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Weissman writes: "It will be interesting to see if Jeremy Corbyn can root out such bigotry within his ranks. I still have hope. Much as Bernie Sanders opened up to American Muslims in a very human way, Zadiq Khan is responding to the concerns of British Jews, whatever their political view."

Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. (photo: unknown)
Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. (photo: unknown)

Bernie Sanders Wins the Trust of America's Muslims While Jeremy Corbyn Stumbles Over Jew-Bashing in Britain

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

09 May 16


ven though he was a leading civil rights activist at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, Bernie has failed miserably to convince most black voters that he truly has their interests at heart. Compare this to his success in winning support from American Muslims, which suggests a much better way to go.

British politics inspires the same clash of delight and despair. Zadiq Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants and a devout Muslim, won election as London’s mayor, trouncing (56.8% to 43.2%) the Tories’ Zac Goldsmith, scion of a German-Jewish banking dynasty, who accused Khan of giving cover to terrorists, particularly during his years as a well-known human rights lawyer. Within the Labour Party, the followers of former prime minister Tony Blair continue to plot against leftist party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who goes on giving them ammunition with his tone-deaf handling of obvious Jew-bashing. “It can’t be right,” said the Muslim mayor of Europe’s largest city, “that there are Londoners of Jewish faith who feel the Labour Party is not a place for them.”

Look Who’s Feeling the Bern

Proudly Jewish, though secular, and “100% pro-Israel,” as Bernie Sanders famously described himself in his April debate with Hillary in Brooklyn, he has never hesitated to support Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself against attack. But, even at the risk of losing Jewish voters, he called Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza “disproportionate,” and publicly declared what Democratic Party politicians had only whispered privately, that “Netanyahu is not right all the time.”

“If we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war,” said Sanders, “we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.”

Many of us who back Bernie might have wanted him to go much further. Even so, his honesty and not always successful struggle with his own heritage have won enormous support from American Muslims. “On foreign policy, Sanders has shown the most even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” wrote the Arab American News. Located in Dearborn, Michigan, America’s largest Arab community, the paper played a leading role in helping Bernie carry the state and win Arab and Muslim support elsewhere. Their endorsement in March speaks volumes.

“Although his views on this issue do not rise to the aspirations of Arab Americans who would like to see Washington take a clear stance against Israel’s human rights abuses and occupation of Palestinian land, Sanders’ call for ending the blockade of Gaza is a step in the right direction, his condemnation of Israeli attacks that kill Palestinian civilians is unprecedented by any major presidential candidate.”

Asha Mohamood Noor, a local activist in Dearborn, drilled even deeper into Bernie’s appeal. While she wanted to talk about his social and economic vision, she made an observation that many may find surprising. “Bernie often discusses, often talks about, the oppression faced by the Jewish people in Europe,” she told The Intercept. “Definitely, I think it appeals to [Muslim American] emotions because they’re feeling a lot of backlash in America and around the world, and he often draws a parallel between the Jewish struggle and the Arab and Muslim struggle in a way that is very genuine and very true.”

Livingstone and Netanyahu

In his effort to revitalize democratic socialism, Jeremy Corbyn has looked to many like the British Bernie Sanders. But he has faced unending attacks for tolerating anti-Semitism. These have come from the organized Jewish community, the media, the Tories, followers of Tony Blair, and other aggressively pro-American advocates of neo-liberal economics, all of whom have used the issue to discredit Labour’s left wing. In response, many progressive British Jews downplayed the charges. So did I. As my grandmother used to warn me, if you spit in my eye, I would tell you it’s raining.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt. But I got over it last month, when Ken Livingstone appeared all over British media, ostensibly to defend Naz Shah, a Labour MP, who had already apologized in Parliament for some anti-Israel jibes she had borrowed from Jews for Justice for Palestinians. “Red Ken,” as his supporters call him, is a former mayor of London and one of Corbyn’s closest comrades.

“Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel,” Livingstone went out of his way to interject. “He was supporting Zionism – this was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

As Livingstone continues to insist – and on this he is absolutely right – Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said much the same about Hitler at the World Zionist Congress last October. The Times of Israel reported Bibi’s speech and reactions to it, showing how the Israeli leader tried to blame the Holocaust on the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husaini. The Mufti, whom many Palestinians still revere as a pioneering leader of their national movement, visited Hitler in Berlin on November 28, 1941.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time,” Netanyahu told the delegates. He wanted to expel the Jews.” But, said Bibi, the Mufti told Hitler, “If you expel them they’ll all come here” to British-ruled Palestine.

“So what should I do with them?” Hitler asked. According to Bibi, the Mufti replied, “Burn them.”

Jews in Israel and around the world reacted in horror. Was Netanyahu “absolving” Hitler and the Nazis of responsibility for the Holocaust? The uproar forced Netanyahu to back down, though only in part. “The decision to move from a policy of deporting Jews to the Final Solution was made by the Nazis and was not dependent on outside influence,” he tweeted a few days later. “The Nazis saw in the mufti a collaborator, but they did not need him to decide on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, which began in June 1941.”

Bibi’s backtracking still got the history wrong. As I have previously noted, and as the widely respected historian Gerald Fleming documented, Hitler confided to the German journalist Josef Hell that his “first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews.” Hitler said that in 1922, not 1941.

Bernie Sanders nailed it. “Netanyahu is not right all the time.”

Hitler and the Zionists?

Netanyahu was sticking it to Palestinians, Livingstone was sticking it to Jews – and not for the first time, as I discovered with a quick spin on Google and some long-distance tutoring from historian Stan Nadel in Austria.

