On Monday, Anglo-Jewry had its J’accuse moment. In an unprecedented display of anger, the main representative organs of the British Jewish community launched a justifiably ferocious attack on Jeremy Corbyn, accusing him of being a ‘figurehead for an antisemitic political culture’ and siding ‘with antisemites rather than Jews.’
Example after example was cited showing how the Labour leader had adopted a worldview that was instinctively hostile to Jewish concerns. The letter and subsequent demonstration held in Parliament Square garnered media headlines around the world, not just in the UK.
Within 24 hours, the Labour leader responded in a manner never seen before. He acknowledged that antisemitism within the Labour party went beyond a ‘few bad apples’ and, more importantly, stated that the party needed a ‘deeper understanding of what constitutes antisemitism in the Labour movement’.
Crucially, he made the admission that some forms of antisemitism were ‘woven into criticism of Israeli governments.’
B’nai B’rith UK and its political arm, the London Bureau, note the Labour leader’s call for dialogue with representatives of the Jewish community.
There are some crucial things that the Labour leader should do, however, prior to any such meeting.
- Mr Corbyn speaks quite rightly about how the new antisemitism on the left is bound up with elements of the anti-Israel narrative. However, he needs to take personal responsibility for this. After all, he is a Labour leader who has, time and again, befriended anti-Zionist antisemites. He has described Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends, he has defended the 9/11 conspiracy theorist Stephen Sizer and the blood libel cleric Raed Salah and been a shill for an Iranian regime that has denied the Holocaust. He has also been an active member of Facebook groups that are saturated with overt Jew hatred. This is why he has been accused of creating a safe space for racists. Thus Mr Corbyn must go further and issue a mea culpa for his own actions, acknowledging that the toxic figures he has endorsed have fostered a climate in which antisemitism can thrive. He must distance himself from all those who insinuate that claims of antisemitism are manufactured for political gain or that the Jewish lobby is all powerful. He is now seen as the figurehead of their movement and worldview and should comprehensively denounce them.
- Mr Corbyn must make good on his statement that ‘he will not tolerate any form of antisemitism that exists in or around our party and movement.’ If he genuinely means this, he should demand that Labour members who continue to peddle hatred and prejudice are expelled from the party. Foremost among them is Ken Livingstone who has a track record of making statements hostile to the Jewish community. Suspending a Labour member only to readmit them to the party suggests a wholly inadequate disciplinary procedure that is soft on antisemitism.
- If Mr Corbyn really wants to differentiate between legitimate criticism of Israel and the language of antisemitic demonisation that is routinely heard on the left, he should make a well publicised visit to Israel. There he can reiterate his support for Jewish statehood while calling for a two state solution. At Yad Vashem, he can pay homage to the 6 million Jewish martyrs whose memory is so often besmirched by the hard left. Moreover, he can publicly denounce all those who peddle baseless and obscene conspiracy theories about Israeli behaviour, whether it is the notion that the Jewish state created ISIL or that it harvests Palestinian organs. While there, he should also explicitly turn against his former ‘friends’ from Hamas and Hezbollah, calling them out for their genocidal rhetoric against Jews.
- Mr Corbyn should note the Jewish community’s response to the Chakrabarti report, which was a compromised and inadequate investigation of antisemitism and racism within Labour. A new and independent inquiry is badly needed, one that can create a deeper understanding of how antisemitism has become an institutionalised problem within the left. In particular, it can demonstrate the links between antisemitism and the vicious language used to demonise Israel and Zionism.
These actions would be a first step in repairing the egregious breach that has opened up between Labour and Anglo-Jewry.