Corbyn really is no Fischer

December 23, 2015 10:15

Should the Board of Deputies meet Jeremy Corbyn ? Of course the answer, as Daniel Finkelstein argued in the JC last week , is yes. Jonathan Arkush should not have to justify his decision. It's his role to represent and voice the concerns of British Jewry, and Mr Corbyn is leader of the Opposition.

I have a personal reason for being grateful to Mr Arkush for undertaking the task: Mr Corbyn won't talk to me.

Readers may recall that during the Labour leadership campaign Mr Corbyn's office approached the JC to offer an interview. On being told that his questioner would be me, Mr Corbyn withdrew . As a Labour supporter myself, I'd have wanted to press him on the gulf between the party's positions and Mr Corbyn's own. Labour has long connections with British Jewry and historic ties to the Zionist movement. It's a supporter of a two-state solution between a sovereign Palestine and a safe Israel.

Anyone suggesting that Labour leaders like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were heedless of the security needs of the Jewish state would be met with deserved derision.

No one really knows where Labour now stands. But Mr Arkush is in a position to find out, as well as to explain. I hope that Mr Corbyn will listen. Will it be a constructive discussion? Well, I doubt it.

Mr Corbyn gives the impression of having rarely talked to anyone who disagrees with him. In my sole experience, a few years ago, of debating with him, I found him personally likeable but with a nugatory grasp of political issues. Since emerging from backbench obscurity into the public spotlight this year, he has shown himself to be a feeble communicator. He is wooden and pedestrian as a public speaker, and testy on television. Labour MPs plainly neither support nor even respect him.

I can safely say that, with Mr Corbyn at the helm, Labour will not retain my support. Writers on the left like the late Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen and me have feared for a long time that our comrades have sold the pass when it comes to supporting democratic values (of which the Jewish state is an imperfect but brave representative in the Middle East) against theocratic reaction. Yet Mr Corbyn must be given a chance to understand the dead-end he's driving up.

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the rescue by Israeli commandos of hostages at Entebbe airport. The impact of that dangerous mission on Israelis and their self-confidence was immense.

There was a secondary impact too that's not often remarked upon. The hijackers included German far-leftists, who set out to segregate the passengers of the Air France flight according to whether they were Jewish. It was horrifyingly reminiscent of recent German history. And back in Germany, one far-left activist took note. He was Joschka Fischer, who later became German foreign minister in the Red-Green coalition government that took office in 1998.

Fischer remains a man of the left but he began his escape from extremism simultaneously with the Entebbe hijack. As foreign minister, he was notably fair-minded in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. And he supported Nato intervention in 1999 to protect Kosovan Albanians from the genocidal campaign of Slobodan Milosevic. He learnt.

No, Jeremy Corbyn is no Fischer, in outlook or in intellect. Yet British Jews, whatever their political leanings, cannot afford to give up the task of exposition, education and influence, even on the most apparently stony ground.

December 23, 2015 10:15

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