Smearing by Mensch, 3

Jeremy Corbyn is a backbencher Labour MP who was elected to Islington North in 1983. He has won every election in his constituency since then: he’s been in Parliament for 32 years. Most MPs have to travel back to their constituency at the weekends and somehow make time for a family life: MPs in a London constituency have more time to go to meetings and events. Jeremy Corbyn has been, everyone says, a very active MP. So how many people has he met in 32 years as an MP?

Without knowledge of Corbyn’s desk diary over the past thirty-two years, it is impossible to say, but, as a low-ball speculation, if Corbyn had been invited to speak at thirty events each year, where he was on a panel to speak with at least three other people, with an audience of fifty or so, over thirty-two years he would have been on the same panel as 2880 people, and 48,000 people could say “I was at such-and-such an event with Jeremy Corbyn”. That is an intentionally low guess: I think it likely, especially as Corbyn became known as a left-wing MP who consistently opposed the Iraq war, that he would have been invited to far more events than a mere thirty a year: and certainly many Stop The War events in London had audiences of far more than 50.

Louise Mensch on TwitterLast Friday night Louise Mensch – New York’s Sun on Sunday columnist, inveterate Twitterer, blogger, and occasional guest on Have I Got News For You, had an embarrassing incident involving a sewer, a screenshot, and a search mistake, detailed in part 1.

Mensch then took less than 24 hours to write a long blog of recycled smears and rage about Jeremy Corbyn on the Saturday night after her Twitter fail: part 2 is here.

The third part of this debunk deals with Mensch’s assertion that if out of the thousands of people Corbyn has met in the course of his work as an MP, even two are anti-Semitic, Corbyn must himself be tainted by association with those two and needs to explain himself.

In effect, when you think about the numbers involved, this kind of smear answers itself. As Owen Jones notes in the Guardian today:

The Labour leadership frontrunner, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a long-term supporter of the Palestinian justice movement. He could not possibly have known the personal backgrounds of every individual who has joined him at the many rallies he has attended over the years. Some of these people were antisemitic. And while the vast majority of people involved in the movement are – like myself – driven by a passionate support for self-determination, there is a minority that indulges antisemitic tropes. These ideas have to be defeated.

The two people Corbyn is accused of being connected with: Dyab Abou Jahjah and Stephen Sizer.

Stephen Sizer is the vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, in Surrey. He has a blog, but it’s currently by invitation-only: I’ve never read it.

Stephen Sizer is a conservative evangelical Anglican: he’s attended the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in 2008 and 2013, and was one of the first to sign the 2008 Jerusalem Declaration. He is a member of Reform and of the Church Society. He opposes same-sex marriage, the ordination of women priests and the consecration of women bishops. He is also a consistent and long-standing opponent of Christian Zionism. His first book, published in 2004, was Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon. (Video presentation by Sizer here.)

In an otherwise critical review of the book, Calvin L. Smith, the Principal of King’s Evangelical Divinity School, acknowledges:

He also highlights some of the dangers of an “Israel right or wrong” mentality which some Christians hold. (Even many Jews do not take this position.) Other valid points Sizer makes are how at times dispensationalism is theologically arbitrary, the extreme nature of what he calls “political dispensationalism”, the very real theological pitfalls of seeking to read every piece of news and current affairs through the spectacles of biblical prophecy, and the desire by some pro-Israel Christians to offer God a `helping hand’ in seeing those prophecies fulfilled. God does not need our help to fulfil His own prophecies, but Sizer manages to highlight how some Christian leaders think in precisely these terms, especially in the U.S., where they engage in political lobbying to bring pressure to bear on government policy so as to fulfil biblical prophecy on God’s behalf.

Christian Zionism is the belief of some Christians in “Bible prophecy” foretelling the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus: it is a part of the dispensationalist interpretation of the Bible. Dispensational Christians believe that the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is in accordance with “the prophecies of the Bible” – a mixed-up set of texts taken from parts of the Bible as far apart as the Book of Daniel and Revelations: the belief that we are living in premillenial times, that human history unfolds according to the will of God as prophecied in the Bible, that the Antichrist will rise and establish a world government, and – probably the best known belief of the dispensationalists – they believe in the Rapture and the End Times. (“CBNNews: Is the world close to Armageddon?” CBN News is the Christian Broadcasting Network network and production company, founded by dispensationalist televangelist Pat Robertson in 1961.)

