Socialist Alternative

Covid-19: health not profit – a vaccine should be free and accessible to all!

On 4 May, a Coronavirus Global Response International Pledging Conference took place with state leaders from Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, UK, Canada, Norway, Jordan, Israel, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the European Commission. The conference aimed to raise £6.5 billion from governments and foundations to invest in the research into and development of a vaccine for Covid-19.

Noticeable by their absence were leaders from the US and China, the two largest pharma markets in the world. As in both countries there are several companies working on a vaccine, this means there can be no genuinely global cooperation on this issue, as the race and the competition to find a vaccine continues. The lack of coordination by countries throughout this crisis – with chaotic and contradictory policies applied by different national capitalist governments – speaks to the era we live in.

In such a severe health crisis, when there is an urgent need to find a vaccine and other treatments for Covid-19, it would only make sense to have a global collaboration. But capitalist governments being willing to work together is not the only thing required to achieve this. Such collaboration would mean the complete sharing of data, research conclusions, as well as practical collaboration. However, under the capitalist system – in which pharmaceutical companies are among some of the largest profit-making private companies in the world – the race to find a vaccine is driven by power, prestige, and, most of all, profit. This has been reflected in the fact that over 115 companies are currently working solely to find a vaccine, each hoping to be the first to ‘cash in’ and desperate to do so before their rivals. There is therefore a direct financial disincentive for such companies to collaborate – lest they risk being beaten to the finish line.

US and China rivalries in race to find a vaccine

The profiteering interests of the pharma companies were strikingly exposed by Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services Secretary in Trump’s administration. When he was asked about the affordability of a vaccine he said “we can’t control that price cause we need the private sector to invest”. Basically he was defending the interests of the pharmaceutical companies to make profits out of one of the worst health crises of our times. No wonder, Azar himself is a former pharmaceutical lobbyist and executive.

Trump also showed that he wants a US monopoly over the discovery of a vaccine. It was reported in March this year that he offered over a billion dollars to the German bio-pharma company CureVac to secure the vaccine “only for the United States”. In a country where health insurance is private and over 35 million have lost their health insurance during a pandemic, this actually means a vaccine first and foremost for the US wealthy.

Throughout this crisis Trump showed lack of a serious approach. From downplaying the virus and cancelling funding to WHO- to injecting ‘disinfectant’ and promoting use of antimalarial drugs with dangerous side effects. Now he urges states to reopen the economy despite horrendous figures of infected patients and covid deaths.

Xi Jinping’s administration is not any better. The outbreak could have been brought rapidly under control, preventing the development of a pandemic, if it weren’t for the Chinese state’s initial covering up of the virus and the persecution of the doctor who tried to warn others.

So far, four companies sponsored by the Chinese government have started trials for a potential Covid-19 vaccine. One of these companies is The Wuhan Institute of Biological Products. It was Involved in a major scandal in 2018 when it was found that faulty vaccines to diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough were used on hundreds of thousands of babies.

A successful attempt to find a vaccine in either of these two world powers , China and the US, raises the question of what this will mean in an era in which the process of globalisation has been thrown into partial reverse and in which inter-imperialist rivalries, centered around the US-China trade war, continue to grow in sharpness. Will the narrow interests of each imperialist power be put aside? All the indications suggest not.

However it’s not just Trump and Xi’s administrations that show a lack of coordination – not to mention outright hostility. There have been other conferences throughout this crisis ending with joint statements and empty slogans. There was allegedly an agreement in the European Council on 26 March on a joint lockdown exit strategy – the chaotic and uneven lifting of lockdowns proves otherwise. There was also an extreme lack of coordination in the distribution of PPE – with different countries outbidding each other for essential items – as well as on the implementation of travel restrictions.

The EU Conference

The money raised in the EU conference will be channeled through Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, there was not any clear commitment for mass production or fair and widespread distribution of the vaccine, nor the affordability of it.

Doctors Without Borders have criticised CEPI and GAVI for their funding policies. CEPI originally elaborated on conditions in which pharma companies could get funding. It had included things like sharing vaccine research data and CEPI access to intellectual property of treatments that were developed by its funding. These were later omitted because of pressure from pharma companies’ representatives on the CEPI’s advisory board, such as Johnson &Johnson and Pfizer. Now CEPI simply say they commit to “equitable access to these vaccines for affected populations during outbreaks.” GAVI had also been criticised last year over the subsidies its fund gave to major pharmaceutical companies, without their guarantee to reduce the price of the Pneumonia vaccine. This is while these companies made almost $50 billion in profit from this vaccine in the last decade.

