Corbyn and the Middle East: the hypocrisy of the right, a challenge for the left

Submitted by AWL on 21 July, 2015 - 11:47 Author: Sacha Ismail

The controversy sparked, or ramped up, by Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance on Channel 4 News on 13 July raises important issues for the left.

(You can watch it on the Channel 4 website here.)

Corbyn responded to interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy asking about his description of Lebanese Islamists Hesbollah and Palestinian Islamists Hamas as “our friends” by saying that he doesn't agree with these organisations, but that peace in the Middle East requires negotiations with all sorts of people.

The first thing to say is that, however one assesses the performance and motives of Guru-Murthy and Channel 4, there is clearly a right-wing push against Corbyn on these issues. If the Corbyn leadership campaign continues to perform as strongly as it has so far, the right-wing outcry is likely to get louder.

The motivations of these attacks are made clear by the fact that those making them are not bothered by the friendly relationship of the entire New Labour hierarchy with the Saudi dictatorship, or the links between all kinds of bourgeois British politicians – particularly Tories – and unpleasant regimes around the planet. They are targeting Corbyn because he looks soft on the ‘wrong’ people, and above all because they are bothered by the success of a left-wing campaign that is bolstering labour movement confidence.

The left must expose such cynicism and hypocrisy, both for general reasons and to defend the Corbyn campaign. At the same time, we should say that – judged by our own standards, not those of the right – Corbyn’s stance on the controversial issues is wrong.

In the March 2009 speech to a Stop the War Coalition meeting in which Corbyn talked about “friends” (on YouTube here) he said:

“Tomorrow evening it will my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hesbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well...

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people, and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region, should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake...”

“Our function is to support those people who are supporting and defending and representing the Palestinian people... part of [that] is inviting and welcoming our friends from Lebanon and from Palestine to London...”

The issue is not this or that phrase, nor the legitimate idea that getting peace often requires negotiations with people you don’t like – nor, of course, Corbyn’s absolutely correct opposition to repressive “anti-terrorism” legislation. It is the lack of sharp hostility to – and indeed praise of – brutally reactionary political forces. The problem with the likes of Hamas and Hesbollah is not that they are “terrorists” but that they are violently anti-women, anti-semitic, anti-gay, anti-working class theocratic bigots. In 2009 Hamas was engaged in a brutal clampdown on women and workers’ organisations among others in the Gaza strip: see here.

That a socialist could describe Hamas as “dedicated... to social and political justice” and describe working with them as a "pleasure and honour" is ridiculous. So is the comparison Corbyn made with the ANC. From a socialist point of view there were many problems with the ANC even before it took power, but to compare it to Hamas or Hesbollah is a slander.

We suspect that in this speech Corbyn got carried away, and that his underlying thought is that Hamas and Hesbollah are bad, but peace is the priority, Western imperialism and Israel are the chief evils, and so it is necessary to be diplomatic.

The problem with such diplomacy is that it means representing militaristic forces as peace-loving, and promoting bigoted reactionaries busy smashing our comrades – working-class activists, the left, feminists, etc in the Middle East – as progressives. People with Corbyn's politics in Gaza face physical attack, prison or exile!

We want peace in the region, yes, and an end to the oppression of the Palestinians, but we also want to help the left there battle against Islamism. In addition, being able to vigorously denounce such forces would put the left in a stronger position to point out the hypocrisy of the right.

These kind of failings are not just a problem with Corbyn, but with wide sections of the left, from liberals through to self-styled revolutionaries. Those leading the Stop the War campaign have played a central role in spreading such ideas.

Against that approach we need to restate the basic Marxist idea of international working-class solidarity: “We shall never forget that the workers of all countries are our friends and the despots of all countries are our enemies” (German workers' resolution during the Franco-Prussian War). The working-class movements, socialists, feminists and democrats of the Middle East are our friends, not Hamas and Hesbollah.

None of the candidates in the Labour leadership election are good on foreign policy; Corbyn at least opposes British militarism, nuclear weapons, etc, and despite his comments he is the most likely to support solidarity with working-class activists around the world. This in addition to his policies and record on austerity, workers' struggles, migrants' rights, and so on: a vote for Corbyn is a vote to break from the New Labour consensus on these issues, and rally the left and labour movement for a fightback.


