Everyone and their brother in the UK – at least the tabloid media and pro-Israel apologists – has got it into their heads that the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn laid a wreath on the grave of the Palestinian mastermind of the Munich massacre while visiting Tunisia in 2014. Is any of this true?
Well, yeah, some of it. He was in Tunisia. He did lay a wreath. He did honour the memories of dead Palestinians. But nothing beyond that. He laid a wreath that commemorated the 60 Palestinians and Tunisians who died in an Israeli revenge attack on PLO headquarters in Tunis. He did not lay a wreath at the grave of Salah Khalaf, also known as Abu Iyad, the former deputy to Yasser Arafat, who was assassinated by Israel in 1991 and who is buried nearby in the same cemetery.
Before we get into high dudgeon over this, let's remember that many Israeli presidents and prime ministers have blood on their hands – terrorist blood. Yitzhak Shamir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi all ordered the murders, bombings and assassinations of both British and Palestinian civilians. Ben-Zvi even ordered the assassination of a Palestinian Jew, Jacob Israel de Haan, a charismatic anti-Zionist leader who he deemed a threat to the early Yishuv political movement.
These men are lionized by the Israeli state and its citizens. They are heroes of the nation. Israelis flock to their graves in droves and opine upon their role in building the nascent state. Why then do we condemn someone like Corbyn for holding sympathies for the Palestinian dead, while ignoring the exact same behaviour by Israelis? It's beyond hypocrisy. In fact, it's an outrage.
Why do we condemn someone like Corbyn for holding sympathies for the Palestinian dead, while ignoring the exact same behaviour by Israelis? It's beyond hypocrisy. In fact, it's an outrage
Not to mention the wars and assassinations the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has approved himself. He is personally responsible for creating as much – or more – suffering than any previous Israeli prime minister.
Why shouldn't we condemn Netanyahu as roundly as others condemn Corbyn? Corbyn has never ordered anyone assassinated. He's never ordered an invasion of any foreign country. All of which Netanyahu has done again and again.
A pro-Palestinian demonstrator carrying a placard depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joins others during a protest outside the gates of Downing Street in London on 9 September, 2015 (AFP)
Not only is this Tunis charge completely fabricated, the incident in question is known, and Corbyn spoke about it and explained it in a TV interview over a year ago. Considering that Corbyn wouldn't have known who the Palestinian was nor his role in the Munich massacre, the Labour leader likely had no idea of the import or the ceremony or its context.
How Netanyahu works
Here's where things get really interesting: Netanyahu has weighed in and attacked Corbyn as an anti-Semite. To understand what this means, you have to understand how Netanyahu works. His modus operandi is to work behind the scenes to achieve his objective. He waits until he has done so, and when the moment is right he makes a dramatic entrance to close the deal.
Yes, he's a showman. The kind of guy once called "a used car salesman".
All this raises the question: what role has the Israeli government played in this campaign? Those who've seen the four-part Al Jazeera documentary, The Lobby, know that an Israeli spy using diplomatic cover organised infiltrations of both the Labour and Conservative parties in order to sabotage the careers of those deemed "enemies of Israel".
You have to understand how Netanyahu works. His modus operandi is to work behind the scenes to achieve his objective
They not only conspired against Conservative minister Alan Duncan, but against Corbyn as well. The TV programme unmasked the spy and subsequently the Israeli embassy sent him packing. But the game wasn't over by any means.
Theresa May's government did nothing after it found out that the Israeli administration was meddling in domestic British politics. Israel paid no price. So of course the machinations continue. No one knows what specific role Israel is playing in the current charade also known as the anti-Semitism witch hunt.
The laying of a wreath by Jeremy Corbyn on the graves of the terrorist who perpetrated the Munich massacre and his comparison of Israel to the Nazis deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone – left, right and everything in between
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) August 13, 2018
But you can rest assured that it is playing a significant one. My guess is that the Tunisia card is one engineered by Netanyahu. He allowed it to play out for a day or two and then made his dramatic entrance. He entered the fray as the Protector of the Jewish People by denouncing Corbyn (in the above tweet). Corbyn has counterattacked in his own tweet replying to Netanyahu:
Israeli PM @Netanyahu's claims about my actions and words are false.
