‘This Land’ by Owen Jones

This is a well-written and fascinating insider’s account of the rise and fall of Corbyn. 

The progressive drift into chaos of the Labour Party, culminating in the heavy defeat on 12 December 2019 (what a wonderful birthday present that was …), is graphically illustrated by the liberal use of the ‘F’ word by Jones’ interlocutors. I started counting on p199. By p319 (the end of the final chapter) I counted 17 occurrences.

However the chapter on antisemitism is profoundly self-contradictory.  Jones deplores the Labour Party’s failure to properly address the issue, but then he repeats many of the slurs about Israel which fuelled the antisemitism.

The book contains several revelations (at least to me).  Alan Johnson, the likeable former postman who became an MP and a  Minister under both Blair and Brown, headed the Labour Remain campaign for the 2016 referendum.  At the parliamentary vote in December 2015 on approving military action in Syria, the Corbyn-supporting MP Clive Lewis saw Johnson sitting on a  step and greeted him.  Johnson responded “Fuck off, and tell your fucking Momentum mates who are plastering my surgery with shit to fuck off as well. You’ve ruined this party.”

And later in the book Jones reveals that Simon Morris, the former CEO of Jewish Care, was approached by Karie Murphy (who headed Corbyn’s Office) to help smooth the antisemitism crisis as a paid LOTO adviser.  Funding for the post and a job description were signed off.  However before meeting Corbyn, Seamus Milne and Andrew Fisher, Morris suggested that Corbyn should visit Israel. The appointment never happened, Corbyn ‘doing his disappearing act routine to avoid awkward conversations’.  It was a similar story with Daniel Levy, Lord Levy’s son, whose politics are close to those of Corbyn. He ‘showed no interest in meeting him’.

In July 2018 Margaret Hodge MP let fly at Corbyn over antisemitism. On the initiative of Karie Murphy, Hodge was sent a Notice of Investigation, the first step in suspension.  John McDonnell tried to broker a compromise and prevent further escalation. But Corbyn stubbornly refused. It caused a rift between Corbyn and McDonnell that lasted weeks. In August here came a predictable climbdown: The disciplinary action against Hodge was dropped without her offering Corbyn’s demanded apology.

As you might expect Jones has little time for Boris Johnson. However the invective he uses to describe Johnson is completely OTT: ‘untrustworthy, with  record of dishonesty and lies, and a history or racism, homophobia and bigotry’ ; ‘record of overt homophobic, Islamophobic and generally racist behaviour’; ‘a right wing charlatan with record of deceit, whose sole guiding principle was the pursuit of power, with a history of whipping up bigotry against minorities ranging from Muslims to gay people.’ Having campaigned for Johnson against Livingstone in 2008 and having worked at the GLA when Johnson was Mayor, this opprobrium is ridiculous.

Jones’ 46 page chapter on antisemitism (‘The Antisemitism Crisis’) cannot pass without comment:

Jones says that the antisemites who harassed Luciana Berger were ‘predominantly on the far right’. True that of the six people convicted of offences against her, four were from the political right and two from the left.   But particularly after she spoke out about antisemitism in Labour, she received many letters signed by self-declared Corbyn supporters delivered to her office by hand, warning that she would be raped, stabbed and covered in acid. In her resignation statement she called Labour ‘institutionally antisemitic’. Here is what she said in the Commons on 17/4/18:

That is why I have no words for the people purporting to be both members and supporters of our party and using the hashtag JCforPM who have attacked me in recent weeks for my comments, for speaking at the rally against anti-Semitism, and for questioning the remarks of those endorsing the anti-Semitic mural. They say I should be de-selected, and they have called it all a smear.”

And she had to have police protection at the 2018 Labour Party Conference.

The chapter begins by citing the 2015 CAA/YouGov poll on antisemitism in the UK (the Antisemitism Barometer).   It found, for example, that 25% believe that Jews ‘chase money more than other British people’. The conclusion Jones draws (supported by a quote from Jon Lansman) is that  if there’s lots of antisemitism in the population at large then it follows that there must be lots in Labour.  But the antisemitic statements polled in that survey  excluded most of the Israel-based examples in the IHRA. Same applies to the ordering of political parties in that poll, which put Labour in third place, behind the Conservatives.    Polls which reflect IHRA more accurately find that Israel-based antisemitism is highest on the far Left and in Labour, when it was led by Corbyn.  For example the 2019 CAA/YouGov Antisemitism Barometer found that 60% of far Left respondents agreed with the statement ‘Israel treats  the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews’ and that among the main political leaders in the UK,  Corbyn was the choice for many antisemites. The 2017 Jewish Policy Research Survey bore this result out. CAA also tracks antisemitism among current and former MPs, Parliamentary candidates and Members of the House of Lords. The Conservatives have had 11 incidents, the LibDems 31 incidents (17 of which were down to Baroness Tonge, no longer a member). Labour is easily the worst offender on this measure with 130 transgressions (again some transgressors have been expelled, notably Williamson with 26 offences).

Jones describes Israel’s settlements in Judea and Samaria as ‘illegal’. No they are not. The San Remo Conference (1920) drew up rules for the British Mandate. Article 6 charged Britain with the duty to facilitate Jewish immigration and close settlement by Jews in the territory which then included Transjordan. It has never been revoked so remains valid today.

