9 April 2018

The anti-Semitism problem Corbyn created

By James Kirchick

As a man who has spent the better part of four decades consorting with or expressing sympathy for practically every enemy of liberal democracy – from the IRA to Hamas and Hezbollah, from North Korea to the Soviet Union, Bashar Al-Assad to Vladimir Putin – it’s only natural that Jeremy Corbyn would attract enemies of the Jews. For people who believe that the righteousness of a cause is directly proportional to its hostility towards the United States, Jews – like bourgeois Western democracy – are considered impediments to socialist revolution.

The shameful anti-Semitism plaguing Labour is a direct result of Jeremy Corbyn being its leader. Many, if not most, of the anti-Semitic incidents are attributable to the flood of new members (many also belonging to extreme Left-wing groups) who joined the party in 2015 expressly to support his underdog leadership bid. Two and a half years later, up and down the country, Labour’s ranks have been filled with unabashed anti-Semites, some of them office-holders.

Since the hard-Left backbencher took the reins of the opposition, 300 individuals have been referred to the party’s internal disciplinary committee for voicing grotesque, at times medieval expressions of Jew-hatred. The following year, a cross-party Parliamentary committee found that: “the failure of the Labour Party consistently and effectively to deal with anti-Semitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic.”

A tipping point appeared to have been reached last month when Corbyn’s active participation in several anti-Semitic Facebook groups was exposed. In one post from 2012, Corbyn defended an East London mural depicting stereotypically hook-nosed Jews playing Monopoly upon the backs of enslaved humanity. Rather than express revulsion at this image, which might have been lifted from the pages of Der Stürmer, the future leader of the British Labour party compared the artist to Diego Rivera, whose last name he misspelled “Viera”. (Whenever vacillating upon the question of whether Corbyn is sinister or stupid, I recall Martin Amis’s observation that the jam-making leader of the opposition is “under-educated”, “slow-minded” and a “fluky beneficiary of a drastic elevation”.)

Exasperated, Britain’s leading Jewish organisations took the unprecedented step of sending an open letter to Corbyn stating that “again and again” he had sided with “anti-Semites rather than Jews.” Under the banner “Enough is Enough”, they held a rally against anti-Semitism outside Parliament. In what many took to be a genuine act of contrition, Corbyn admitted that pervasive anti-Semitism “has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples,” that “there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism in the labour movement,” and that “zero tolerance for anti-Semites means what it says, and the Party will proceed in that spirit.”

Finally, it seemed, the Labour leadership got the message about tackling anti-Semitism in its ranks. But as events over the past week demonstrate, any hope that a Labour party with Corbyn at the helm will root out this evil is fantasy.

To gauge where the party stands, look not to the 1,000 or so people (mostly Jews) who gathered in Westminster last week, but rather the open letter alleging a Jewish conspiracy which earned the support of more than twice that number. Posted to the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn” Facebook group, the missive characterised mounting concerns over the anti-Semitic atmosphere within Labour as “a full onslaught of a very powerful special interest group mobilising its immense strength against” the party leader.

Corbynites have threatened Labour MPs with deselection merely for having attended the rally. When it emerged that a longtime Corbyn ally on the party’s internal disputes panel, Christine Shawcroft, had defended a Holocaust-denying candidate for local office, she uttered what has become the standard retort of Corbyn supporters to the charge that Labour has an anti-Semitism problem: “This whole row is being stirred up to attack Jeremy.”

Most of Shawcroft’s fellow party members agree that it’s not anti-Semitism which is the problem, but false accusations of it. Neither the ample and well-documented catalogue of anti-Semitic incidents, nor the testimony of their Jewish comrades, has been sufficient to dissuade nearly eight out of ten Labour members from the belief that “accusations of anti-Semitism are being exaggerated to damage Jeremy Corbyn and stifle legitimate criticism of Israel,” according to a poll released recently. Last week, a group of 40 academics published an open letter in The Guardian alleging that “the debate on antisemitism has been framed in such a way as to mystify the real sources of anti-Jewish bigotry and instead to weaponize it against a single political figure just ahead of important elections.”

As for Corbyn, the leader nullified whatever effort he made to alleviate Jewish unease when, in a move equal parts tone-deaf and passive aggressive, he attended a Passover Seder hosted by a fringe, anti-Zionist Jewish group which exists to serve as a token validator for those who would dismiss legitimate claims of anti-Semitism as political smears.

“Jewdas” peddles the sort of toxic rhetoric (“Israel is itself a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of”) that has made Labour a “safe space for anti-Semites”, and Corbyn’s decision to appear with them just days after the country’s leading Jewish institutional bodies called him out for siding with anti-Semites was at best, oblivious, at worst, deliberately meant to intimidate an already beleaguered community. Apprehensive at what other filthy associations pesky journalists might drum up, Corbyn also deleted his Facebook account.

The only conclusion to draw from all this is that the vast majority of Labour backers, taking a cue from their leader, are not bothered by blatant anti-Semitism. Like supporters of the American President who tolerate his bigotry and misogyny in exchange for tax cuts and conservative judicial appointments, those Corbyn devotees who don’t already thrill to his antagonising Jews certainly don’t consider it disqualifying. Worse: they believe Jews are cynically inventing claims of discrimination to further their devious ends.

Usually, it’s Right-wingers who accuse minority groups of exaggerating or even fabricating claims of bigotry. People claiming to be “progressive” do not typically tell blacks, gays and women that their experiences of victimisation are self-serving hallucinations designed to further a malevolent political agenda. But now this notion, itself a form of conspiratorial anti-Semitism, prevails within Labour. What Corbyn has tried to dismiss as mere “pockets” of anti-Semitism characterise the party itself. And entrusting him to root it out is about as practical as his own proposal to send Russia a sample of the chemical nerve agent it allegedly deployed against a defector on British soil so that it can “say categorically one way or the other” whether it was responsible.

Corbyn’s resilience indicates the extent to which anti-Semitism has become normalised on the British Left. Its majority of feckless “moderate” MPs notwithstanding, Labour has become what the 2016 parliamentary report warned it would: institutionally anti-Semitic. Indeed, given its size and sway as the second largest political party in one of the world’s leading democracies, it is no exaggeration to say that Labour today is the most influential anti-Semitic institution in the Western world. David Irving, who is certainly more virulent in his Jew-hatred, lives in disgraced obscurity; the BNP just lost its last councillor; Hizb ut-Tahrir is closely monitored by the security services.

That Labour has reached such a nadir is a remarkable thing to behold, given how, until the Corbynistas took control, it was considered a welcome, if not the natural, political home for Jewish Britons.

But as long as Labour is led by a man who validates the conviction that he and his supporters are victims of a Jewish conspiracy, its members will feel no compunction doing things like telling a local Jewish politician he is “trying to take down JC like the Jews took down Jesus.” Such comments are vile in and of themselves, but after the events of the past two weeks, they will gain political valence. For the narrative is already taking shape that if Labour loses future elections, you-know-who will be to blame.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, no less a party grandee than former deputy prime minister John Prescott pitted “malnourished children with grey skin filling their pockets with food from the school canteen” and “a woman dying of a heart attack after waiting 35 hours in a hospital corridor” against “Labour rebels” who “hold back the change the country needs”. The subtext was clear: pushy Jews and their questionable agendas are the one thing standing between this “Dickensian” nightmare and socialist utopia.

Jeremy Corbyn’s continued leadership of the Labour party is endangering the future of Jewish life in Britain. The only thing more appalling is that so few Britons care.

James Kirchick is the author of 'The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age' (Yale University Press).