Regarding the attempt to find a vaccine for Covid-19, the Guardian reported that “EU officials said pharmaceutical companies who will receive the funding will not be requested to forgo their intellectual property rights on the new vaccine and treatments”. First it shows public money is used for companies to keep essential and life-saving data private. Second, as there is not one company that has the capacity to produce billions of vaccines in a short amount of time it means this exclusivity will be a barrier to provide the vaccine in the quickest possible time.

Also, despite the so-called concern of some European leaders about vaccination in the neo-colonial world, there are some very worrying figures about deaths as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases. Lack of basic vaccines for diseases like Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, Polio, Yellow Fever, Tetanus resulted in deaths of over 2.6 million people in 2017. Just under 20 million infants are not immunised against these diseases.

Finding a vaccine- safety vs urgency

Finding a vaccine is not a speedy process and it normally does not take 12-18 months as some have been claiming. In fact, the fastest vaccine ever made, the mumps vaccine, took four years from the lab research until its approval. There have been vaccines in development over decades without a successful outcome. In fact, vaccines normally take ten to fifteen years of research and only 6% of such projects reach the finish line.

There is a risk that rushing to find a vaccine might result in an unsafe and inefficient product. As professor Lu Shan told the FT: “The fake data is almost systemic… there is so much focus on quick financial returns. When scientists become interested in the financial incentives, they become businessmen and have less impact. They move too quickly.”

The New York Times reported an article published in the journal Vaccines last month. In the article, vaccine developers from NYU Langone Medical Center, propose to use challenge trials – a method which includes infecting the -‘vaccinated’ volunteers with the virus to see whether it works or not. This method was commonly used in early days of vaccine research. Nowadays, it is used only once there are other treatments available besides a vaccine. While that is not the case with Covid-19, such an approach means risking volunteers’ lives.

The lack of data there is over the virus and possible mutations also raises questions over for how long a potential vaccine might be effective for.

Profits over urgent health needs

The lack of pharma companies’ interests in finding treatments to other coronaviruses found in the last two decades has cost many lives.

Every decade in the 21st century had an outbreak of a type of a Coronavirus. In 2002/3 it was the SARS, in 2012 it was MERS and this year Covid-19. Developing a vaccine for one of these types of Coronavirus could have been helpful in developing a treatment for Covid-19. While research was conducted in order to deal with those types of Coronavirus, it was stopped before reaching clinical trials in humans because the scientists involved “tried like heck to get investors or grants” but “could not generate much interest” as the outbreaks had ended. The lack of interest was found to be fatal and is now crucial in this pandemic. As professor Jason Schwartz told the Atlantic “Had we not set the Sars vaccine research programme aside, we would have had a lot more of this foundational work that we could apply to this new, closely related virus”.

A similar attitude was taken towards finding an Ebola vaccine. As Professor Adrian Hill told the Independent in 2014-: “Unless there’s a big market it’s not worth the while of a mega-company… There was no business case to make an Ebola vaccine for the people who needed it most.” In 2019 a vaccine was approved, however the company involved, Merck, said it won’t get involved again in developing a vaccine for new strains of the virus.

We pay – the pharma companies profit

However, while researchers, including those in academic settings, are often dependent on big pharma money for developing medical treatments, much of the most significant research is actually funded by taxpayers’ money. A research study examining funding by the NIH (National Institute of Health), showed the US government invested $100 billion in development of new drugs in the years 2010-2016. Yet Americans pay more on medicine than anywhere else in the world.

But this is not an ‘American issue’, the NHS buys medicine for millions of pounds from pharmaceutical companies selling medicines that were developed through publicly funded research. A report by STOP AIDS and Global Justice Now showed that two out of five of the NHS’s most expensive drugs were developed through using substantial public money. As one of the co-authors of the report describes: “big pharmaceutical companies are ripping us off by taking over drugs developed primarily with public money and selling the drugs back to the NHS at extortionate prices. This is nothing short of daylight robbery of British taxpayers by some of the most profitable corporations in the world”. In the development of a coronavirus vaccine, Johnson’s government has so far invested £744 million that will be given primarily to big pharma.

No trust in the pharmaceutical companies!

Pharma companies have been failing to address the urgent demand for medical treatments. As shown earlier, under capitalism, investment in developing treatments is present only when there is a clear business opportunity. There have also been many cases of drug prices skyrocketing, making treatment inaccessible despite public spending in development of such treatments. In 2015, Turing, a pharmaceutical company, bought a patent for making a medicine that had been on the market for over six decades. The price of the medicine, Daraprim, jumped over night by 5500%; From £11 for one tablet to £609 (!). In the UK, a breakthrough drug for breast cancer produced by Pfizer was initially denied for use in the NHS because of the high cost of almost £140 per tablet. The medicine was later approved as a result of campaigning and pressure from below.

