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Message to Jeremy Corbyn: don’t mention Hamas

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses delegates and members during his keynote speech at the annual party conference on September 28, 2016 in Liverpool, England
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses delegates and members during his keynote speech at the annual party conference on September 28, 2016 in Liverpool, England

Jeremy Corbyn is about to be hit by the mother of all smear campaigns. The election consultants who are preparing this monstrosity of anti-democratic negative campaigning are the shadowy Crosby-Textor Group, whose UK offices on a quiet backstreet of Mayfair are unassuming and modest. Australian-born Sir Lynton Crosby, the mastermind of the operation, has successfully engineered victories for Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, as well as David Cameron at the General Election in 2015. His business partner, Mark Textor, is another acerbic Australian pollster who plotted Zac Goldsmith’s notoriously bigoted campaign against London’s first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, as well as anti-refugee campaigns in Australia. At the same firm is the enigmatic Eugene Curley, a former MI6 officer whose post-service career has involved the near traitorous activities of then Defence Secretary Liam Fox as part of what became known as the Werrity scandal.

These are not men to be trifled with. They are people who will happily exploit religious prejudice for the sake of their clients. They did this for Zac Goldsmith by smearing the impeccably “moderate” Khan as a subversive “extremist”. When it comes to Corbyn, they will exploit religious prejudice in another way, but it will be no less pernicious.

When the Labour Party leader was de facto labelled as an anti-Semite, by virtue of calling Hamas his “friends” and making ill-advised alliances with allegedly anti-Jewish rather than anti-Israel activists, it was one of the more ludicrous charges in British politics, not least because of the Jewish backgrounds of so many of his core team of advisers and supporters. Nevertheless, this charge is there for certain in the dossier that Crosby and Textor are about to unleash.

Let us be clear, by far the most anti-Semitic elements in the Labour Party are those who only developed a concern for Jews when it suited their political agenda. These arch-cynics are almost exclusively associated with the right-wing of the party; they all oppose Corbyn. Left-wing journalist and pro-Corbyn activist Michael Segalov — also Jewish, by the way — puts forward a strong case against this: “For years now I’ve travelled across the UK to report from far-right, fascist and neo-Nazi rallies. I’ve seen the real threat that faces Jews in the country, those who profess hatred for Jews and our religion, who wear swastikas as badges of honour, who’ll salute like a Nazi in front of your face. Where was your concern for my community then?”

That said, Jeremy Corbyn has not always been completely honest. When he was accused of calling Hamas his “friends”, he and his supporters explained the awkwardness away by saying that in opting to use the “friends” he was only being polite. He said that he was ready to welcome Hamas (and Hezbollah) to the UK and to Parliament, and using the word “friends” in the hope that it might aid peace.

A review of the original footage suggests otherwise. Corbyn actually said that he believed the labelling of Hamas as a terrorist organisation was “really a big, big historical mistake” and called the movement a force for “social justice” dedicated “to the good of the Palestinian people.” At least by the standards of his critics, that is a far more objectionable statement to make. He wasn’t being polite at all; he was being far more provocative. He thinks Hamas is a decent bunch of people, and that Britain’s foreign policy should change. It may well do so in years to come, but now is not the time for that debate.

The problem for Corbyn is that arguing that Hamas is decent is politically impossible in this country. As the Crosby-Textor dossier is deployed (which will be used to raise the issue of anti-Semitism again), Corbyn must not allow the Australian pair to turn the campaign into a referendum on the Middle East. He must steer the conversation back to issues about which British voters want to be spoken to: Brexit, the National Health Service and housing.

The voters care little for foreign policy anyway, particularly that concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is viewed as so complex and intractable that most take little interest in it (neither of those analyses are particularly true, by the way). While Corbyn has taken the time to study the conflict and travel there to see for himself the realities of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and punitive Gaza blockade, most Britons have not. Furthermore, it is clear that even some of his supposedly well-informed, puffed-up critics have failed to understand the realities of Israel.

Alongside the claims about Hamas are said to be allegations about Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). There are clear analogies with the Palestine crisis. Corbyn has already addressed this problem on a new website, cleverly called ILikeCorbynBut.com. It deals with common-place objections to Corbyn, one being; “I’ve heard he’s a terrorist sympathiser.” Luckily, Corbyn’s response doesn’t mention Hamas; it focuses instead on the IRA. He insists that his own policy of talking to Sinn Fein and IRA leaders was actually the same as the British government’s, which had already opened a secret back-channel to the armed wing of the republican movement.

His wasn’t the same policy though, and anyone can see through that. The British government did have secret channels to the IRA, but it also had a counter-insurgency operation going on in parallel. In contrast, Corbyn was actively praising the IRA in public, and not running any sort of spying programme designed to stop it blowing people up while the negotiations were ongoing.

I suspect that he will be caught out on this soon. At least he doesn’t mention Hamas on his new website, and he shouldn’t. If he does, the fall-out could be bad; very bad.

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