This time last year, Britain’s Labour Party was having another leadership contest and they held a town hall in London for Jewish voters. There, Jeremy Corbyn affirmed Israel’s right to exist but then dodged questions about anti-Semitism within the party. His opponent, Owen Smith, criticized him for “downplaying and ignoring” specific cases of anti-Jewish hatred.
In the wake of Corbyn’s victory-in-defeat — with Britain’s Labour Party losing the general election while gaining votes and seats — Smith seems to have forgotten all that now, practically falling over himself to praise Corbyn. London’s Jewish voters, however, did not, as the Conservatives hung on to seats in Finchley and Golders Green and Hendon, even as London swung dramatically toward Labour.
Marcus Dysch rightly ponders whether it was support from Jewish voters that kept these ‘bagel belt’ seats blue, with only 13 percent professing an intention to vote Labour in a pre-election poll. This would appear to be corroborated by Jeremy Newmark, Labour’s candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, who told ITV News he felt anti-Semitism ‘in some parts of the party’ put Jewish voters off Labour.
Elsewhere, the picture was very different. Simply, the moral critique of Corbyn didn’t resonate. As the campaign progressed, and Corbyn was repeatedly criticized for being soft on terror among other things, May’s approval rating only went down as Corbyn ascended. From late March to early June, Corbyn went from having an abysmal -58 approval rating to a somewhat less embarrassing -2, while May slumped into the red, falling from +24 to -2.
This has led some unscrupulous commentators to suggest British voters ‘rewarded’ anti-Semitism last week. Better to say that they either didn’t hear about it, voted Labour in spite of Corbyn or chose to ignore such things on the basis that other issues were more important. After all, when polled by YouGov, 63 percent of Britons said Brexit was one the most important issues facing the country, followed by healthcare (49 percent), the economy (35 percent) and immigration and asylum (34 percent).
Corbyn’s achievement has been to make Theresa May so weak and agenda unpopular that Britain might have to vote again, if not this fall, then some time in 2018. If anything is certain, it is that the political situation is entirely uncertain, but if it was possible for Labour to pick up 30 seats against all expectations, it is not unfeasible that they could make serious gains again—placing Corbyn on the precipice of becoming Prime Minister.
His record remains his record. Corbyn once described Hamas as his ‘friends’ and an organization dedicated to “bringing about long-term peace and social justice.” He supported the campaign Deir Yassin Remembered long after it was known that its founder, Paul Eisen, was a Holocaust denier. He was also paid £20,000 for appearances on Iranian state television, whose regime propagates Holocaust denial and anti-Israel hate speech. That’s only part of the picture and there’s nothing Labour can do about it.
Still, not all within the party have given up. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, a political rising star, said Labour must “rebuild trust with the Jewish community — not to win votes but because it’s the right thing to do.” Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, told the Jewish Chronicle after the election, “We need to resolve the continued fact that many with the Jewish community still view Labour as a party that tolerates anti-Semitism. I despair about the fact that this has still not been resolved.”
Siddiq rightly identifies two things Labour can do right away. The first would be to finally expel the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone from the party. He has made a career out of agonizing the Jewish community and his last remarks (that Hitler supported Zionism) should be the end of the line. After that, Labour needs a proper investigation into anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in its own ranks, as opposed to the stitch-up conducted by Shami Chakrabarti last year.
Labour may soon have another chance to speak not only to Jewish voters but those of us who take any sign of anti-Semitism with the utmost seriousness. To wash over it once was careless; to do so again would be downright foolish.
Liam Hoare is a freelance writer, whose work on politics and literature has featured in The Atlantic, The Forward, and The Jewish Chronicle.