The case of the Ebola vaccine showed that, despite there being an approved vaccine on the market, the pharma companies failed in providing it to the 10 million people in the infected regions during the 2018 outbreak. The failure of the ‘bird flu’ vaccine to arrive to countries who needed it the most, as rich countries “bought virtually all the vaccine companies could manufacture”, shows again the failure of capitalist production to meet urgent health needs.

The dependence of the pharma companies on subsidies from governments raises the question of why a vaccine should be allowed to be produced for profit in the first place. In an article Socialist Alternative published on 24 April we gave the example of Johnson & Johnson signing a contract with the US government to develop a vaccine. J&J’s received just under half a billion dollars from the American tax-payer,which led to a 3.8% rise in the value of J&J’s shares. Yet ordinary workers do not get a guarantee a vaccine will be affordable.

Any serious attempt to address the virus cannot involve profiteering from Covid-19. A vaccine and other medical treatments need to be accessible and free for all who need it. To make sure a vaccine will be accessible and free to all, pharmaceutical companies need to be taken into public ownership under democratic and transparent workers’ control.

There needs to be collaboration and a free to access database without patent restrictions. And there needs to be a democratic, socialist plan for production which can retool the economy to produce the vaccine on the scale needed to protect the world’s population from this deadly virus.

In other words, the task of overcoming this virus in a way that prevents unnecessary deaths of millions is one that requires socialist measures on an international scale. We fight for and defend all reforms which increase the accessibility of medicine and the widest expansion of free healthcare. But the only way to guarantee a future where public health is put before private profit is to build a movement that can replace this crisis-ridden capitalist system with a socialist society- run by and for working-class people.

Inside of pig farm

Covid-19, emerging diseases and capitalism

The spread of Covid-19 has now hit worldwide. At the time of writing there are more than 1 million confirmed cases of people infected by coronavirus and more than 50,000 who have lost their lives. The spread could have been significantly reduced if swift and far-reaching measures such as mass testing had been taken, as well as if public health systems had not faced massive cuts, privatisation and underfunding in recent decades. But what caused the virus to emerge in the first place? Could it all have been prevented?

The outbreak of Covid-19 and the animal trade industry

Nature magazine published research showing an almost identical genome sequence between Covid-19 and the one of a coronavirus in pangolins, the most trafficked animal in the world. Pangolins are trafficked and sold for their scales that are used in traditional medicine. Their meat is considered a luxury product. They were also sold in the wet market in Wuhan, a very crowded market without any basic sanitary conditions, drainage and proper hygiene standards. All first cases of Covid-19 were found among people who visited that market. It is likely that Covid-19 was transmitted to pangolins by horseshoe bats in China, as bats are known as reservoirs of a significant number of zoonotic viruses that, as a result of spillover, can be transmitted to humans.

The spillover of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which is also a type of coronavirus, in 2002 happened in a similar way. Many scientists claim that it is likely the SARS virus was transmitted to humans by Civet cats that were sold for their meat in restaurants for the rich and wealthy in Guangdong province in China. Professor Yuen Kwok-Yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said in 2003: “If you cannot control further jumping of such viruses from animals to humans, the same epidemic can occur again – so it is very important that we have ways of controlling the rearing, the slaughtering and the selling of these wild game animals.”

Unfortunately, he was right. Despite the outbreak of SARS, in the interests of the profiteering of wild animal trade, related industries, wet markets and the trade itself has continued to operate without much regulation and restriction. A 2017 report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering found that the wild animal farming industry is estimated to make over £57 billion in profits a year. This laid the basis for an online campaign on Weibo social media opposing live animal trade under the hashtag #rejectgamemeat. Up until a few weeks ago, wild-animal farms continued to operate openly and legally. Last February, the Chinese government posed a ban for trading wild animals for food – but not when trading for fur, medicine or research.

Not a ‘Chinese phenomena’

However, unlike the xenophobic and anti-Asian propaganda that was the prompt response of Trump and Co, this is not a ‘Chinese phenomena’ or a ‘Chinese virus’. Spillover of viruses from animals can also be caused by birds or pigs as we saw with cases of Avian flu (‘bird flu’) or Swine flu. The worryingly widespread use of antibiotics in chicken and other animals in industrialized farming also allows emergence of bacteria resistant to antibiotics that can be transmitted to humans as well. The World Health Organisation says that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health. But despite the warnings, their systematic and non-essential use in farming continues.

