Skip to Content

Coffee House

Labour members must pick a side in the fight against anti-Semitism

18 July 2018

6:10 PM

18 July 2018

6:10 PM

Snap. It was a long time coming but it was always coming. Jeremy Corbyn, who has traded on an image of saintly anti-racism for his entire career, was finally confronted by someone who sees through it.

Yesterday, Labour’s national executive committee adopted a new policy that rejected the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. Rabbis from across the spectrum had urged Labour to accept this definition; Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis warned that failing to do so would send an unprecedented ‘message of contempt to the Jewish community’.

Of course, that was the point. Labour does not like Jews very much; some within its ranks downright hate them; and if the party must give the appearance of discouraging anti-Semitism, it will define what is and isn’t anti-Semitism itself. As such, Labour members will not be proscribed from accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel rather than to Britain. Considering how pervasive that belief is within the party, Labour has at least saved itself a new wave of anti-Semitism complaints to pretend to care about.

After the NEC meeting, MP and former minister Margaret Hodge confronted Jeremy Corbyn and reportedly called him ‘a fucking anti-Semite and a racist’. Dame Margaret, whose grandmother and uncle were murdered in the Holocaust, says she did not swear but does not dispute the rest of the quote. She could now face disciplinary action from the party machine.

The Hodge confrontation is a mini modern Cable Street, a bloody nose for a man who has caused so much pain and fear among Britain’s Jews. That Dame Margaret would be the one to snap should not surprise us. She led the charge against the BNP in Barking. She has experience of dealing with these people.

Three years ago, when Corbyn stood for the leadership and began to get some traction, I raised the question of his record of associating with anti-Semites and Islamists. It was a piece that brought a tsunami of invective my way – most assumed I was Jewish – even though I had been rather charitable to
their new idol. I had given Corbyn the benefit of the doubt, writing:

‘Jeremy Corbyn is not an antisemite and nor are most people on the
Left. He is a petition-signer who never reads the small-print, a
sincere man blinded as so many radicals are by hatred of the United
States and Western power. But his ascendancy comes at a time of great
upheaval and populist torrents battering the centre-left and
centre-right. It is a storm in which the organisation of politics
against the Jews could once again prove an anchoring force in Europe.’

Three years on, I couldn’t bring myself to write that first sentence again. I no longer believe it. Back then I knew that, were Corbyn to win, the anti-Semitism already simmering away under the surface of the Labour Party and the broader left would boil over. I knew it would be bad but I never imagined even in the darkest moments that it would be this bad.

For over a year now, I have contended that Labour is institutionally anti-Semitic. Yet even among those members who agree, the response is one of indignation when I suggest that people who are anti-racist have no business
funding and campaigning for an apparently racist organisation. All of them say more or less the same thing: I won’t walk away. I’m staying to fight. We can change the party from within.

Of course, such people are sincere but they are operating from two false assumptions. The first is that this Labour Party is the Labour Party they joined, the party their parents voted for, and the party that championed social progress for over a century. They still misunderstand the Corbyn project. It was not about taking Labour to
the left; it was about taking over Labour and replacing it with a Leninist personality cult. There are two parties on the British centre-left today, the Labour Party (1900-2015) and the Labour Party (2015-present). The former still beats in the hearts of the nation’s social democrats but the latter is the party on the ballot paper.

The second misapprehension is that, if Labour has been hijacked, control can be wrested back. Left-wingers don’t understand institutions or human nature but right-wingers will tell you that, once an organisation falls into the hands of its enemies, institutional conservatism and human nature will invariably frustrate any attempt to win it back.

What follows does not come easy but none of this is easy. Labour members who insisted on ‘staying to fight’ Corbynism and anti-Semitism at first evoked sympathy for their loyalty to their party and the pathos of their situation. Then at the General Election, they lined up behind Corbyn and campaigned to make him Prime Minister. Those who have so often accused their leader of failing to match words and deeds were now guilty of the same.

For those who remain, Labour is in the blood and in the soul. However much they despair at what it has become, they cannot bring themselves to a separation that would feel like an amputation. That is a damnable
situation to find yourself in but it does not deprive you of moral reasoning or excuse your failure to act upon it. Whatever makes you stay, you have – in most cases unconsciously – made the same calculation: that you love the Labour Party more than you hate anti-Semitism.

It is no longer proper to indulge such people, to pat their shoulder and thank them for their efforts. If their conscience troubles them, it is not for the rest of us to soothe it.

There is a difference between a racist and someone who campaigns to put this Labour party into power but it is not a particularly meaningful difference to the victims of racism. Labour MPs, councillors, staffers and members are supporting, funding, enabling and advocating for a racist organisation. Those who actively campaign for the election of this Labour Party to government are foot soldiers of racism. Those who would be willing to sit on the benches of such a government are fellow-travellers with racism.

You are being asked, yet again, to choose between the Jews and their latest wretched persecutors. The time to pick a side is overdue.

Show comments