Last Sunday, many of the participants in the latest protest in London against the Labour Party’s allegedly inadequate response to anti-Semitism are likely to have been buoyed by a report in The Observer about a £50 million project to launch a centrist third force in British politics.
There is no guarantee that such a party will indeed take shape before the next general election, but it does not require much imagination to categorise it as part of the effort to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn never becomes prime minister.
Whether many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party would be dumb enough to latch on to such an enterprise, given the dire fate of the last concerted effort to ‘break the mould’ back in the early 1980s, is an open question.
The majority of Labour parliamentarians were discombobulated by a dedicated socialist’s emergence as party leader three years ago, and moves to unseat him were launched almost immediately.
The idea of a dedicated socialist leading a party that had once prided itself on its socialism, but had in the 1990s lapsed into a kind of neoliberalism that made it virtually indistinguishable from the Conservative Party, was anathema to the Blairite diehards.
But Corbyn enjoyed mass support among the party membership, and an attempt to replace him led to his re-election with an even bigger majority.
Never mind, the malcontents thought, the next general election will render his leadership untenable after Labour is decimated. But when Theresa May made the mistake of calling an early election last year, the opposition made substantial gains while the Tories lost their majority.
Corbyn’s critics were temporarily silenced. A few stepped back, and some opponents even recanted their scepticism about his leadership. The ideological divide remained unbridged, though, and the tendency to latch on to smear campaigns undiminished.
Not long ago, they were heartened by news reports suggesting Corbyn might have been a communist spy, based on the testimony of a delusional former Czechoslovak diplomat. That mud didn’t stick.
Corbyn’s considered response to the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in Salisbury offered another opportunity to malign him, just because the Labour leader sensibly suggested that solid evidence of Russian state complicity in the outrage should precede any action against Moscow.
Reverting to the anti-Semitism trope emerged as the next best option for destabilisation, the latest hook being Corbyn’s sympathy eight years ago in a Facebook post for an artist deploring the erasure of an anti-capitalist mural he had pained on a wall.
Corbyn has apologised for failing to notice the mural’s anti-Semitic implications at first glance — namely a couple of stereotypical Jewish faces among the bankers sitting around a table that is crushing the rest of humanity.
It has been claimed the depiction echoes, although the critics generally fail to mention that in Germany back then it was common for ‘Jewish financiers’ to be condemned specifically for bankrolling Russia’s Bolshevik revolution, many of whose stalwarts were in turn targeted by their foes on the basis of their Jewish origins.
There is a long history of virulent anti-Semitism across Europe, which contributed to the Holocaust but also survived the Second World War. Its European manifestations today are found mainly on the Continent rather than in Britain, largely on the far right of politics. They are dwarfed, though, by growing anti-Muslim prejudice.
It is perfectly appropriate that even the most passionate critics of the militant Islamic State group or Saudi Arabia, including Corbyn, are seldom branded as Islamophobes.
By the same token, it is utterly ridiculous for all critics of Israel, including Jews, to be dubbed anti-Semitic. It is certainly wrong to conflate Jewishness with Israel or with Zionism. But this is a grave error that is routinely compounded by all too many Zionists and most representatives of the Israeli state.
It was in evidence last week when Corbyn was berated for attending a Passover Seder organised by a non-Zionist Jewish collective called Jewdas in his London constituency. To an extent, this particular smear backfired on the Jewish Board of Deputies and other critics.
On the other hand, a poll published last Sunday found that half of the British electorate believes — contrary to the evidence, but in keeping with the malign diatribes echoed throughout the mainstream media, from The Guardian to the Daily Mail — that Labour has a bigger anti-Semitism problem than other parties, and that 34 per cent of voters believe Corbyn is among those who hold anti-Semitic views, notwithstanding his unrelenting opposition to all forms of racism.
The latest campaign may have been motivated in part by the May 3 local elections, and its efficacy should be visible in a couple of weeks. It is reassuring, though, that Corbyn has not been cowed into tempering his criticism of the latest atrocities in Gaza.