Back in the early 1980s, Ken co-edited the Labour Herald, which became notorious for baiting Jews. One widely-cited example: a cartoon showing Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin as an SS officer in jackboots trampling a pile of Arab corpses. The headline read “The Final Solution.” The Labour Herald also ran what looks like a prologue of Ken’s latest comments on collaboration between Nazis and Zionists. Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis repeatedly told the same lies, but this came from the left.

Flash forward to 2004. As mayor of London, Red Ken publicly embraced Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric and radio preacher who had previously encouraged genital mutilation of young girls, beating disobedient wives, lashing homosexuals, and suicide bombing Israeli civilians. He also portrayed the Holocaust as Allah’s punishment of the Jews.

Qaradawi had reportedly changed some of his reactionary views, and Livingstone went out of his way to highlight how “progressive” the cleric had become. Ken also kept his distance on gay rights, which he had long supported. “I don’t agree with the position of Dr. Qaradawi on lesbian and gay rights,” said Livingstone. “We won’t be seeing him at the next [Gay] Pride march, but here is the force that we need to engage with if we are to get a dialogue between the west and the Muslim world.”

As far as I can find, Ken never distanced himself from Qaradawi’s unchanged position on Israel, Jews, and the Holocaust. Ken’s silence was deafening, especially to British Jews.

The following year, an Evening Standard reporter named Oliver Finegold asked Ken about a gay rights gathering he had just hosted at City Hall. Finegold recorded the confrontation. “Was it a good party?” he asked.

“What did you do before?” Ken replied. “Were you a German war criminal?” He was evidently referring to the support the Standard’s sister publication, the Daily Mail, gave to the Nazis in the 1930s.

“No, I’m Jewish,” said Finegold. “I wasn’t a German war criminal.”

“Ah … right,” said Ken.

“I’m actually quite offended by that,” said Finegold.

“Well, you might be,” said Ken. “But actually you are just like a concentration camp guard.”

These incidents, and there are many more, show how Red Ken has long gone out of his way to provoke and offend Jews. But, in the present case, he claims to be defending historical truth, which – he says – he has taken from a book by a Trotskyist author called Lenni Brenner, who happens to have been brought up as an orthodox Jew.

When I heard Ken cite Brenner, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. Berkeley had known him as Lenny Glaser – he was using his stepfather’s name – and he had been a mind-opening and mind-blowing precursor to the Free Speech Movement.

“For years,” wrote the late Michael Rossman, “his thoughtful and passionate tirades greeted students on cold mornings, assailed them at noon as they hurried past the pedestal at Bancroft and Telegraph where he perched, eyes gleaming as he criticized Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, mocked the Pope’s stand on birth control, told us marijuana wouldn’t make us crazy. One must understand the era’s context, still shadowed with McCarthyism’s chill, to grasp how aberrant his act seemed; and one must understand the subtext of collective feelings, gathering to erupt in the later 1960’s, to grasp the shameful fascination of his lingering words and example for many who hurried past, averting their eyes from that crazy guy.”

Sadly, the book he later wrote – “Zionism in the Age of Dictators” – is a disaster, a shameful propaganda tract that cherry-picks some intriguing facts while ignoring all those that fill out the story and make it a true history. As the Jewish Socialist Group's David Rosenberg noted, the book “tells the history as a simple goodies and baddies affair, uncluttered by nuance or contradiction, which tries to implicate Zionism and pretty much all Zionists in the Holocaust in order to make a simplistic point about Zionism/Israel/Palestine today.”

The truth is so much more telling. When Hitler came to power, a group of very scared German Zionists struck a deal with the Nazi government that allowed them to sell their properties, transfer the proceeds to Palestine, and emigrate there. In return, the larger Zionist movement agreed not to join in the boycott that other Jewish leaders were organizing against Germany and to try to get it revoked.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the deal saved some 60,000 well-educated, mostly well-to-do Jews from extermination. It pumped eight million British pounds – in today’s terms close to a billion dollars – directly into the struggling local economy, and another six million pounds indirectly. It also gave the Jewish settlement in Palestine much needed talent and know-how. Even so, many Jews in Palestine and around the world greatly opposed the deal at the time, and any discussion of it still touches a very raw nerve.

It should. But, whether a necessary evil or just plain evil in itself, this “deal with the devil” does not make Adolph Hitler the founding father of Zionism. Nor does it make Israel a successor to the Nazi state. In spewing their propaganda, Brenner and Livingstone ignore three thousand years of a Jewish religious attachment to Palestine, the development of the Zionist movement in Europe as a direct response to growing anti-Semitism, and the clashes between Zionist and non-Zionist Jews and within the Zionist movement itself. Lumping all this history together in a simplistic “Hitler as Zionist” narrative reeks of Jew-hating.

For me and a growing minority of Jews, Zionism remains irreparably flawed, colonizing a land in which Palestinians already lived and treating them like dirt. As the controversial Israeli historian Shlomo Sand argues, the movement also did violence to the Jewish past, “reinventing” a diverse set of religious (and secular) communities and portraying us as a biological race, which we are not. Why do Hitler’s work for him? But none of this justifies painting all Jews or “only Zionists” as some ultimate Hitlerian evil.

It will be interesting to see if Jeremy Corbyn can root out such bigotry within his ranks. I still have hope. Much as Bernie Sanders opened up to American Muslims in a very human way, Zadiq Khan is responding to the concerns of British Jews, whatever their political view. “The comments made by Ken Livingstone were appalling and disgusting,” he said when he first heard them. “There can be no place for anyone who holds those views in the Labour Party.”

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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