This set of Christian beliefs is rare outside the US, but quite common among white evangelical Christians in America: Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee: all believers in dispensationalism. Why this should be, and how dispensational Christianity has become entangled with white right-wing politics in the US, you can read in this review of Matthew Avery Sutton‘s 2014 book, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism or this excerpt from Sarah Posner‘s 2008 book, God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters.

For a theological take on Christian Zionism and dispensationalism, Stephen Sizer’s 2000 essay on the roots of sectarian theology suggests that this

has increasingly shaped the presuppositions of fundamentalist, evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic thinking concerning Israel and Palestine over the past one hundred and fifty years

But as an illustration of how entangled the Republican Party is with Christian dispensationalism: John Hagee, a Texas-based televangelist, was recruited by George W. Bush and Karl Rove when Bush was governor of Texas to recruit other pastors to campaign for Bush. Hagee endorsed Bush’s candidacy with a book published in 2000: God’s Candidate for America. Hagee also supported John McCain’s candidacy in 2008, but was unceremoniously ditched when the video of a 1990s sermon surfaced, in which Hagee described the Holocaust as part of God’s plan to found the state of Israel, though this clearly doesn’t matter to some:

“Pastor John Hagee is not only one of the strongest supporters of Israel, he speaks the truth that the Palestinians are a made up people by other Arab nations. Let me go further and include they are also made up by the liberal media (aka Brian Williams) and the always hideous United Nations. Israel and America is beyond lucky to have a mensch like John Hagee. He stands up for Israel and the Jewish people ALL THE TIME.” – Eileen Hart, 23rd January 2014

If you can stomach it, a recent sermon by John Hagee at his San Antonio church: ‘Israel- God’s Two Minute Warning’, preached 5th July 2015, makes clear these are still Hagee’s continuing views.

For a fictional take on this kind of Christian Zionism, Fred Clark at the Slacktivist blog has been tirelessly expounding since 2004 on the horror, hilarity, and terrible theology of dispensationalism in Left Behind, a famous series of religious novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins: a chapter from Left Behind, Keep an eye on the Jews and from Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist Chaim is one of my Jewish characters.

Because Christian Zionism is a paradox: it is pro-Israel, but it is profoundly anti-Semitic. Christian Zionists believe that Jews should return to Israel because this is a precursor for the prophecy of the Second Coming. Messianic Judaism, an offshoot of dispensationalist Christianity, believes that all Jews should become Christians. (Messianic Judaism in Israel persistently tries to convince the Israeli government that they are Jewish: the Israeli government as persistently points out that they are not.) Sites where you can go to ask questions like “Will there be a second chance for salvation after the Rapture?” remind their readers that “144,000 Jewish witnesses” are promised in the book of Revelation, and that these are interpreted by dispensationalist Christians to be the Jews who converted to Christianity after the Rapture.

Needless to say, this is not a belief popular among many Jews.

Nor is Stephen Sizer popular among Messianic Jews: Sizer describes Christian Zionism as the heresy that undermines Middle East peace. (Sizer isn’t too keen on the Christian sect of Messianic Jews, either.)

“Some Christians in America have been hardliners and pushing the Obama administration to stand with Israel. They see Palestinians as the enemies of the Israelis. [But] if Christians are pushing for no compromise, you are not going to reach an agreement. Other Christians, mainly mainline Protestant groups and Catholics, are pushing for some kind of settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Their influence has been positive and good.” – Botrus Mansour, interviewed by Timothy C. Morgan, in “Christianity Today”, January 2014

Contrast with this:

“We want to send the message to the world and to the Jewish people that Christians are standing up for the State of Israel and the Jewish people at home and abroad,” Hagee said. “It’s not conversation. It’s action.”

Hagee’s assessment of the pulse of Christian Zionism came one day after 5,000 people attended the 33rd annual “A Night to Honor Israel” at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Christians United for Israel’s goal is to facilitate that same program in every major US city.

