Tony Blair has suggested that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has let the antisemitism genie out of the bottle, describing how a failure to tackle its new guises “brings out the demons” of the far-left.
In a speech at the annual dinner of the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) on Monday night, the former prime minister also claimed today’s Labour leadership was still “in denial” about the problem, despite some positive recent moves.
Blair, who paid tribute to new and innovative ways in which educators were preserving the memory of Holocaust survivors, said he was pleased that Yvette Cooper MP and her husband Ed Balls, the co-chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, were in the audience.
In a barbed remark, he said: “I want you to know… that for those of us who know what the Labour Party should truly be about, there is nothing more abhorrent than the notion that antisemitism is alive in the Labour Party today.”
Blair has defended Corbyn in recent months, saying he does not believe the current Labour leader to be an antisemite, but laid into Corbyn’s perceived reluctance to address antisemitism when it relates to Israel.
“It is not enough to challenge antisemitism in general. You have to challenge it in particular, because it has taken a new form today in the attempt to delegitimise and demonise the state of Israel. What we always learn is that whatever new form antisemitism takes, it drags along behind it the horrible creatures of the past.”
Blair took aim at Corbyn’s past comment about British Jews not understanding British irony, which he said was “as ignorant as it was unpleasant,” and described how he was shocked to see antisemitism alive and well again in the party.
“As that resurgence of antisemitism happens in a new guise, it does come back, and in a way that brings out the demons of the far right and the far left,” he said. “We have to deal with this head on, with unswerving determination, and we have to deal with it as a new form of antisemitism and explain why it’s wrong.”
Alluding to what he called “a very ugly alliance” between parts of the left and Islamism, the three-time prime minister said that antisemitism when it came to Israel was a combination of “ignorance and prejudice” – and that it was the duty of the progressive left to push the cause of Zionism.
Zionism as conceived by Herzl is about a homeland for the Jewish people, but Zionists are not people who don’t want to see help and justice for the Palestinians,” he said. “The Zionist camp – the legal party in Israel – is a party dedicated to the two-state solution. This needs to be explained.”
Blair ended by telling the HET: “you’ve got 30 years behind you, you have 300 years or more in front of you, because we’re never going to forget and we’re never going to give up and in the end we will win.”
Listen to the Jewish Views podcast!