Despite the advancements in medicine, research and science, in the last 50 years there has been an increase in the number of emerging zoonotic diseases – pathogens that are transmitted to humans by animals. Research found 75% of emerging infectious diseases originate in wild animals, as they host a lot of viruses unknown to our immune systems that can pose a big risk. Such diseases include SARS and MERS (which are also types of coronavirus), Ebola, Zika, Nipah virus, Avian Flu and even HIV. These all had high mortality rates compared to Covid-19 and have presented a real threat to the health and wellbeing of humans. EcoHealth, an NGO, predicts that such spillovers will likely double or even triple over the next decade.

Environmental and ecological destruction – a health risk

One of the main reasons for this is the environmental impact of agriculture, farming and mining. Agriculture and farming, for example, regularly involve deforestation that results in changes to and destruction of the habitats of wildlife. This creates potential for much closer contact between wild animals, livestock and humans. The profit-driven oil and mineral mining industry often involves the incursion of population into uninhabited land which can dramatically change and destroy wildlife habitats as well.

The outbreak of Ebola in 2014, a deadly disease with a mortality rate of 50%-90%, started in a small village in Guinea’s Gueckedou Forest Region. Not long before the outbreak, the region went through an extreme deforestation carried out by the mining and lumber industries. As a result, the interaction of locals with natural carriers of the virus, such as Fruit Bats, Chimpanzees and other types of monkeys, became more frequent. Scientists found that Ebola outbreaks are most likely to happen in villages in Sub-Saharan Africa that are near areas that have experienced deforestation within the previous two years. They focused on 27 cases of Ebola outbreaks in the years 2001-2014 and found out that 25 out of these cases happened in areas that experienced massive deforestation not long before the outbreak.

The last couple of years saw massive deforestation in many places, including Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia and Siberia. According to Global Forest Watch, more than 12 million hectares of forests were lost in 2018, which is the size of Belgium. Last year was not less deadly, with wildfires in Amazon – most of them essentially man-made by major landlords, whose interests are faithfully represented by the right-wing capitalist government of Bolsonaro. Australia’s wildfires caused the burning of over 10 million hectares of land and were heavily boosted by climate change. The rise of global temperatures in itself increases not only the frequency of wildfires but also the threat of droughts. All this is contributing to the growing threat posed by the emergence of new infectious diseases.

Urbanisation, poverty and climate change

Urbanisation and lack of infrastructure can also increase the potential of widespread outbreaks. Rats, fleas and mosquitos are potential carriers of many diseases. They tend to thrive in poor areas where there is lack of proper infrastructure, sanitation, waste removal, clean water and access to health facilities. There has been a 30-fold rise in cases of Dengue fever over the last 50 years, and with the rapid urbanisation across much of Asia, many more people are susceptible to contact with open water sources which are a breeding ground for mosquitoes – the transmitters of the virus.

The outbreak of the Zika virus in 2015, which is from the same virus group as the Dengue, was also thought to be encouraged by rising temperatures caused by global warming. The Zika virus can spread at temperatures between 18°C and 34°C . As a result, the outbreak was mostly in tropical or subtropical areas where summer temperatures reach such levels. In 2015,oBrazil had one of the warmest and driest winters and springs on record, which allowed the virus to continue to spread throughout the year. Hotter weather in both cases of Dengue and Zika provide much more fertile conditions for mosquitoes carrying the disease to breed.

Lack of infrastructure and facilities is not just a problem of ‘developing’ or ‘third-world countries’. In the US, residents of Flint, Michigan didn’t have access to clean water as it was contaminated with elevated levels of lead that could cause poisoning, resulting in many possibly lethal illnesses. Israel was recently on the brink of Rabies epidemic as a result of major cuts in the veterinary services of the Agriculture Ministry. Two years before the outbreak, the agriculture ministry decided to stop vaccinating jackals and foxes against Rabies. A decade of austerity in the UK has included council cuts in waste collections leaving refuse workers overstretched and sometimes forced to take strike action in defense of these services. Less than a quarter of the councils in England have bin collections every week. 15% of UK councils have waste collection every three or even four weeks (!).

Capitalism – a health risk!

Destruction of habitats and the environment more generally clearly poses a threat to our health. This is not done in the interests of ordinary workers and poor but instead to meet the demand of big business to make profit. Just 100 corporations have been responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. They clearly bear central responsibility for climate change.

