A peacenik may lay down with some unsavoury characters. Better that than selling them weapons writes Steve Beauchampé.
The BBC, whose coverage of the Labour Party leadership race has often felt unbalanced, spent time this week highlighting the fact that in 2009 frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn shared a platform at a meeting organised by the Stop The War Coalition with Lebanese political activist Dyab Abou Jahjah, who holds some very questionable views on the holocaust.
Also raised, initially in a public phone-in on the World at One (Radio 4) and in many of the corporations’ subsequent news and current affairs programmes, was Corbyn’s use of the word ‘friends’ to describe the militant Hamas and Hezbollah organisations, both of which have engaged in some evil activities in connection with their support of the Palestinian cause.
Legitimate questions, although selected by the BBC from a large number of callers who one imagines wished to raise a wide variety of subjects with the potential Labour leader. But whilst it is unreasonable to expect Corbyn to control whom he appears alongside at a public meeting that he did not organise – and which was after all about a very worthy cause (enhancing the Middle East peace process) for which he has sincere and long-held views – Corbyn’s description of Hamas and Hezbollah does seem rather unfortunate.
But we all make misjudgements and, frankly, I’m considerably more concerned as to whether Jeremy Corbyn (and ultimately those who might seek to govern with him) has plausible ideas to tackle the myriad contemporary problems that confront Britain and the wider world, including that of the Palestinians.
This is not the first occasion on which the BBC has questioned Jeremy Corbyn about his relationship with both pro-Palestinian militant organisations and the IRA (whom he spoke with nearly a decade before the British government admitted to doing the same). Indeed, during the current Labour leadership campaign several of the Corporation’s senior political presenters and reporters have highlighted such issues.
Yet the BBC shows no such doggedness in holding to account some members of the current and previous government about their track record; not merely of giving verbal support, but also practical assistance to several of the world’s most dubious regimes.
Because Britain arms, trains or sells equipment to overseas governments that subsequently attack, torture or otherwise repress their political opponents – hideous regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel and Egypt (a military dictatorship in all but name) – are legitimised by our government’s willingness to collude in their repressive activities; sometimes for strategic geo-political reasons, sometimes for the purpose of trade.
Amongst Britain’s ‘friends’ are Turkey and Qatar (both accused of tacitly backing Islamic State) and China (where does one even begin!). Until recently these friends also included Syria (approached by the UK and USA in 2010 about forming a possible military alliance against Iran as a means of thwarting its nuclear ambitions) and individuals such as Vladimir Putin (whom Cameron once declared was a man that Britain could do business with).
There are plenty more, as a quick perusal of the Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch websites will attest, whilst our country’s own involvement in extraordinary rendition and the abuses and illegality conducted at Guantanemo Bay is equally inexcusable.
Pragmatism in a complex and changeable political landscape, or turning a blind eye to try and gain an international or trading advantage? Either way, such activities often result in real actions with real consequences for real people. Incalculably worse in their impact than any handshakes, debate or badly chosen words that Jeremy Corbyn may have in his debit column.