Corbyn in 2009 ahead of demonstrations across Britain against Israeli military action on Gaza
With no degree and two rotten A-levels, when it came to hunting for his first real job, Corbyn aimed low.
An ad placed by the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers for an assistant in its research department attracted just one reply – Corbyn’s – and he got the job.
Intriguingly, given the torrent of anti-Semitism claims the Labour leader faces today, this was the post that gave him his first encounter with Jews.
Corbyn’s boss was Alec Smith, who in 1973 was negotiating with employers at the Retail Bespoke Tailoring Wages Council. Working under Smith was Mick Mindel, a Jewish communist who articulated his members’ passionate support for Israel.
Most of their employers were also Left-wing Jews – like Mindel, they looked to communism to abolish injustice and prejudice, including anti-Semitism.
Corbyn has boasted of how, although only an assistant in the research department, he personally challenged employers to recover members’ unpaid wages after their bosses ‘had mysteriously gone bankrupt just before Christmas, owing their workers a lot of wages’.
‘Scumbags, actually. Crooks’ was how Corbyn described the bosses. ‘My job was to try and chase these people through Companies House and so on.’
According to Corbyn, he examined the companies’ accounts in order to verify phoney bankruptcies. But that notion is contradicted by his old boss, Alec Smith, and also by the union’s well catalogued records, which do not reveal any issues about ‘unscrupulous employers’, or refer to any member complaining about being unpaid.
Smith is certain that Corbyn ‘never had any contact with our members. He just sat in at meetings passing me information’.
Corbyn, not for the first time reshaping the truth to improve his self-image, conjured a tale of a brave personal fight against exploitative Jewish employers of sweatshop labour. Parochialism and fantasy led to him forming his views about the malign collective power of Jews.
Thirty years later he boasted how, at the end of one Wages Council meeting, a Jewish tailor had offered to make him a suit if he provided the cloth. Corbyn had spurned the offer. ‘Imagine trying to bribe a union official,’ he laughed.
‘Freedom for Humanity’ – a street art graffiti work by artist Mear One on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane. It was removed as the characters depicted as bankers have faces that look Jewish. In March 2018, the issue of the mural resurfaced as Corbyn, in a Facebook post in 2012, asked Mear One why the mural was to be buffed and likened its removal to Nelson Rockefeller’s destruction of Diego Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads fresco in 1934
Immersed in an alien world, the young Corbyn had no time for those seeking self-improvement – to fulfil the dream of moving from East End slums to North London’s suburbs.
Since he disdained materialism, culture and anything spiritual, he was an empty vessel, uneasy with a race complicated by its history of survival over 2,000 years of persecution.
Jews in London were the victims of discrimination by all classes, including the working class – a truth that did not quite fit Corbyn’s Marxist theory of history.
Few Labour MPs were more troubled by Jeremy Corbyn than Louise Ellman, elected in 1997 for Liverpool Riverside. A soft-spoken mother-of-two, she had joined the party at 18.
For years, it was seldom mentioned that Ellman was Jewish: at Westminster and in her constituency, her religion was irrelevant. That changed after Corbyn’s election in September 2015.
The membership of her constituency soared from 500 to 2,700, and at meetings the Corbynistas harangued her about Israel and Zionism. Older party members were disgusted by the anti-Semitic abuse. ‘It’s pretty nasty,’ Ellman reported to party headquarters in London. She blamed the revived Militant faction, now reincarnated as Momentum, for plotting to deselect her. No one at headquarters acknowledged her concern, which did not surprise her.
Few Labour MPs were more troubled by Corbyn than Louise Ellman (pictured), elected in 1997 for Liverpool Riverside. A soft-spoken mother-of-two, she had joined the party at 18. For years, it was seldom mentioned that Ellman was Jewish. That changed after Corbyn’s election in September 2015. The membership of her constituency soared from 500 to 2,700, and at meetings the Corbynistas harangued her about Israel and Zionism
Ellman’s predicament had begun soon after the creation of the Stop The War Coalition in 2001. She was among the first to protest against its anti-Semitism.
The criticism of Israel and Zionism was couched in language markedly similar to the myths parroted over the previous 2,000 years about Jewish wealth dominating the world.
