The resignation of Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party and confirmation that new General Secretary, Jennie Formby, would make the fight against antisemitism her top priority, should have helped to draw a line under the issue; but it didn’t.
Nor did Corbyn’s articles in the Evening Standard, Observer or his recent apologetic video. At a time when Labour should be fighting Brexit and the shambolic Tory Government, it is bogged in the mire of a toxic dispute.
The British Jewish community has always punched above its’ weight, the pugilistic Manny Shinwell, literally, when he was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse in the House of Commons. Jews in the UK play a significant role in society, they have now become the mouse that roared. It’s understandable hackles have been raised, when abhorrent, ancient hatreds seep from the sewer into the body politic, they must be challenged; given our history of persecution and mass annihilation less than eighty years ago, they must be challenged vigorously.
But as with all things, a sense of proportion is needed; there has been a significant increase in the incidence of antisemitic and anti-Zionist abuse, both in the Labour Party and generally, but we don’t need to board-up our businesses or put professional certificates into storage, the UK remains a broadly tolerant, pluralistic, liberal democracy, the anti-Semites, a small minority.
Things have changed in recent years, they impact us as Brits, more than as Jews, although our situation and sensitivities accentuate them: casual racism during the utterly counter-productive Brexit campaign, councils prioritising saving money against delivering key services – so-called ‘EasyCouncils’; and the demonization of the Labour Party itself. Labour has always received strong support from the community, sadly now, some use the same inappropriate language to castigate it, as they complain, some of its’ members and supporters use, to vilify Israel.
I was amazed when a Jewish constituent of a North London Labour MP showed me several text messages he had sent him; they began straight-forwardly enough, before sliding into a parallel universe of Livingstone’s language, comparing Jeremy Corbyn to Hitler and Momentum with his adoring stormtroopers. The retired accountant texting was surprised the MP had stopped responding! Using inflammatory language hardly advances our cause, best to leave analogies with Nazi’s off the keyboard, they are offensive to anyone with a common sense of decency.
The perceived onset of antisemitism in the Party directly correlates with the growth in the number of the hard left who joined to support Corbyn. Few are antisemitic, though many are anti-zionist. They are committed to social justice, a world-class NHS, fighting Brexit, religious freedom, tolerance and a fairer society. Work needs to be done to ensure Israel is not demonised by them or their sympathisers at branch and constituency meetings and Labour must adopt the IHRA definition in full and withdraw its’ threat of disciplinary action against Ian Austin, MP.
As a former member of the National Council of the Zionist Federation, I believe a nuanced approach is necessary: it is intolerable that 28% of Jewish students have been subject to antisemitic abuse on social media, we need to go to the universities and challenge this bile – as, in fact, I have done. Jewish Voice for Labour’s disingenuous suggestion in a blog that Jewish students could avoid harassment by avoiding being Zionists is like asking a kosher butcher to become a vegetarian.
One of my Green opponents in recent Council elections in Hackney not only supported the BDS movement, but also tweeted that Prince William should not visit an “apartheid state”. Just one example of the demagoguery we have to combat.
I am not a supporter of Netanyahu’s Government, but that is irrelevant, I’m not exactly, a keen supporter of Theresa May’s, either. I support a two-state solution and a safe, secure Israel, which is Labour Party policy. I also support Palestinian rights to a homeland and disapprove of recent manoeuvres aimed at forcibly moving Bedouin schools from East Jerusalem.
The Left had a love affair with Israel until the 90’s; kibbutzim, moshavs, the histradut and freedom of religious practice swam easily in the socialist lexicon, later, liberal attitudes to gay rights and access to late night bars in Tel Aviv, fuelled progressive sympathies; divorce has been messy, as it usually is: the settlements, failure to develop economic links with the Palestinians and an Israeli Government which owes more to Ze’ev Jabotinsky than to Ben Gurion, haven’t helped. But anti-Zionism is wrong: no one questions the right of Pakistan to exist, why should they question Israel’s?
Labour is changing but must tackle anti-Semitism: decisively and emphatically. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, pushing the community into the arms of a right-wing Tory party which itself, has a small minority of racists in its’ midst. We do need to show commitment and determination as we wade through tweets and Facebook posts which previous generations did not have to counter. They went through far worse, including the Battle of Cable Street; if there’s one thing we must learn from that generation, it’s to be resilient. And to avoid hate.
Listen to this week’s episode of The Jewish Views Podcast here: