Corbyn and antisemitism in the Labour Party

Corbyn and antisemitism in the Labour Party

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A number of years ago I read a great book on the rise of antisemitism on the left called What’s Left by Nick Cohen. He wrote masterfully about how the far left had jumped into bed with Islamists, culminating in the Iraq War protests. These protests saw far left groups like the SWP find common cause with Islamists in opposition to US and British foreign policy and Israel. This led to ugly scenes where parts of the left now take part in anti-Israel rallies where Hezbollah flags are proudly waved and extreme anti-Zionist messages are the order of the day, often crossing the line into antisemitism.

This toxic alliance entered mainstream Labour Party politics when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party. For years, Corbyn had counted as his ‘friends’ groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Given this, it is no wonder that a poll taken around the time of his election found that 67% of British Jews were concerned about him taking control of the Labour Party. One should never forget that he invited the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Raed Saleh to speak in Parliament, who does a nice line in blood libels, which you can read about here.

Since Jeremy Corbyn has become leader, antisemitism has become much more visible in the Labour Party.  There was the case of a Labour City council member being suspended for tweeting that “Adolf Hitler = Greatest man in history,” and the Chairman of Oxford University Labour’s Club, Alex Chalmers resigning because he believed members had “some kind of problem with Jews” and sympathised with terrorist groups like Hamas. Although Jeremy Corbyn is not himself to blame directly for this, many of those who have been involved in this controversy are his closest supporters represented in the Corbyn supporting faction of the Labour Party, Momentum.

Into this perfect storm came the MP for Bradford West Naz Shah’s controversy, where thanks to the blog Guido Fawkes we became aware of y Shah reposting Facebook memes which compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, to the USA before the Civil Rights Act and to Nazi Germany. She also reposted a meme calling for Israel’s population to be transported to the USA. You can read all about this here.  Corbyn did suspend her, but that wasn’t the end of the story as into this perfect antisemitic storm came Ken Livingstone, defending Shah’s remarks and saying Hitler supported Zionism. He’s been going on and on about it since, seemingly having Hitler Tourette’s.

It is important to note that in contrast to Ken Livingstone who has shown no signs of remorse, Shah has gone out of her way to apologise for the grave offence to the Jewish community she caused and has spent the last few months attempting to reach out to the Jewish community across the UK and the small Jewish community in Bradford. This apology has been accepted by both the local community and the national Jewish leadership. It shows how antisemitism could be dealt with effectively and I was hoping the Chakrabarti report would do the same.

Sadly, although there were good parts of the Chakrabarti report, it was largely a disappointment. It failed to recognise the underlying point of the spread of antisemitism in the Labour party, which is that it flows from left-wing demonisation of Israel, where a loud minority of Labour Party members have often expressed antisemitic views, attempting to hide it behind the cloak of anti-Zionism. The report also laughably suggests that the growing problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party is not part of a growing demonisation of Israel based on a far left coalition with Islamists, but a series of unhappy incidents. Given that, it is unsurprising that the report does not provide a clear path to taking action against Labour Party members who demonise Israel in antitsemitic ways.

Of course, it would be wrong to ignore the good parts of the report. The fact that the report calls for the banning of the word ‘Zio’ which has spread like wildfire in some Labour student societies is a positive. However, one good part of the report cannot make up for the fact that in general the report does not get to grips with an incredibly serious problem.

Nonetheless, the disappointment I felt in the report paled into insignificance when it came to the anger I felt following Corbyn’s response to the report.

At the launch of the report, Corbyn said the following:

“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu Government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic States or organisations.”

At the very event where the report on antisemitism in the Labour Party was launched – a report which also looked at and condemned inappropriate comparisons with Israel, Corbyn made one of his own. The analogy where Corbyn seemingly compared Israel to groups like ISIS, meant that rather than giving the issue of rising antisemitism the importance it deserved, Corbyn used it as a stick to beat Israel. In doing so, he caused deep hurt to many Jews across the UK and gave succour to those who use Israel as a way of expressing their antisemitic views.

Corbyn’s words fit into a pattern of the far left making grotesque comparisons of Israel, which are either clearly antisemitic or emboldening antisemites.  To ensure that he is able to maintain his anti-Israel credentials, Corbyn is unwilling to recognise how antisemitism in the Labour Party, through demonising of Israel, is a growing and pernicious problem. He would rather keep his coalition of supporters together and encourage their antisemitic views. Therefore, Corbyn is part of Labour’s antisemitism problem and not the solution.

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