“I can assure you that the Evangelical Christians of America support Israel right now in a more aggressive mood than at any time in my lifetime.” – Pastor John Hagee, national chairman of the 1.8-million member CUFI told [a Boston-based news agency serving Jewish community newspapers and other media outlets internationally], The Jerusalem Post, December 2014

Yet you don’t have to look very far to find anti-Semitic comments from dispensationalist Christians: Pat Robertson claiming that Jews are too busy polishing their diamonds to tinker with their cars (and other, even more offensive comments): Jerry Falwell‘s assertion “when [the Antichrist] appears during the Tribulation period he will be a full-grown counterfeit of Christ. Of course, he’ll be Jewish. Of course, he’ll pretend to be Christ…” and Pastor John Hagee himself, who teaches that during the “End of Days”, the Tribulation following the Rapture, “many Jews will accept Jesus” – and if they don’t:

It is standard to Christian Apocalyptic Premillennial Dispensationalist eschatology that Jews must be encouraged to return to Israel where, according to the prophetic tradition, most of them will be killed in the Tribulation, Apocalypse and battle of Armageddon except for a “remant”, generally held to number 144,000 Jews who have converted to Christianity, will survive and serve as evangelical “super-Billy Grahams” who will convert all of humanity, surviving the expected (nuclear) end-times conflict, to Christianity.

These are the people, this is the anti-Semitic beliefs, that Stephen Sizer has consistently opposed: though they are, like him, conservative evangelicals sharing his views on the inferiority of homosexuality and of women. But to these American evangelicals, the overriding importance of supporting Israel is so great that it even trumps opposing abortion – and being anti-abortion is practically gospel for conservative evangelicals.

So, why is Stephen Sizer claimed to be anti-Semitic?

In part, because he is certainly against the Israeli government’s policies against Palestinians: and, to many American Christians, because Stephen Sizer stands in opposition to their belief that they have a Biblical duty to support Israel as a Jewish homeland so that Jews can accept Jesus as the Messiah in time for the Second Coming.

Until 2012, Stephen Sizer, conservative Anglican evangelist, had apparently been primarily debating the issue of Israel as an issue in Christian theology where the supporters of Israel were anti-Semitic. The belief that Israel is a Jewish homeland so that Jews can convert to Christianity and Rapture ensue, is a profoundly anti-Semitic belief – even if in real-world politics it leads to influential men like Pat Robertson and John Hagee being champions of Israel in the White House. I believe that it is likely to be the premillenial dispensationalist Christians that Stephen Sizer was referring to as “the people in the shadows” in this letter in defense of Church of England divestment from Caterpillar, the firm that makes bulldozers designed for use as house-destroyers by the IDF, the kind of bulldozer that killed Rachel Corrie.

Christian Zionism is both anti-Semitic and anti-Palestinian. The story of Israel, in Biblical prophecy terms, does not include the awkward, messy detail of people who are not Jewish living in the Holy Land.

Munther Isaac, a vicar in the evangelical Lutheran church in Bethlehem, said at the 2012 conference “Christ at the Checkpoint: Hope in the Midst of Conflict” (which Stephen Sizer also attended)

For many Palestinian Christians, the Christian Zionist theology leaves no room for the presence of an indigenous church in the Holy Land, and fails to address the suffering of the Palestinian people as a whole.

“Christian Zionism, in my opinion, has ignored us Palestinian Christians at best, [and] demonized us at worst,”

“Whenever they speak about prophesy and Israel, it’s as if Palestinians don’t exist. We are not mentioned in the books, in the films, in the theology conferences,”

“For too long there has been only one narrative. The Palestinian narrative is there and is challenging the narrative which has dominated for too long. They can no longer ignore the Palestinian voice.”

Stephen Sizer is an opponent of Christian Zionism. Unfortunately, being an opponent of an anti-Semitic movement does not make you not-anti-Semitic. I think it is fair to say that “English literature and culture are drenched in antisemitic stereotypes.” and that “Major British authors throughout the centuries transmitted culturally embedded antisemitism to future generations. Although they did not do so deliberately, it was absorbed and has had a long-term, major impact on British society.” (QV a discussion of Jewish stereotypes in Georgette Heyer)

“Not anti-Semitic, just stupid” was Tim Wyatt’s assessment in the Church Times of Stephen Sizer’s most recent offense, and it’s hard to disagree with that. Stephen Sizer had posted a link to a 9/11 conspiracy theory site: 9/11 Israel did it.

