I’ve been criticised – not here, but on Facebook – for asserting that the past, and still current, controversy over ‘anti-semitism’ in the Labour Party risks making the problem, such as it is, worse. In other words, Labour members and supporters might be turned into anti-semites by the campaign being waged against this very evil. One of my Facebook critics raises a comparison with the Black Lives Matter movement: what if I had claimed that BLM was only likely to provoke anti-black racism? And might not this claim in relation to anti-semitism indicate deep-buried anti-semitic feelings on my part?
But there are differences here. Anti-anti-semitism is a cause which, of course, I unreservedly support. But in its current and recent manifestation it stands apart from other anti-racist movements in at least one crucial way. That is in its exploitation and weaponization by political Rightists – not Labour – for their own extraneous ends.
First, let’s get a couple of things straight. I hope all of us can agree with these two propositions. Number one: Jeremy Corbyn is not, and has never to my knowledge been, anti-semitic himself. His Jewish constituents have forcefully attested to this, including Professor Geoffrey Alderman, the leading historian of the Jews in Britain, and my old friend Miriam Margolyes – who I have an idea votes in his constituency. You can find literally scores of similar testimonies from British Jews if you Google for them.
Secondly, there is no way in which the active Labour membership can be characterised as anti-semitic; certainly not from my own experience of fifty-odd years in several Labour Party branches, and from – again – many testimonies on the web. As many of us have conceded, there must be some Labour supporters who are this way inclined, as there are in all walks of life; but far fewer – and this is important – than in parties of the Right. This may be why Labour was so slow to set in motion measures to eradicate anti-semitism in its ranks: most of us simply couldn’t credit that it could be a significant problem in a party (and with a leader) whose stand against racism was one of the pillars of our faith. We were taken aback by what seemed to us be such a monstrous charge. In fact the recent Inquiry into this question, if you look into it, offers scarcely any evidence of institutional or embedded or active anti-semitism in the party’s ranks. Its main criticism is of Labour’s failures to deal with ‘it’ early enough; and of the leadership’s supposed interference with the disciplinary process after it got going seriously in 2018. Ludicrously, some of that criticism is against the leadership for trying to expedite the process, not block it or slow it down. To me, Labour still appears – relatively – squeaky clean.
This is not to say that a great deal of work does not need to be done in the population generally, to make it aware of ways in which Jews might feel they are traduced or discriminated against, whether justly or not, in order to make all of us more sensitive. The Jews after all have had a horrible history (to put it mildly), in the light of which it is understandable that they should be especially vigilant. Vigilance, of course, can easily lead to paranoia; which Jews should beware of, just as much as the rest of us. I don’t believe, however, that the current anti-anti-semitic campaign against the Labour Party is a product of paranoia. I might respect it more if it were.
What it’s a product of is a desire to bring Corbyn down because of two of his political stands, neither of them related to anti-semitism per se. The first is his socialism, which is seen as a threat to the British Establishment, and especially to those – non-Jews! – who own most of our deplorable popular press. The second is his support for the Palestine liberation movement, which some Zionists – not all – regard as a threat to the state of Israel. If he had become British Prime Minister, Corbyn would have been the first to openly support a Palestinian state (alongside the existing state of Israel). Some Israelis, of course, also support this; but not those who are in power just now. They want to expand the boundaries of the Israeli state – the ‘settlement movement’ – instead; turning Arab villages into, effectively, ‘Bantustans’. The means by which they seek to do this are illegal and often violent. (Which doesn’t excuse, though it may help explain, the violence of the Palestinians.) Back home in Israel, but to a much lesser extent in the diaspora, they can also be pretty explicitly racist, against both Arabs and Africans; far more so than we would tolerate in Britain. These should be no friends of the British Labour party; which was – remember – a great friend of Israel in the early days, when it aspired to socialism: the kibbutzin, and all that.
But that’s by the bye. The essential point here is that much of the propaganda against the Labour Party on account of its supposed ‘anti-semitism’ has been stirred up, fomented, exaggerated and often simply invented by people who ‘have it in for’ Labour for other reasons entirely. Otherwise why should they single out the least racist party in the British political system? In fact what is called the ‘Israel lobby’, mainly represented in Britain by the unrepresentative Jewish Board of Deputies, with the help of Mossad – that’s been admitted on tape – together with other reactionary non-Jewish groups in Britain, have deliberately sown the idea of Labour as a distinctively anti-semitic party in order to discredit it. They know how the mere mention of anti-semitism is likely to play among decent people in Britain, well aware as we are of the Nazi Holocaust, which most of us regard as the greatest crime in all history. Being smeared with anti-semitism is almost as bad as being accused of paedophilia. That’s why the Right has seized on it and played it up. Some of them are quite open about this. Apart from the few who may genuinely believe it, it’s as opportunistic as that.
Which bring me – if you’ve been following me so far; the context is important – to my main point. The measures taken by the Right deliberately to implant this idea in the minds of people looks like, or can easily be made to look like, what is called a ‘conspiracy’. Liberal people quite rightly distrust ‘conspiracy theories’, especially after Donald Trump’s widespread deployment of them throughout his presidency to undermine his opponents and critics – ‘fake news’, and the rest. In this case, however, there definitely was a conspiracy behind the 2019 election result, whether or not it was a main factor behind Labour’s defeat; and one which, unfortunately, involved a section of the Jewish community and a foreign Jewish state.
This is why it could, in time, provoke an anti-semitic backlash among Labour voters. Supposed Jewish ‘conspiracies’ have been a staple of historic anti-semitism since the time of Christ – whether it was drinking the blood of newborn babies, controlling world capitalism, those ‘protocols of the Elders of Zion’, or fomenting wars. All of them – I would say – are nonsense. It’s because we don’t believe them that we’re not anti-semitic. But now up springs this new ‘conspiracy’, which is much more believable, and certainly true in some regards; which may (only ‘may’) have influenced history big-time; and which involves Jews. If it doesn’t feed into this anti-semitic trope I’ll be surprised. Which is why I fear that the anti-anti-semitic campaign pursued by the Right and by certain Jews over the past year or so, dishonest in so many regards, may have been counter-productive. It will have done nothing to ingratiate those on the Left of British politics with ‘the Jews’. I’m not affected, because I don’t think of Jews in that way (with the definite article). But then I’m an anti-racist. Like Corbyn.
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Excellent post, Bernard. You might also have mentioned the now generic tendency of the Right – Trump, Johnson et al – to lie and fabricate unashamedly and strategically.
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