An old recording of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticising a lack of appreciation of irony on the part of a group of ‘zionists’ – pro-Israel campaigners – at a meeting has been seized on by his critics, who have attempted to portray the comment as racist.
Those wishing to attack Corbyn have claimed that ‘zionists’ was ‘code’ for all Jewish people, which ignores the obvious fact that many Jewish people – including many observant communities – are not zionist or are even passionately anti-zionist.
However, it also ignores an even bigger truth: not all zionists are Jewish either. Far from it, in fact.
Luke Akehurst is secretary of right-wing Labour faction Labour First and about as passionately anti-Corbyn as could be. He is also a director of BICOM’s ‘We Believe in Israel’.
As you would expect, Akehurst is also a passionate supporter of Israel and of zionism. In 2015, for example, he told the Jewish News:
We will ensure the legitimacy of Zionism
In 2014, Akehurst spoke to the Jewish Telegraph about why he, as a non-Jew, is such an enthusiastic supporter – but he also provided other information crucial to the current attempt to misuse Jeremy Corbyn’s critique of a group of zionists as being directed at all Jewish people. Here are the crucial quotes:
The younger MPs who prominently identify with the Labour Friends of Israel disproportionately come from the same background as me… That is the long-term benefit of all of the work that the UJS does.
MPs Jim Murphy, Michael Dugher and Stephen Twigg, current BICOM chief executive Dermot Kehoe, former BICOM chief executive Lorna Fitzsimons and I have all come from the same background. I have never felt isolated over Israel in the Labour Party.
I went to Stirling with someone from the Israeli embassy and spoke there to 100 Christian supporters. I went to Dundee, which is the last place you would expect 40 pro-Israel people.
I also went with Stephen Jaffe, of the Board of Deputies, to Bath to a packed meeting of Christians from across Somerset and Wiltshire, where there is a small Jewish population. But the area still has the potential to build a pro-Israel campaign.
In case anyone thinks too much is being made of Akehurst’s words, the Jewish Telegraph underlined the point – twice and even more explosively:
We Believe in Israel aims to build up grassroots pro-Israel organisations and initiate and implement pro-Israel campaigns. The organisation started with 1,500 members and now has a mailing list of more than 5,000, nearly half of whom are non-Jewish, mainly Christian.
Luke is full of praise for the work of the UJS which has created a whole generation of non-Jewish pro-Israel political activists, some of whom he is working alongside at BICOM.
Luke Akehurst was contacted for comment and was asked, concerning his Jewish Telegraph interview:
You describe going to pro-Israel meetings with primarily Christian audiences, which has obvious relevance at the moment given the claims about Corbyn’s comment about zionists. Based on that, would you agree that claims of racism, or that ‘zionists’ was code for ‘all Jews’, are misplaced?
He had not responded by the time of publication.
Author Michael Rosen described what he believes is the real nature of the furore:
What’s playing out around Corbyn is a fight over eg the role Trump, Bannon, Bolton, Blair want for Israel in ME esp. re: Iran; and the worrisome disaffection of many Jews worldwide with Likud, Netanyahu and Nation State Law.
— Michael Rosen (@MichaelRosenYes) August 24, 2018
Most or all of those who are attempting to claim that Corbyn’s comments were antisemitic are fully aware that many – quite probably a majority – of ‘zionists’ aren’t Jewish. For example, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) whose MPs are currently propping Theresa May’s minority government is staunchly zionist.
In fact, it’s likely that their current convenient assumption is what is antisemitic – since many Jewish people are not zionists and large communities are actively anti-Zionist, yet those now smearing Corbyn are treating all Jewish people as one unvarying whole in a way that would instantly be condemned as racist if they made it about another group.
One of those non-Zionist Jewish people responded on Twitter to MP Luciana Berger’s attempt to equate all Jews with zionism:
Confused. As a non-Labour voting Jew (Green Party) I watched the video twice. Corbyn refers to a specific group of zionists at this meeting who berated a speaker. He isn’t referring to me – a Jew and a non-Zionist. Another of those smears aimed not at anti-semitism, but socialism
— (((Brian Capaloff))) #GTTO (@cocteau8) August 23, 2018
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