Jeremy Corbyn Purports To Defend Minorities. What About Jews?
Since Jews are so notoriously argumentative and Jewish communities notoriously fractious, the joke is that for every two Jews you need three synagogues.
Even in Britain, a community once noted for its surprising unity has fractured. The so-called “Chief Rabbi” barely represents a plurality of Britain’s Jews and the venerable — once unchallenged — Jewish Chronicle has two bitter adversaries in the Jewish Telegraph and the Jewish News.
Nevertheless, each of those papers printed a joint statement warning that — in light of its rejection of the widely adopted definition of anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party represents an “existential threat” to Britain’s Jews.
As I’ve written before, the Labour Party’s consistent disregard for the Jewish community under Corbyn is as if the American Democratic Party were to explicitly ignore African Americans and, in this case, convene a panel of white men to redefine anti-black hatred. This is “existential” because in the next general election, Corbyn may be marginally less unpopular than the anemic Conservatives who are trying to effect a bad faith Brexit in the face of opposition on all sides.
The context for this four-year crisis is the takeover of the Labour Party by the Momentum faction, whose strong pro-Palestinian credentials have made it unwilling and, apparently, unable to address anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, particularly as it applies to the overlap of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Keith Kahn-Harris explains in the Jewish Quarterly how his own thoughtful stance was turned into frustration by the official neglect — whether benign or malign — of the Labour Party.
The relationship between Judaism and Zionism is complicated and diverse; Jonathan Freedland touches eloquently on it in his article about the furor. But there is no doubt that racists can simplify it for us: Israel and Zionism are bad if you hate Jews; Israel and Zionism are good if you want all Jews to leave your country and go there. That racists use Israel for anti-Semitism is incontrovertible — “Zio scum” is the new “Filthy Yid.”
There is obviously justification for righteous pro-Palestinian sentiment and, equally obviously, justification for criticism of Israeli policy. However, both honorable and ignorant people slip from these positions into racism when, for example, they treat all Jews as guilty of the worst excesses of Israeli policy. Leaders in Western democracies — political and communal — need to make clear what is unacceptable and why.
When a leader abrogates this responsibility toward a minority in his country members of which are increasingly victims of racist attacks; when he chooses to override the suggestion of representatives of a European genocide with no input from that minority; when his changes own the acceptability of racist statements from people in his own party, then he must expect that he will lose the trust not only of that minority, but of all minorities.
At the end of July, the Labour Party, with great fanfare, ejected Damien Enticott, a Labour Party councillor, who said that “Jews drink blood.” “See!” The party said, “we oppose anti-Semitism.” Quite the opposite. After nearly three years of Corbyn, two years after the Chakrabarti investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was subverted, scant months after Corbyn himself was forced to leave a number of anti-Semitic Facebook groups, there are still members of the Labour Party who are viciously anti-Semitic in ways that Torquemada and Hitler would have recognized.
The rhetoric of anti-Semitism — let’s call it anti-Jew hatred — has changed since 1967. Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the British Labour Party — defender of oppressed minorities — needs to show that he understands that. Until then, he will continue to provide a platform for racists.
Dan Friedman is the Forward’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter @danfriedmanme.