I’ve been to some surreal events in my 27 years as a political activist, but yesterday’s launch of the Chakrabarti Report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was completely through the looking glass.
It felt like it would be quite a conventional gig as we assembled at 10am to go in. The crowd was an interesting collision of the two halves of my life (I work as Director of We Believe in Israel but in my spare time I’m running as a candidate for Labour’s National Executive Committee). There were staff and community leaders from all the main Jewish organisations, and senior Labour folk mingling.
Everything felt very serious – lots of people who had spent many hours writing quasi-academic submissions, people with a lifetime’s experience studying or fighting anti-Semitism, people who care deeply about the relationship between Jews and Labour. We were all on edge wanting to see what Shami had recommended.
Then when we went into the hall I sussed all was not quite what it seemed, as a lady on a mobility scooter beckoned me over and asked “what is this meeting actually about? I am here to support Jeremy.”
Next, a guy started leafleting the audience with flyers promoting the “International Jewish anti-Zionist Network UK”. At an event about tackling anti-Semitism we received a leaflet saying “we are outraged that anti-Semitism is being used to undermine the new anti-austerity, anti-racist and anti-imperialist Labour leadership. Our submission is evidence against the witch-hunt”. Classy. At least the staff were on the ball enough to usher him out.
Once we got our hands on the report, the response was a bit “meh”. It was OK in so far as it went – a step forward as it includes clear condemnation of using Nazi analogies in debating Israel, a ban on use of the word “Zio” or using “Zionist” pejoratively, condemnation of use of tropes and stereotypes, some useful practical stuff about the way the party runs disciplinary cases. But there wasn’t really any understanding shown of how contemporary leftwing anti-Semitism has developed, and how it is fed by demonising of Israel and the preparedness of politicians like Jeremy Corbyn to share platforms with anti-Semitism terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
After Shami spoke, things moved onto full-on farce. Jeremy Corbyn got up to speak, greeted with rapturous applause by the Momentum claque at the back of the hall. He seemed reenergised by the topic compared to the beaten down figure we had seen on TV in recent days. First off came a long ramble about the Tories and how bad and racist they were and how they hadn’t scrutinised themselves in the way Labour had. Then he managed to be quite firm about the inappropriateness of bringing Hitler into the conversation about Israel, which must have been tough for him as Ken Livingstone is one of his closest political allies. Then came the sting in the tail. Corbyn said: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu Government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.” Just in case any of us thought this was an accident or that he had mis-spoken he repeated a variation on it in the Q&A session after his speech.
So this was the Leader of the Labour Party basically giving a two fingered salute to both the spirit of the report he had commissioned (a report with the sub-headings “Sensitivity” and “Insensitive and incendiary language, metaphors, distortions and comparisons”) and the audience from the Jewish Community. It takes a special kind of person to use an event about anti-Semitism to push the boundaries of how much anti-Semitism they can get away with.
I am guessing the thought process behind that benign white beard was something along the lines of “ha, ha, you Zionists may have managed to stop my mates comparing you to Nazis, but our new trope is to compare you to ISIS – oh and to say there are good Jews who don’t support Israel and bad Jews who do”.
He’s certainly clever.
There’s a political objective here as well. Corbyn is in a numbers war for control of the party, where he and his rivals are seeking to out recruit each other to win a leadership ballot. If he can push away anyone who wouldn’t support him, all the better for him. My guess is that Jew baiting like this has the added bonus for him of making it more likely Jewish members of the party will resign in disgust (or non-members not join) thereby increasing his chances of re-election.
Enter, stage far left, comrade Marc Wadsworth, who is both a high profile long-term political activist allied with Corbyn and a writer, enabling him to ask a question as a journalist.
It seemed like he was also using the opportunity of an event about anti-Semitism to see how far he could hint at an anti-Semitic trope, alleging collusion between Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth and the Daily Telegraph to do down Corbyn (“they” control the media, didn’t you know?). This is after he had made a careful note of Ruth’s name in a little book. Ruth walked out in tears. Corbyn doesn’t condemn Wadsworth’s rant. In fact a video is now circulating of him apologising to his friend and saying he would text him after the event.
My post event experience was of being filmed in a three way shouting match with Wadsworth and journalist Kate McCann where I called out his use of a conspiracy theory trope. He claimed he didn’t know Ruth was Jewish but refused to apologise to her when I told him she was. He was on the radio this morning saying Labour had expelled him.
Outside I was leafleted by people handing out a foaming at the mouth conspiracy theory that the Labour coup is being orchestrated by the Fabian Society and Portland Communications. This was refreshing as it was just a common or garden mad conspiracy theory not an anti-Semitic one.
I’ve never felt more ashamed for my party. It has been hijacked by extremists and is led by a man whose incompetence as a leader is matched only by his tenacity as a sectarian factionalist and the obsessiveness of his hatred of Israel.
Jews and anyone else who cares about having a future where there is a decent, moral, anti-racist, electable centre-left Labour Party can do something about this. Corbyn will be out on his ear if enough of the silent majority of moderate people in the UK who share Labour’s real values join the party and out vote the followers of his personality cult. Please do join and vote for change. This may be our last chance to stop this grotesque circus of hate.