In an article full of errors and mistruths, the National Post attempted to demonize socialists with false allegations of antisemitism. Reacting to left NDP MP Niki Ashton’s plan to feature former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at an online event, the right-wing National Post sought to mobilize “shock and revulsion” against these prominent socialists. This attempt to “cancel” Ashton and Corbyn is hypocritical in the extreme, given that the Post is currently waging a campaign against so-called “cancel culture”. For the right wing, anybody spouting racist ideas is a heroic fighter for free speech, while anybody opposing the oppression of Palestinians is a terrible antisemite who needs to be shut down.
The first paragraph of the Post article by Christopher Nardi starts with a ridiculous mistruth. They state that Ashton shouldn’t be holding a meeting with Corbyn who, “was forced to resign over his handling of a report concluding his party did not take action to prevent antisemitism.” It is not clear whether Nardi is deliberately lying or just a terrible journalist. The aforementioned report was released in October of 2020, while Corbyn voluntarily announced his resignation in December 2019 after an election defeat. It is inexplicable how the release of a report ten months after the fact could have had any role in Corbyn’s resignation.
The purpose of the article is not honest journalism. Instead, it is part of an attempt by the Canadian right to nip the rise of socialism in Canada in the bud. Socialist, and life-long anti-racist, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015 as a total surprise to the establishment. In 2015 the right didn’t take Corbyn seriously because they thought nobody would be interested in his “outdated’ socialist ideas. Hundreds of thousands of largely young people flocked to join Labour and vote for Corbyn in what was seen as a political revolution. After Corbyn’s victory the right, both inside and outside of the Labour party, tried everything to discredit the left movement that had formed around him—every smear was mobilized and there were repeated coup attempts, but nothing would stick. Corbyn’s socialist election platform was hugely popular in the 2017 election and the only thing that stopped a Labour victory was internal Blairite sabotage.
However, after throwing a kitchen sink’s worth of muck in Corbyn’s direction something eventually stuck. Corbyn was supposedly an antisemite, despite campaigning ceaselessly against racism. No evidence of actual antisemitism was ever produced, but that didn’t matter. Everything had to be whipped up to discredit socialist ideas by any means necessary. The only reason why this slander stuck was due to the weakness of sections of Corbyn supporters who bent to the defamation.
There has been an international campaign by the Netanyahu regime to equate criticism of the state of Israel and defence of Palestinians with anti-Jewish sentiment. Opposing the actions of the state of Israel is no more anti-Jewish than opposing the Donald Trump presidency was anti-American, or opposing Iran or Saudi Arabia is Islamophobic. In fact, saying that Jewish people are responsible for the criminal actions of the state of Israel is antisemitic, and denies the identity of Jews who oppose Israeli state oppression.
The “report” that accused Labour of antisemitism was conducted by a body mandated by the British Conservatives. This same body has been totally blind to the widespread examples of Islamophobia, racism, and antisemitism in the British Tory party. But even this report, for anybody actually reading the details, couldn’t lay a single concrete accusation against Corbyn. It was the old Blairite apparatus that was delaying dealing with the small number of instances in a party of hundreds of thousands, while Corbyn was being vilified for wanting to take swift action. The report actually admits that Labour improved its handling of cases under Corbyn’s leadership. Antisemitism is no more prevalent in Labour than it is in British society as a whole.
In Canada, the organization quoted as being shocked and revolted about Niki Ashton’s event, the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), does not represent all Canadian Jewry, and has a conservative anti-Palestinian leadership. Independent Jewish Voices, which organizes left-wing Jews, called out the hypocrisy of CIJA lecturing Canadians on “progressive values” after its “near-blanket support for Israeli atrocities”.
The National Post’s newfound love for “cancel culture” is also not without hypocrisy. In addition, their attempt to present themselves as campaigners against antisemitism is highly suspect. As recently as 2017 they penned a piece in defence of the antisemitic neo-fascist organization the Proud Boys! Today the Proud Boys have been placed on the terror watch list, but in 2017 the Post called them “polite” and “respectful”. The worst criticism they had for these racists was that they are “goofy”. The Canadian right have also had no problem supporting Trump at the same time as he was praising the “good people” carrying tiki torches and yelling “Jews will not replace us” during the Charlottesville hate rally in 2017. The right wing is not opposed to “cancel culture”. They do not support free speech. Instead they want to “cancel” the left while defending impunity for bigots and genuine antisemites.
