Lies that won’t die: Jeremy Corbyn / ‘British Zionists’ / ‘English irony’

Not again: Jeremy Corbyn would be quiet right to ‘facepalm’ over this new repetition of a blatant lie about him. He would be better-advised to sue for damages.

Some lies never die; they just cycle around and around like excrement that won’t flush.

And so it seems to be time for this one again. Here’s the self-described “deeply scurrilous” editor of the Jewish Chronicle (followed with accurate context by Leftworks):

The claim by Simons that Jeremy Corbyn once said “British Zionists didn’t understand ‘English irony’ despite having lived here ‘all their lives'” is a classic example of a doctored quote. Words used in a particular incident have been “altered or falsified in a way that is intended to deceive or mislead… in a way that changes its original meaning or appearance”.

It is a practice that is forbidden in UK journalism – an unforgivable sin. If Simons has put these words in a newspaper article, then he should be sacked.

At the very least, Jeremy Corbyn should have sued the shirt off his back – and his publishers’ backs too. But Corbyn thought at the time that it would be better to rise above such defamatory behaviour – wrongly. It has simply given people like Simons an opportunity to recycle this lie periodically.

Here’s what actually happened in that incident in 2013 – 10 years ago! – as described on This Site in 2018 – five years ago:

It seems Mr Corbyn referred to an altercation between a group of people self-identifying as Zionists and the Palestinian representative to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, following a speech Mr Hassassian had made in Parliament.

He said [on August 24, 2018] that the Zionist group, for whom English is their first language, had made “deliberate misrepresentations” of what Mr Hassassian, for whom it is not, had said.

In his speech at the 2013 conference, Mr Corbyn, then a backbench MP, went on to claim that the people concerned “clearly have two problems.

“One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”

The irony being that the people with a firm grasp of English were deliberately misinterpreting statements by someone less well-schooled in it.

I went on to explain exactly what was being done to Mr Corbyn’s words by his detractors at the time:

Those of us who have suffered Zionist bullying know very well that these people like to “doctor” our comments – they quote us out-of-context, and they quote us selectively in order to change the meaning of our words. Then they accuse us of anti-Semitism.

Another way these people like to accuse others is by deliberately co-mingling the meaning of the words “Zionist” (or “Zionism”), “Jew” and “Israeli”.

These are three different things, but note how [a person] who happens to be Jewish, pro-Israeli-government and Zionist – tries to pretend they are the same.

Mr Corbyn referred to “Zionists” who listened to Mr Hassassian – not Jews. It is unlikely he knew whether they were Jews or not because there are plenty of Gentile (non-Jewish) Zionists.

In another article the same year, I responded to false claims about it by former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

Mr Corbyn, you will recall, had said a group of Zionists had listened to a speech by Palestinian representative Manuel Hassassian at Parliament, then complained about it by deliberately misrepresenting his words. He said they did not understand English irony – a clear reference to the fact that people whose first language was English had distorted the very clear meaning of a person for whom it was not the mother tongue.

Lord Sacks had claimed

“It was divisive, hateful and like [Enoch] Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.” No, it does not.

If any part of the incident was hateful, it was the way the Zionists mentioned by Mr Corbyn had tried to twist Mr Hassassian’s words in order to score a political point. If anyone was being divisive, it was the same group of Zionists, for the same reason.

The claim that Mr Corbyn depicted an entire group of British citizens as essentially alien falls for two reasons. Firstly, he was referring to a specific group of individuals – not every single Zionist who ever existed. Second, he was not depicting anyone as essentially alien by saying they did not understand English irony – thousands upon thousands of schoolchildren have grappled with the concept over the years and many adults still don’t understand it. He was simply pointing out the inherent irony in somebody who should understand English perfectly well, deliberately misrepresenting the very clear words of somebody whose grasp may justifiably be less strong.

“When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic prewar European antisemitism.” It’s a good thing he wasn’t doing that, then.

Again, Lord Sacks raises a couple of points. First, Mr Corbyn was talking about Zionists, not Jews. The two are not the same and should never be conflated. As a rabbi, Lord Sacks knows that, and the fact that he did it anyway raises gravely serious questions about his motives. Secondly, Mr Corbyn said nothing about the bona fides of the Zionists’ nationality. He said they did not understand English irony, and that does not and cannot equate to implying that they are not British.

“When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates.” No, no, no and no.

First, the evidence of Lord Sacks’s claims is not before our eyes. The evidence supports Mr Corbyn every step of the way. Secondly, Mr Corbyn did not deny the facts – he stated them. Thirdly, he has not equivocated – it means using ambiguous language so as to conceal the truth or avoid committing oneself and if you need an example, watch Theresa May’s disastrous attempt to avoid telling Michael Crick whether she thought Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Mr Corbyn was entirely straightforward in his response to the allegations against him. In a statement, he said he spoke to “defend the Palestinian ambassador in the face of what I thought were deliberate misrepresentations” from people “for whom English was a first language, when it isn’t for the ambassador”. He said: “I described those pro-Israel activists as Zionists, in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people – and that is made clear in the rest of my speech that day. I am now more careful with how I might use the term ‘Zionist’ because a once self-identifying political term has been increasingly hijacked by anti-Semites as code for Jews.” No equivocation there! Obfuscation is the act of making something obscure, unclear or unintelligible and, again, it does not apply as a description of Mr Corbyn’s words.

In my article, I quoted (accurately) the Labour Party’s official response to Lord Sacks, which applies equally well to Simons today:

“Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists, in the accurate political sense – not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”

Feel free to check out this article as well, in which I named and shamed a few others who should have known better than to repeat the falsehood.

To summarise:

  • Jeremy Corbyn did not say all British Zionists were ignorant of “English irony” – he was referring to two people who disrupted a speech by the Palestinian representative to the UK in 2013.
  • His comment did not refer to Jews or Israel at all; one can be a Zionist without being either Jewish or Israeli and the ethnic origins of the malcontents were not known at the time.
  • His comment about “English irony” flagged up the way these two people – who, for all he knew, were themselves English – had deliberately misinterpreted the very clear words of a person with much less reason to have a full comprehension of the language than them.
  • Obviously there is a huge difference between commenting about two individuals acting with ill intent and all Zionists, Jews, and/or Israelis and it is unacceptable for Simons to suggest otherwise.
  • And if Simons has included his post’s claims in his book, then it is indeed inaccurate and defamatory of Mr Corbyn.

This is a fresh publication of the falsehoods and Mr Corbyn should therefore sue for damages. If he had done so in 2018 – over this and a large number of false claims by other people – he could have saved himself and many of the rest of us from a huge amount of distress.

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2 thoughts on “Lies that won’t die: Jeremy Corbyn / ‘British Zionists’ / ‘English irony’

  1. Jed Bland

    I think the JC as a privately owned propaganda vehicle is well capitalised to fend off any legal action

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It wouldn’t be against the Jewish Chronicle, though. Simons has posted this message on his own private ‘X’ account.

Comments are closed.