In various social media feeds these last few days I have seen discussion over whether Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party is or is not anti-Semitic and more pertinently whether he and the party he leads has done enough to curb anti-Semitism in its midst. In its simplest term, anti-Semitism might be defined as: having or showing a strong dislike of Jewish people, or treating them in a cruel and unfair way, and many examples can be cited of this happening. The fact the gafaffel has broken now, makes me wonder if this is as much to do with a plot by his detractors to undermine Corbyn, a ploy by the Zionist lobby or opponents to gain political capital.
I don’t propose here to go over the various reports or even analyse the various arguments concerning to what extent anti-Semitism exists in the Labour Party and if so what could / should be done about it, but rather to focus on the bigger picture and the approach I would like to see. For one perspective, the campaigning group Hope not Hate have unsurprisingly written an article titled: “This weekend, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn became embroiled in yet another storm about antisemitism – and this one of his very own making”. I neither endorse nor refute the arguments made but do suggest these are worth pondering and responding to. I should add that for most Labour folk that I know, anti-Semitism is something they find abhorrent.
Besides having the “naive” view that the Jews are still God’s chosen people, my particular interest is a historical one and reflecting on the fact for centuries Jewish folk have been treated abysmally because they were Jewish the world over including the UK. My late mother growing up in the East End of London prior to the outbreak of World War 2 used to cite horrendous examples of anti-Semitism in her growing up and I also saw examples of such looking back on my past. I would like to think such attitudes no longer exist given societal pre-occupation with equality and diversity but I fear that may not be the case. The current situation in Israel where the general sway of opinion is anti-Israel, based in part or even to a large extent on its Zionist ideology and the perception it has dealt and is dealing with Palestinian people living in the land, unfairly, is likely a factor behind anti-Semitic attitudes but as I often point out, being anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist is NOT the same thing.
There is no room for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (or any other political party or in any public life come to that) and I wish Jeremy Corbyn well in trying to deal with the issues that have arisen. As often is the case, dealing with such matters require a measured and proportionate response, yet a recognition that any form of unfair discrimination is unacceptable yet not falling into the trap of embracing identity political ideas. I would like to think the Labour Party can be a home for Jewish folk just as much as conservative with a small ‘c’ Christian types like me who do want to “build a country for the many, not the few” including ensuring Jewish folk are treated fairly and in the way they deserve.
Update 07/05/18: Much as Labourites might hope it will go away, accusations of antisemitism in the party remain. Even at the recent local elections, this was a factor, as one article, titled: “Barnet swings to Tories as Jewish voters send message to Labour” elaborates. It is also something that bugs some of my local activist friends, one of which recently shared the above meme. I should say here that I know a number of local Labour activists and I have yet to meet one who I would regard as antisemitic or even racist, something I am less certain saying when it comes to Conservatives. This brings me to a recent article by Melanie Phillips titled “Corbyn isn’t the cause of Labour’s antisemitism – he’s its product“. In the article she makes the point: “The Left embraced antisemitism when it embraced Palestinianism. And that’s without factoring in the Muslim voting bloc which is becoming ever more significant for British politics and for the Labour Party in particular, and which is infused with hatred of Israel and the Jewish people. The antisemitism in Labour’s ranks is an existential crisis not just for the party but for the Left as a whole. It is a delusion to imagine that purging the most demented antisemites will make the Labour Party safe again for Britain’s Jewish community. It’s not just Jeremy Corbyn who poses such a threat. It’s the party itself and the left wing culture it embodies”. While I usually agree with Ms Phillips and believe in Israel’s right to the land it currently occupies, I do not agree with her conclusions or that the Palestinians do not have legitimate grievances. I don’t think the Labour Party are out of the woods yet when it comes to being able to refute accusations of antisemitism in its midst. Not that Labourites will listen to me here but it really does need to focus on getting across its message that it is a party for Jew and Gentile, Christian and Muslim, black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor etc. and each afforded equal respect, and not get sidetracked in ideological debate on the rights and wrongs of Israel / Palestine or any other question that really has little to do with the Labour I knew as a boy, that fought for the underdog and treating people fairly. I should also reiterate my view that hatred against Jewish people (my understanding of anti-Semitism) is wrong but that should not rule out one being able to criticize Israel as one might any other country.