State radio highlights Corbyn’s handshakes and meetings, but not recent British governments’ collusion in repressive activities
Steve Beauchampé: “A peacenik may lay down with some unsavoury characters. Better that than selling them weapons”.
The BBC, whose coverage of the Labour Party leadership race has often felt unbalanced, spent time this week highlighting the fact that in 2009 frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn shared a platform at a meeting organised by the Stop The War Coalition with Lebanese political activist Dyab Abou Jahjah, who holds some very questionable views on the holocaust.
Also raised, initially in a public ‘phone in on the World at One (Radio 4) and in many of the corporations’ subsequent news and current affairs programmes, was Corbyn’s use of the word ‘friends’ to describe the militant Hamas and Hezbollah organisations, both of which have engaged in some evil activities in connection with their support of the Palestinian cause.
Legitimate questions, although selected by the BBC from a large number of callers who, one imagines, wished to raise a wide variety of subjects with the potential Labour leader.
But whilst it is unreasonable to expect Corbyn to control whom he appears alongside at a public meeting, that he did not organise and which was after all about a very worthy cause (enhancing the Middle East peace process), one for which he has sincere and long-held views, Corbyn’s description of Hamas and Hezbollah does seem rather unfortunate. But we all make misjudgements and frankly, I’m considerably more concerned as to whether Jeremy Corbyn (and ultimately those who might seek to govern with him) has plausible ideas to tackle the myriad of contemporary problems that confront Britain and the wider world, including that of the Palestinians.
This is not the first occasion on which the BBC has questioned Jeremy Corbyn about his relationship with both pro-Palestinian militant organisations and the IRA (whom he spoke with nearly a decade before the British government admitted to doing the same). Indeed, during the current Labour leadership campaign several of the Corporation’s senior political presenters and reporters have highlighted such issues.
Yet the BBC shows no such doggedness in holding to account some members of the current and previous government about their track record, not merely of giving verbal support, but also practical assistance, to several of the world’s most dubious regimes.
Because Britain arms, trains or sells equipment to overseas governments that subsequently attack, torture or otherwise repress their political opponents. Hideous regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel and Egypt – a military dictatorship in all but name – are legitimised by our government’s willingness to collude in their repressive activities, sometimes for strategic geo-political reasons, sometimes for the purpose of trade.
Amongst Britain’s ‘friends’ are Turkey and Qatar (both accused of tacitly backing Islamic State) and China (where does one even begin!). Until recently these friends also included Syria (approached by the UK and USA in 2010 about forming a possible military alliance against Iran as a means of thwarting its nuclear ambitions) and individuals such as Vladimir Putin (whom Cameron once declared was a man that Britain could do business with).
There’s plenty more, as a quick perusal of the Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch websites will attest, whilst our country’s own involvement in extraordinary rendition and the abuses and illegality conducted at Guantanamo Bay is equally inexcusable.
Pragmatism in a complex and changeable political landscape, or turning a blind eye to try and gain an international or trading advantage? Either way, such activities often result in real actions with real consequences for real people. Incalculably worse in their impact than any handshakes, debate or badly chosen words that Jeremy Corbyn may have in his debit column.
Steve Beauchampé: August 21st 2015. First published in The BirminghamPress.com http://thebirminghampress.com/2015/08/give-peace-a-chance/
See also John Wight:
It is not Jeremy Corbyn who has questions to answer, it is those who supported the war in Iraq, the bombing of Libya, who provide unquestioning support to Israel, and had little or nothing to say over Britain’s shameful relationship with Saudi Arabia – it those people who have questions to answer, with some undoubtedly justified in being expected to answer them from the dock at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Rabbi Mendy Korer helped to organise unveiling of this commemorative plaque. He told the audience about inviting the local MP, Jeremy Corbyn, to Shabbat dinner after the MP suggested applying for a plaque to be fixed to the original site of North London Synagogue. See more on the United Synagogue’s website.
The four candidates standing for the Labour leadership participated in the public meeting co-hosted by the Jewish Chronicle, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement at the JW3 community centre in north London.
Links to two accounts of this event, written from different perspectives are given at the foot of the post. The first, from Middle East Eye, sent by a reader, carries more conviction in the writer’s opinion, because of its use of directly quoted speech. It also offers a video of the whole debate so that readers can hear the discussion for themselves.
