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Don't Let the Smears That Sank Corbyn Tank Bernie Sanders

"Labour’s worst performance since 1983 carries an important lesson for the grassroots left-wing campaign in the United States to elect Bernie Sanders as president: You must defeat false anti-Semitism smears at all costs."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced Thursday night he would not lead the party through another election after Conservatives won control of the British government. (Photo by Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

The Labour Party suffered a devastating defeat on Thursday.

Jeremy Corbyn immediately announced he would not lead the party into another election.

With this defeat, the UK – and the world – have lost perhaps the best opportunity in a generation to send a resounding message through the ballot box against neoliberal austerity and endless war.

But Labour’s worst performance since 1983 carries an important lesson for the grassroots left-wing campaign in the United States to elect Bernie Sanders as president: You must defeat false anti-Semitism smears at all costs.

Do not indulge, entertain or appease them.

The main issue that dominated the UK’s election campaign was the European Union.

Brexit-supporting working class seats in the North punished Labour for endorsing a second referendum. The party was blamed for blocking the result of the 2016 vote, which endorsed leaving the EU.

But aside from Brexit, the only other issue that dominated was “Labour anti-Semitism.”

As I have reported for more than four years, Corbyn’s new Labour Party has been subjected to an unprecedented smear campaign.

Yes, of course, in a mass movement of half a million people, there will inevitably be a few with reactionary views.

But the idea that Corbyn’s Labour Party had any unique problem with anti-Semitism was always a deliberate smear campaign. There is simply no evidence for this.

It was a lie manufactured to smash the left and the Palestine solidarity movement.

Smeared from the start

When it became clear in 2015 that a veteran Palestine solidarity activist would lead Britain’s main opposition party, the campaign began to falsely paint the movement that swept Corbyn into the leadership as anti-Semitic.

People are not stupid and usually know when they are being lied to. But propaganda sustained for long enough works. In this election, the lie began to cut through to the electorate.

Several Labour activists told me anti-Semitism came up on the doorstep and in conversations as reasons people could not vote Labour.

These views were held in a shallow, but wide fashion. When challenged, they crumbled.

But the problem was they were so rarely challenged as mainstream media repeated the claims about the party’s anti-Semitism as a given, with no need for evidence.

Indeed, Labour activists were even punished for challenging the smears.

A national poll commissioned by the Jewish News – a consistently anti-Palestinian publication – found that 55 percent of those surveyed earlier this year agreed with the claim that Corbyn’s “failure to tackle anti-Semitism within his own party shows he is unfit to be Prime Minister.”

The poll found that half of British adults agreed that Labour “has a serious anti-Semitism problem,” up from just a third less than a year earlier.

Four and a half years of relentless smearing of Jeremy Corbyn took its toll.

Right-wing propaganda

This woeful situation came about because the British establishment, the Labour right and the pro-Israel lobby teamed up to fight a war to the death against Corbyn and what he represents.

Labour’s long-dominant and intransigent right-wing always refused to accept the democratic result of the 2015 leadership election, launching a failed coup against Corbyn in 2016.

But the right continued to sabotage the party, even as many anti-Corbyn lawmakers quit Labour.

Britain’s permanent security-intelligence apparatus was also involved.

Former and current military and intelligence sources constantly leaked and fabricated claims against Corbyn portraying him as a “security threat” and “extremist.”

In the days before the election a group of “former” British spies even peddled a far-right conspiracy theory against Corbyn, dubbed “Hijacked Labour.”

It was published by The Sun, Britain’s most read newspaper and a cheerleader for the Conservative Party.

Both the article and the website were later deleted but, as so often, the damage was done.

The spooks relied on neo-Nazi sources and anti-Semitic ideas about “Cultural Marxism” – the same poisonous idea that animated Norway mass shooter Anders Breivik to massacre dozens of members of the youth wing of that country’s Labor Party in 2011.

Yet the military intelligence-linked site still smeared Corbyn and the left-wing Labour leadership with “anti-Semitism,” which, it claimed, was “inevitable because they are Marxists.”

The smears worked

Meanwhile, Israel and its lobby groups inside and outside the Labour Party continued to attack Corbyn.

Even on polling day, Shurat HaDin, an acknowledged front-group for Israel’s Mossad spy agency, tweeted at high-profile Labour supporters accusing them of encouraging a “a vote for terror.”

Earlier in the week Yair Lapid, co-leader of Israel’s main opposition party openly stated he was going to “interfere” in the UK’s election.

