The campaign being waged by Jewish millionaire Michael Foster against Jeremy Corbyn is one of the most fascinating stories in the ugly battle to lead Britain’s Labour Party.
For some reason, it hasn’t been adequately covered by the British media — perhaps because both of the involved parties are perceived as being on the wrong side of the story. One is a Labour donor who, up till recently, controlled Rights House, a literary and media agency that represented prominent actors like Sacha Baron Cohen and Hugh Grant, as well as authors such as Simon Schama and Jeanette Winterson. Foster’s empire also controlled TV production companies such as Carnival Films, which was behind the TV series “Downton Abbey.”
The other person is Corbyn, the man most of the media loves to hate.
If you asked people on the street who Corbyn is, you’d most likely hear opposing views. His supporters believe he’s the right person to head the British Labour Party, a man of integrity and principles who fights for his views, not a chameleon who changes colours according to public opinion. In their eyes, he’s the right person to stand up to the Conservatives and fight for the rights of the working and disadvantaged classes in Britain, in contrast to the policies of austerity and cuts of the present government.
His opponents, however, see him as a dangerous man with extremist positions, and whose stubbornness could lead to the breakup of the venerable left-wing party.
For the ex-media agent, Corbyn is a reviled figure, the leader of a “group of thugs” Foster terms the Sturm Abteilung (Nazi storm troopers).
The struggle within Labour is an ideological one concealed behind a personal battle. Behind the personal arguments against Corbyn for his lack of charisma and inability to lead, there are power struggles from the party’s right, trying to preserve the hegemony it attained during the rule of Tony Blair. Opposing these are thousands of Labour members who joined the party after Corbyn’s 2015 election as leader. These are new members, or ones who’d left and are now returning to the fold. They view Corbyn as the person who can restore the socialist hue the party lost during Blair’s tenure (1994-2007).
Foster’s campaign against Corbyn links together personal frustration and ideological considerations. He left the world of show business in 2013, selling his shares in Rights House and deciding to try his luck in politics. In the 2015 general election, he unsuccessfully ran for parliament in the Cornish constituency of Camborne and Redruth, losing out to the Conservatives.
He is known for his fiery temper and angry outbursts. In a public debate between the electoral candidates last year, a rival candidate drew laughter after she mentioned that Foster lives in a fancy house worth $2 million, in an area considered one of the poorest in Britain. According to some reports, Foster approached her after the debate and said, “‘You c***! If you pick on me again, I will destroy you.” Foster denies the allegation.
The first public confrontation between Foster and Corbyn occurred last September (shortly after Corbyn was elected leader), when Corbyn appeared at an event held by the Labour Friends of Israel parliamentary group during the annual party conference. Corbyn talked about the need for dialogue in the Middle East in order to reach a just solution of two states for two peoples. At the end of his eight-minute speech, Foster heckled him, urging him to “say the word Israel, say the word Israel.”
The second confrontation came after last month’s failed parliamentary attempt to depose Corbyn. Labour MPs who tried and failed to bring about Corbyn’s resignation after a resounding vote of no confidence then tried to prevent him from running for the leadership, with the argument that, like every other contender, he should present a minimal number of MPs who support him. They assumed Corbyn would be unable to garner the required number of nominations. However, the party’s National Executive Committee ruled, in a majority vote, that Corbyn does not have to gather nominations in order to run again.
Foster didn’t like that decision. He appealed to the courts in an attempt to overturn the ruling, but lost both prestige and a lot of money.
Venting his frustration
Michael Foster is a person who doesn’t like losing. He vented his frustration in an article in the Daily Mail two weeks ago, headlined “Why I despise Jeremy Corbyn and his Nazi stormtroopers.”
In that article, he heaped venom on the “Corbyn Circus,” called his supporters “Corbynistas” and alluded to the fact that they’re more like followers of a religious cult than members of a legitimate political party. He also criticized the courts for giving an advantage to Corbyn and his cronies.
In the atmosphere now prevailing in Britain, in which any anti-Semitic expression or use of Nazi analogies causes a storm, Foster’s article passed relatively calmly. Marie van der Zyl, vice president of The Board of Deputies of British Jews, half-heartedly condemned the use of a Nazi analogy because of its potential to incite, while simultaneously expressing her concern at the language and behaviour of some Labour Party members.
Jewish newspapers reported briefly on the incident, while online newspaper the Jewish News provided Foster with a further platform, in which he stated he had “no regrets, none” about his controversial choice of words. Many British dailies, which in recent months have been dealing extensively with anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, made no mention of the incident.
David Rosenberg, a veteran left-winger and member of the Jewish Socialists’ Group in Britain, returned to the Labour Party after an absence of 30 years following Corbyn’s election. He views the Foster incident as a classic example of the hypocrisy of the British media with regard to anything connected to Corbyn.
In a recent blog, Rosenberg cited the irony of Foster choosing the Daily Mail as a platform for his attack on Corbyn: That newspaper’s then-owner, Lord Rothermere I, was a supporter of Hitler in the 1930s — he even sent him a congratulatory telegram when the Nazis took over the Sudetenland. Six months after the Nazis came to power in 1933, Rothermere published an article praising them for managing to root out “‘alien elements’ in the German government,” including members of the Jewish faith and members of international organizations who had succeeded by manipulating their way into key positions in Germany. Hitler managed to rid Germany of such exploitation, Rothermere wrote.
Rosenberg also mentioned that the Rothermere family still owns the tabloid newspaper, which “as we know (and Michael Foster knows) … spends most of the year stirring up hatred against migrants and refugees, and whipping up Islamophobia.”
Yakir Zur is an Israeli journalist and photographer living in London.
Yakir Zur Aug 26, 2016