For not the first time Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership circle of the Labour party he has installed around him has been making headlines over the worrying accusation of being anti-Semitic, that is possessing a hatred of the Jewish people. The strength of feeling that Labour has a problem with its relations to Britain’s Jewish community being so significant that rallies outside of parliament have been held (attended by Labour MPs) and major party donors have publicly declared they will no longer fund Labour under Corbyn.
Whilst undoubtedly a moment of serious soul searching for Labour this is a particularly concerning issue for British politics more widely than just the Labour party. Not only does Britain pride itself on its tolerance and acceptance of all faiths and ethnicities but also on its free, enquiring and challenging media which in theory is supposed to leave no place to hide for those of such repugnant views as anti-Semitism.
That in 2018 the official opposition and potential next party of government can stand accused, credibly, of such issues is a staunch rebuff to any who uncritically belief Britain to be a bastion of tolerant liberalism. Whilst the role of the media in exposing and documenting this issue, has undoubtedly been highly effective in searching out social media posts and in-person appearances by Mr Corbyn and other Labour figures to substantiate the criticisms of their intolerance of the Jewish race has been far less effective I would suggest in explaining the seriousness of anti Semitism and why Corbyn stands at the centre of a perfect storm surrounding the issue. Successful liberal democracy relies upon voters making well-informed decisions about their politician’s stories such as this which very quickly descend into mud slinging rather than informed analysis benefit of no one, least of all those most at threat in this case a vulnerable minority. By descending into mud slinging I mean the spectacle of how after accusations that he did not mingle with enough normal Jewish Folk Corbyn attended a pass over celebration by the left wing Jewish organisation Jewdas. In true mud slinging form he then received a further barrage of criticism for essentially not mingling with the right kind of Jewish people. The comedian and Jewish writer David Schneider summarising the whole spectacle particularly well on his Twitter feed from April 2.
The roots of this particular storm for Corbyn started with the revelation that he had supported the work of a street artist (from Corbyn’s constituency) bemoaning how their work was going to be painted over in a Facebook post. Corybn commented that he thought the work should be allowed to remain in place due to freedom of expression however the trouble for him begins as from the most cursory of glances it is apparent the work is displaying Jewish people in a stereotypically identifiable form and in a hateful manner as bankers crushing other good non-Jewish folk. Corbyn of course denied that he recognised the anti Semitism present in the image when he defended the artists right to have it displayed and here came some excellent journalism in trawling both the past of the artist in question and Corbyn for further evidence of their association with directly anti Semitic acts, or association with others committing such act. A great many of such incidences were discovered thus resulting in the storm of denunciations of Corbyn as to paraphrase the words of journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer either knowing he was engaging with anti-semitic actions and not caring, therefore, being to intolerant and wicked to be the next prime minister or genuinely not realising he was engaging with anti Semitic actions and therefore being too stupid to be the next prime minister. Serious issues indeed alas this is where the quality coverage from journalists and politicians at least ends and a step back from events is needed.
Firstly an explanation of anti Semitism itself is needed for those uninitiated in the terminology which many reading this website (and anyone still reading this specifically.. if there is anyone that is….) would probably require to fully get their heads around the story. Anti Semitism is the specific hatred of Jewish people, so far so simple but why is this any more serious than other racisms, why does it possess its own term when other prejudices are banded together for example. Well firstly there are the events of the Holocaust which thankfully no other ethnicity has experienced, that is to say, the attempted extermination of a race in an industrialised style. But this is not all there is to it and for anyone wanting to know more I would recommend reading the recent writings of the Jewish comedian David Badiel in the Sunday Times and through his own twitter feed. But to sum up Badiel highlights how hatred of Jewish people is the only prejudice in which its target is both sub-human (as the Nazis most famously exemplified believing Jewish people to be therefore deserving of extermination) and super – human (possessing the ability to control the world as part of a giant conspiracy in which Jewish people control all banks, businesses and governments) simultaneously. But then in fairness to irrational prejudices, they are just that irrational. He then continues to make a compelling analysis of the problem anti Semitism presents in the Corbyn story. Corbyn and many others on the left of politics have the blind spot when it comes to anti-Semitism which comes from their view that economic inequality is the root of all evil in society. Jewish communities (to generalise) in Britain, Europe and America at least tend to be economically prosperous therefore socialists like Corbyn tend not to see them as an oppressed or vulnerable minority. This is a significant insight as it is very different from possessing a specific hatred of Jewish people, although as has already been pointed out this blind spot over the struggles facing a whole segment of humanity is not easily forgiven in those seeking to govern the country those citizens live in.