The cases of outbreaks of infectious diseases demonstrate the need for a democratic and socialist planning of production, for need not profit. A democratic plan of food production, with the major agricultural giants and food distributors taken out of the hands of big business and into public ownership, would allow for the elimination of the grotesque waste that currently takes place, and ensure environmentally sustainable food production and distribution to meet peoples needs.

At the same time, a just transition to sustainable and renewable energy is needed in order to fight climate change, which is undoubtedly a major factor contributing to the spread of diseases, including through creating more favorable conditions for transmitters of viruses like mosquitoes and pests. But just as in agriculture, the problem is you can’t control what you don’t own. To fully move away from fossil fuels, it’s necessary to take the major energy companies out of private hands and place them under the democratic control of working-class people. Transformation to renewable energy, could rapidly reduce the demand for mining, as well as deforestation and ecological destruction which were found as related to the outbreak of Ebola and potentially other diseases originating in wild animals. Massive investment in infrastructure could also help prevent spread of diseases and breeding of pests.

Ultimately, confronting the ecological crisis our world faces requires a complete reorganisation of society. It requires us to move away from production based on profit, and towards a democratic plan based meeting the needs and desires of the majority – not lining the pockets of a wealthy few. This is why we need to build an international, socialist movement to break with capitalism.

Only a socialist society, in which working-class people democratically control what is produced and how, can we hope to point a way towards a safe and environmentally sustainable future for humanity. In this way, the needs and interests of the majority of the world’s population will be put first, and public health will be the priority, not private profit.

Antisemitism: a problem of the left?

27 January this year marked 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz death camp, where over a million people, most of them Jewish, were brutally slaughtered as part of the mass extermination conducted by the Nazi regime. Recently Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, held the World Holocaust Forum that included 47 heads of state, world leaders and royals, under the title “remembering the Holocaust – fighting antisemitism”.

Socialist Struggle Movement Israel-Palestine

Out of 700 seats only 30 seats were allocated to holocaust survivors. This is a symptom of the way Holocaust survivors are treated in the capitalist state of Israel. 25% of Holocaust survivors live under the poverty line and must choose between heating and buying food.

Politicians who are backing far-right movements and inflaming xenophobia, encouraging the persecution of refugees and scapegoating of LGBT+ people, are speaking hypocritically about the `fight’ against antisemitism.

Antisemitism today

Jews faced centuries of similar and other severe forms of persecution and oppression in the years preceding the Holocaust. The Nazi genocide grew, in the context of fascist and capitalist counter-revolution in Europe, out of the historic persecution of Jews.

The issue of antisemitism is not just a historical matter.

In recent years, with the development of a serious capitalist crisis, there has been an increase in cases of antisemitic attacks, mostly in the US and Europe. The Anti-Defamation League reports a dramatic increase of recorded physical assaults in the year 2018, a year which saw one of the deadliest antisemitic attacks in the history of the US: the mass shooting in Pittsburgh synagogue, which resulted in the murder of 11 people.

Last year didn’t bring any improvement in security for Jewish people. Recentlyfour people were murdered at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City and two were murdered in a shooting in a synagogue in Halle, Germany.

However, while the definition for what should be regarded as antisemitic incidents may be sometimes controversial, it is important to mention that antisemitism shouldn’t be understood only as physical attacks but also as false perceptions and prejudice against Jews. Such prejudice may include views of Jewish people as wealthy and powerful with a lot of influence on the media and finance.

These views are found sometimes in conspiracy theories that claim that the Rothschild family controls the world. Whilst a tiny minority of Jews are capitalists, the overwhelming majority are not. Jewish people are just 0.2%-0.3% of the world population, a large part of whom live in Israel which has the second highest levels of child poverty in the OECD countries.

There is also a perception of Jews as ‘cosmopolitan’ – ‘a culture without a state’ – which contributes to Jewish people being seen by some in the countries they live in as foreigners and strangers. In some cases, Jews are regarded as ‘more loyal’ to Israel than the country they live in.

The Anti-Defamation League tested levels of antisemitism in 100 countries across the world, presenting participants with antisemitic stereotypes that see Jewish people as a homogenous group. Participants were asked whether they agree with them or not. In European countries excluding Eastern Europe, 24% agreed with a majority of the statements. An FRA (Fundamental Rights Agency) questionnaire which tested EU citizens who identify as Jewish showed high levels of insecurity. 89% said that they feel antisemitism has increased in their country in the last 5 years.

