He doesn't agree with what anti-Semites say, but he agrees with who they areby Alan Johnson / April 25, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Does Labour have a Jewish problem?
Labour’s anti-Semitism problem today is much deeper than people think. In September last year, just before Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader, I expressed my deep concern—not that Corbyn indulges in anti-Semitism, but that he has associated with those who have. And that when he is faced with what is called the “new anti-Semitism,” he is lost.
So it has proved. Under Corbyn, a parade of troubling incidents has trooped past. Vicky Kirby, vice-chair of the Woking Labour party and a former parliamentary candidate, was suspended after posting anti-Semitic tweets, such as one saying that Jews had “big noses.” Revolutionary socialist Gerry Downing, who believes there is a “Jewish Question” which needs to be addressed, was finally expelled from Labour in March. Khadim Hussain, a Labour councillor and a former Lord Mayor of Bradford, resigned from the party after denying charges of anti-Semitism; he allegedly shared a Facebook post that said: “Your school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler.”
The UK far-left’s goading of Jews has a long and inglorious history. Over 30 years ago, in March 1985, the student union of Sunderland Polytechnic banned its Jewish society at the urging of the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Revolutionary Party. Activists argued that the society was Zionist and therefore racist. Several student unions followed Sunderland’s example. I was a (non-Jewish) member of Socialist Organiser, an influential group in student politics at the time. We worked with the Union of Jewish Students and other parties and successfully reversed the ban.
Now, there has been a swing to the far-left in student politics again. In February, Alex Chalmers stepped down as co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, claiming that his colleagues “have some kind of problem with Jews.” His resignation followed the club’s vote to endorse “Israel Apartheid Week” at the university; he also alleged that members used the offensive term “Zio” and liked to sing “Rockets over Tel Aviv.”
Malia Bouattia, newly elected president of the National Union of Students, has referred to her alma mater the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost” with “the largest JSoc in the country.” She believes that the government anti-extremist Prevent strategy is the result of “all manner of Zionist and neo-con lobbies.” Her election prompted a group of Jewish students to write an open letter expressing their concern over “Malia’s record of anti-Semitism and also by her espousal of a virulent strain of anti-Zionism.”
Corbyn and some of his buddies in Momentum—a Labour campaign group affiliated with him—hold fiercely to the dogma that any criticism of Israel is always and only that: criticism. They think anti-Semitism comes dressed in a uniform speaking German, or sporting Doc Martens and a skinhead hairstyle. And sometimes it does. But anti-Semitism, like the world, has moved on, while they have not.
Anti-Semitism has shape-shifted through history, employing different modes of justification. Its core motif is that the Jews, collectively and in their essence, are not just Other but malign. The content of this perceived malevolence changes with the times and the needs of the anti-Semites. “God-killers,” “aliens,” “cosmopolitans,” “sub-humans” and now “Zionists” have all served as code words to mark the Jew for destruction.
The new anti-Semitism does not criticise Israel—it demonises it. It twists the meaning of “Israel” and “Zionism” until they are so bent out of shape they can serve as receptacles for the tropes, images and ideas of classical anti-Semitism. That which the Jew once was, the Jewish state now is: evil, vampiric, full of blood lust, the all-controlling but hidden hand in global affairs, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on. “For World Peace We Must Destroy Israel,” as that new anti-Semitic placard puts it.
While classic anti-Semitism wanted to make the world Judenfrei, free of Jews, the new anti-Semitism wants to make the world Judenstaatrein, free of a Jewish state. The platform of abolishing just one state in the world, the little Jewish one set up after the Holocaust, is objectively anti-Semitic, even if the person proposing it marched with the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s. And the new anti-Semitism often involves portraying Israel, Israelis and Jews as modern-day Nazis, and Palestinians as the new Holocaust-era Jews. This is termed “Holocaust inversion.”
It’s hard to imagine a worse person to sort all this out than Jeremy Corbyn, who in 2012 said to the Palestinian radical Islamist Raed Saleh: “I look forward to giving you tea on the terrace because you deserve it!” Many people pointed out that Salah incites violent anti-Semitism and has been convicted of spreading the blood libel (the myth that Jews killed gentile babies and used their blood to make bread). But the problem is not that Corbyn agrees with what these people say. It is that he agrees with who they are: the resistance to empire. The apologies and the contortions begin there.
Labour still supports a policy of mutual recognition, engagement, negotiation and compromise to secure two states for two peoples: a viable Palestine and a secure Israel. Now it needs to educate its new membership in the democratic spirit of that policy. If we do not then we will end up in that dark place where hate-filled discourse begets violence, as it always has, generation unto generation.