Badiel is openly a supporter of the Labour party so perhaps this has mollified his criticism of Corbyn somewhat but he and others are correct in pointing out Corbyn has spent his political career campaigning for oppressed minority groups and he did speak convincingly at the memorial of the Battle of Cable St – a ceremony commemorating how in the 1930s the then British Union of Fascists, a genuinely Jewish hating group attempted a march through a Jewish neighbourhood of London only to be stopped by a collaborative effort of local residents, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. So how has Corbyn managed to give off such a convincing impression of a being anti-Semitic if he truly is not? Again a significant failing of the media coverage of this has been the extremely complicated issue of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, in which Corbyn has been a staunch supporter of Palestine against Israel (the worlds only Jewish nation state) which is currently the military occupier of lands regarded as belonging to the Palestinian people (as designated by the United Nations).
The history and intricacies of this conflict are far too great to be adequately covered here as but suffice to say it is one of the most significant fault lines of world politics dividing opinion sharply the world over and not just along simplistic lines of Jewish v Arab/ Muslim or western style democracy v middle eastern style governments. Israel is supported by the United States almost without question on the grounds that it is the only democracy in the Middle East and due to the historic traumas of the Jewish people the only place they can be safe is a country of their own and they are currently surrounded by hostile Muslim dominated nations some of which in the past have threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth (Iran). As British governments have historically and increasingly in recent years been closely aligned to American foreign policy (most infamously seen in past labour party leader Tony Blairs support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003) Corbyn’s stand on Israel has been a further point over which many have criticised him. Palestine is one of the poorest nations on earth possessing a small and poorly resourced army by comparison to Israel and so has increasingly fought the nation it sees as its oppressor by methods identified as terrorist (bombing civilian areas including the use of suicide bombers). You don’t have to condone such methods to recognise them for what they are the acts of the desperate which is why campaigning groups such as the Palestine Solidarity campaign (again an organisation supported by Corbyn) exist in many countries with the aim of pressuring their governments to aid the Palestinian people by pressuring Israel to change its ways. With minimal success, it should be noted.
Unfortunately there is a small vocal minority, particularly in the Unites States, which equates any criticism of Israel with hatred of the Jewish people and denial of their right to a homeland and equally, tragically there are many who campaign in support of the Palestinian people because they do hate Jewish people. But these are extremes of the debate, and again media coverage does little to investigate the intricacies of the situation. Many Jewish Israeli citizens find the behaviour of their own government towards Palestine abhorrent (in the same way many British people cant stand their own government) and many Palestinians equally detest the actions of those committing acts of terror in the name of freedom as they recognise it turns many against that very cause. Corbyn, as usual, has stuck to his principles of supporting the Palestinians but not looked closely enough at those who share that side of the debate with him and the media always glad of an easy story have jumped at the opportunity it has presented and why wouldn’t they in the internet age (as this website hopefully proves) earning money from the news is hard, journalists are expensive luxuries and explaining the ins and outs of Corbyn’s support for Palestine over Israel, the history of anti Semitism and why it has engulfed the Labour party in this way is hard work. Trouble is the real lesson from this story isn’t that the Labour party has intolerant people within it all parties do and that isn’t news. It is that these views exist and challenging them is going to be ever harder in a world where information is consumed, not processed, at a rate of 140 characters and in 3minutes segments and those at the extremes who are loudest and most outraged will be heard the most and the clearest. Hardly inducive to reasoned debate and understanding of those who differ to ourselves which isn’t just needed for the protection of minority groups such as Jewish people but for tolerant liberal and democratic society itself. Corbyn and the Labour party are current victims of this emerging culture, quite rightly it could easily be argued but they will certainly not be the last and the next victims may not be so deserving of their trial by public opinion or possess the armies of supporters that Labour does.