What deserves unequivocal condemnation is the killing of over 160 Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli forces since March, including dozens of children.https://t.co/H5nXqi3pnU
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) August 13, 2018
Finally, let's just reiterate something I've documented here many times: Netanyahu is a liar. He's a more convincing liar than Donald Trump, who doesn't seem to care that everyone knows he's lying as soon as the words emerge from his mouth. At least Netanyahu – on the surface – makes a convincing show of telling the truth (until you examine his claims). But he's lying nevertheless.
In a tweet, Israeli academic Uri Horesh invoked God's admonition to Moses at the Burning Bush. As Moses approached, God told him he was on holy ground and must remove the shoes on his feet in recognition of his proximity to the Divine. Uri tweets: "You are a fascist. Remove the shoes off your feet in speaking of Corbyn."
No one cares
But the most important question is: what impact will Netanyahu's attack have? And does he even care? The answer is little or none; and No. Britons aren't exactly clamouring to hear what the Israeli premier has to say on any subject. He's not especially popular in Britain. And the notion that anyone in the UK cares about what he has to say about Corbyn is ludicrous.
So why did Netanyahu do it? Partly to polish his reputation as a Defender of the Jews writ large, which bolsters support among his domestic constituency. It will also play well among his wealthy supporters in the Diaspora. And it gets his words – and his line – into the bloodstream of the discourse, ensuring Corbyn has to continue fighting off attacks on his character.
Netanyahu's only goal here is to savage Corbyn as an Israel hater. He desperately wants to hammer a nail in his coffin. But the Israeli prime minister may find that his intervention has the opposite effect.
It very well could provoke a backlash. Personally, Netanyahu's direct involvement in the this whole flim-flam charade indicates that he – and all those propagating it – has jumped the shark. It has now gone from being a sham to being simply preposterous.
A manufactured scandal
Remember when Netanyahu stuck his nose into the affairs of French Jewry after it had suffered several terror attacks? He went to France and told French Jews from a synagogue pulpit that there was no future for them in their native land, and that they must make aliyah or be consigned to oblivion. After that, not only did the French president roundly excoriate him, but French Jews didn't respond either.
There was a one-year spike in aliyah, which eventually returned emigration numbers to their former level after peace and security returned to the community. When Netanyahu wades into a political firestorm abroad the impact of his engagement has the shelf life of day-old fish.
In the latest sordid development in this manufactured scandal, the Telegraph has published a picture of Jeremy Corbyn outside the Finsbury Mosque. He is making a gesture with four fingers of his hand, a sign of solidarity with the 1,000 Egyptians who were murdered in cold blood by Egypt President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi's junta after he overthrew the duly elected government in a military coup.
Though many of those murdered were Muslim Brotherhood supporters, by no means all were.
Embarrassing for the Telegraph. The sign is well-known in Egypt as one of opposition to Sisi regime's coup and Rabaa massacre 5 years ago. The Telegraph's linking it to terrorism is straight propaganda. It is not a newspaper. pic.twitter.com/ePzSEXR3dd
— Mark Curtis (@markcurtis30) August 15, 2018
Contrary to what the Telegraph reports, Corbyn's gesture does not indicate support for the Brotherhood. It indicates support for victims of a brutal massacre by the Egyptian military junta. But then, this is hardly the first time the British press has pushed out Islamophobic propaganda. In their desperation to deliver a fatal blow to Corbyn, a significant section of the UK's media will continue to lie and lie and lie.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Tories and Israel Lobby are so desperate to defeat Corbyn by hook or by crook. Republicans and their Israel Lobby allies in the US engaged in the very same smear campaign against Barack Obama in 2008. He wasn't really a Christian, as he claimed. He was a closet Muslim. His middle name gave him away. He wasn't born in the US. He was born in Kenya, or Indonesia. He hated Israel (because he was Muslim). They were all lies. And they didn't work.
– Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the collection Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP)