It really is difficult to understand how – in what historically has probably been the second safest home in the world for Jews, and where anti-semitism, although occasionally rearing its ugly head, has been far less common and extreme than in most other European countries – the charge of anti-semitism has recently been levelled against the Labour Party, and its leader in particular, whose stand against racism of any sort is one of their defining features.
Last week the three leading British Jewish newspapers, deploying identical headlines, described Jeremy Corbyn as an ‘existential threat’ against Jews in Britain; which, if it means anything, means that he presents a danger to their ‘existence’ – their life – in the country. As the Jewish journalist Robert Cohen wrote in the piece I quoted in my last blog: ‘You’re probably thinking that Her Majesty’s Government must have just introduced the equivalent of Hitler’s Nuremberg race Laws of 1935. Perhaps it’s worse. Perhaps the round-ups have already begun.’ – The evidence for this is of course non-existent. The whole thing is a foul slur on a good man and a generally well-meaning party. Which is why Corbyn apparently feels so hurt, and many of us British anti-racists are genuinely puzzled. Could it possibly be because we are simply unaware of – insensitive to – the implied anti-semitism in Corbyn’s words and actions?
If so, the words and actions objected to are obviously those directed against the Israeli government and its treatment of its Arab minority and neighbours, which in some cases might derive from an underlying racist anti-semitism, but don’t need to, and almost certainly don’t in Corbyn’s case. The recent Israeli government has surely done enough to deserve the strictures heaped upon it without anti-semitism entering into it. In a rational world, these actions and events – like similar actions and events perpetrated by other governments, including our own – should be able to be debated in a reasonable way, without fear of being tarred with the vilest epithet in the liberal’s vocabulary. The injustice – even crime – that the very foundation of the Israeli state, without the permission of those who occupied the land before it, involves; Israel’s blatant imperialism – a phenomenon generally vilified in modern history – in the ‘occupied territories’; Israel’s obvious racism, tightened recently by Netanyahu’s new Nationality law; and of course its recent over-reactions to mainly peaceful Palestinian demonstrations against it: all should be proper topics of cool, rational debate, without those raising them being accused of racism themselves. None of these charges should be thought to endanger the ‘existence’ of Jews in Britain, or even of the State of Israel. Past crimes can be forgiven, and the new world they have created accepted, as has happened elsewhere; so long as the crimes are acknowledged, and not repeated. In my view that should increase Israel’s security. It’s on that basis that I consider myself to be more of a ‘friend’ of Israel – and certainly of the Jewish people, or those I have known – than those who purport to be their friends on the Right.
Faced with these extraordinary attacks on Corbyn and Labour, and if we assume that they are misdirected, there are only two conclusions that can be be drawn. One is that their critics genuinely do believe that criticism of the present government of Israel and support for a Palestinian state are anti-semitic in themselves: which implies an extension of the meaning of the term that very few rational people would accept. The second is, as many commentators have suggested, that it’s all contrived; a plot to block a Corbyn government that they fear on other grounds – his socialism, for example, or his criticisms of the present Right-wing government of Israel; and which they think could be stymied by smearing him with this hated, Hitlerian slur. In this they seem to be working hand in glove with the Conservatives (traditionally and currently the more anti-semitic of the two main parties) and the right-wing press; who probably don’t believe Corbyn is anti-semitic either, but are unprincipled enough to use any weapon that comes to hand.
For me that’s almost the most distressing aspect of the affair. If it is a ‘conspiracy’, then it’s one perpetrated by Jews; or by what is now widely known as the ‘Israeli Lobby’. That takes us into a dark place. Jews have been a favourite targets of ‘conspiracy theorists’ for (literally) hundreds of years. Alleged Jewish plots – many of them international in scope – have lain behind, or at least been used to justify, some of the most horrific crimes in history, including of course the Nazi Holocaust. ‘Jewish conspiracy’ is a dangerous trope.
It’s for this reason that I, for one, hope that the current Jewish-led anti-Labour campaign isn’t a conspiracy. I’d prefer to believe that those who are responsible for it are simply mistaken, led by what they take to be their Jewish loyalties to irrational and deeply dangerous conclusions. Many Jews – like those referenced in previous posts here – are distancing themselves from it. That can only aid the genuinely Jewish cause.