Ronnie Kasrils | Why we are standing with suspended Labour Party member Jeremy Corbyn

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Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

Ronnie Kasrils writes there are many good reasons why suspended Labour party member Jeremy Corbyn needs the support of South Africans to get him reinstated in the party.

So appalled were Pallo Jordan, Ebrahim Ebrahim, and myself at the British Labour Party’s suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, their former leader, on 29 October, for stating that antisemitism in the party was "dramatically overstated for political reasons", that we protested to his successor, Keir Starmer, as follows:

“We, South Africans, are deeply disturbed at the Labour Party's treatment and suspension of Jeremy Corbyn. We can attest to his outstanding support for the liberation of South Africa from apartheid, and his resolute stand against all forms of racism, discrimination, antisemitism, xenophobia, injustice and oppression of people, wherever such evils are manifested….. We stand in solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn and join those in Britain calling for his reinstatement without delay.”

We were soon joined by other South Africans who, like us, had worked and organised for the ANC and anti-apartheid movement, studied or lived in Britain during the struggle years, and had many friends in the labour movement and insight into among other political and trade union formations, the Labour Party. Among those to join were Essop and Aziz Pahad, Barney Pityana, Jeremy Cronin, Mandla Langa, Fazel Randera, Terry Bell, Mongane Wally Serote, Garth Strachan, Lawson Naidoo, Raymond Suttner, Eddie Webster, Horst Kleinschmidt and Paula Ensor.

Within a few days our statement has been endorsed by 2 000 concerned activists, essentially South Africans and British – including internationalists elsewhere - wishing to be associated with this initiative. Of the South Africans we refer to Frank Chikane, Alec Erwin, Sydney Mufamadi; Deputy Secretary-General of the ANC, Jessie Duarte; retired military generals Siphiwe Nyanda and Jacqueline Sedibe; former ambassadors Mohammed Dangor and Ismail Coovadia; public servants Zane Dangor, Tim Wilson and Ivan Pillay; trade unionists Irvin Jim, Bongani Masuku, Neil Coleman, Joe Foster, Percy Thomas, Alistair Smith; journalists such as Amina Frense and Iqbal Jasset; academics and human rights activists Xolela Mangcu, Noor Nieftagodien, Luli Callinicos, Brian Ashley, Nonkoni Ratshitanga, Jacklyn Cock, Neeshan Balton, Jane Duncan, Na’eem Jeenah, Salim Valli, Langa Zita, Mercia Andrews, Renee Horne, Mark Weinberg, Zubeida Jaffer, John Pampallis, Noncebo Madonsela, Ben Cousins; struggle veterans such as Snuki Zikalale and Sunny Singh; a generation of younger activists such as William Shoke, Natalia Dinath, and Roshan Dadoo.

Most gratifying has been this message we have received from renowned British filmmaker Ken Loach, who observes:

“This is an important statement by people who carry great authority. They suffered under, fought and defeated racism in apartheid South Africa. Their support for Jeremy Corbyn is unequivocal. We must all heed what they say.”

Embodied in our statement is the following reference to Corbyn:

The manner in which he has been treated by elements within the Labour Party is an utter disgrace. The incumbent leadership of the Labour Party have fallen prey to a dangerous agenda which conflates justified criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people with the scourge of antisemitism. When there were instances of antisemitism among a small number of ignorant members, Jeremy Corbyn has denounced it. We are aware of the machinations within the Labour Party to conduct a witch-hunt against Corbyn and those who support him. The charges of antisemitism that have been levelled against him are patently unjust and morally groundless.

It is not difficult to understand why Jeremy Corbyn’s plight has affected us.

Solidarity is a two-way street.

Many of us experienced in the most direct sense his commitment to our struggle to topple apartheid, and are able to testify to that. We find it a matter of principle to stand by him as his adversaries lash out for a range of shameful and downright reactionary reasons, intent on destroying or emasculating him.

The smear of antisemitism serves as a cover for the vindictive right-wing, Blairite faction of his party. They are terrified by the socialist orientation he had inspired when becoming Labour leader five years ago, and leading the party to a huge and unexpected resurgence in the 2017 national election, where he won the largest share of the vote for Labour since 1997, when Blair enjoyed a landslide victory.