Corbyn had been seen at Stop The War’s annual Al-Quds (the Arab name for Jerusalem) event opposing Israel’s existence, mingling among Palestinians distributing magazines featuring cartoons portraying Jews with large noses pulling the strings of puppet politicians, media moguls and bankers.
Just before Christmas 2003, Ellman addressed an empty Commons about the ‘rising tide of anti-Semitism’. She named the leaders of the Muslim Association of Britain, all of whom were connected to Hamas or other terrorist organisations, for promoting the image of a Jewish global conspiracy.
The reaction to her speech shocked her: ‘I was regarded as a freak.’ Letters in The Guardian denounced her for identifying Muslims as anti-Semitic. At Westminster, several MPs shunned her. Corbyn was heard by a member of his staff mocking Ellman as ‘the Honourable Member for Tel Aviv’ – an allegation he later denied.
The truth is that Corbyn’s antagonism towards Zionism is one of the most consistent – and toxic – lines of his career. To him, Jews aren’t victims of racism and oppression but rather racist oppressors themselves.
For years, he’d noisily voiced his outrage at the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza at countless public meetings – never drawing a distinction between the terms Jew and Zionist which were interchangeable to many on the Left.
On those occasions he effortlessly lapsed into anti-Semitic language, convinced a backbencher’s prejudice would not attract attention beyond his loyal audience.
And for years it didn’t. Nor did the fact that he consistently invited anti-Zionists to the Commons, without ever offering Jews a similar privilege. Among his most appalling guests was Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which had described Jews as ‘monkeys’ and ‘bacteria’. Salah had been convicted in Israel for saying that Semites had drunk the blood of non-Jewish babies, and used children’s blood to bake bread.
Once he thrust himself into the national spotlight by standing as Labour leader, Corbyn was shocked and angered by the media’s investigation of his past alliances.
The horrors weren’t hard to find – there were so many they spilled out at regular intervals throughout the first three years of his leadership, each sparking new revulsion.
Anyone who wanted to know how Corbyn thought just needed to examine his words – or look at the company he kept.
On March 3, 2009, he said in a speech: ‘It will be my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I have also invited our friends from Hamas to come and speak.’
In the lexicon of terrorists, few groups were more medieval than Hamas and Hezbollah and Corbyn later had to apologise for calling them friends.
In August 2015 it was revealed he accepted £2,000 from Ibrahim Hamami, a London GP and a Hamas sympathiser, who applauded the stabbing of Jews. Corbyn registered the donation with the surname wrongly spelt as Hamam – and refused to explain what he did with the money.
Also that year he accepted an invitation from Ibrahim Hewitt, senior editor of a news organisation called Middle East Monitor, to speak at the group’s annual conference. Hewitt, another Hamas supporter, not only approved stoning adulterers to death and lashing gay men, but sharply criticised Jewish influence at Westminster.
At the conference, British Palestinian political activist Dr Azzam Tamimi spoke about suicide bombers as noble martyrs. Hewitt said of Tamimi: ‘I consider him to be a very good friend.’
As the evidence of anti-Semitism among Labour supporters grew, so did public unease. One formidable opponent was Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. ‘Most people in the Jewish community can’t trust Labour,’ he said.
Reluctantly, Corbyn agreed to meet Arkush and the Board of Deputies, complaining to his staff that inviting the ‘bourgeois’ Arkush was ‘unfair’. Josh Simons, a policy adviser in Corbyn’s office, noticed that, as the staff prepared for the meeting, the mood was one of ‘flippant disdain’.
The Board of Deputies’ leaders arrived at Corbyn’s office on April Fool’s Day, 2016. Uncertain how to address them, he relied on a script given to him to read, and thereafter directed their questions to his Marxist spin doctor, Seumas Milne. Ignoring that pass-off, Arkush asked Corbyn: ‘What do you expect the Jewish community to feel when you meet people who are blatantly racist?’
Jews in London were the victims of discrimination by all classes, including the working class – a truth that did not quite fit Corbyn’s Marxist theory of history,
Corbyn hesitated, then finally replied that he would ‘reflect’. But he refused to express any regret about associating with Hamas or Hezbollah. Positioned to one side of the room, Milne was seething.
In the presence of Jews, his body language had visibly changed. His language did not. Replying to the deputies’ questions, he refused to say ‘anti-Semitism’, only ‘anti-Zionism’. His blatant anti-Semitism, said one of the visitors, was ‘frightening. Giving power to Seumas Milne is fearful.’