Jones states that “the brutality of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands is undeniable”. There is no “brutality”. Israel is obliged to use force to defend itself from terror but has never used disproportionate force. And Israel respects human rights, for example treating children with cancer in Gaza at Israeli hospitals.

On p220 Jones writes ‘Some cynically deploy the charge of antisemitism to shut down legitimate criticisms of oppressive policies pursued by Israeli governments’. This is the well worn ‘Livingstone Formulation’ used time and time again by the Left – who never cite any evidence for the charge, for a good reason – there isn’t any. Jones suggests that Netanyahu’s description of BDS as ‘antisemitism in a new garb’ proves his point.  No it does not. IHRA says that applying standards to Israel which you don’t apply to any other democratic nation is antisemitic. If you want to boycott Israel but do not want to boycott eg Turkey or Russia, that’s antisemitic.

On the same page Jones says that ‘the establishment of a unified secular state of Jews and Palestinians is a legitimate belief‘. Wrong. It’s antisemitic to call for the end of  a Jewish State (‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination’ is antisemitic according to IHRA). And such a state would not simply be ‘established’.  It would have to be imposed, with the loss of tens of thousands of Israeli lives.

Still on page 220, Jones writes of the ‘theft of land’ and ‘state-sponsored racism’. Neither is true. In the 19th and early 20th centuries land for Jewish immigrants was bought by philanthropists such as Baron Rothschild.  In 1948 the Arabs attacked the Jewish areas but were defeated and as is accepted in the Law of War the Jewish armies made land gains. The same happened in 1967 – in fact the lands were offered back, but the offer was met by the ‘three No’s’ at Khartoum.

On page 222 Jones brackets Israel together with Saudi Arabia and Turkey as human-rights-abusing regimes. This simply shows his ignorance about Israel, in common in fact with all Corbynites. Human rights are sacrosanct in Israel. In the event of an international disaster such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Israel is always among the first countries to provide practical assistance. How can Jones possibly compare Israel with Turkey, which has attacked the Kurds, or Saudi Arabia, where there is no free speech or right of assembly and where the death penalty is regularly used for a wide range of crimes, including drug offences?  Members of the Shi’a minority have been executed following grossly unfair trials. Is Jones serious……

Then we read ‘Unquestionably, Corbyn’s unstinting support for the Palestinians is one reason why some of his enemies regarded him as an unacceptable Labour leader from the outset.’ Wrong. Corbyn was unacceptable from the outset because of his history of antisemitism – referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as his ‘friends’; constantly appearing on PressTV; agreeing to be  a Patron of the antisemitic PSC; praising Raed Salah, jailed for inciting violence in Israel; defending the reportedly antisemitic Hamas supporter Stephen Sizer…. The list goes on for pages.

Jenny Manson is the Chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, an organisation set up to whitewash antisemitism in the Labour Party.  I have debated against her on BBC World News and can confirm that she’s not terribly bright.  Interviewed for the book by Jones, she said – trying to suggest that Jews cannot be antisemitic (of course they can) – “You don’t get black people accused of anti-black racism; it’s quite extraordinary”. (I’m told that fellow choristers in Hampstead Garden Suburb have even refused to sing with her).

On 25 April 2018 there was a meeting of the Board of Deputies with Corbyn. It went nowhere. Incredibly Jones writes ‘It did not help that some members of the Board brought the subject of Israel into the proceedings’.  Again Jones demonstrates his wilful ignorance about the antisemitism problem in Labour. The delegitimisation and demonization of Israel was CENTRAL to it. To criticise the Board of Deputies for wanting to talk about it is like criticising climate change lobbyists for wanting to talk about global warming. It’s ludicrous.

Jones states that Labour adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism on 12 December 2016. No it did not. The definition includes eleven examples. Labour only adopted the first 38 words which are simply a platitude (‘Antisemitism may be expressed as hatred towards Jews’ …. No shit Sherlock!).

Jones states that the Nation State Law passed in 2018 downgraded the rights of Arabs.  No. The law simply established in law most of the provisions of the 1948 Declaration of Independence. It changes little. For example the statement that the state’s language is Hebrew is a statement of the de facto position. The statement recognising that the Arabic language has a special status in the state and will be regulated by law is substantial recognition of the second language. The additional statement that this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect makes clear that Arabic is retaining its status. All relevant official documents continue to be published in Arabic as well as in Hebrew.

And the statement that ‘The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people’ accords with the general principle of nation states which declare or assume that no other people will take it over as their nation state.  Because of the history of persecution of Jews, those who care about the welfare of Jews recognise the need for Israel to protect its Jewish character.

Finally, Jones states that Manuel Hassassian was the ‘Palestinian ambassador’ to the UK. No – he was the diplomatic representative.  ‘Palestine’ is not recognised as a country by the UK government.

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Jones endorses the argument in the leaked Labour draft submission to the EHRC – that the slowness in dealing with cases of antisemitism was down to the Labour staff who wanted to undermine Corbyn.  Will the Equality and Human Rights Commission agree? We will soon find out.

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