I have watched on over recent weeks as Jeremy Corbyn has been associated with “Jew-haters“, conspiracy theorists, murderers, Holocaust deniers and other terrorists and extremists. In his most recent interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4, Corbyn denied sympathising with Holocaust deniers and vociferously rejected such views in no uncertain terms. On today’s World at One on Radio 4, Corbyn denied knowing the ‘extremist’ Dyab Abou Jahjah who has links to Hezbollah. He also denounced the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah in no uncertain terms whilst still maintaining the importance of open dialogue.
I am reasonably happy with such denials. I am rather in agreement with the need to keep lines of communication open for dialogue that leads to peace. I do think it is possible to speak to terrorist organisations and unsavoury characters without endorsing everything they say, do and stand for. I am, nonetheless, much less impressed with his continued refusal to denounce the IRA in the same terms as he has Hezbollah and Hamas (see here). If he can censure Hezbollah and Hamas in the clearest possible terms whilst maintaining the need to talk to them for the purposes of a peace process, there is no reason the same cannot be said to the IRA. I strongly suspect this is down to his ongoing friendship with the Irish Republican top brass compared to his mere supposed general association with those linked to Middle Eastern terror groups.
Leaving aside the glaring exception of the IRA, Corbyn has consistently denied sympathising with the views espoused by those he has been accused of courting. He has publicly rejected the violent means of Hezbollah, Hamas and their respective supporters. Corbyn has also condemned Holocaust denial in the strongest terms stating “Holocaust denial is vile and wrong. The Holocaust was the most vile part of our history. The Jewish people killed by the Nazi Holocaust were the people who suffered the most in the 20th century.” Despite pictures emerging of him sitting beside Dyab Abou Jahjah, I think Owen Jones’ defence of Corbyn is quite reasonable and eminently likely. Frankly, I believe Corbyn when he says he doesn’t remember the man and knew nothing of his views; not least given his brazen, unrepentant willingness to admit to the vast majority of links that many deem questionable.
In short, I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic, a Holocaust denier nor a “Jew-hater”. I do not think he supports Hezbollah and Hamas. I am yet to be convinced he wholeheartedly rejects the actions of the IRA and doesn’t seek to justify their means as “necessary”.
In Owen Jones’ defence of Corbyn, he comments:
If he knew somebody had anti-Semitic views or indulged Holocaust denial, he would find their views utterly repulsive. But having spent his life attending more meetings and protests than virtually any other MP, he will have encountered and met countless people. I can’t remember people I’ve shared platforms with and met (which has led to many embarrassing moments in my case) and the idea an MP like Corbyn juggling his constituency and campaigning work and meeting the number of people he does will remember is pushing human capabilities to an extreme degree.
I am utterly sympathetic to this defence. Christians who advocate a policy of co-belligerence (e.g. here) should understand this. On issues of agreement, we may share a platform with those whom we would otherwise disagree. For example, in the Reform Section 5 campaign, Christian groups found themselves sharing a platform with all sorts of atheistic and secular groups due to agreement on the issue at hand. It seems likely in the Palestinian Solidarity movement one is likely, on that issue, to share a platform with others who hold unsavoury views in other areas. The same is almost certainly true in the pro-zionist camp – agreement on the issue is likely to lead to one sharing a platform with some who hold unsavoury views in other areas.
The issue is one of two-stage separation. If it can be reasonably demonstrated that Jeremy Corbyn himself supports Holocaust denial, sympathises with anti-Semites and supports the violent means of sundry terrorist organisations then we are well within our rights to denounce his campaign on such grounds. If, however, he does not hold or sympathise with such views but happens to support some other issues which those who hold these views also happen to support that is rather different. For example, it is possible to support the maintenance of the Union in Northern Ireland without in any way linking oneself to the terrorist activities of Loyalist paramilitary groups (so Unionism has been arguing for over a century). The same goes for Irish unification without supporting Republican paramilitaries (or so the Nationalists have been arguing to some while). It is, however, wholly unreasonable to denounce Ian Paisley – who has consistently denounced the actions of Loyalist paramilitaries – for having occasionally found himself in the same room as paramilitary men who share his view on the Union. Likewise, to denounce Mark Durkan – who has consistently denounced the tactics of Republican paramilitaries – for having occasionally found himself in the same room as Provisional IRA men is equally unreasonable. This guilt by association two-stage separation is unfair, it is no way to determine the actual views of an individual.
The approach to Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign is reminiscent of two-stage separation in churches. It is the view that says A must separate from B, not because of any issue with B, but because B is associated with C who is deemed beyond the pale. Occasionally, it becomes three, four or more stage separation. It is a view that infers guilt by association and can often end up condemning nigh on everybody. If we are working with the sense that it is not possible to even share a platform or be in the same room as those with whom we disagree on unrelated issues, we may as well shut the House of Commons down. We cannot possibly expect people to be so certain of any link they may make that they must background check every individual they meet at any given rally they attend.
This blog has previously commented on the issue of two-stage separation within the Christian world. If our unity is based on gospel truth, it is inevitable that we will ultimately share fellowship with churches who are no exactly like us. That is not to say there are no ministries we ought to denounce in no uncertain terms but there are clearly large areas of theological truth which will be relegated to matters of secondary importance. They are those issues on which there may be a right answer but which do not form a basis of separation. Moreover, there will be issues on which we share a platform without agreeing with those whom we campaign. It is entirely possible, for example, that in the name of co-belligerence a Christian may find themselves on the same platform as a Muslim. It is highly likely that, in so doing, there may be dispensational, pro-Israel, CWI-supporting believers sharing a platform with some Muslim who hold less than salubrious views toward Israel and its citizens.Yet, because we agree on the issue at hand, we share a platform without endorsing all the views of those thereon.
If we want to be able to defend co-belligerence, we must be careful we don’t fall into this guilt-by-association trap toward others. If links are symptomatic of views, then we ought to be careful to bring personal views into the light and make sure we are denouncing the actual views of the individual rather than our presumed view based on some of things we may know about their associations. If we want to be able to support gospel unity, we will have to be very careful about precisely those positions we wish to denounce. Are they essentials? Do they undermine the gospel? Are we sure the people we are disassociating with actually hold the views we deem anti-gospel or are we presuming that based on others they know? For the sake of the gospel, let’s keep the main things the main things. If we must disassociate with someone, let’s make sure we are doing so rightly. Let’s determine fellowship based on the actual views of those we know, not based on the presumed views of third-parties with whom they associate.