Sunday, 9 August 2015

This is not "engagement". It is apologism

Yesterday I retweeted a Centre Left piece from four years ago, about the invitation of hate preacher and Hamas fundraiser, Raed Salah, to speak at the Houses of Parliament, a visit thankfully called off at the last minute, thanks to the timely intervention of the House authorities.

I retweeted it because, unlike political nerds like myself, I believe that there are Jeremy Corbyn supporters out there who genuinely think he is merely a doughty anti-austerity campaigner and genuinely have no idea of what his record is on foreign policy (there are others, of course, who know and do not care). 

But it is important that these things are known. When there is a non-zero chance that someone is to lead this great party, their utterances can and should come under close scrutiny.

The room in Parliament was booked, I'm sure unsurprisingly to regular readers, in the name of Lord Ahmed, who you will remember was later disgraced and forced to resign as a peer, after trying to blame a fatal car accident on a cabal of Jews in the media (I kid you not). But I also quoted one of Salah's planned co-speakers, a then little-known backbencher called Jeremy Corbyn, who told the Evening Standard
“We checked him out and he denied completely that he was an anti-Semite so we thought it was appropriate to bring him over.”
I will leave you to decide whether or not Salah is an anti-Semite, although I think the evidence presented in that piece is fairly compelling. 

But it is the basic idiocy of taking someone's word for whether or not they are an anti-Semite that rather beggars belief. And let us also be kind and assume it is a naive, rather than a disingenuous, response.

So the narrative of the Corbynites in this contest has been that he is "engaging" with a terrorist organisation, in a similar way to far-left contacts with the IRA in the 1980s. Indeed, this argument was made to me and others, I believe in good faith, by a decent and rather well-known musician last weekend on Twitter. 

But it is a weak argument. It is weak for two reasons:

First, because it is madness to suggest that contacts with backbench MPs are somehow precursors to more meaningful dialogue, as many Corbynites are now tenuously claiming was the case with the IRA. And even in that case, why would it not contact a government minister directly, rather than going through a little-known backbencher? No, what such contacts do is lend legitimacy to the terrorist organisation, while offering nothing in return.

Second, that engagement is different from support. Even if we accept that contacts with terrorists constitute legitimate and acceptable activity for a backbench MP, in this case at least, I contend that this distinction is essentially weasel words, which need to be called out. It is easy to furiously backpedal when challenged, as Corbyn has done in interviews, into a narrative of, I was just engaging in the name of peace. Last week he failed five times to condemn the IRA in such an interview.

But where does engagement end and support begin? He has already been criticised for the quote "Our friends from Hezbollah and our friends from Hamas", which to to me crosses any line between engagement and support. Which takes us back to Salah.

Yesterday, idly Googling, I suddenly remembered the 2012 meeting where Corbyn appeared to support Salah's lawyer in calling for an inquiry into the influence of Jewish organisations on the Conservative Party. The old "cabal of influence" trope, so familiar down the centuries. That's "engagement"?

I also discovered the following wonderful Corbyn quote at Engage, an excellent left-wing blog fighting anti-Semitism:
“About Salah, Corbyn has said ‘He is far from a dangerous man. He is a very honoured citizen, he represents his people extremely well, and his is a voice that must be heard.’ Corbyn added, ‘I look forward to giving you tea on the terrace because you deserve it!’ "
I'm sorry, but this is not engagement. It is apologism, if not outright, open support.

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