Relations between Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewish community are at an all-time low. The acrimony is unprecedented. Throughout its history, Labour counted on the Jewish vote and a number of well-known Labour politicians were Jewish, from Ian Mikardo and Gerald Kaufman to Margaret Hodge and David and Ed Miliband.
All this changed when Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015. Many British Jews considered Corbyn anti-Zionist, even anti-Semitic. He had spoken of members of Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends.” He had invited Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement, to tea on the Commons terrace and was accused of attending a 2013 event for Holocaust denier Paul Eisen’s Deir Yassin Remembered group.
A series of events in the past year, however, have confirmed Jewish voters’ worst fears. In April 2016 Naz Shah MP admitted she had written a Facebook post arguing for Israel’s population to be “transported” out of the Middle East to America and had to apologise in the House of Commons. Ken Livingstone insisted her remarks were not anti-Semitic and went on to make a series of remarks about Hitler and Zionism that led to his suspension from the party for a year. Despite this, the Chakrabarti Inquiry asserted that the Labour Party was not anti-Semitic. In September, Momentum’s vice-chair, Jackie Walker, came under attack for appearing to criticise Holocaust Memorial Day for commemorating only Jewish victims. In January 2017 Labour’s National Executive Committee rejected recommendations to act following allegations of anti-Semitism against Oxford University Labour Club. Now, in April, Ken Livingstone has been suspended from holding office for another year but, crucially, not expelled following allegations of anti-Semitism.
Despite protestations from the party’s left-wing leadership, Labour has lost the Jewish vote for the foreseeable future. It has gone to the Conservatives and may not return. More seriously, from Momentum and the National Union of Students to leading figures like Livingstone and Corbyn, Labour, from top to bottom, is now associated with anti-Semitism. Labour, not the Conservatives, has become the Nasty Party. It has repeatedly failed to confront this issue. What is really bizarre is that just when the NHS, schools and social care are chronically underfunded and facing crisis, Labour’s leadership obsesses about Israel, “Zios” and Hitler. It gives the impression of a cranky sect, totally out of touch with reality. Livingstone’s absurdly lenient punishment is the icing on the cake, and Labour will deserve what it gets in the council elections.