Antisemitism in the UK

Compared to other countries, at this stage levels of antisemitism in the UK are relatively low. However, Jews in the UK still face attacks and insecurity which must be taken seriously. The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that monitorsantisemitism in Britain, said there were 892 recorded incidents in the first six months of 2019 – a 10% increase compared to the same period last year. It is the highestnumber in this period since records began in 1984. In particular, it includes an increase of 25% in complaints about violent antisemitic assaults.

Genuine concern for Jewish people?

The issue of antisemitism was widely covered in Britain in recent years and especially during the general elections in 2017 and 2019.

In the capitalist media, Jeremy Corbyn was constantly accused of not addressing the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party and even of being antisemitic himself. There hasn’t been one single piece of serious evidence presented that shows Corbyn holds prejudice against Jews or sees them as a homogeneous bloc. Corbyn, a life-long anti-racist campaigner, has often spoken unequivocally against antisemitism.

Outrageously, some have sought to conflate the serious issue of antisemitism with any essential criticism of the policies of the right-wing capitalist Israeli state.

Corbyn has been involved in Palestine solidarity campaigns for decades. He spoke at protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people, spoke against the occupation and the siege on Gaza and participated in public meetings on this issue.

While some individuals hold reactionary prejudice against Jews in the context of opposition to the actions of successive Israeli governments against the Palestinians, the motivation behind the great majority of people participating in solidarity protests with Palestine is to fight back against the ongoing occupation and the siege on Gaza. In the last decade, the time in which the Palestine solidarity movement was at its peak was when the Israeli military was launching devastating attacks on Palestinians including three major military offensives that resulted in the deaths of over 5,572 Palestinians and 248 Israelis.

The genuine nature of the concerns for Jewish people by Corbyn’s political opponents, including those in the right wing of the Labour Party, is doubtful. If these concerns are genuine then why hasn’t there been similar outrage, criticism or attention when it came to Toryparliamentary members orcouncillors making clearly antisemitic comments or having friendly relations with antisemitic figures? Such examples have not been highlighted or confronted.

Holocaust denier?

Meanwhile, many of the claims made against Corbyn do not stand up to proper scrutiny, For example, in 2017, Corbyn was accused of being in contact with Paul Eisen, who co-founded the organization “Deir Yassin Remembered” and who came out as a holocaust denier a few years after the organisation was formed. This was based on the fact that Corbyn had attended meetings of this organisation. But Corbyn denied any contact with Eisen and has explained that he attended the meetings to commemorate the slaughter that occurred in Deir Yassin, a Palestinian village that was destroyed in 1948 as a part of the foundation of Israel. This attempt at guilt-by-association, even where the association is denied, ignores Corbyn’s long history of support for holocaust remembrance events and longstanding opposition to holocaust-denial, which is most prevalent on the far right.

Meanwhile, there hasn’t been much said about Johnson’s several year-long editorial career in The Spectator, which is a magazine that published articles with clear antisemitic remarks against Jews and hosted antisemitic columnists.

The Tory party was also closely associated with far-right antisemitic parties while in the European Parliament. One of these parties was Fidesz, the ruling party in Hungry. Its leader, Victor Orban, besides promoting hatred against immigrants, refugees and Muslims, also uses classic antisemitic tropes, such as the undertones in his attacks against Hungarian-Jewish capitalist George Soros.

In one of his speeches Orban said about Soros:

“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open; but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; it does not believe in working but speculates with money; it does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

Orbán had also said that he is a fan of Miklós Horthy, an antisemitic Hungarian regent who collaborated with Hitler during the second world war. Yet this didn’t seem to concern the Tory MEPs, who voted against a motion that criticised Orban’s remarks and disciplined Fidesz on the basis that this was a “domestic issue”.

Johnson’s relations with Trump have not been criticized in these terms either. It is hard to forget Trump putting the blame on “both sides” after the murder of the antifascist activist Heather Heyer who was deliberately run over by a Neo-Nazi in aprotest inCharlottesville. One side’s main slogan was “Jews will not replace us”, carrying Nazi symbols, and the other chanted “no nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA” and “Black Lives Matter”. Under Trump, white supremacists and neo-Nazis feel more confident to raise their heads out of the gutter.

Terrorist sympathizer?

Another argument that was constantly made by the capitalist right was that Corbyn is a terrorist sympathizer. But again, there hasn’t been a shred of evidence presented that shows Corbyn supports terrorist attacks against Jews, Israelis or in general.

