After a tawdry week for Labour which saw a flurry of fresh allegations of anti-Semitism in the party’s upper ranks, Jeremy Corbyn has finally broken his silence. Writing an op-ed for the Guardian, the Labour leader admits that there is a ‘real problem’ – and says the party has been too slow in tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks. He promises that things will change:
‘I want Jewish people to feel at home in the Labour party and be able to play their full part in our work to take our country forward. And I appreciate that this cannot happen while anti-Semitic attitudes still surface within Labour, and while trust between our party and the community is at such a low ebb.’
Corbyn says his team are ‘developing an education and training programme throughout the party’ in order to foster a ‘deeper understanding of anti-Semitism among members’. But on the issue that actually sparked this latest row, the Labour leader is more vague. Referring to the NEC’s decision not to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in its entirety, Corbyn says he thinks the disagreement ‘can be resolved through dialogue with community organisations’. However, he appears to double down on his opposition to the full definition by saying it ‘has sometimes been used by those wanting to restrict criticism of Israel that is not anti-Semitic’. Another thing that will annoy Corbyn’s critics is that he doesn’t appear to acknowledge his own role in this. After all, it was Corbyn who hosted an event comparing Israel with Nazis on Holocaust Memorial Day.
So, will this be enough to convince his critics? It’s doubtful – in fact it might actually make things worse. As tends to be the case with anti-Semitism rows within Labour, Corbyn’s intervention has come too late. It feels as though he has been forced into saying something rather than choosing to lead from the front. While neither the Jewish community or the bulk of Labour MPs are likely to be swayed, they may not even be his target audience. What has marked this incident out as different to previous ones is that some of Corbyn’s usual allies – such as John McDonnell and Momentum’s Jon Lansman – have appeared to realise how damaging the row is and thereby tried to put some clear water between themselves and the Leader’s Office. If the splits persist, a Corbyn government becomes more difficult to bring about.