Alderman’s article takes Finkelstein and ‘TIG’ MPs to task and concludes: no evidence for label
Geoffrey Alderman is a well-known professor of history who received an award from the University of Oxford for his work on Anglo-Jewish history and who writes a fortnightly column for the Jewish Telegraph. The Telegraph announced his agreement to write the column in 2016, saying it was “thrilled and excited” that he had agreed to do so.
Last month, Alderman published a piece in the same newspaper that listed some of Corbyn’s actions in defence of Jewish people in the UK and elsewhere, as well as concluding that the Labour leader if the ‘prime minister in waiting’. It was a remarkable turnaround for a publication that was one of three to coordinate a front page last year describing Corbyn as an ‘existential threat’.
Now Alderman has written a Coffee House piece in the Tory Spectator magazine, in which the professor censures – his word – Conservative peer Danny Finkelstein for his recent attack on Corbyn’s 2011 foreword to a reprint of JA Hobson’s Imperialism.
Context is paramount. That’s why I feel obliged to censure Finkelstein’s exposé. We all know what Hobson thought of Jews and capitalism. But to conclude – as Finkelstein does – that in writing the foreword Corbyn had praised a ‘deeply anti-Semitic book’ is to give a totally false impression of what this influential study is actually about. In a text running to almost 400 pages there are merely a dozen or so lines which we would call anti-Semitic. There was absolutely no need for Corbyn to have drawn attention to them in his foreword.
Looking further at the context of accusations against Corbyn and Labour, Alderman then moves on to the topic of the MPs who quit Labour to form what was then the ‘TIG’ group and their attack on the Labour Party:
The group included the Jewish MP Luciana Berger, and also the non-Jewish MP Joan Ryan, formerly chair of Labour Friends of Israel. In her resignation speech, Ryan suggested that the ‘huge shame’ of anti-Semitism did not exist until Corbyn became party leader…
Really? After all, hasn’t anti-Jewish racism existed in the party since its creation, over a century ago? In the late 19th century, wasn’t the trade-union movement (out of ‘the bowels’ of which the party emerged, as Ernie Bevin once graphically observed) positively riddled with such prejudice? Weren’t leading socialist activists – for instance Sidney and Beatrice Webb – unashamed exponents of it? To point to these irrefutable facts is neither to excuse such racism nor to imply that it wasn’t present in other political parties. Indeed it was and still is.
He then turns his attention to the personal accusations against Corbyn by the same people and others – accusations made in spite of many of those same people previously stressing that Corbyn is not antisemitic. As well as recalling Corbyn’s parliamentary support for Jewish people and communities, he recalls an embarrassing incident for the person who started the personal accusations:
The fact of the matter is that Corbyn has an impressive record of supporting Jewish communal initiatives. For instance he was recently supportive of Jewish efforts to facilitate the speedy issue of death certificates by the north London coroner. In 2015 he took part in a ceremony in his Islington constituency to commemorate the founding of the North London Synagogue..
In 1987 the West London Synagogue approached Islington Council with a startling proposal: to sell its original cemetery to property developers, destroying the gravestones and digging-up and reburying the bodies lying under them. This cemetery (dating from 1843) was not merely of great historic and architectural interest – in the view of orthodox Jews, the deliberate destruction of a cemetery is sacrilegious. So when Islington Council granted the planning application, a Jewish-led and ultimately successful campaign was launched to have the decision reversed. I was part of that campaign. So was Jeremy Corbyn. Meanwhile, the then-leader of Islington Council (1982-92), whose decision to permit the destruction of the cemetery was eventually overturned, was none other than Margaret Hodge (though it is unclear whether she personally was in favour of the proposal).
Unsurprisingly, Alderman’s view was challenged on social media by, among others, Stephen Pollard, the right-wing editor of the Jewish Chronicle – but Alderman gave back better than he got:
Alderman’s stinging final retort suggests that Pollard is minimising not only the significance of Corbyn’s record but also the concerns of a large part of the UK’s Jewish population. Orthodox Jews are expected to represent more than half of this country’s Jewish community by around 2030. Pollard denied he was referring to the cemetery and delayed burial issues in his comment.
The full article can be read here.