Submitted by John D on Wed, 22/07/2015 - 17:58

I posted two comments that were relevant to the commitment to worker's solidarity under "The Right to Strike".
Worker's solidarity is unfortunately a somewhat plastic slogan.
So too is workers tolerance for political action displays . . .…

Reminds me of that old Pete Seeger number "If your white, you're all right. If you're brown, stick around, but if you're a working class supporter of Israel . . . Get back! Get Back! Get Back!".

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 23/07/2015 - 02:09

In reply to by John D

The comparison of "working-class supporters of Israel" with black people in the US during segregation would be funny if it wasn't so obscene. I haven't noticed any "working-class supporters of Israel-only" schools, buses, or toilet facilities anywhere recently. (By the way, the quote is actually from a Big Bill Broonzy song from the 1950s.)

Cheerleaders for a racist, authoritarian, colonialist government are hardly an oppressed minority - in the British labour movement or anywhere else. By their own account, "Bournemouth Action for Israel" aimed to "promote Israel's side of the narrative" - i.e., not promote the cause of Jewish-Arab workers' solidarity, but simply to laud Israel. They laughably claim "we became 21st century martyrs at Tolpuddle Martyrs festival". What a joke.

Maybe people were rude or aggressive to them rather than trying to engage them in civil debate, and undoubtedly the political content of some of the attacks on them reflected the generally crap politics of the left on the Middle East. But "Bournemouth Action for Israel" (in their own words, a "grassroots Israel advocacy organisation, run by a group of Jews and Christian supporters of Israel") and the vicarious Islamist and Arab-nationalist revanchists of the Stalinoid UK left deserve each other. They are each other's mirror image, seeing the situation in Israel/Palestine as a simple face-off between goodies and baddies, with the only solution being for the goodies to wipe out the baddies.

We know things are more complex than that, but we also know that at the root of the current conflict is the massive power imbalance between a highly militarised state (Israel) and its colonial subject (the Palestinian people). We challenge the deficient politics of most of the left on this question by promoting responses based on internationalism, working-class solidarity, and consistent democracy, not by cheerleading for Israel.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by USRed on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 07:51…

"I'm saying that people I talk to, I use it in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk.

"Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No. What it means is that I think to bring about a peace process, you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree.

"There is not going to be a peace proccess unless there is talks involving Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas and I think everyone knows that."

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 11:07

Hi USRed,

You'll notice the article links to that interview you cite.

You might as well say the thing I quote is Corbyn's "real position". Part of the problem is that he says different things or at least puts a very different emphasis in different places.

So to people on the left who are soft on Islamism he says "Hamas is an organisation dedicated to social justice. They are like the ANC. It's an honour and pleasure to host them."

To the mainstream media he says "Peace requires negotiating with people you don't agree with". (Still using lots of soft phrases like "may disagree with"...)

The left should be more consistent, and much sharper and harder about such reactionary political movements - and louder about solidarity with our real friends in the Middle East, who Hamas and Hesbollah repress and murder.


Submitted by USRed on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 19:15

To be honest I didn't notice the link.

I agree that Hamas and Hesbollah are reactionaries.

Whether or not Corbyn, as a lone MP -- in an era where genuine left-wing Labour MPs are hard to find -- could do exactly as you (we) want him to do is an open question.

Would denouncing H & H as reactionaries help the cause of diplomacy/negotiations with Israel?

I wish there was an organized Palestinian working-class Left for Corbyn to relate to in the occupied territories. I don't know of one. The best group I can think of is the Palestinian National Initiative, which only exists (as far as I know) in the West Bank, and has no innately socialist content to it.

It would've been better for Corbyn to describe H & H as dedicated to "social welfare" rather than "social justice." They do provide welfare services which remind me, at least, of what the Black Panther Party did in cities in the U.S. in the late 1960s, though of course the politics are quite different (and worse).

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 21:12

In Greece as I understand it the two organisations doing large-scale "social welfare" work are Syriza and... Golden Dawn.

There are trade unions, women's organisations, leftish civil society organisations, etc in the West Bank. They are rather weaker in Gaza, in part due to Hamas smashing them! There are certainly such organisations in Lebanon.

I'm not arguing that Corbyn should go round making condemnation of Middle Eastern Islamists his main focus. Minimally, I'm arguing that he shouldn't say things that are actively wrong. It is perfectly possible to oppose Israel's wars and the oppression of the Palestinians without doing that. Even if in a given situation you judged it was necessary to speak alongside a Hamas representative of whatever - and I'd be a LOT more sceptical about that than Corbyn seems to be - you wouldn't lavish them with praise.

