I watched this rather nasty hearing on the subject of antisemitism by the Home Affairs Committee, chaired as usual by Keith Vaz, who opened proceedings with a few warm remarks about his long-standing friendship with the chief witness.
Towards the end of the hearing Jeremy Corbyn was asked if Shami Chakrabarti’s report clarified what antisemitism is. He duly obliged with the following definition:
“Antisemitism is where you use epithets to criticise people for being Jewish, you attack Jewish people for what they are, it is completely unacceptable, and I would have thought it’s very obvious what antisemitism is, just as much as would be very obvious what Islamophobia is - if you criticise Moslem people for what they are, what they are alleged to believe, even if they believe in it or not, and I think in the report Ms Chakrabarti makes it very clear that we have to condemn both of those with great vigour equally.”
Shami Chakrabarti was sitting behind Jeremy Corbyn, and she appeared to be acting as his ‘minder’. She nodded and shook her head, scribbled away on a pad and occasionally slipped a post-it note onto the table in front of her client.
Next to Ms Chakrabarti in the front row, directly behind Jeremy Corbyn, sat a stern-faced man in a dark suit who Keith Vaz referred to as “Mr. Rotherham.” He and Ms. Chakkrabarti gave each other meaningful looks, and he too passed a post-it note to Mr. Corbyn. Keith Vaz spotted this and scolded them.
Keith Vaz queried Ms Chakrabarti’s independence in the light of her last-minute decision to join the Labour Party. He suggested that people might regard her report as a whitewash.
“No no”, protested Mr. Corbyn. “Shami is completely independent”.
There was a great deal of waffling about what Mr. Corbyn meant in his accidental comparison between Israel and “Islamic states”. He insisted that he meant it ‘lower case’ i.e., Islamic states in general, not ‘the’ Islamic State.
“Ms Chakrabarti, there is no need to nod at the back” said Mr. Vaz.
This did not go down very well with Ms Chakrabarti and the stern-faced man. Both glared thunderously thenceforth.
Victoria Atkins, James Berry, David Burrowes, Nusrat Ghani, Tim Loughton, Stuart C McDonald, Chuka Umunna, and David Winnick were the MPs who questioned Jeremy Corbyn.
He said he “totally and profoundly disagreed” with the views of Holocaust denier Paul Eisen.
Mr Corbyn reflected on his meeting with Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush earlier this year, which, he said had “lasted quite a long time. We got on quite well. Look if we want a strong cohesive society, we oppose antisemitism because it divides us”.
The Labour leader said he had attended events about the Israel-Palestinian conflict where Holocaust deniers had been removed for making antisemitic comments regarding the Shoah.
He had travelled to Ealing in west London for tea with Raed Salah because the sheikh was under house arrest, he added.
Questioned on why he had accused Guardian journalist and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland of "subliminal nastiness", Mr Corbyn said Mr Freedland had "made comments detrimental to my character".
Mr. Corbyn spoke of his agreeable conversations with “Mr. Akrush”, mispronouncing his name repeatedly. Nusrat Ghani’s approach was rigorous and rather fierce. When Mr. Corbyn kept including “all forms of racism” in his replies she insisted on talking specifically about antisemitism.
Mr. Corbyn responded to her adversarial tone by becoming increasingly insouciant.
She asked if he intended to accept the invitation to visit the leader of the Israeli Labour Party. His evasive answer implied that he would not be accepting it, and it’s widely believed that he hasn’t actually replied at all.
Victoria Atkins was also fittingly adversarial. She raised the subjects of Stephen Sizer and that “cup of tea with Raed Salah”
“I had a discussion with him”, said Corbyn.
He explained his relationship with Paul Eisen:
“Paul Eisen founded a group called Deir Yassin Rembered. Deir Yassin was a village that was destroyed during the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.”
An anti-Israel version of an event, plucked from its proper historical context, unchallenged by the committee. When controversial matters appertaining to Israeli/Arab history are being distorted I do not believe members of the Home Affairs committee are capable of identifying propaganda.
