The prejudice of a few individuals, or a structural problem?by Prospect Team / February 19, 2016 / Leave a comment
This week the Labour Party’s national student organisation launched an inquiry into alleged anti-Semitism at Oxford University. The move came after co-chairman of Oxford University Labour Club Alexander Chalmers (featured on our panel below), resigned, claiming that many members of the OULC have “a problem with Jews.” In a Facebook post, he condemned the decision of the OULC to endorse Israel Apartheid Week, which focuses on Israel’s “apartheid policies” regarding the Palestinian people.
Since this, allegations of anti-Semitism at the OULC have poured in, and the former Labour leader Ed Miliband has said that he will postpone his planned visit to its John Smith Memorial Dinner until the inquiry has been carried out. Several Labour MPs have called for the party to sever all ties with the OULC, while many former and current chairs have signed a letter condemning its decision to endorse Israeli Apartheid Week.
Does Labour have a problem with Jewish people? Our panellists offer their views.
Turning a blind eye
Alexander Chalmers, former co-chairman of Oxford University Labour Party
I do not believe that the majority of Labour Party members and supporters are anti-Semitic. Instead, there is a tendency among some in the party to turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism. In discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, people too often frame their arguments in unacceptable language, whether it be use of the old trope that sinister Jewish influence controls government policy, or claims that, after former Liberal Democrat MP David Ward, that Jewish people should have learnt some kind of lesson from the Holocaust. My experience in Oxford is that too many party members either ignore this, or feel uncomfortable about it but do not wish to speak out. There is a perception that those who use anti-Semitic rhetoric are fellow “travellers” whose hearts are in the right place, but who express themselves poorly. I hope the wider party seizes the opportunity to address this important and much-neglected issue.
Its record says otherwise
James Schneider, activist with Momentum, a campaign group affiliated with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (read more by Schneider here)
No, Labour does not have a Jewish problem. The party has a long record of supporting Judaism and Jewish people, as well as other religious, cultural, and ethnic minorities. Sadly, anti-Semitism remains a lurking problem in our society, sometimes explicit and violent, but often manifest in implicit cultural assumptions. For example, Ed Miliband was subjected to coded anti-Semitic abuse as Labour leader when derided as a “north London intellectual” who couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich. This anti-Semitism should be condemned.
The current fracturing of support for the political and economic elite may lead to a rise in far-right activities and paranoid conspiracy theories. Muslims, as Britain’s most visible minority, are in danger, and so too are Jews, who have for centuries been the subject of wild conspiracy theories. We all know the results too well. Labour must be vigilant and call out racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism in all forms, especially if it tries to present itself as being part and parcel of the Labour movement. Only a strong Left can provide a progressive, sustainable, anti-systemic alternative to a politics of hate.
A stark reminder
Frank Furedi, author and emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent (read more by Furedi here)
Recent events at Oxford University serve as a reminder to opponents of anti-Semitism that it plays a significant role in British Society. What’s particularly disturbing is that attitudes towards Jews have become increasingly ambivalent in institutions that would traditionally be quick to challenge anti-Semitism. That is why I am not surprised by the controversy surrounding Oxford University Labour Club. On university campuses, sections of the left frequently keep silent and look away when they encounter an anti-Semitic remark. Some leftists find it difficult to distinguish between hostility to Israel and their attitude towards Jews. This sentiment comes across most strikingly when an anti-Jewish remark by a Muslim activist is condoned on the grounds that it is an understandable reaction to the plight of Palestine. Far too many leftists swear that they are not anti-Jewish but nevertheless claim that “these people” have far too much influence over the media and the world of finance. And that’s a problem.
It’s hard to think otherwise
Rosa Doherty, Reporter at the Jewish Chronicle
To say you were unaware of Labour’s deteriorating relationship with the Jewish community since Jeremy Corbyn’s election would be admitting to living under a rock. Oxford University Labour Club co-chair Alexander Chalmers resigned this week, and nearly 24 hours after the story broke the Labour Party, its leader and its Shadow Universities Minister Gordon Marsden had made no official comment about the worrying claims.
It is not the first time the party has acted slowly in response to concerns over anti-Semitism. British Jews were not encouraged by Corbyn’s delayed reaction to his early associations with Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites and his references to the Hizbollah terrorist group as “friends.” It was a failure that one of the key figures behind Corbyn’s election now accepts. Jon Lansman, the driving force behind the increasingly influential hard-left movement Momentum, told the Jewish Chronicle last month that Labour missed an opportunity to ask Jews to help the party answer such concerns.
A party which once had strong Jewish traditions, and was well-supported by British Jews, has become one plagued by Jew-hate accusations, intimidation and bullying. A problem with Jews? It is hard to think otherwise when all the evidence of recent years points to such a disappointing trend.
We deserve more
Dan Fox, Labour party Member, activist and member of the Jewish Labour movement
The Left’s problem with Jews is nothing new. Anti-Semitism drawn from myths about Jewish power was so prevalent in early social democracy that the Germans had a name for it: the socialism of fools.
Today, myths around Israel’s power pervade otherwise legitimate expressions of Palestinian solidarity. Whatever the intent, the effect is hateful. Tropes about Israel and its supporters engender anti-Semitic thought. “Zionists” are accused of using wealth and cunning to control the media and governments in order to exculpate barbarism. No other countries or peoples receive this “analysis.” Only the Jewish state and those who identify with it (i.e. the overwhelming majority of Jews worldwide) are accused by some on the Left—including some members of the Labour Party—of this. Whatever your politics, background or homeland, we all deserve a better approach than that.