The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s announcement last week that it is to formally investigate Labour over anti-Jewish racism is an hour of great shame for the party. It is also, finally, a moment of hope for British Jews.
The public body set up, with chilling irony by the party it is now to probe, has seen evidence of the institutional anti-Semitism that Jews have been making complaints about for four long years and decided that it is credible enough to investigate. Its decision makes Labour only the second political party in British history to face a formal racism inquiry. The first? The British National Party.
Finally Britain’s Jews are feeling as though their fears are being listened to. Under Corbyn’s Labour, hundreds of individual cases of anti-Semitism have been perpetrated against Britain’s small Jewish community of 280,000 or so.
Here’s a grim reminder of the tenor of things: a Labour activist sharing neo-Nazi material declaring that “the Jews declared war on Germany in 1933”; a meme shared by a Labour councillor of a blood-covered, hooked-nose Israeli soldier asserting “Israel was created by the Rothschilds”; the shadow justice secretary (yes, justice) declaring Zionism “the enemy of the peace”.
It is clear how easily the tropes of classic anti-Semitism – the blood libel, conspiracy theories about Jewish disloyalty, money and influence, portrayals of Jews as a fifth column – slide into anti-Zionism in these slurs. The same is true of many of the examples of anti-Semitism detailed in the evidence the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Jewish Labour Movement and other groups have handed in to the commission.
This is significant because it seems the equality watchdog wants to understand the link between a culture of extreme political hostility to Zionism – of a worldview that positions Israel as the unique evil on our planet – and the failure of the party to properly deal with those hundreds of individual cases. It strongly suggests the commission has joined up the dots. Britain’s Jews are optimistic about this because it is a connection many people fail to make.
People such as Clare Short, it seems. When the former Labour cabinet minister suggested on Newsnight last week that the Labour party’s problem is not anti-Semitism but a stretching of the definition of anti-Semitism to include “criticism of Israel” she could not have been more wrong. “There is not a lot anti-Semitism in the Labour party,” she said.
It has been said again and again: criticism of the Israeli government and of Israeli policy over the decades is not anti-Semitic. British Jews can handle that. Hey, we’ve even been known to make those criticisms ourselves.
The problem is the hate-filled demonisation that comes with it: the type that compares us to Goebbels, that says we are like the people who murdered our families in the Holocaust. This is what is meant by contemporary anti-Semitism, this is Jew-hatred updated for the 21st century. And when its adherents spew this bile, when they politicise their venom in this fashion, the Labour leadership should expel them.
If a year from now, the commission finds that Labour has discriminated against and victimised people because they are Jewish, that will be a day of even greater hope for British Jews. Why? Because finally the problem of anti-Semitism on the British left will be laid bare. That conclusion will make it impossible to claim that anti-Semitism has been invented by Zionists to silence criticism of Israel. It will be difficult, too, to argue that low levels of anti-Semitism on the British left are simply being weaponised by the right. And it will be hard to claim that Jews know our claims of anti-Semitism are dishonest and that we make them only to smear the Labour party.
Some Corbynistas will continue to say these things, of course. They will also say the Jews have been agitating for this and now they have what they want. They will say that evidence for the commission’s investigation was provided by Jews. (Well, duh). And they will claim the EHRC is part of the Zionist conspiracy, or that it is its dupe.
Anti-Semites will always resort to anti-Semitic tropes to make their case against the Jews. But fair-minded people will see that there actually is a problem of Jew hatred in the UK’s official opposition party. And British Jews’ faith in British justice will be bolstered.