There was a new contingent of left Labour MPs elected this time, due to the slightly looser party regime under Miliband compared to Blair. Some of them are a bit softer or least more cautious, but I think their election was still important. That in addition to established left MPs, noticeably John McDonnell - who while he doesn't disagree with Corbyn in public in general seems to be more Third Campist. Noticeably on Ukraine, where Corbyn seems to focus solely on the role of NATO while McDonnell has actively supported the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

I don't think you want to argue that the small number of left Labour MPs means Corbyn has no option but to big up the likes of Hamas - so can you clarify?


Submitted by USRed on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 23:29

I thought this was the main social-welfare group in Greece:

I agree that McDonnell's politics are better than Corbyn's. My point was that, unless we assume that Corbyn simply doesn't know what he's talking about regarding H & H, he says what he says because he thinks it's the only way that will lead to a reasonably just version of the "two-state solution."

And he probably knows that, like it or not (I don't), most Gazans don't see an alternative to Hamas, and I suspect he thinks that to criticize them harshly would effectively be telling most Gazans "you're making the wrong political choice." (See:… )

I'm not saying I agree with this logic. But I've encountered it before. It's the "don't tell oppressed people who they may or may not identify with as their political representatives, defenders, etc." position.

Arguing with people who embrace this logic can be a very exhausting experience.

Submitted by AWL on Sun, 26/07/2015 - 11:58

I agree with you.

Indeed, Solidarity for All is a Syriza-linked project (although apparently many of its most active people are Antarsya members). As I understand it the other organisation which organises "social welfare" work in Greece is Golden Dawn. I think that's an analogy with Hamas etc and my point was that organising social welfare doesn't necessarily make an organisation anything other than reactionary!


Submitted by John D on Sun, 26/07/2015 - 17:29

I posted twice under AWL Campaigns "Right to Strike". AWL does not have a general purpose section where "other" topics can be posted and it seemed both the most appropriate place and timely.
The point was that AWL maybe has a strong position on worker's solidarity, but it maybe stops at the Israel line. Not a comment anywhere from any worker's organization on what was a pure, unpolitical class issue. A worker's fight carried out alone. Where were you?
Did you notice the weasel word "maybe", Daniel. No, the Palestinian political representation was not "maybe" aggressive. They were so threatening that the police advised the Israeli support group that their safety could not be assured. They were chased out by tolerated thugs from a union event. The thugs celebrated by taking over the vacated position. And nobody raised an eyebrow.
The deep animus you feel for things Israeli, as expressed in your terminology (obscene, etc.) gives ground for thought. Certainly people like me are a bit frightened by it. Are you against non-union political presence at union events, or not? Or is there one rule for side A and another for side B. Are you for all worker's solidarity, or only those you approve of.
Taken all together, another blow against the Israeli left.
Certainly you have twittered a lot about "worker's solidarity". Would it not be better for AWL's worker's solidarity to be inclusive?

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 27/07/2015 - 13:37

In reply to by John D

You're collapsing two distinct things into each other. You complain that we didn't carry coverage of Histadrut's most recent abortive general strike in Israel; fair enough. We should have covered the dispute (and normally have covered national disputes of that type in Israel in the past, including previous disputes on the same issue).

But you bundle into that the issue of the treatment of the Zionists at Tolpuddle, implying that our failure to defend them and our failure to cover the Histadrut strike are both evidence of the deficiency of our "workers' solidarity".

To be clear, I am against violence in the labour movement - physical or verbal. If the Bournemouth Zionists were treated badly, or with violence, I am against that. I am for debate, even with views I think are wrong. And I think much left "common sense" on Israel/Palestine is dreadful. I also agree that the level of vituperation and semi-violence that exists on the left around the issue can create an intimidatory atmosphere which many people find alienating and off-putting.

But, as I said, the Bournemouth group didn't go to Tolpuddle to promote the cause of "workers' solidarity", but just to cheerlead for Israel. Beyond defending their basic rights as attendees at the event not to be physically or verbally assaulted I don't understand what issue of "workers' solidarity" is involved here.

I don't feel any "animus" for "things Israeli", and I support the right of the Israeli Jews to self-determination. I simply oppose the Israeli state's colonial project in the Palestinian territories. I am sorry if you find that "frightening".