Two main incidents were used to make this claim. One was when, several years ago, Corbyn invited Hamas and Hezbollah to speak in Parliament, and the other was when Corbyn allegedly put wreaths on the graves of the alleged planners of the Munich Massacre. In the first case, Corbyn has since said that he regrets using the word “friends” in reference to Hamas and Hezbollah and has explained that he opposes their methods. In the second case, Corbyn clarified that he actually put wreaths on graves of victims of an Israeli airstrike in Tunisia in 1985 – not on those of alleged terrorists as had been claimed.

This was essentially confirmed by a BBC report showing that a yearly ceremony to the victims does take place in the small section in the cemetery where Corbyn was photographed.

Double standards

When Tory officials describe the Saudi Arabian royal family as ‘friends’ it doesn’t spark similar outrage. This brutal regime routinely executes protestors and oppositionists. Many will remember the savage murder of the journalist Khashoggi. This is a country in which women and LGBT+ people have no rights. Saudi Arabia is also prosecuting the war in Yemen with constant airstrikes. Yemen now faces the worst humanitarian crisis in the world withreports of over 100,000 fatalities including 12,000 civilians. But not only do the Tories use friendly language, their government is actively participating in arming the Saudi regime, encouraging and allowing the selling of weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile Corbyn has, on principle, opposed this.

Corbyn would have been brutally attacked by the capitalist establishment due to his anti-austerity stance, with any perceived weakness ruthlessly exploited. However, the right was better able to undermine Corbyn because he has, in the view of Socialist Alternative, held some mistaken positions, including on some questions about the Middle East as well as on the approach to anti-imperialist struggle in general. Corbyn and others on the left have not always put forward a clear, class-based, internationalist and socialist position on the national question.

The problems of oppressed nations and of national conflicts absolutely require opposition to any form of national oppression and imperialism, but also a critical class approach to all social and political forces involved – including towards right-wing political forces involved in national liberation movements.

Organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah are not genuine ‘friends’ of the working class, whether in Palestine, Lebanon or elsewhere. Instead, the leaderships of both organisations represent right wing and sectarian religious politics – not based on working-class self-organisation and hostile to socialist ideas. Both of them played a reactionary role in attacking mass protests that broke out in Gaza and Lebanon last year.

Corbyn’s use of such language, while he now accepts it was wrong, is indicative of an approach towards questions of national liberation which is not fully rooted in class-based, socialist politics.

The way forward for achieving a lasting solution in Israel-Palestine, including winning genuine self-determination for the Palestinians, alongside Israelis, is through a mass struggle against the occupation, the siege and the brutal day-to-day oppression, as a part of a ‘Socialist Spring’ across the region. As part of such a struggle, working-class Palestinians and Israelis could potentially come together in a coordinated working-class fightback crossing national, religious and ethnic divisions. The Palestinians suffer brutal national oppression from the Israeli state. At the same time the working class within Israel are exploited by the Israeli government and capitalist class – with extremely high rates of poverty, inequality and insecurity.

Sentiments of opposition to the Israeli ruling class and the reactionary agenda of the Netanyahu regime were expressed among the Israeli population in mass struggles on many occasions in the last decade, and in the last couple of years in particular. A broad and coordinated struggle by Palestinians and by the left and workers’ movement in Israel can win over important layers of Israeli workers and youth who want to see an end to the ongoing bloody conflict. A mass movement linking together the question of economic exploitation and national oppression, fighting for a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel, as part of a democratic socialist confederation of the Middle East, signifies the way forward.

Is it really about antisemitism?

The reason antisemitism in the Tory party hasn’t been featured in the press with the same intensity is that this was never a sincere attempt by the accusers to address the real problem of antisemitism in society.

Antisemitism was cynically used against Corbyn in an attempt to halt the rise of left and socialist ideas that pose a challenge to capitalism.

Corbyn represented a rejection of austerity while advocating demands such as raising the minimum wage, scrapping tuition fees, renationalising rail, mail and energy sector, and opposition to British imperialist intervention in the Middle East.

Many left and socialist activists who were Corbyn supporters, including Jewish socialists who have fought against antisemitism and racism all of their adult lives, were expelled or suspended from the Labour Party under false accusations of antisemitism.

‘Dealing with antisemitism’ through suspending members who, for example, point out the fact that the chief Rabbi is a Tory supporter or argue that Labour has been “too apologetic” in its response to false allegations is an insult to the real attacks that Jewish people face, verbally and physically.

Moshe Machover, a socialist and a former Israeli, was expelled after he wrote an article for a left wing newspaper that “appears to meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism” as the article claims that “Anti-Zionism does not equal antisemitism”. He was reinstated after his expulsion was publicly condemned by a large number of left wingers which put pressure on the Labour Party bureaucracy.

