None of this is normal. It’s important that we cling to that. It’s not normal that British Jews are forced to protest for their fair treatment and safety. It’s not normal that four-fifths of the Labour Party think such protests are a political tactic or a Zionist plot. It’s not normal that the man who would be Britain’s next Prime Minister has to delete his Facebook account because he cannot be sure how many hate groups he is a member of.
Anti-Semitism is a historical constant but it is not normal. We decide our norms and if we are still a just and civilised people we ought to regard it not only as wicked but as a unique wickedness, one that demands special vigilance and loyal enmity.
Jeremy Corbyn is not normal. He sits outside our sense of taste and decency. When he broke bread with Jewdas, at a time when emotions are still raw, he inflamed a situation already spitting sparks. Corbyn should be showing contrition and humility right now, not antagonising mainstream Jewry by aligning himself with a small, marginal group locked in intra-communal disputes about identity, power and Israel. It is naive to assume that he provokes by accident. If he were merely a fool or damn unlucky, probability dictates that he would do the right thing every now and then. Corbyn knows exactly what he is doing and he doesn’t care. It is incumbent on the rest of us to make sure his callous indifference and his inscrutable pathology never becomes normal in this country.
We’ve had the rally, some Labour people acknowledge there’s a problem, and even the semi-professional Corbyn fan bloggers have been browbeaten into cobbling together a take on it. Now comes the awkward part. Polite explanations and terse conversations; ‘how can that be anti-Semitic?’ and ‘I’m not saying it never happens but it’s definitely being exaggerated’. This will require even more patience from Jews and those who have been warning about left-wing anti-Semitism for years. They not only have to break the news to self-proclaimed anti-racists that they have a problem with Jews but also educate them on what having a problem with Jews looks like.
This task is made all the more difficult because the dreaded I-word looms: Israel. For some time now, traceable at least as far back as the second intifada, there have been almost no boundaries in discourses about Israel. The fact that a man who speaks of his ‘friends’ among the genocidal Jew-killers of Hamas and Hezbollah came within a few dozen seats of the premiership is but one symbol of this. Left-wing activists, academics, commentators, and politicians who crowbarred grisly tropes into debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US foreign policy have too often gone unchallenged. The blood libel and the poisoned well, dual loyalty and the scheming cabal. Someone should stick them all on a mural as a visual aid.
It has fallen to Momentum, of all groups, to warn that ‘accusations of anti-Semitism should not and cannot be dismissed simply as right wing smears nor as the result of conspiracies’. Labour anti-Semitism is not a case of a few ‘bad apples’, they say, but an ‘unconscious bias’ which is ‘more widespread’ than many in Labour realise.
The response of activist academia has been more predictable. More than 40 lecturers have written to the Guardian helpfully outlining the sort of relativist mush and animus-driven theoretics to which your offspring are expensively subjected. They, of course, condemn anti-Semitism (‘wherever it exists’) but are more concerned that ‘the debate on anti-Semitism has been framed…to weaponise it against a single political figure just ahead of important elections’. Reporting on Labour anti-Semitism has failed to acknowledge Corbyn’s ‘long-established anti-racist record’, ‘relied on a handful of sources such as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and well-known political opponents of Corbyn’, and neglected to expose ‘the political motivations of some of Corbyn’s most vocal critics’. Next time you see a study on media bias, remember these are the people who author them.
Such denialism, excuse-making and whataboutery are pervasive. You might even call it ‘mood music’. Former Radio 4 presenter Robin Lustig tweets:
‘I hope all those who have spoken out so forcefully against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party will be equally vocal in their condemnation of the appalling brutality of Israel security forces in Gaza.’
I had the misfortune of alighting on the views of a leading political scientist on a mutual friend’s Facebook page. There this thinker, greatly respected in his field, opined that Corbyn was the victim of a conspiracy aided by the British state and involving agents provocateurs. It was all there, right down to talk of ‘tentacles’.
Momentum is right. The British left has an anti-Semitism problem but then it has for some time. The BBC’s Middle East editor says the Israeli prime minister ‘plays the Holocaust card’. A Labour MP believes British Jews should effectively be banned from serving as ambassador to Israel. A peer of the realm called for an inquiry into whether Israeli troops in Haiti were involved in organ trafficking. The New Statesman queried the existence of a ‘kosher conspiracy’ while the Guardian has run cartoons of Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet master and of a blood-smeared Jewish knuckle-duster pummelling an Arab child. The Independent sketched Ariel Sharon devouring a Palestinian baby while the Observer carried a poem by academic and broadcaster Tom Paulin branding the IDF ‘the Zionist SS’. When Paulin called for Israelis living in the West Bank to be shot dead, the Guardian told its readers he had ‘confirmed his talent for controversy’.
A section of the left has confirmed its talent for seeing racism in opponents but never in itself. It will be of no use in combating Jew-hatred until it recognises its part in the problem and stops angrily defending a man whose fractious politics is normalising anti-Semitism.