After beginning the race to become prime minister down 18% and receiving a vote of no confidence from Labour MPs just last year, Jeremy Corbyn’s party has tightened the race. Labour now trails the Tories by approximately 7%.
Corbyn, who comes from the hard-left wing of the Labour Party, has long been a lighting rod for controversy. A member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Corbyn has spoken forcefully against Israel in ways that have made some Jews feel uncomfortable. However, the rebellious politician still has his fair share of unwavering supporters who push back against these claims and admire Corbyn’s bold proposals. Here’s what prominent thinkers across the political spectrum say about the firebrand Brit.
Robert Philpot, The Forward: “Labour Pain: Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn Sides With Ken Livingstone Over Jewish Vote”
“Corbyn’s supporters in the Shadow Cabinet and the unions have suggested that the allegations of anti-Semitism which have swirled around the party over the past year are simply a right-wing plot designed to discredit the Labour leader and his support for the Palestinian cause. Such arguments are merely the latest variant of what sociologist David Hirsh of Goldsmiths College, University of London has christened the ‘Livingstone formulation’: the suggestion that Jews disingenuously ‘play the anti-Semitism card’ to stifle criticism of Israel.”
Philpot, a former special adviser to the last Labour government in power, examines the close relationship between Corbyn and Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London. After Livingstone claimed that Hitler supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews,” Corbyn chose not to expel his friend from the Labour Party. Philpot believes Corbyn’s openness to the likes of Livingstone permanently damaged the Labour brand.
Colin Shindler, Haaretz: “Can British Jews Vote Labour?”
“With a return to time-honoured Labour aspirations and a watered-down stand on Israel-Palestine, Labour may meet a greater receptivity amongst those Jewish voters who feel increasingly alienated by the policies of the Netanyahu government. It may well persuade them to hold their collective nose — despite Corbyn’s profound pro-Palestinian inclinations — and vote Labour regardless.”
Shindler links Corbyn with Communist and other far-left elements that he says have been rebranded for today’s political climate. Shindler notes several incidents that suggest a deliberate approach by Labour during the campaign to mute hostility towards Israel for the sake of keeping Jewish voters. Whether Jewish voters buy this, says Shindler, remains to be seen.
Jonathan Rosenhead, Haaretz: “I’m A British Jew, And I Don’t Fear A Corbyn Victory. I’d Welcome It.”
“Corbyn doesn’t have the decades of front-line media experience that most top-level politicians have had. He is quite capable of fluffing his statistics because he hasn’t learned the manipulative skills of avoiding questions he doesn’t have an answer for. But he does have principles, and sticks to them, and builds policies based on them. But it is of course far easier to attack a straw person than to engage with the real one.”
In response to several other pieces in Haaretz lambasting Corbyn, Jonathan Rosenhead, a British professor who chairs the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, defends Corbyn as the victim of distortion by opponents and the media. Corbyn’s criticism of Israeli policies have been twisted to portray a boorish attitude towards Jews rather than the nuanced critique of occupation and interventionism Corbyn actually offers.
Roger Cohen, New York Times: “A Case For Jeremy Corbyn”
“I dislike Corbyn’s anti-Americanism, his long flirtation with Hamas, his coterie’s clueless leftover Marxism and anti-Zionism, his NATO bashing, his unworkable tax-and-spend promises… Still, Corbyn would not do May’s shameful Trump-love thing. He would not succumb to the jingoistic anti-immigration talk of the Tories… His victory — still improbable — would constitute punishment of the Tories for the disaster of Brexit. Seldom would a political comeuppance be so merited.”
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is not a fan of some of Corbyn’s policies, but he applauds the Labour leader’s resurgent campaign and willingness to tackle domestic issues the Tories are shying away from. These policy differences with Theresa May — not to mention her embrace of Brexit and Trump — make it easier for Cohen to stomach Corbyn.
Steven Davidson is an editorial fellow at The Forward.