This worrying witch-hunt has used similar methods to some of those employed by the Israeli government in dealing with opposition to its policies.

We think that Rebecca Long-Bailey should retract her comments in the Jewish Labour Movement hustings, where she agreed that to “describe Israel, its policies, or the circumstances around its foundation as racist” was to make an antisemitic statement if she really wants to help promote and advance a solution in the interests of working-class Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

Long-Bailey also mistakenly adopted the 10 pledges by the Board of Deputies, a right-wing organisation that claims to represent British Jews. One of the pledges is to fully recognise the IHRA working definition of antisemitism including its examples. While there are some reasonable examples of antisemitic actions contained in this definition, some of those that are related to Israel are very alarming and can be wrongly interpreted as meaning that criticizing Israel or calling it a racist state is antisemitic. Kenneth Stern, who drafted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, himselfsaid he was alarmed by the use of this definition as a hate speech code on campuses and said it will be used as an attack on freedom of speech.

Criticism of Israel’s policies

There can be antisemitic ideas dressed up as or contained within some approaches to criticism of Israel. Tropes which place blame on all Jews for the crimes of the Israeli regime fall into this category. Not only are such ideas false, but they can be used by the right in its attempts at delegitimising criticism of Israel’s policies, including the Israeli occupation, as well historical understandings of the foundation of Israel which take into account the brutal destruction of at least 400 Palestinian villages, for example.

Such criticisms are frequently labelled by the Israeli right as antisemitic. Jewish and Israeli people who hold such views are among those targeted in this way. For example, Israeli activists against the occupation, including former combat soldiers who gave witness to what they had seen and done in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, have disgustingly been tarnished by the Israeli government as ‘collaborators with antisemites’. On this basis, these brave individuals have also faced incitement against them.

Natalie Portman, an American- Jewish actress who was born in Israel,refused to participate in the Genesis Prize in Israel because she didn’t want to be seen as endorsing Netanyahu. She was told by the Energy minister Yuval Steinitz, that ‘boycotting Netanyahu is boycotting Israel’ and that her decision “borders on antisemitism”. Steinitz also called a decision of the International Court of Justice to investigate the possibility of war crimes in the 2014 Gaza war, in which there were more than 500 Palestinian children casualties, a “blood libel”.

Saying it is “antisemitic” to “describe Israel, its policies, or the circumstances around its foundation as racist” is absolutely outrageous and spits in the face of many Israelis and Palestinians who fight in solidarity against racism and national division. In the summer of 2018, tens of thousands, Jews and Arabs, protested against the Nationality Law – which is a racist attack against Arab-Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship. A few weeks before those protests, in a big rally of 70,000 on the day of the strike against attacks on LGBT+ rights in Israel, Jewish and Arab speakers on stage referred to opposing the Nationality Law in their speeches and received overwhelming support.

Netanyahu is struggling with unprecedented levels of political crisis that is expressed through the inability of any party to form a majority government with three general elections in a period of 11 months. A major part of his propaganda during the latest elections, as previously, is incitement against Arabs and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. In the election in September last year, Netanyahu put forward a bill to allow putting cameras in polling stations, while scapegoating and stirring up incitement that the Arab- Palestinian citizens of Israel are allegedly stealing elections. His main propaganda against his rival Blue and White party was that their government will rely on support Arabs, in order to scaremonger and mobilise right-wing voters.

The labour movement in the UK should support the protests and struggles of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians against national oppression, the occupation and anti-democratic policies – not collaborate with the Israel’s right-wing capitalist government with its attacks on any sort of opposition and attempts to paint all opposition to it as antisemitic. This is a hypocritical use of a real problem faced by Jewish people today in an attempt to censor and silence any sort of criticism.

The struggle against antisemitism should be a part of a wider struggle against all forms of racism and for a socialist society.

We call for a united struggle of workers and youth against all forms of racism and ‘divide and rule’. The capitalists try to divide workers and scapegoat oppressed groups in society to blame them for the problems caused by their system. In the background of the financial crisis and decades of austerity and privatisation of services, we see many capitalist governments using right wing populism and inflaming tensions. They whip up hatred against immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

The problems faced by working class people in society, such as poverty and job insecurity, lack of affordable housing, the collapse of services such as health and education, are ultimately caused by the capitalist system. Capitalism is driven by profits that are created on the basis of exploiting workers. We need to fight for a socialist alternative that can consign antisemitism and all forms of racism and division to history, and can lay the basis for a society run in the interests of working class, where human need is put before the drive for profit.