The problem with any idea that 9/11 involved a conspiracy involving the government of the US, the CIA, Mossad, or the Israeli government, is that invariably the conspiracy theory raises more complications than it solves. Nineteen men hijacked four planes on Tuesday 11th September 2001: 15 from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. All 19 were members of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden claimed credit for the attacks. Anti-Semitic rumours about 9/11 included the claim that “Jewish employees were forewarned by Israeli intelligence to skip work on September 11” (there is no evidence for this at all: hundreds of Jews died in the WTC attack, including 5 Israeli citizens).

I also find Stephen Sizer’s decision in 2014 to attend a conference in Iran which appears to have been mostly about Holocaust denial absolutely inexplicable. Stephen Sizer said:

“Jesus called his followers to be ambassadors of reconciliation – and ambassadors work on foreign soil.
“Iran is foreign soil and I was there as an Englishman but also as a Christian leader where Christians and Jews are a minority and ambassadors are needed.
“I was seeking to build bridges within a faith context to help to improve relationships for minorities and between our countries.”

Maybe, but a conference where David Duke, former KKK leader, is invited to speak? Sizer said he heard much he disagreed with: but presentations at the conference included one on the conspiracy theory that Israel was responsible for 9/11.

But the point of attack for Corbyn oppponents isn’t either the Tehran conference nor the 9/11 Wikispooks link: it’s an issue that arose in 2012 when the British Council of Christians and Jews had complained to the Surrey police and to Stephen Sizer’s bishop about a link Stephen Sizer had posted on his Facebook page which led to a website called “The Ugly Truth” which supports Holocaust denial and warns of a Zionist conspiracy controlling the world.

As noted above with regard to dispensationalist premillennial Christians such as Pat Robertson and John Hagee with strong links to the Republican Party and to George W. Bush’s administration, the only real-world evidence for any “Zionist conspiracy controlling the world” is a American white evangelical Christian one: Christian Zionism, the anti-Semitic set of beliefs that Stephen Sizer’s academic and theological work has been focussed against.

Louise Mensch writes:

Sizer had posted a link from Holocaust-denying website The Ugly Truth. Corbyn [and quite a few others, including Rabbi Cohn-Sherbok] said this was merely a mistake.

I know it’s hard to believe, but many people who use Facebook to post links to websites often don’t think to look at the whole website before they post the link to an individual article. If the individual article looks all right, they post the link. Sizer seems to have been one of those people.

OK. But actually Sizer was told about the link long in advance and didn’t remove it for four months. Was it known about then?

It’s one of the worst points of Facebook, if you ask me: it’s not all that easy to clean up your timeline. Especially not if it’s weeks or months ago. You can use Google or Topsy to search Twitter, or any search engine to find things elsewhere on the Internet: but searching your own timeline on Facebook is laborious.

As Stephen Sizer tried to explain on Facebook:

The reality is I add many Facebook links daily and get criticised weekly. I did not look at the website till January and only then appreciated its anti-semitic content. I removed the link as soon as I found it. Its [sic] not easy to find a link from months ago on FB. The article itself that I linked to was about Israeli threats to Iran. No one has actually criticised the article itself.

Phil Groom, also a member of CCJ, noted in March 2012:

First of all, the announcement itself seems disingenuous at best: entitled “CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website” it is, in fact, nothing of the sort: it is rather a direct, personal attack on Stephen Sizer. Far better, I suggest, to thank Stephen for drawing attention to the site and then go, with even greater determination, after the people who run The Ugly Truth website.

Next, one thing that I’ve always admired about CCJ, one of the things that makes me proud to be a member, is its commitment to dialogue: making dialogue make a difference is one of CCJ’s straplines, used on almost every poster we produce at CCJ Hillingdon, where I’m the webmaster. What, I wonder, has happened to the dialogue process in this instance? Stephen removed the link as requested; and at CCJ CEO David Gifford’s invitation he met with some Jewish leaders where, in Stephen’s words, “we had a heart to heart about what had happened, but nothing materialised except this press release.” Why, I ask, some two months on, have CCJ now chosen to pursue the matter in this way rather than engage in further dialogue with Stephen, or indeed with CCJ’s wider membership?

The Surrey police concluded there was no cause for legal action against Stephen Sizer.