Submitted by AWL on Thu, 03/09/2015 - 14:46

I'm backing Jeremy Corbyn, despite his unsavoury "friends"
He’s challenging the political elite & has the most progressive policies

By Peter Tatchell

I'm backing Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leadership, despite his unsavoury "friends"
International Business Times - London, UK - 3 September 2015

Like many others, I face a real dilemma. I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for over 30 years and love nearly everything he stands for. Yet there are a few important issues on which I profoundly disagree with him. Does this mean he should no longer have my support?

Jeremy is not a saint. He’s never claimed to be. Even the best, most admirable politicians usually get some things wrong. Jeremy is no exception. On a majority of UK and foreign policy issues he’s spot on, with real vision and an inspiring alternative. On a small number of issues he has made lamentable misjudgements. Despite these shortcomings, I’m backing his bid for the Labour leadership. Here’s why:

I look at the big picture and judge politicians on their overall record. What are their ideals, motives and aims? What kind of society are they striving for? How would their policies impact on the average person? On all these assessment criteria, Jeremy is on the right side and is the most progressive candidate on nearly every issue.

He has strong, unique policies for social justice and equality - to secure a kinder, gentler, fairer and more inclusive, harmonious Britain. I am with him in opposing austerity. So is much of the country - including the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, with whom I hope Jeremy and Labour will make common cause in a quadruple alliance.

Jeremy’s plan to invest in infrastructure to reboot the economy is backed by 41 economists (…) , including a former advisor to the Bank of England. His strategy echoes FDR’s New Deal and proposals from the International Monetary Fund.

A Corbyn premiership would reverse damaging, cruel welfare cuts and the privatisation of vital public services. He’d tackle climate destruction and rocketing rents and house prices. Trident renewal, foreign wars and the sinister Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership would be nixed. His administration would bring rail and energy companies back into a new, decentralised form of public ownership. These are sensible, compassionate policies. Good for him.

In my book, he is head and shoulders above all the other Labour leadership candidates, both in terms of his past political record and his political agenda for the future.

But the single most important over-arching reason for supporting Jeremy is that Britain needs to turn away from the flawed and failed policies of business as usual. He is shaking up the Establishment and breaking with the cosy political consensus that has been shared by Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and UKIP. The mainstream, middle-of-the-road policies of the last decade are not the answer. All they offer is more of the same, which is what got us into the current mess.

Jeremy is thinking beyond what is. He’s imagining what could be. It’s a much needed political rethink, which leaves his rivals lagging far behind.

Now that he has a serious chance of winning the Labour leadership, Jeremy has faced a barrage of accusations over his contacts with anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and Islamist extremists (…) .

This puts me in a very difficult position, given my advocacy for human rights. At what point do links with bad people put a politician beyond the pale? How many flawed judgements does it take to cancel out all the good that a MP might have done and espoused?

Some of the accusations against Jeremy are exaggerations and distortions. Others involve McCarthyite smears of guilt by association. Jeremy has made reassuring noises and given plausible explanations for several of the allegations (…) .

He says, for example, he was not aware of the Holocaust revisionist views of Paul Eisen when he attended meetings of his Deir Yassin Remembered organisation. I can believe that. Some extremists hide their views and politicians sometimes lend their support to what they genuinely believe to be legitimate campaign groups.

On the basis that Jeremy has his heart in the right place and that he is not an Islamist, Holocaust denier or anti-Semite, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Nevertheless, it is true that he has been often careless in not checking out who he shares platforms with and has been too willing to associate uncritically with the Islamist far right.

While I’m certain that Jeremy doesn’t share their extremist views, he does need to explain in more detail why he has attended and spoken at meetings alongside some pretty unsavoury bigots who advocate human rights abuses - and especially why he did so without publicly criticising their totalitarian politics.

Jeremy supported, for example, the visit to parliament of Sheikh Raed Saleh, who has reportedly slurred Jews as “monkeys” and repeated the anti-Semitic “blood libel” which claims that Jews used the blood of gentile children to make their bread. He called Saleh “a very honoured citizen who represents his people extremely well.” What? Just because Saleh opposes the Israeli occupation and supports Palestinian self-determination does not make him a good person deserving such praise.

While Jeremy is right to dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah as part of a peace initiative, as Tony Blair and the Israeli government have done, he was wrong to call them “friends”. These are Islamist political parties with poor human rights records that are not consistent with humanitarian - let alone left-wing - values.

Jeremy says he doesn’t agree with their views but I have not been able find any instance, until very recently, where he has publicly criticised either Hezbollah or Hamas, both of which are guilty (alongside Israel) of war crimes ( and the abuse of their own citizens (…) .

