The anti-Semitism of the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn is a narrative that refuses to die. Not so long ago we as Jews believed that the real anti-Semites sat on the Tory benches they were the right wing Hooray Henry’s who would mock when Jewish Labour loyalists would rise from the backbenches to defend Israel. Labour was the party of devout Israel supporters such as Harold Wilson, George Brown and Richard Crossman who could not have been more staunch Zionists had they been Jewish themselves.
An alternative less hospitable view of Israel, Zionism and Jews long has fermented on the far left and visibly was to be seen in copies of the Socialist Worker distributed in dank weekends outside supermarkets and other public places in the late 20th Century. To those of us at university in the late 1960s and early 1970s there a toxic version of Israel’s behavior and history, bleeding into anti-Semitism, already could be heard in the well of the some of the debates to be heard in the students union. Never, did we really imagine that such views would gain a hold in the Labour Parliamentary party let alone on the front benches.
That is precisely what has been happening and the very tolerance of anti-Zionist attitudes among members of HM opposition, an officially recognised part of the nation’s democratic set-up, has given succour to grassroots members of the Labour Party. The nastiness of the views also has been influenced by some Islamic extremism. The latest Labour councillor to be suspended, Aysegul Gurbuz is a wearer of the Hijab.
Among her alleged tweets were: ‘Adolf Hitler=greatest man in history;’ ‘Iran are going to have their own nuclear weapon and are going to wipe Israel off the map’ and ‘Ed Miliband is Jewish. He will never be prime minister of Britain.’ She was correct in her third tweet but missing out on Number 10 was nothing to do with his Jewishness and much more to do with Miliband’s misguided policies and perceived geekiness.
The views of Corbyn, his shadow chancellor Jon McDonnell and member of Labour’s national executive Ken Livingstone are not some spontaneous eruption. A painstaking investigation by my Daily Mail colleague Guy Adams, an award winning writer, took him back to the early 1980s when McDonnell and Livingstone edited the Labour Herald a paper on the party’s fringe – yellowing copies of which can be viewed in the British library.
The Labour Herald was graced by cartoons which would have done credit to the distinctive Nazi hate sheet Der Sturmer. A 1982 cartoon shows the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin dressed as a Nazi officer trampling over Arab corpses. A 1985 edition, under the editorship of McDonnell again uses Nazi symbolism showing Palestinians herded into concentration camps.
One of the more disturbing aspects of modern anti-Semitism is the way in which critics of Israel, in the Middle East and the West, think it is somehow smart to use the language of the Shoah, the most horrific event of modern times, to crudely make their point. It makes the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism which people who attack Israel often seek to deny.
It may be impossible for the leader of the Labour Party and his cohorts to know everything which is going on in the grassroots – especially at a time when membership has been surging – and to weed out all of those with unacceptable views. Most of the time, however, the Corbynistas are on the back foot having to react to disclosures made by an increasing alert media. In many ways a free press is doing what Labour itself should be doing.
It is tricky, however, when the leadership is so mealy mouthed in its condemnation of the most ancient hatred. That seems to run in the Corbyn family. His brother Piers Corbyn’s description of claims by Louise Ellman that she has faced anti-Jewish attacks as ‘absurd’ betrays both an ignorance (not befitting of a respected climate scientist) and a prejudice. Piers Corbyn goes on to say: ‘Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting the rights of Palestinians.’
Each part of that tweet needs deconstructing. ‘Zionist’ is effectively being used as a term of abuse, it makes an assumption that all those who passionately believe in Israel do not believe in Palestinian rights – which is poppycock. The reason that Jews in Britain generally support a two-state solution to the Middle East is because they want the aspirations of Palestinians across the region to be met.
In a New York speech former Archbishop of Canterbury John Carey warned that hatred of Jews exists ‘in dark corners of Britain, including Labour ranks and at top universities.’ If only it were just confined to the dark corners. The tone comes from the very top. Until the head is cut of the snake it will continue to spew venom.