Labour And Antisemitism
Antisemitism is being used by the right wing within the Parliamentary Labour Party to undermine Corbyn, while the Tories shelter behind the antisemitism allegations in order to cover up their Brexit divisions and their abysmal social policies which are having such a devastating effect on hundreds of thousands of families. In their eagerness to attack Corbyn at every opportunity, the Labour oppositionists and the Tories make ideal bedfellows.
The International Definition of Antisemitism, (IDA), agreed at a conference of the Berlin-based International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in May 2016 states:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.”
The generally held view that Labour under Corbyn’s leadership is a hot bed of antisemitism is a hard pill to swallow. Corbyn himself has been attacked by the right-wing press and accused of being an antisemite, when even his severest critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) admit there is not an antisemitic bone in his body. The press’s ‘evidence’ is that he has met with Hamas and expressed support for the Palestinians. Ergo, he is an antisemite. It seems it is not possible to be opposed to Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people without being labelled an antisemite. Although the IDA appears to contradict this. The IDA itself is a cumbersome, catch-all definition which ought to be narrowed down to a simple message: antisemitism is a hatred of Jews simply because of their racial origin and religious practices.
Corbyn’s PLP critics, while not accusing him directly of antisemitism, have pointed at what they see as his lack of leadership on the issue. This manifests itself in the slow progress made in dealing with the antisemitism they believe is endemic in the party. They argue that failure so far to carry out the recommendations in the Chakrabarti report, (an inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party), published in June 2016, is evidence of this. The report, which made twenty recommendations, concluded that Labour is not overrun by antisemitism or other forms of racism, but there is an “occasionally toxic atmosphere.” This is now being given top priority under the supervision of the newly appointed General Secretary.
The hate mail received by some Labour MPs is assumed to have originated from party members, specifically Corbyn supporters among Momentum. It is of course conceivable that most of those responsible are right-wing opponents of Corbyn and/or Labour, using social media, twitter in particular where one’s identity can be concealed, to air their despicable views. Some may claim to be party members, examples of the “occasionally toxic atmosphere” within the party referred to in the Chakrabarti report. Those on the receiving end of hate mail, such as Labour members Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth should, if possible, check the origin and party affiliation, if any, of their abusers.
The Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, with some Labour backbenchers, have criticised Corbyn for not excluding Ken Livingstone from party membership for remarks made two years ago. Ignoring the fact that Livingstone’s fate does not lie ultimately with the party leader, but with the party’s National Executive Committee.
Livingstone’s crime, in the eyes of his opponents, was to associate Hitler with Zionism. He told LBC, a London local radio station, “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
Livingstone refused to apologise for his remarks and remains suspended from the party. His remarks should have sparked a debate within the party, rather than hysterical criticism. But it seems that the subject is a no-go area for Labour. Not one of his critics in the party has proved he was historically incorrect in what he said. He has simply been silenced and suspended at the behest of the Blairite remnants who fear one of Corbyn’s most powerful supporters.
It’s widely acknowledged that Labour has a proud record of opposing racism and antisemitism. In spite of the allegations there is less antisemitim and racism in the Labour party than there is in the Tory party, UKIP and society at large. Labour’s socialist message of class and social solidarity, rejected by many mainstream Labour members, undermines racism of all kinds.
Before Corbyn became party leader the recipients of antisemitic abuse, allegedly from individual party members, were strangely silent. Even though they knew that some of the antisemitic remarks were made some time ago. Naz Shah, for example, Labour member for Bradford West, committed her offence before she was elected in 2015. Her Facebook page showed an image of the state of Israel superimposed on a map of the USA. At the time no one in the PLP pointed out that the originator of the image was Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish American Professor of Political Science, most of whose family died in the holocaust. Shah later apologised fulsomely to the House of Commons and yet was still held up as an example of Labour’s antisemitism. So, why the outcry now? And why are the accusations aimed specifically at a Corbyn-led Labour party? Is Labour unique in this? There are two possible reasons.
The first suggests that the accusers of antisemitism within Labour are grossly exaggerating the problem as a means of attacking Corbyn. Some Labour members expressed alarm when Corbyn commented that there were merely “pockets of antisemitism” within the party. A comment he was unwise to make as it conceded the argument to his critics. The second possible reason is that it is a diversionary tactic by the Tories. No amount of government spin about our new, tough Prime Minister, and slick media presentation can hide that fact.
Labour’s in-fighting over antisemitism has handed a gift to the Tories. On 17 April the government initiated a debate on the subject, designed to embarrass Labour and ensure maximum negative media coverage for Corbyn. During a highly emotional debate some Labour MPs pointed the finger of guilt at Corbyn, as if he was personally responsible for the antisemitic abuse of the party’s Jewish MPs, while the Tory benches looked on with glee. It appears that it is not only the Tories who used the occasion to drive a stake into the heart of Corbyn’s leadership of Labour.
Antisemitism is abhorrent, but why has there been no outrage from Corbyn’s leading critics about the killing, at the end of March, of thirty Palestinian demonstrators, with 1,700 injured, by the Israeli military at the heavily fenced Gaza border? There was not a word from them during the 17 April debate on antisemitism. Nor has there been a word from them since then.
Corbyn’s opponents have played a despicable role in the antisemitism hysteria just before the May local government elections to be held in London and some other parts of the country. We have no doubt that the voters will give them their answer by voting Labour in spite of the accusations of antisemitism directed at the leadership.