Jeremy was also wrong to call the Islamist extremist Ibrahim Hewitt “my very good friend” ( and to share platforms with him, given that Hewitt allegedly supports the death penalty for apostates, blasphemers, adulterers and LGBT people.

I don’t buy the excuse that Jeremy’s use of the term “friends” was “diplomatic” language to win over extremists and encourage dialogue. He would rightly not accept a similar explanation by a MP who used those words about, and shared a platform with, the BNP, EDL or European fascist parties.

Islamists are a religious version of the far right. They want a clerical dictatorship, without democracy and human rights. They do not merit friendship, praise or uncritical association of any kind.

Jeremy has also made misjudgements on Russia, Ukraine, Syria and Iran. He says he wants dialogue and negotiations, not war. I agree. But this should not include collusion - even if unintentional - with human rights abusing regimes.

We don’t often hear Jeremy condemning Putin’s oligarchs, show trials and tamed media and judiciary. Where is his solidarity with democracy and human rights campaigners, beleaguered civil society organisations and harassed journalists, LGBT advocates and left-wing activists? I’m sure he opposes all these abuses but he rarely says so publicly.

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group is one of the most respected human rights figures in Ukraine. Fearless in tackling all abusers from all sides, she says some of Jeremy’s views on Russia and Ukraine echo Putin’s propaganda (…) .

Other rights campaigners have confirmed (…) that the dominance of pro-Russian factions in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk has led to increased persecution of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. Jeremy has not spoken out clearly enough against these abuses by Russia and its local allies.

On Syria, Jeremy seems to have no policies, apart from “Don’t Bomb Syria.” I concur. We don’t want escalation and war. But surely 250,000 dead, 1.5 million wounded and 10 million refugees merits some action? Total inaction aids the survival of Assad and ISIS.

A good start might be a UN General Assembly authorised no-fly-zone, arms embargo, peacekeepers and civilian safe havens - plus cutting funding to the ISIS and Assad armies by a UN blockade of oil sales. Such measures - enforced by non-western states such as Argentina, India, Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa - would help deescalate the conflict and reduce casualties. Jeremy’s wariness of intervention is understandable. I share it. But surely a UN mandate designed to limit war fighting is reasonable and legitimate for a left-wing candidate?

Like Jeremy, I don’t want war with Iran. I opposed the indiscriminate, blanket Western sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians. But I’ve struggled to find examples of where he has spoken out against Iran’s mass jailing and torture of trade unionists, students, journalists, lawyers, feminists, human rights defenders and sexual, religious and ethnic minorities (such as the Arabs, Kurds, Azeris and Baluchs). Why the silence? He often and loudly criticises Saudi Arabia. Why not Iran?

It is very distressing to see Jeremy appear on the Iranian regime’s propaganda channel Press TV; especially after it defamed peaceful protesters and covered up state violence at the time of the rigged presidential elections in 2009. Moreover, how can Jeremy (and George Galloway) appear on Press TV, despite it broadcasting forced confessions by democrats and human rights defenders ( who’ve been tortured into admitting false charges and who are later executed?

Based on these serious lapses, Jeremy’s critics say his foreign policies make him unfit to be Labour leader and Prime Minister. I understand some of their reservations but they ignore all the international issues where Jeremy has a superb record, including support for serious action against global poverty and the arms trade, and his opposition to the Saudi Arabian and Bahraini dictatorships (two tyrannies that most other MPs ignore and which Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have actively colluded with).

Moreover, Jeremy’s been a long-time champion of the dispossessed Chagos Islanders, Kurds, Palestinians and Western Sahrawis. Few other MPs have shown similar concern about the fate of most of these peoples.

That’s one of many reasons why, despite misgivings about some of Jeremy’s policies and associations, I support his bid to be Labour leader. Taking into account his overall agenda, on balance he’s the best contender. I am confident that he will respond to fair criticism and reconsider some of his past associations. And I’m certain that if he became Prime Minister he’d adopt a somewhat different stance. Already he’s modified his position on NATO and the EU, from withdrawal to reform.

Some of Jeremy’s supporters may accuse me of betrayal and of aligning myself with his right-wing critics. Not so. My criticisms are rooted in a leftist, human rights politics that is democratic, secular and internationalist.

Support for Jeremy does not require suspension of our critical faculties and a knee-jerk unthinking allegiance. As he himself has often said, it is a citizen’s responsibility to hold politicians to account - including those we support. Nobody is entitled to a free pass - not Jeremy, me or anyone.

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