As a passionate anti-racist for all of my adult life, as you can tell from my books; an admirer of Jewish culture; and with a huge sympathy for the Jewish people’s sufferings, alongside others’, throughout history, I still cannot find it in myself to forget or forgive the conduct of certain British Jewish agencies and spokespeople in libelling Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as ‘anti-semitic’ during the last British General Election. Apparently they’ve now started doing it to Bernie Sanders – himself a Jew, of course – during the American Democratic Primaries. Can it be a coincidence that both Corbyn and Sanders are self-proclaimed ‘socialists’? I’m reluctant to infer that it’s money that is the prime consideration here, because that might pander to a genuine anti-semitic trope that I’m reluctant to be associated with.
Besides, my understanding of Judaeo-Christian social morality – whose tradition I was brought up in – suggests that Corbyn’s and Sanders’s political principles are far more in alignment with that, than with the selfish late-capitalist anti-ethic that fuels both Trump and Johnson. Which is probably the reason for other Jews’ resistance to the British Board of Deputies’ propaganda, and support for Corbyn; including that of Professor Geoffrey Alderman, the foremost historian of the Jewish community in Britain, and (I believe) one of Corbyn’s constituents. For a principled anti-racist to be accused of racism must hurt almost as much as accusing an innocent and loving father of paedophilia. It will take me a long time, on behalf of Corbyn and my Labour Party, to get over it, and to regard the Jewish community – though not, of course, my Jewish friends – as I once did. That is so sad; and must – if it’s a general feeling – do the cause of combatting genuine anti-semitism much harm. I don’t imagine for a moment that it was this ‘Jewish’ propaganda that lost Labour the election, though some Jews are boasting of this; but any influence it may have had must undermine Labour members’ previously close alliance with Judaism.
One result of this propaganda was to widen the definition of ‘anti-semitism’ to include opinions and attitudes that really should not have been part of it. The most notorious examples are support for Palestinian statehood, and opposition to Israeli colonialism (and its attendant atrocities) in the Palestinian territories. These are supposedly supported by an ‘international’ definition of anti-semitism which was never designed as a definition, and has been disavowed as such by its author, but which the Labour Party has been bullied – there’s no other word for it – into officially adopting. That has led to a number of Labour members being expelled for acting or speaking in ways that are supposed to contravene that definition, unjustly and – writing as an academic – irrationally. This has added to my personal pain.
One Labour member has confronted this by offering herself for expulsion, on the grounds that she, too, has criticised the government of Israel. Here is her letter, reprinted by the Jewish Voice for Labour, which I’ve recently become a (non-Jewish) member of. It has also been widely disseminated in Labour circles.
I’m thinking of following Natalie’s example. After all, I’ve criticised Israel too, in this small and insignificant blog.