A meeting held by the left-wing Momentum organisation to demand Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party suspension be rescinded included an incendiary speech on “the Jewish Question” which suggested antisemitism “has been used as a diversionist weapon against the progressive forces.”
Labour MPs Jon Trickett, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon and John McDonnell all delivered speeches at Friday evening’s virtual event openly challenging Sir Keir Starmer over the decision to suspend the former leader over his response to the damning EHRC report into the handling of antisemitism complaints.
And Unite union executive Howard Beckett delivered his own interpretation of the EHRC report’s findings – claiming he believed the watchdog recognised the “reality” that Mr Corbyn had been “unjustly labelled” by the “right-wing media” and “given ownership of every act of antisemitism in the Labour".
But addressing the ‘Stand With Corbyn’ event, Rivkah Brown, who writes for the Novara Media website, made reference to a book she said had been shared with her by a “comrade” written in 1942, Antisemitism and the Jewish Question by “the Austrian Jewish Marxist scholar I Renapp.”
She quoted a passage from the book in which she said the author wrote: "Throughout the ages antisemitism and the Jewish Question have been used as a diversionist weapon against the progressive forces and their struggle for a better and higher order of things and today they can still be used for the same purpose.”
Ms Brown continued: ”This is entirely relevant to our moment.
“We have just had a day, and you know years, when antisemitism and the Jewish question, as we might call it, have been used to distract us from what ought to be the focus of the Labour Party which should be about winning power but should also be about transformative change.”
Ms Brown's speech was condemned by antisemitism expert, author and academic David Hirsh.
He told the JC: "Rivkah Brown reads out a passage written in 1942 by an apologist for Stalin’s antisemitism as though it tells us something about today.
"But she conflates antisemitism with ‘The Jewish Question’ and inverts their meanings.
"Nobody was at this event because they thought that antisemitism had hurt the ‘progressive’ Corbyn.
"They were there for the opposite reason: because they thought that the ‘progressive’ Corbyn had been hurt by ‘reactionary’ Zionists - that being the name for pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist Jews; quite opposite to the authentic Jews like Rivkah Brown.
"In truth, the Jewish Question was always really an antisemitic question. It was not, ‘How can humanity be stopped from menacing the Jews?’ but, ‘How can the Jews be stopped from menacing humanity?’ The Holocaust was Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Jewish Question'."
Ms Brown also spoke of the need for the left to “keep their eye on the prize” and added: ”In a strange way I think that the Corbyn suspension, unjust and outrageous as it is, does help us to do that.”
Ms Brown then gave her assessment of the EHRC report, saying that while it was “helpful and important” it would not itself be “what stamps out antisemitism in Labour or in society.”
She claimed “that kind of change can only come from social transformation, from class and inter-racial solidarity of the kind Corbyn has been trying to cultivate all his life.”
The activist, who said she is a member of the Labour Party, said that while the EHRC report should be “enacted” by the party, it was in actual fact a “procedural and bureaucratic solution” to the problem of antisemitism.
Ms Brown said:”Our focus ought to be the higher order of things … antisemitism isn’t an isolated issue, it’s connected to all of the social inequalities that exist in our society.”
She added:”This is an exciting opportunity .. we need to get back in touch with those things and not preoccupy ourselves with a kind of procedural solution.”
Ms Brown had made a point of emphasising her Jewish roots as she spoke at the meeting. “I am going to be brief because it’s Shabbat and I am about to have a lovely meal,” she said at the start of her speech, before ending by wishing those watching “Shabbat Shalom.”
The 1942 book she cited was written by the British-Austrian ex-Communist Party member Israel Panner. At the time Mr Panner, who later became chief political correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, had praised Joseph Stalin for supposedly protecting the Jews of Russia against the horrors of antisemitism, writing in the book’s conclusion: "We have seen how the Jewish question has been solved,...and have also considered the Zionist problem."
Also speaking at Friday's meeting, Unite head of legal Mr Beckett offered his own conclusion on the EHRC report's findings - and launched a savage attack on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
The left-winger claimed the EHRC had recognised in Mr Corbyn "the reality of a man who is unjustly labelled by the media and given ownership of every act of antisemitism in the Labour Party would want to talk of the improvements he made on his leadership to try to tackle the problem of antisemitism in Labour."
He added that he believed the watchdog had seen "that we would want to talk about the role of the right wing media who were desperate to label Labour as institutionally racist - and they failed."
Mr Beckett told Momentum supporters: "We must defend Jeremy Corbyn and say very clearly he had been unjustly suspended."
Former Shadow Justice Secretary and secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group Richard Burgon told the event: “People are not going to sit idly by while the former leader of the Labour Party is expelled..."
Jon Trickett MP added: “I was speaking to him [Corbyn] yesterday. He told me he joined the party in 1966, I joined in 1969. So he’s done 54 years. And in that time, whenever people were in difficulty, he had their back.
“Now we need to have his back. And I’m convinced we can get him reinstated. We can get him reinstated not simply because of our strength of numbers but because of our strength of argument.”
Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told the event: “I’m going to read much of what I’ll say because we have to be careful in our language at the moment. We don’t want to give any hostages to fortune to any who would use our words, distort them and use them against the left.
“So let me make it clear. I’m here in solidarity with my longstanding comrade Jeremy Corbyn. What happened to him yesterday – his suspension – was profoundly wrong. That’s the bottom line. It was profoundly wrong and must be reversed.”
On Mr Corbyn’s comments in the aftermath of the EHRC report, the former Shadow Chancellor added: “It’s true, as well, that political opponents have attacked us over the issue of antisemitism.
“Time and time again the Tories raised this in parliament, but without once criticising the racist and antisemitic behaviour of Boris Johnson their own leader. I even had antisemitism raised in Treasury questions by the Tories.
“But this does not mean that the evidence of antisemitism in our party doesn’t and didn’t exist or was trumped up and it doesn’t excuse not acknowledging its existence and stopping it.
“But the acknowledgement made by us all of the horrendous nature of antisemitism and its existence in our party and our society is something that should bring us together not divide us… to ensure we fight against this evil.
“That’s what I want, and that’s what Jeremy wants. My appeal is not the launch of some civil war or for members to leave the party and set up some other party. My appeal is for unity.”
Meanwhile Diane Abbott MP said: "More than anything else my message is 'I stand with Jeremy'."
In a statement on Sunday regarding her Jewish Question speech, Ms Brown told the JC: "As readers of the Jewish Chronicle will know, Theodor Herzl's 'The Jewish State' was subtitled 'Proposal for a modern solution to the Jewish question'.
"From Herzl to Rosa Luxemburg to James Connolly, political thinkers have long asked “questions” about sections of humanity, the “question” being: “How can this group of people achieve self-determination and freedom?” That is the question I was asking."
This piece was edited to remove a reference to the meeting starting at 7pm. It was in fact recorded ealier and broadcast on Zoom at 7pm.