by Joe Goldberg, Labour councillor, Seven Sisters
I have never called Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite. The problem is the ambivalence he appears to show to it. Indeed, the even bigger problem is that it is being tolerated, treated as an inconvenience, rather than a core challenge to the values of the wider Labour Party.
This, at least for me, is nothing to do with attitudes to Israel. It is everything to do with attitudes towards the Jewish community in general, attitudes to Jewish members of the party, and whether or not the party is prepared to treat anti-Semitism with the same contempt as homophobia, sexism and racism.
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The issues with Corbyn are now well rehearsed. This is not about a one-off fringe, or someone who is a friend of friend. Jeremy has allowed himself to be associated, supported and shared a platform with people that would get a mere backbench councillor expelled from their group. Put simply it cannot become the new norm for committed anti-racists to share platforms with anti-Semites.
Of course you can associate yourself with Hamas and the Hezbollah without being anti-Semitic, but if this is really about dialogue I do wonder if Jeremy has ever met anyone from Meretz, let alone someone from the extreme right of Israeli politics? Either way I would never describe such people on either extremes as “friends”.
After Hamas and Hezbollah the blurred lines become increasingly defined. Supporting Lib Dem MP Jenny Tonge when she was sacked for condoning terrorism and suicide bombing is just unacceptable.
Then there was the letter of support for Stephen Sizer, who shared anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and which stated he was “under attack” for speaking out against Zionism. Who exactly is conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism there?
Then there are the people Jeremy has shared platforms with. There is Sheikh Raed Salah, the convicted blood libeller who Jeremy described as an “honoured citizen”; or Paul Eisen, a self-confessed Holocaust denier. Most recently he was due to speak with Carlos Latuff, a cartoonist the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign recognise as an anti-Semite. It is of course possible to suspend judgement. It is possible to imagine that on one occasion Jeremy found himself, in the pursuit of justice for Palestine, in the company of one maybe even two unsavoury individuals – but six or seven?
That is why the questions do not sit with Jeremy alone. What, for example, have the whips office done about any of this? And what about ordinary members of his General Committee?
And rather than accepting that these are reasonable questions that need answers, why do colleagues like Diane Abbott simply accuse people of “nasty smears” for questioning Jeremy on events he does not deny happened? And why does Andy Burnham think it’s okay to find a “space for Jeremy in his team” when he has such questions hanging over him?
Nor does this start or end with Jeremy. Why is Len McCluskie’s chief of staff at Unite, Andrew Murray, also due to share a platform with Latuff? Why was it okay for Ken Livingstone to justify his friendship with the homophobic anti-Semite Yusuf al-Qaradawi by saying the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” and that Jews pretty much vote Tory anyway.
I could go on. The problem is no longer “just Ken”, or “just Jeremy.” It’s the Labour Party and the wider movement that is in danger of getting infected with a terrible virus, if it doesn’t act now to stamp it out.
I have been a loyal member of the party for more than 20 years. I have served as a councillor for the past seven, in a ward with a significant Jewish population, many who are suffering extreme poverty – not least because of the benefit cap. I have bitten my lip, presumed ignorance, positive intent, but no more. Something needs to be said and done, by the party and the community.
This has nothing to do with a handful of votes in a handful of constituencies. It is about principles. And while this is a problem in all parties, the party I joined states in its current Clause IV that we are here to pursue a society “where we live together, freely in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance, and respect.” We are in danger of failing to fulfil our own promise, our purpose, and our values.
This is why regardless of the result on 12 September, I know the vast majority of members recognise the time has come for the party to take action on an issue that is only growing.
The next deputy leader must commit to run a commission on this issue and ensure we show no tolerance to hate, no matter from what corner it may appear.