One of the ties that most strongly binds Corbyn and Milne is their unremitting hostility to Israel.
After spending a gap-year ‘holiday’ in Lebanon in the early 1980s, witnessing ferocious battles between Israelis and Palestinians, Milne regarded Zionism as evil, without qualification.
He shared Corbyn’s belief that the Islamic attacks of 9/11 were explicable as acts of resistance. He described the murder of Lee Rigby, a British soldier hacked to death on a London street by two Muslims in May 2013, as ‘not terrorism in the normal sense of an indiscriminate attack on civilians’, because Rigby had served in Afghanistan.
In 2016, Labour’s General Secretary, Iain McNicol, suggested Corbyn ask Jan Royall, the Labour peer trusted by the Jewish community, to report on whether the party had a wider problem.
But Corbyn rejected her, and a more suitable candidate was soon found. ‘Shami wants to come and help,’ Corbyn announced to his office, referring to Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of Liberty, the civil rights group.
Chakrabarti took a call from Seumas Milne while standing on the tarmac at Heathrow, where she was about to board a flight for Dublin. Milne told her that the solution to the party’s problems was an inquiry, and she instantly accepted his offer to undertake the face-saver.
By the time she landed in Ireland, she had agreed that she would not investigate individuals accused of anti-Semitism, but would instead conduct a ‘thematic’ review of the party’s broader culture. Perhaps to make it palatable to party members, she would also include complaints about Islamophobia, even though that was not a problem anyone was highlighting.
In addition, to avoid any complaints that she was personally hostile to Labour, she would join the party. Her membership was completed on an app at Dublin Airport.
At Milne’s suggestion, she agreed that she would not recommend any disciplinary action. Blandness was required, and Chakrabarti was content to oblige.
The public assumption that the respected lawyer would remain staunchly independent was undermined by her own decision not to undertake a judicial-style inquiry, but to be as partial as she deemed necessary.
Over the following weeks, Chakrabarti listened to hours of harrowing testimony from Jews, not least from female Labour MPs describing the anti-Semitic abuse they had suffered from party members.
As the evidence accumulated, she made no attempt to appear independent. ‘Regularly,’ said an eyewitness, ‘Seumas Milne got calls from Shami. He gave her guidance about what he and Corbyn expected.’
At that moment, few understood the extent to which Corbyn himself was the issue.
Rather than draining the swamp, he had brought it with him.
Among the many stains blighting his past was his subscription between 2013 and 2015 to Palestine Live, a Facebook page popular among Holocaust deniers.
Corbyn has been seen at Stop The War’s annual Al-Quds (the Arab name for Jerusalem) event opposing Israel’s existence, mingling among Palestinians distributing magazines featuring cartoons portraying Jews with large noses pulling the strings of puppet politicians, media moguls and bankers
Noted for its vicious anti-Semitic statements, it was just one of 40 virulently anti-Zionist accounts Corbyn was following.
Towards the end of her inquiry, Chakrabarti interviewed Corbyn. ‘I put to Jeremy the list of people he had met and shared platforms with in the past,’ she would say, ‘and he had good answers. He was searching for peace.’
She concluded that his anti-Zionism was not anti-Semitic, but only passionately supportive of Palestinian rights.
Faced with accusations by Luciana Berger and many other Jewish MPs that her inquiry was biased, she would reply that, while she would not judge Berger, she did not know if she was ‘conflating’.
It was an odd choice of word. Berger could have accused Corbyn of anti-Semitism, Chakrabarti was suggesting, just because she disliked Corbyn. In other words, she was ‘weaponising’ anti-Semitism.
As she was writing her report, Chakrabarti discussed her conclusions with Milne – but she would deny that he vetted or influenced her.
‘In Shami’s opinion,’ recalls an insider with the authority of a witness, ‘she had delivered what Milne required to end the dispute. But she had failed to grasp the seriousness of the Jews’ despair. She was out of her depth.’
Either way, her investigation was over, her job done. Corbyn has nothing to fear.
On June 30, near the Aldwych in Central London, Corbyn stood beside Chakrabarti as she introduced her report to a hall packed with his supporters. Watching from the side were Milne and members of Momentum.
