A Corbyn supporter responds to Paul Berman’s critique of the Left
December 11, 2018 • 9:54 AM
The full Tablet series featuring Paul Berman’s original three-part essay on the state of the contemporary Left, along with responses to Berman from writers across the political spectrum, is collected here.
Paul Berman warns of a Western Left characterized by an irrational hatred of Israel, a reflexive blame-America posture, and a blind eye to Islamist fanaticism. In response to this perceived plague, he calls for a “preliminary charge” by progressives of conscience against “anti-Zionists and the Farrakhanites and any lingering Chavistas”, along with movements like BDS and individual leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.
I don’t accept Berman’s underlying presumptions, and hence see his warnings as misplaced. Let’s start with his most influential contemporary target. Berman approvingly cites the consensus of UK Jewish organizations that “a culture of classic anti-Semitism [has] taken root” inside Corbyn’s Labour Party. But is that factual? No one has been able to disprove the conclusion of Labour’s internal review, which found that cases of anti-Semitism within the party’s ranks represent “less than 0.1 percent” of Labour’s members.
But I am admittedly biased. I happen to admire Corbyn’s unapologetic opposition to neoliberal economics and advocacy for a more just, humane society. I also admire Corbyn for being, in the words of the Israeli writer Gideon Levy, “a staunch, consistent opponent of Israel’s occupation policy.” To Levy, opposing that occupation is not only Corbyn’s “right; as a true leftist it’s his duty.”
It is Corbyn’s consistent and principled fulfillment of that duty that I believe explains why he has been labeled an anti-Semite. His foes are following an old playbook: Defenders of the Israeli government have long cheapened the meaning of the term “anti-Semitism” and the memory of the Holocaust by deploying both as weapons to silence defenders of Palestinian rights. It is striking that Corbyn’s detractors, like Berman, see no irony in attacking him for appearing at an event with Hajo Meyer, an Auschwitz survivor. At the event, not Corbyn but Meyer himself criticized the exploitation of Nazi crimes to launder Israeli crimes,