For the past several years, the UK Israel Lobby has conducted a concerted campaign to destroy the Labor Party. After Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory two years ago, the effort went into an even higher gear. The Israeli embassy and Jewish groups affiliated with it like Jewish Labor Movement and Labour Friends of Israel regularly and repeatedly dredged up so-called “anti-Semitic” statements by Labor supporters which showed that the Party was riddled with pro-Palestinian Jew haters. Party leaders, to a certain extent, cooperated in their own debasement by pursuing witch hunts against candidates and rank-and-file members who purportedly expressed views that were hostile to Israel, which the Lobby provocatively interpreted as hostile to Jews.
The UK press, by which I mean not just the Tory tabloids, but even more “respectable” outfits like the Guardian and others, amplified the campaign with scurrilous attacks which regurgitated the Lobby’s talking points. It’s shameful that the liberal media joined the baying chorus for the head of Jeremy Corbyn. As in the U.S., where the liberal press bore down against Bernie Sanders as if he was the devil incarnate, UK liberal journos treated Corbyn as if he was infected with leprosy. In truth, their fulminations strengthened Labor support among core constituencies of youth, minorities and the working class. The only ones hurt by this betrayal of principle was the liberal press itself, which gave itself a bad black eye. Not to mention its failure to realize that Corbyn, like Sanders, was a candidate truly embraced by his constituencies, despite their best efforts to turn them against him. Corbyn, like Sanders, succeeded beyond their wildest dreams and made an indelible imprint on their respective political landscapes. The liberal media, in contrast, fell flat on its face.
Among the many ridiculous memes they pursued were the claim that Labor was rapidly losing support among the Jewish community. The truth of the matter is that Britain, which is many ways remains a class-based society, finds many Jews in either in the upper-classes or striving to be. Their natural affinity is to the Tory Party, rather than Labor. In fact, only 15% of UK Jews voted Labor in 2015. Pre-election polls showed that around 13% planned to vote Labor this year. While the actual percentage who voted Labor may be slightly higher, there was hardly any drop-off despite the constant barrage of smears levelled at Corbyn and the Party.
UK Jews are far more Orthodox as a percentage of the overall Jewish population: 65% compared to around 10% in the U.S. This means they are far more conservative on social issues and explains the closer affinity for the Conservative Party.
American Jews remain closely affiliated with the Democratic Party because the U.S. has a less-striated social structure. Though most Jews are upper-middle-class or upper-class, their loyalties and values remain tied to the Democrats (despite billionaire outliers like Sheldon Adelson, Daniel Loeb, Paul Singer, and Seth Klarman). Wealthy Jewish plutocrats have spent millions to pry Jewish voters from the Democratic Party, so far with no success whatsoever. The tactics they use mirror those of the UK Lobby: they claim that the Party is anti-Israel and that Barack Obama’s held hostile views toward Israel. But here, as in the UK, those tactics failed.
— Clayton Swisher (@claytonswisher) June 9, 2017
One of the reasons for the resounding failure of the UK Lobby’s campaign may be the startling four-part documentary expose, The Lobby, by Al Jazeera’s investigations unit, which uncovered an orchestrated campaign by an undercover operative from the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs, who sought to recruit Labor and Tory Jewish leaders to destroy the political career of a junior Conservative minister who dared to diverge from the pro-Israel party line. The operative’s antics were so brazen and so deceitful that, once aired, a number of the Jewish leaders who had collaborated with him resigned their positions. Al Jazeera showed that, in many ways, Israeli covert operatives were infiltrating themselves into the deliberations of UK domestic politics. It was a shocking revelation to many viewers. Overall, the program warned both Jewish voters and the Labor Party about the efforts against them and inoculated the Party from the poison spread by the Lobby.
Despite their abject defeat at the polls, there has not been any introspection among those who organized this project. In some ways they’ve even doubled-down on their attacks. In The Tablet, pro-Israel journalistic drone Yair Rosenberg makes the ridiculous charge that losing the Jewish vote cost Jeremy Corbyn an outright election victory. In The Atlantic, neocon Middle East maven, Michael Totten, ominously declares that Corbyn’s Labor Party poses a danger to “the west.” He also compares the major party candidates in the UK to those in the U.S., likening Theresa May to Hillary Clinton and Jeremy Corbyn to…wait for it…Donald Trump.
In truth, the Labor Party gained 30 seats (and the Tories lost 13) in the new parliament and even his detractors reluctantly concede that Corbyn ran a populist, well-organized campaign. It roared back from a 20 point deficit in pre-election polls to within 2.5% of the Tories in the final vote tally. Though Labor remains far from a parliamentary majority, it can in no way be said to have “lost” the election; or even to have “lost” the Jewish vote. It never had the Jewish vote and there was no conceivable way it could’ve won it. Even a corporatist pro-Israel candidate like Ed Miliband could muster only 15% of the Jewish vote in the last election (in part due to the pro-Tory vitriol of the Lobby and ‘party organs’ like the Jewish Chronicle).
If anyone’s awake at UK Lobby Central, they might want to learn a few lessons from this failure. They might want to figure out a way to influence the Labor Party in constructive ways rather than through full-frontal attack. That plan failed miserably. But I fear that the pro-Israel crowd inside and outside the Labor Party, just as within the Democratic National Committee, will not, indeed cannot, learn such a lesson. They fear everything these two populist candidates represent. They especially fear their independent views on the question of Israel-Palestine. They cannot bear to have a viable national candidate who is not beholden to the Lobby.
In a final insult, Tory PM Theresa May has turned to the socially-conservative Democratic Unionist Party to shore up her parliamentary majority. The DUP stands for just about everything UK Jews hate. In effect, this campaign has placed a far-right, Christian fundamentalist party at the center of power in the UK. A result the UK Israel Lobby cannot have foreseen, but for which it now must accept some responsibility.