Corbyn had good reason to be relieved. Chakrabarti had reported that, although there was ‘occasionally a toxic atmosphere’, Labour was not ‘overrun by anti-Semitism’. She absolved Corbyn of any responsibility, recommended any future suspensions from the party be kept secret, ruled out lifetime membership bans, and declared that Labour Party members guilty of anti-Semitism should not be disciplined.
At the end of her brief speech, Corbyn spoke. ‘Our Jewish friends,’ he said, ‘are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those self-styled Islamic State organisations.’
It was a shocking comparison, deliberately made, and before Corbyn had finished speaking, the former chief rabbi Lord Sacks accused him of spouting ‘pure anti-Semitism’, adding ‘it shows how deep the sickness is in parts of the Left of British politics today’. Corbyn later apologised for comparing Islamic State to Israel.
Among those seated in the hall was Ruth Smeeth, the Jewish Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, while standing in the aisle nearby was Marc Wadsworth, a Momentum member.
Wadsworth was handing out a press release calling for the deselection of MPs – ‘traitors’ – opposed to the leadership. He refused to give a copy to Smeeth, as in his opinion she ranked among the party’s enemies.
Her treachery was ‘proven’ when she asked a Daily Telegraph journalist seated next to her to read out the press release. To Smeeth’s surprise, Wadsworth snapped at her that was she ‘working hand-in-hand’ with the Right-wing media. Smeeth burst into tears. As the hapless MP visibly struggled with her emotions, the insult was compounded when, at the end of his presentation, Corbyn walked through the audience and greeted Wadsworth.
‘I outed Smeeth,’ Wadsworth told him proudly. ‘Bloody talking to the Torygraph.’ Glancing at Smeeth, Corbyn saw that she was in tears, shared a laugh with Wadsworth, and walked out of the hall.
Corbyn’s antagonism towards Zionism is one of the most consistent – and toxic – lines of his career. To him, Jews aren’t victims of racism and oppression but rather racist oppressors themselves
In the days following that incident, Smeeth received thousands of abusive messages, including death threats. In his own defence Corbyn said that he had been misunderstood. Beyond Parliament, within hours of the report’s publication, Chakrabarti’s reputation was being shredded, partly on account of her failure to consider that Corbyn had not vocally opposed the forced segregation of Muslims at party meetings. She had also ignored male Muslim officials refusing to allow women to be selected as Labour candidates in at least two constituencies.
And still the anti-Semitic skeletons kept tumbling out of Corbyn’s closet. In 2012, a large mural had appeared on a wall in Tower Hamlets, East London. Painted by American artist Kalen Ockerman, it portrayed Jewish financiers playing Monopoly on a board supported on the naked backs of the world’s oppressed – mostly blacks.
Even after a brief glance, no one could fail to grasp the familiar caricature of grotesque-looking Jewish bankers engaged in a worldwide conspiracy to manipulate subjugated slaves.
Responding to protests, Tower Hamlets Council ordered the mural to be scrubbed out.
But looking at the mural on his computer, Corbyn saw rich white Jews, international powerbrokers, exploiting oppressed blacks. Immediately he protested against the mural’s removal ‘on the grounds of free speech’. He also wrote to Ockerman ‘You’re in good company’, referring to the removal of a mural by Diego Rivera in New York back in 1934: ‘Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.’
Screenshots of his Facebook post emerged last spring, prompting yet another toxic row. Another was quickly to follow.
Soon after he had approved Ockerman’s mural, Corbyn spoke without inhibition at a meeting of the Palestinian Return Centre, a group known to blame the Jews for the Holocaust.
In an unusually light-hearted manner, he addressed the difficulty British ‘Zionists’ experienced in coping with an alien culture.
‘So clearly two problems,’ he summarised. ‘One is that they don’t want to study history and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either… so I think they need two lessons which we can help them with.’
From his own mouth came the declaration that ‘Zionists’, alias Jews, were not genuinely British – remarks that sparked a cacophony of outrage when they came to light last summer. Corbyn, said former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, was a supporter of ‘racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map’. The Labour leader’s remarks were the ‘most offensive’ since Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968. Corbyn’s office openly mocked Sacks’s comparison.
The former chief rabbi, it seems, was just another wailing Jew.
Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot For Power, by Tom Bower, is published by William Collins on February 21 at £20. Offer price £16 (20 per cent discount) until February 24. Pre-order at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get FREE premium delivery.