He then asserted that “Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite.”

This came after years of open and covert interference to abort the threat of Corbyn reaching 10 Downing Street.

The lie was always the same – presented without evidence – that the massive popular movement that elected Corbyn to the leadership was infested by anti-Semites.

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But propaganda – as powerful and widespread as it was – is not the main reason the anti-Semitism smears worked.

Corbyn’s mistake

The same poll for the Jewish News also found that 52 percent of Labour voters agreed that “Jeremy Corbyn is the target of a concerted smear campaign by his political opponents to try to discredit him over anti-Semitism.”

The smears worked because instead of pushing back, Corbyn and his advisers capitulated to them.

This was a fatal mistake.

Instead of challenging lies as lies, Corbyn kept robotically condemning anti-Semitism, even when there was no real anti-Semitism to condemn. He hoped that would be enough to make the issue go away.

The time to condemn anti-Semitism is when real and lethal anti-Semitism is happening – overwhelmingly from the right.

But condemning “anti-Semitism” in the face of a fabricated smear campaign to defend Israel and smash the left was a recipe for disaster.

Corbyn effectively accepted the lie that Labour had a “problem” with anti-Semitism and opened himself to more attacks that he wasn’t doing “enough” to combat it.

As the anti-Semitism witch hunt escalated, many good socialists were pushed out of the party for doing nothing wrong.

Corbyn was unable or unwilling to prevent it, while Labour centrists hoped that throwing just one more comrade under the bus would finally put the accusations to rest.

These retreats set a long pattern.

Well-known British figures were targets of the witch hunt: They included former London mayor Ken Livingstone, socialist lawmaker Chris Williamson and anti-racist and left-wing campaigners Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and Tony Greenstein.

Many of those suspended, expelled or investigated are Jewish anti-Zionists.

They were falsely accused, demonized and then forced out – with Corbyn’s acquiescence.

But the Israel lobby and the the intransigent Labour right were never appeased because the “anti-Semitism crisis” was never about real anti-Semitism.

It was about removing Corbyn and ending the left-wing ascendancy whose platform included support for Palestinian rights as part of a foreign policy with justice and solidarity as central values.

The damage goes far beyond Labour, with the emergence of open threats to ban Palestine solidarity and crack down on left-wing publications.

John Mann, a former right-wing Labour MP who now works for Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, plans to investigate The Canary and other independent publications for supposed anti-Semitism. In other words, the witch hunt is far from over.

Lesson for America

The “Labour anti-Semitism crisis” strategy is already being rolled out across the Atlantic against anyone who challenges support for Israel or US imperialism.

One of the most high-profile targets of false accusations of anti-Semitism has been Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

The lies about Omar – gleefully amplified by Donald Trump – were meant to protect Israel and smash the left.

Instead of fighting back, Democratic Party leaders have chosen appeasement: apologizing for anti-Semitism where it doesn’t exist.

That’s the strategy that helped sink Corbyn.

Now Bernie Sanders and the party’s left are being targeted too – and the attacks will escalate if he wins in Iowa in February.

It does not matter that Sanders is Jewish. It does not even matter that Sanders has pronounced himself “100 percent pro-Israel.”

A smear that goes unchallenged can eventually gain traction.

Democratic Party and Israel lobby mega-donor Haim Saban made clear in July, when the primary field was much wider: “We love all 23 candidates … minus one. I profoundly dislike Bernie Sanders.”

The Israel lobby and the Democratic Party right will use the anti-Semitism smear against Sanders and the left because it has been proven effective in the UK.

It cannot be a good sign that Neera Tanden, a key Hillary Clinton adviser, helped spread the smears against Corbyn:

Sadly, some on the British left indulged the smear campaign.

Jon Lansman, supposedly a key Corbyn ally and leader of the left-wing Momentum movement, at one stage in 2016 wanted Corbyn out, and claimed baselessly that Corbyn’s Labour had a major problem with anti-Semitism.

American friends and comrades: Do not make the same mistake as Corbyn and Lansman. Do not apologize for anti-Semitism where there is none.

Forcefully reject the lie that the left that supports equality and freedom for Palestinians and opposes US imperialism is anti-Semitic.

Do not buckle, do not bend. Reject the smears. Denounce the smearers.

It’s the right thing to do in principle and it’s the only way to win.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East. He has been visiting Palestine since 2004 and is originally from south Wales. He writes for the award-winning Palestinian news site The Electronic Intifada where he is an associate editor and also a weekly column for the Middle East Monitor.

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