That left the complaint to Sizer’s bishop. Several people wrote in defense of Stephen Sizer to the Bishop of Guildford:

Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok, emeritus professor of Judaism at the University of Wales, wrote to the bishop:

“I have been disturbed to read about the allegations made against Stephen Sizer.
“These are, I believe, completely without foundation: there is simply no evidence that he is an antisemite.
“It would be a mistake… to construe Stephen Sizer’s political criticisms as evidence of antipathy against Jews.
“Once he realized the seriousness of the error of linking his Facebook entry with the offending website, he did remove it. I hope the church will forgive him for his mistake.
“It would be a travesty of justice to construe [it] as a deliberate attempt to encourage racial hatred.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Ilan Pappé, Jeff Halper, Garth Hewitt, and several others, also wrote to the Bishop of Guildford, and as a result “a conciliation agreement was accepted by both Stephen Sizer and the Council of Christians and Jews: which included Sizer accepting that “on occasions his use of language has caused offense to some and agrees that he should have reflected on his choice of words more carefully.””

Neither Jeremy Corbyn nor any of Sizer’s previous supporters defended him for attending the Tehran conference or posting the link to the Wikispooks site; after which the Bishop of Guildford simply banned him from using social media, not because of anti-Semitism but because of extremely poor judgement.

Let’s now move on to the much simpler case of Dyab Abou Jahjah.

On Wednesday 19th August 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was asked on BBC Radio 4’s World at One whether reports he had met Dyab Abou Jahjah were true.

Jeremy Corbyn replied: “Sorry, who? I saw the name this morning and I asked somebody: ‘who is he?'”

The interviewer asked Corbyn to confirm he had never heard of Dyab Abou Jahjah, and Corbyn said: “I’m sorry, I don’t know who this person is.”

Later that day, Corbyn said that after staff research, he could now confirm that he had met Jahjah, back in 2009.

“My staff have researched this and tell me that I did meet this man in 2009 but I have no recollection of him. As an MP I have met thousands of people over the years. Because I meet them, it does not mean I share their views or endorse their views.”

Claims were made (and then retracted) that Corbyn had lobbied the Home Office to secure admission for Dyab Abou Jahjah. But as Dyab Abou Jahjah has a Belgian passport, he wouldn’t have needed anyone to lobby the Home Office on his behalf to enter the UK: he would just have walked through the EU citizens gate. (Jahjah was banned from the UK after his 2009 visit.)

I see no reason not to believe Jeremy Corbyn: he did organise a debate with Hussein Haj Hassan and Dyab Abou Jahjah in March 2009… and six years later couldn’t even remember the second man’s name.

Hussein Haj Hassan is a member of a Lebanese Shi’a party Hezbollah. He has been a Hezbollah MP in the Lebanese Parliament since 1996: in 2009, a few months after he appeared on a platform with Jeremy Corbyn, he became minister of agriculture.

Dyab Abou Jahjah was born in Lebanon and lived in Belgium from 1991 to 2007, then in Lebanon from 2008 to 2013. He is the founder of the Arab European League. Outside Belgium (he was chosen as the 4th most influential Belgian of foreign origin by Knack magazine in 2014) he is probably best known for an extraordinarily stupid campaign launched by the AEL in 2006:

a campaign of satirical cartoons and articles in response to the Danish cartoons in 2006 that stereotyped and stigmatized Muslims via their prophet. Our campaign tried to demonstrate the double standards dominating the freedom of speech discourse in Europe. In that campaign the AEL broke every possible taboo in Europe. All the cartoons where offensive to people for all kinds of reasons. The important thing to note regarding that campaign is that the AEL published a disclaimer with each cartoon stating that we do not endorse the message of any of these cartoons and that we are doing this as an exercise in Freedom of speech and in order to demonstrate the double standards. We were Charlie avant la letter. And our campaign worked. Not only have we received thousands of hate mails including death threats from enlightened otherwise pro-satire Europeans, The AEL was also convicted in the Netherlands by a court because of the cartoons. We rested our case.

We have all met men who are convinced that they are achieving great things by being offensive, and who regard being offensive as freedom of speech. These men are plonkers: I’m convinced Dyab Abou Jahjah is a plonker. I am not surprised Jeremy Corbyn didn’t remember who he was.

I suspect Jahjah’s overstating his connection with Jeremy Corbyn, and that’s the surprising-not-surprising part of this: Louise Mensch is convinced that Dyab Abou Jahjah is an honest man, and that Jeremy Corbyn is a shameless liar: she needs to, because she wants to believe that Jeremy Corbyn knew all about a man he met briefly six years ago.

Part 4, and conclusion, tomorrow.

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