But what is shocking and revolting about this whole affair is not the non-existent antisemitism of Jeremy Corbyn, but the actions of parts of the New Democratic Party hierarchy. Rick Smith, head of the reformist Broadbent Institute, attacked Corbyn for antisemitism and said that progressives should not associate with him. When the Post contacted the NDP leaders’ office about Ashton, they refused to defend their own MP against the slurs. They said that Ashton didn’t ask permission to hold the event and they only heard about the meeting shortly before it was advertised online.
To be attacked by the right is to be expected, but to be undermined from within the movement is totally criminal. If the left allows itself to fall for such slanders then the right will never stop. In the USA they even tried to make such allegations stick against Bernie Sanders, despite his well known Brooklyn Jewish heritage. Why Ashton would even have to ask permission to hold an event with Corbyn is inexplicable. Has the NDP central office turned into Big Brother and the thought police? The inconvenient truth is that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh actually met with Corbyn in 2019, when they praised each other. And in 2018 the NDP positively reported on Ashton’s participation in the Progressive International, the body sponsoring the event that is now under attack. It has subsequently been revealed that Ashton did in fact inform the NDP office a week in advance of the outcry, despite the fact that she had no obligation to do so.
The reason for all of this is that the current bureaucracy of the NDP is exactly the same bureaucracy that removed socialism and social ownership from the NDP constitution in 2013. However, after the Corbyn insurgency in the Labour Party the NDP apparatchiks learned from their Blairite brethren over the pond. They leaned left in policy so the political differences between them and left wingers like Ashton were not so stark. They made sympathetic statements towards Sanders and Corbyn as a sop to the rank and file in an attempt to appear left while maintaining bureaucratic control.
However, with the defeat of Corbyn they are now trying to stick the knife into the left. Ashton was vilified and removed from all caucus positions for visiting her ailing grandmother in Greece, after her other grandmother had just died. Her trip was equated with Conservative politicians going on all-expense-paid junkets in the Caribbean during lockdown. While the Conservatives actually supported their politicians the NDP office showed zero compassion for Ashton who was clearly in a very different situation. They saw this as a great opportunity to sideline the left, and Ashton was using her position to promote the concept of social ownership. Another factor is the federal NDP convention coming up in April, to which dozens of ridings and unions have submitted resolutions against the anti-Palestinian IHRA definition of antisemitism that equates criticizing Israel with anti-Jewish sentiment. The anti-Palestinians are using the smear campaign against Ashton and Corbyn to go on the offensive and silence opposition.
The March 20 event that sparked this conflict is a fundraiser for the Progressive International (PI). The PI bills itself as a “collaborative internationalist project” that includes prominent left wing Jews like Bernie Sanders and Naomi Klein in its leadership. PI involves itself in various campaigns like “Make Amazon Pay” and opposes “neo-liberalism’. Fightback believes that PI should more clearly come out against capitalism (not just its neoliberal variety) and support socialism, but it is ridiculous to call the PI antisemitic. As a point of solidarity against the right-wing attacks we call on everybody to attend the Ashton/Corbyn event, which is pay-what-you-can with some paying more so young activists can attend for free. An injury to one is an injury to all, and if this event is silenced it will only embolden those using antisemitism smears against the entire left.
To her credit Niki Ashton has not been cowed by the attacks and in a recent interview came out swinging against the right and against the NDP establishment, saying:
What we have really seen over the last few days is really the demonization of the left, the demonization of people who stand up for their principles, and the weaponization of very serious, gravely serious struggle, the struggle against antisemitism. And I’m so disturbed that so many, including so-called progressives, have weaponized that important struggle to slander and lie about Jeremy Corbyn, but also seek to silence so many of us who are actively committed and engaged in the struggle against antisemitism and against racism of all forms, and in support of justice for the Palestinian people.
This is exactly the correct approach. The right intends to use whatever underhanded methods are necessary to sidetrack the growing popularity of socialist ideas. Capitalism is failing all around us and cannot solve the crisis of COVID-19, nor the crisis in the economy. The capitalists cannot defend their own system so their only option is to spread lies about socialism. If we refuse to bend to the slander all attempts at defamation will fall apart upon closer examination. The left needs to grow a backbone and fight back against this demonization. We need to call out exactly what the right is doing and go on the offensive in the struggle for socialism, and for an end to all oppression.