In their purge, that discredited faction are aided and abetted by the Tory Party (who have always been a home for leading antisemites and racists of all stripes), Britain’s mainstream media and the shocking machinations to unseat him by a Zionist extension within that country of the Israeli government who regard him and his allies as a dangerous threat to be taken down – coalescing with the similar fears and campaign of a terrified British ruling class hypocritically stoking this antisemitic charade.

Hostility to Corbyn 

Such machinations are not the invention of conspiracy theorists, but have been exposed, including recorded boasting of Israeli agents. An Israeli politician, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, claimed responsibility for her part in the political downfall of former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

"Bye bye @jeremycorbyn," she posted on Twitter. "Justice is done. Proud I was part of this puzzle."

Most tellingly was a 2019 Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter exposing the intimate and covert ties between the leaderships of two key Labour groups—the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI)—and an Israeli embassy official in London. Both organisations, were secretly filmed voicing their hostility for Corbyn, and have been at the forefront of the campaign to unseat him on the grounds of antisemitism.

The fact that an element of antisemitism has crept into the party, where Israel’s brutality has enflamed people’s sensibilities, and particularly new members, has been hugely and wilfully magnified by a hostile media. A poll of 1 008 people found that two-thirds thought that 34% of Labour members - approximately 200 000 - had faced antisemitism complaints, when the actual number was 0.3% [The Survation Poll].

READ | Jeremy Corbyn suspended from Britain's Labour party after anti-semitism report

Jeremy Corbyn, for his 37 years as an MP, has been an inspirational force - not only for Britain where he had attracted hundreds of thousands of youth into the Labour Party - but internationally as well. One of the few leaders anywhere to not only dare talk about socialism, but to link it creatively to the issues ordinary people are facing and to inspire millions with hope.

Few of his detractors in Britain's parliament are able to match that record. In that he has been to the fore in fighting for Labour's anti-racist and socialist values. How many Labour MPs match that type of record?

Additionally, he has been a key champion in the anti-war movement, opposing the disastrous invasion of Iraq and exposing Bush and Blair’s warmongering duplicity; an implacable opponent of fascism at home and abroad; and a brave voice in upholding people's rights to independence and sovereignty against imperialism. That is an outstanding legacy which we are proud to support without reservation.

These are all clear reasons why we South Africans are so forthright in our support for Jeremy Corbyn and are prepared to raise our voices in his defence.

I raise another reason, in fact one that motivated Jeremy Corbyn in all his years of dedicated activism on our behalf, and that is the knowledge that the fight for justice and the truth prevails when sufficient numbers of people make their demands heard in words and action. The current crop of Labour leaders need to heed that lesson of history and consider whether it is worth their while to maintain their deceit because it is they who are the greatest threat to their party.

It is simply not true that Corbyn was wrong in declaring that antisemitism in the party was "dramatically overstated for political reasons". He was perfectly correct and that is becoming clearer to the majority of its members and beyond, including many Jews in his own Islington constituency who have sprung to his defence concerning the exaggerated level of antisemitism within Labour and certainly far less than in the Conservative Party. 

One such member, Lynne Segal, has written: "We have had to watch a wholly false invention of charges of antisemitism against our MP, with our own views as Jewish members completely ignored… I am simply devastated that this process has climaxed in the suspension of our cherished MP, and former leader.” And she laments: “ Unlike most of his critics in Westminster, Corbyn unfailingly turned up to vote for motions addressing anti-Semitism in Parliament, just as he worked tirelessly against racism on every front."

More pressure needed 

Where Starmer is on shaky ground is that the very report [The Equalities and Human Rights Commission Report] citing evidence of antisemitism within the party, which he used to suspend his left-wing predecessor, explicitly states that Corbyn is not only entitled to exactly his opinion, but that his right to express his view is protected by human rights law – and that as an MP he is privileged with enhanced protection. This alone could make it problematic for Right Wing Labour to maintain their attempts to suppress Corbyn. Backed by the wave of support in his favour the purge of progressives can and must be halted.       

Solidarity in support of a just cause is a powerful weapon.

We join forces with the multitude of aroused activists demanding that Keir Starmer lift this shameful suspension on an honest and decent man, a champion of the oppressed who has always been dedicated to Labour’s cause. There are grounds to believe Starmer may well be forced to capitulate. We need to step up the pressure to achieve that, and not only in Britain.

You can sign the petition here. 

- Ronnie Kasrils is an ANC and SACP struggle veteran, who served as a South African government minister between 1994-2008.

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