

He described discovering the "real" reason for the BBC broadcasting a flagship Panorama news program on Wikileaks: The Secret Story in 2011: "We finally found out that the producer’s wife for this show was part of the Zionist movement in London." This was news to the producer and his wife, neither of which were Jewish, and had no connection with Zionism or Israel.

Assange told Agoravox, a French news site, that he believed that the BBC’s rationale for making the program was to influence the UK judges who would decide his fate – whether or not he should be extradited to Sweden.

Assange had no compunctions in associating with the controversial Israel Shamir, a notorious Holocaust denier and anti-Semite.

Despite Assange’s attempts to row back from such anti-Jewish comments, Corbyn was quick to embrace him since his arrest because he was instrumental in publishing files stolen from the CIA. They included some 2,500 files relating to cables sent by the U.S. Embassy in Israel. This included, for example, private exchanges with the then head of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch, on the rationale of legal rulings on Palestinian human rights issues.

Corbyn himself is no stranger to the release of classified information into the public domain.

He was one of the major activists in the British campaign to free Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu from prison in Israel. Regarded as a traitor by the Israeli public, Vanunu became a cause célèbre for the far left in the UK. Corbyn is believed to have visited Israel 20 years ago, as a then-inconsequential parliamentarian, to plead Vanunu’s case and was due to be part of the "welcome party" at his release in 2004. 

Like Corbyn, Wikileaks has been suspiciously reticent about annoying Putin’s Russia with any negative statements. It's already a matter of public record that Robert Mueller, has charged 12 Russian Military Intelligence operatives with hacking and dissemination of data belonging to the Democratic Party, and Wikileaks was in touch with Guccifer 2.0, a persona created by the GRU. Wikileaks’ release of campaign insider material belonging to the Democrats may well have lubricated the path to victory for Donald Trump in the 2016 elections.

Less well-known is the effect of the barely-redacted Wikileaks exposure of the secret back-channel to Tehran operated by a Lubavitcher Hasid and Muslim-Jewish interfaith activist in London, Rabbi Herschel Gluck, which was intended to mediate the release of an Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas in Gaza. Gluck's efforts came to an abrupt halt.

More of a contrast, rather than an analogy, with the clear public interest of the famed Pentagon Papers leak,  which in 1971 exposed the lies of the U.S. administration regarding its involvement in Vietnam.

Corbyn is clearly oblivious to any degree of complexity about Assange’s righteousness - that would require a measure of nuanced thought.

He was unmoved even by the protestations of his own shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, who stated: "Whenever I see pictures of Julian Assange or hear about him I think of two women in Sweden" who made allegations of sexual assault against him, and that she was "disgusted" that a focus on American attempts to extradite Assange over U.S. military leaks (Corbyn's stated position) had been allowed to "eclipse the cases" of those two Swedish women.

It is this one-dimensional approach to politics that has allowed him to share a platform with Islamist reactionaries from Hamas to Hezbollah, to be silent when they mouth anti-Jewish (rather than anti-Israel) comments, to defend authoritarian regimes and to believe that Julian Assange is a hero for our time.

Needless to say, Corbyn's positions bear no relation to the very essence of what it means to be a socialist.

Colin Shindler is an emeritus professor in Israel Studies at SOAS, University of London