As I’ve said so many times before, Jeremy Corbyn and his ilk have always embraced the Palestinian version of events as if they were definitive, absolute and conclusive.
Corbyn’s total lack of interest in historic events from the pro-Israeli perspective belies all his disingenuous claims about bringing people together, engaging with both sides or talking with “people you disagree with” to secure ‘peace’. He claimed to have visited Israel many times, and to have spoken to Israelis, but he did not go into detail.
David Winnick is too doddery for his shirt I’m afraid, and his supposed support for Israel is half-hearted bordering on full-scale elusive. He appeared to be saying that Israel is guilty as charged, but blaming Jews for it is racist.
“Bombardment of Gaza” intoned Corbyn.
David Burrowes livened things up a bit by mentioning the Hamas Charter, and Keith Vaz obligingly read out the well-known passage, as follows:
“The prophet, peace and prayer be upon him said: the time will not come until Muslims will fight Jews and kill them until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees which will cry ‘O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him’ “
“It’s unacceptable but you have to talk to extremes on both sides.” said the witness.
Chuka Umunna wondered why Corbyn didn’t “call out” Mark Wadsworth, the individual from Momentum who had offended the Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth at the infamous launch of the Chakrabarti report. He said he’d seen the video. In fact we’ve all seen the videos of what happened. From every conceivable angle. He also brought up Jackie Walker’s offensive comment about Jews financing the slave trade.
Tim Laughton enquired about the role of Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s right-hand man and director of communications.
“Is he a friend of Hamas and Hezbollah?”
“You’d better ask him. He’s a man of immense intellect and a scholar. He’s written many books (so has Ernie Wise) and he works extremely hard...”
There is a video, said Mr Laughton, showing Milne praising Hamas for their spirit of resistance and declaring that they would not “be broken”
He was not allowed to show the video to the committee, but Mr. Vaz promised to write to Mr. Corbyn about it at a later date.
Stuart C McDonald wasn’t sure if the report defined what antisemitism is. Corbyn duly obliged:(forgive the repetition.)
“Antisemitism is where you use epithets to criticise people for being Jewish, you attack Jewish people for what they are. It is completely unacceptable and I would have thought it’s very obvious what antisemitism is, just as much as would be very obvious what Islamophobia is. If you cri’icise Moslem people for what they are - what they are alleged to believe - even if they believe in it or not, and I think in the report Ms Chakrabarti makes it very clear that we have to condemn both of those with great vigour equally.”
Is everyone expected to swallow that? Yes, he really did use a glottal stop, and yes, I think he really does believe the above. It seems he doesn’t actually think Muslims believe what they profess to believe, namely Islam. He evidently doesn’t believe that the more devout they are the more antisemitic and homophobic they’re likely to be. He equates antisemitism (hatred of Jews) with Islamophobia, (criticism of Islam) both of which he regards as racist.
“Mr Corbyn, do you agree that Israel has the right to exist? "
“Do you agree that Israel has the right to exist?”
“The State of Israel exists of course”
“Then you agree that it has the right to exist?”
“Yes, and all proposals that are put forward are actually -- that our party’s policy is for a two state solution.”
“Do you understand why Jewish people find it at best offensive and at worst downright antisemitic to have to continually justify Israel’s right to exist?”
“I’m sure they do. There are issues about Israel and its treatment of Palestinian people and occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, and all proposals for a peace process are based around the removal of the settlements and of course an end of the siege of Gaza. Listen! I’be been there many times, and what’s happening is wrong. The killing is wrong..”
“On both sides, presumably”
“Absolutely, but there isn’t a way forward that doesn’t involve dialogue, that doesn’t involve acceptance of the rights of Palestinian people and recognition of a Palestinian state, that surely has to be the right way forward.”
The siege of Gaza!
The ‘treatment’ of the Palestinian people!!!
No-one challenged him on any of that, so I think Jeremy Corbyn could safely say “I was antisemitic a couple of times, but I think I got away with it.”