Three of the four MPs standing – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall expressed their strong support for Israel during opening statements at the event moderated by journalist Jonathan Freedland, who writes a weekly column for The Guardian and a monthly piece for The Jewish Chronicle.
In his opening remarks Corbyn said that he had supported the establishment of the state of Israel – that was not reported in this account.
Corbyn is widely known for his peace activism and has been on nine visits to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza during his 32 years in parliament. He called for the UK to have “relationships with all sections of society in Israel” and stressed the need to have a nuanced view of the country: “We shouldn’t judge everything to do with Israel through the prism of whatever Benjamin Netanyahu is saying from one day to the next – Israel’s politics is much wider than that.” At that – and other points – there was applause from the audience – not reported.
He saw real grounds for hope in the ‘nuclear deal’ reached in Iran, but this was not reported by Haaretz or Middle East Eye.
Corbyn called for “robust discussion” on Israel’s siege of Gaza, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and alleged mistreatment of Palestinian child detainees in Israeli prisons.
He said that following the Israeli assault on Gaza last summer both sides are now being investigated to see if they have committed war crimes, leading him to question whether it is wise for the UK to be continuing to sell arms to Israel. “Is it right that we are supplying arms [to Israel] in this situation? Is it right that we are importing goods from illegal settlements across the West Bank?”
An audience member asked the candidates whether it is appropriate for parliamentarians to host members of groups including the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah
The question was a reference to Corbyn hosting members of the two groups in parliament several years ago. In a clip that recently surfaced Corbyn referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” – a comment that has brought the leftwinger criticism due to the groups being viewed as terrorists by many Western nations. Corbyn defended his outreach to Hamas and Hezbollah: “You don’t achieve progress by only talking to those who you agree with,” he said. “You have to address the rights of everybody if peace is to be achieved across the whole region. Conflicts are settled politically, not necessarily militarily.”
Corbyn argued that criticism of Israel must not lead to anti-Semitism and that unity is key in the battle against prejudice of all forms. “Does questioning the behaviour of the Israeli state towards Palestinians lead to anti-Semitism? No, it mustn’t and shouldn’t,” he said. “Whether it’s a synagogue or a mosque under attack we must all come together to be as one in confronting it.”
Sources giving two different perspectives:
Margaret sends news that Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams has urged the UK Government to enforce an immediate arms embargo against Israel to stop the flow of weapons which are being used against civilians. Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams urges an immediate arms embargo Scottish Minister Humza Yousaf tells Home Secretary Theresa May that Scotland would be willing to take in Palestinian refugees.
The Daily Wales reports that Mr Williams, wrote to newly-appointed Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond last week, calling for action to address the crisis in Gaza, and saying that international institutions and governments should do more to hold Israel to account over its actions.
In addition to the arms embargo he stressed the importance of strong UN calls for a ceasefire, and the lifting of the blockade to allow humanitarian aid to reach the increasing numbers of refugees and wounded.
Mr Williams continued:
“I urge the UK Government to enforce an immediate arms embargo against Israel. The uncomfortable truth is that while we continue to supply them with weapons, we are complicit in the killing.
“The UN must also do more to secure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and impose sanctions on those unwilling to comply. The UN should also demand access to the conflict zone in order to determine whether any international laws have been violated.
“The plight of Palestinian refugees must take priority and Israel’s blockade and Egyptian restrictions should be lifted in order to allow aid workers and supplies into the region.
“UN figures show that nearly 90,000 people have now been displaced in Gaza and that the number is “rising all the time”.
“Last week the Scottish Government’s External Affairs Minister, Humza Yousaf, wrote to UK Home Secretary Theresa May saying that Scotland would be willing to take in Palestinian refugees. I believe the Welsh government should act likewise. I hope the Home Secretary takes up this offer without delay and that the UK Government takes the action that it can against those responsible for the suffering.”
Earlier, IMEMC reminded us that sixty-four public figures, including seven Nobel Peace Prize winners, published a letter in the Guardian newspaper calling for an international arms embargo on Israel for its “war crimes and possible crimes against humanity” in Gaza.