AS a professional historian, I deplore “instant history”. The historian inhabits a world in which the dust has settled on the past, a decent interval of time has passed and, in a more or less leisurely fashion and with the relevant archival material to hand, the historian critically scrutinises this material in order to provide answers to three — and only three — questions.
They are: What happened? Why did it happen? Why did it happen when it happened?
Of course, in responding to these questions, the professional historian will, as likely as not, destroy cherished myths.
As my late Oxford teacher the brilliant AJP Taylor once told me: “Most historical writing involves the destruction of myth. If the historian can nip a myth in the bud (so to speak), so much the better.”
That’s precisely what I now intend to do.
Once news of the termination of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party had emanated from our TV screens, a gaggle of Jewish spokesmen lost no time in putting fingers to word processors to tell us that “the nightmare” was over.
Corbyn, they insisted, had been an out-and-out antisemite who had facilitated the entry into — and progression within — the Labour Party of other out-and-out antisemites.
Now, they demanded, there had to be a reckoning.
On April 2, the Campaign Against Antisemitism published a long “charge sheet” listing Corbyn’s alleged high crimes and misdemeanours against the Jewish people.
This formidable document linked to an indictment of even greater formidability that the CAA had published some months previously.
“Mr Corbyn [the CAA had then declaimed] “consistently and deliberately enabled and supported the dissemination of antisemitic discourse in the Labour Party.”
Not to be outdone, on April 4, Marie Van der Zyl, bagpipe-playing president of the Board of Deputies, repeated this nonsense.
“As the Corbyn era comes to an end,” she exhaled, “it is clear that history will not look kindly on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, where anti-Jewish racism has been allowed to run amok.”
Pay attention! Anti-Jewish prejudice in the Labour Party has a rampant history, going back beyond the party’s foundation to the parent socialist organisations and trade unions that established it more than a century ago.
Granted, Corbyn himself has a history of anti-Zionism. In May, 1984, he chaired a conference of something called “The Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine” that dedicated itself “to eradicate Zionism”.
But more recently, he has supported the “two-state solution” (so-called), which presupposes a viable Jewish state. For him to have made this journey — from opposition to grudging acceptance of the Jewish state — must have been difficult. But make it he did.
In this column on April 18 last year, I noted that “Corbyn has an impressive demonstrable record of supporting Jewish communal initiatives”.
I listed some of these. On June 14, I added to this record.
I will agree at once that Corbyn has made some incredibly stupid decisions, cosying up to groups such as Hamas and Sinn Fein/IRA and defiantly making a virtue of having done so.
But stupid — not to say mischievous — politicians have sometimes to be saved even from themselves.
On October 2, 2012, Corbyn expressed regret at the removal from its Brick Lane site of a mural — Mear One — by the artist Kalen Ockerman, depicting six bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor.
In March, 2018, Corbyn expressed regret at having expressed regret.
“I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and antisemitic,” he said.
Of the six historic bankers depicted in this mural, only two were Jewish (NM Rothschild and PM Warburg), but another (JP Morgan senior) was an unashamed antisemite!
Corbyn, who never seemed at all happy in his front-bench role as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, has now returned to the backbenches whence he came, and to which he is much better suited.
His successor, Keir Starmer, has publicly pledged to “engage with the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not through fringe organisations and individuals”.
Isn’t this what the Anglo-Jewish establishment’s crusade against Jeremy Corbyn was really about?
This is the historical reality that I pledge myself to defend, no matter who in that establishment I offend as I do so.
And — just for the avoidance of any doubt — let me declare now that I am not, and never have been, a member or supporter of any political party. OK?
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