Hardly a day goes by without another shocking revelation of Jeremy Corbyn’s association with antisemites. But while most of us recoil at Corbyn’s documented support for his ‘friends’ Hamas and Hezbollah, his appearances on the Iranian-funded Press TV, and his tribute to the perpetrators of the Munich massacre, little has been said about the intellectual underpinnings of an ideological worldview that Corbyn has clung to for 40 years. It is time that they were debunked from a Sephardi or Mizrahi perspective.
I doubt whether Corbyn has heard of Mizrahi or Sephardi Jews. Did he know that 850,000 Jewish refugees fled Arab and Muslim antisemitism in a single generation? Would it appall him that ancient communities once numbering hundreds or tens of thousands of Jews – from Morocco in the West to Yemen in the East – were driven to extinction (barely 4,500 are left), their property stolen and their rich heritage erased? Maybe he will blame the Zionists – or say that the Jews left ‘of their own free will’.
The evidence of a forced Jewish exodus or nakba is incontrovertible, however. The Jews fled in larger numbers than the Palestinians from Israel. The majority of Jews escaped harassment, intimidation, violence and persecution – ranging from arrests and imprisonment to execution on trumped-up charges. Theirs was the largest mass movement of non-Muslims until the post-2003 flight of Christians from Iraq.
Clearly, Corbyn’s revulsion for the state of Israel lies at the heart of his belief system. He has been reluctant to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism so that he might continue to call the Jewish state ‘racist’ and make offensive comparisons between Zionists and Nazis. He insists on distinguishing between ‘good’ anti-Zionist Jews – whose *Jewdas seder he attended at Passover – and ‘bad’ Jews – the great majority who identify with Israel. *( Jewdas is a Jewish diaspora group based in London which describes itself as “radical”)*
Yet the bitter experiences of Middle Eastern and North African Jews teach us that the distinction between Jews and Zionists cannot be maintained for long. Arab states criminalised Zionism but soon conflated Zionists with Jews, albeit these were non-combatants. In Iraq, Jews wearing watches were arrested for ‘sending secret signals to the Zionists’. The Jewish quarters of North African cities became fair game for attack by vengeful mobs. Anti-Zionist Jews in Egypt were imprisoned. Sooner or later, Jews are persecuted for being Jews.
Central to Corbyn’s worldview is that Israel is a European, white, settler, colonial, imperialist state. Israel is accused of being ‘built on the ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population.’ The injustice to the Palestinians can only be rectified if they achieve national liberation through their ‘right of return’, leading to the destruction of the Jewish state by demographic means.
This myth turns the truth on its head. Originating in Judea, Jews had been settled in the Middle East and North Africa since Biblical times – 1,000 years before the Islamic conquest. Comprising some three million people today – over half the Jewish population of Israel – these indigenous ‘Jews of colour’ never left the region, most refugees finding a haven in the only state that would accept them unconditionally.
Arab and Muslim antisemitism did not begin with the creation of Israel. For 14 centuries of Muslim rule Jews lived as a subjugated dhimmi minority with few rights. Israel’s Mizrahi citizens will never agree to return to ‘colonised’ dhimmi status in a Corbyn-approved majority-Arab state.
The Arab and Muslim quarrel with Israeli ‘imperialism’ becomes absurd when viewed against the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries claim that Jews lost more than the Palestinians – including privately-owned land in Arab states equivalent to five times the size of Israel.
The far left believes that Israel has genocidal designs on the Palestinians reminiscent of the Nazis. The myth of the Arabs as innocent bystanders, who had no responsibility for the Holocaust—and indeed, paid the price for a European crime when Israel was established—is a tenet of Corbynism.
Truth be told, Arabs overwhelmingly supported Nazism and imported the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories rife in the Muslim world today. Antisemitism is a core belief of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their ideological cousins, Islamic State. The wartime Palestinian Mufti’s collaboration with the Nazis was not simply a pragmatic anti-colonial alliance. Had Nazism triumphed, the Mufti would have overseen the extermination of the Jews of the Arab world as well as in Palestine. The Mufti’s anti-Jewish genocidal project is enshrined in the Hamas charter and kept alive today by the Ayatollahs of Iran.
Finally, Corbyn sees the Arabs, like other Third World peoples, solely as victims of Western colonialism, incapable of oppressing others. The West overlooks their misdeeds. For example, the Taubira law memorialising slavery (adopted in France in 2001) mentioned the 11 million victims of the transatlantic slave trade, while ignoring the 17 million slaves trafficked by Arabs and Muslims.
Corbyn and his acolytes shill for the true forces of (Arab and Muslim) imperialism in the Middle East. The Palestinians are the foot-soldiers in a pan-Arab, and now Islamist struggle – couched in terms of ‘Palestinian rights’ – to abolish the Jewish state and re-establish Arab-Muslim majority control. The Arabs already have 22 states, but Corbyn has never advocated for the suppressed rights of indigenous Kurds, Baloch, Berbers and Assyrians.
The Jewish nakba vindicates a sovereign Jewish state in the region. As an aboriginal Middle Eastern people, Jews have an inalienable right, enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, to self-determination.
Corbyn’s worldview may be too entrenched to change. The pity is that young people are growing up with a similarly distorted view of the Middle East, fuelled by media bias, in which in Israel uniquely evil and the Palestinians the sole victims of injustice. More alarmingly, if Corbyn’s hostility to Jews is mainstreamed, most ordinary folk would give a shrug of indifference.
Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK. Blogs at Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries