Have You Stopped Beating the Jews?

If you intend to vote Conservative in the next General Election because of Corbyn’s critical attitude towards the present government of Israel, and if that is the most important issue in the world for you, then go ahead. It’s a reasonable line to take. But please don’t argue that it’s on account of the Labour Party’s endemic ‘anti-semitism’, or even its failure to acknowledge and expel the pockets of anti-semitism that may – probably do – exist within the party. As non-racist critics of Israel, including very many Jewish ones, have been screaming at you for years, the two positions are not identical, and to elide them is irresponsible, to say the least. 

I’ve written before here about Labour and the Jews. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2016/04/28/anti-semitism-and-labour/; https://bernardjporter.com/2016/05/04/antisemitism-again/; https://bernardjporter.com/2017/12/19/more-anti-semitism/; and most recently, https://bernardjporter.com/2018/03/28/israel-jezza-and-imperialism/.) I don’t want to repeat myself; but the salient facts are these. (1) Labour has been the most pro-Jewish party in Britain from its earliest days, anti-semitism usually being associated with the Right. (2) Historically Britain was the least anti-semitic nation in Europe during the periods when most others were falling under its evil sway: we even had a Jewish-origin prime minister, for pity’s sake. And (3), hardly any of the ‘evidence’ being dredged up now for Labour anti-semitism bears much scrutiny, including Ken Livingstone’s notorious statement that Hitler was once in favour of a national home for the Jews, which happens to be historically true. (It was, of course, in order to get rid of them without needing to gas them.) Livingstone’s statement was intended to make the point that you could be anti-semitic without being an enemy of Israel, and vice-versa. It was certainly insensitive, but only to particularly sensitive people, which, of course, on this issue many Jews are. It will have been the combination of ‘Hitler’ and ‘Israel’ in the same sentence that did it.

One can understand this sensitivity, in view of the Jews’ appalling suffering throughout history, and particularly in the wake – and we are still in its wake – of the Nazi Holocaust. But it’s no proof of Labour’s ‘anti-semitism’, or even of Ken Livingstone’s. The same applies to most other isolated examples presented of anti-Jewish opinion within the party, which either represent only a tiny minority (some are anonymous tweets), or are extrapolated from views expressed either about Israel, or about finance-capitalism: with which Jews of course are particularly and historically associated. Lastly, it is simply wrong to claim that the Labour leadership has been reluctant to deal with the cases of genuine anti-semitism it has found in its ranks. Since the Chakrabarti Report (2016) it has taken strict measures – within the constraints of natural justice – to eliminate them. Corbyn personally has made no secret of his distaste for all kinds of racism, which most people accept as genuine. Unfortunately when he joined in a Jewish celebration of Passover a month ago which ought to have emphasised this, it turned out, according to his critics, to be the ‘wrong sorts’ of Jews.

The major point I want to make here, however, concerns the harm that this anti-antisemitic movement could do to Labour’s cause in the next Election. Not only Jews are likely to be turned off by it, but also other liberal voters who have been hearing the clamour and are – I would say – misled by it. Anti-semitism, after all, is the vilest charge that could be directed at anyone in this day and age, with the stench of the Holocaust inevitably attaching to it; more serious – and hence much less often expressed – than other kinds of racism. (Quite incidentally, didn’t I read somewhere of a rabbi in Israel referring to black Americans as ‘monkeys? https://www.timesofisrael.com/chief-rabbi-compares-african-americans-to-monkeys/. You find these sorts of prejudices everywhere. I wouldn’t dream of using them to stigmatise all Israeli Jews.) If a significant number of Jews and anti-racist Gentiles refuse to support Labour on these false grounds it will be a national tragedy, in my view; all my hopes for my country of origin resting as they do on a revival of the moderate socialism of my youth.

It could also blow back damagingly on the Jewish community in Britain, if its shrill cries are blamed for this upshot. One distinguishing characteristic of Britain throughout most of her history has been the low profile the Jews have managed to keep while they’ve been our compatriots. Even when their capitalists have sinned egregiously – like Sir Philip Green a couple of years ago (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/04/26/bhs-and-a-victorian-villain/) – virtually nothing is made of their Jewishness, if people are even aware of it. This present campaign, exploited of course by the (non-Jewish) billionaire-owned Right-wing press, for whom it is a convenient stick with which to beat a dangerously Left-wing Labour Party, is putting British Judaism in the spotlight again. That could be uncomfortable for them in the longer term, and highly regrettable for us non-Jewish liberals; and all because of what I still maintain is a terrible misunderstanding, at best.


I deliberated long with myself before writing and posting this. These are dangerous waters to dip one’s toe into. Feelings are running too high. I may well be accused of subconscious anti-semitism myself, or of ‘denial’ – rather like holocaust deniers – of the ‘true scale of the problem’. I’ll be told that as a non-Jew I can’t appreciate the discrimination and hostility the Jews face, apparently uniquely. It’s hard for Jews, obviously; but it’s also difficult for those of us on the outside who think as I do: that it isn’t much of a general problem really. It’s rather like the old question: ’have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or no?’ In much the same way Corbyn is repeatedly asked, ‘has the Labour Party stopped discriminating against the Jews?’ The politic answer must be yes; but it’s a misleading one.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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1 Response to Have You Stopped Beating the Jews?

  1. Pingback: Labour and the Jews Again. | Porter’s Pensées

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