Like so many other British Jews, I was shocked, upset and angry in the summer of 2018, when a tape of Jeremy Corbyn was uncovered in which he declared that “Zionists do not understand British irony”. Whilst the antisemitism row within Labour had been raging for 3 years, people labelling the Leader of the Opposition as an outright antisemite was rare. Some may have been scared of legal action, others (like myself) didn’t feel that the evidence showed that conclusion.
Almost a year on, I feel very differently. I think Jeremy Corbyn is someone who holds some antisemitic views, and more importantly is completely unrepentant and unwilling to be educated.
But in the aftermath of Panorama and the current EHRC investigation, focusing on Corbyn alone is unhelpful. Whatever feelings one may hold toward him, the culture of the Labour Party has been completely corrupted, and the simple removal of Corbyn as leader will not save it. While it is patently clear that his leadership has helped propagate antisemitism, and that the ‘Corbyn project’ is intimately linked with antisemitic ideology, the problems lie much deeper than the Leader’s Office.
We know that a substantial number of Labour members hold antisemitic views. We know that a substantial number of them feel completely at ease saying them in Party meetings, online and at conferences. Some of them have been elected Labour MPs. We know that those who are seen as disloyal to the leader are punished quicker and more harshly than Corbynites that commit acts of antisemitism. The Party complaints system has become infected with corruption, and is no longer fit for purpose. Jewish members of the Party have been thrown under the bus for almost 4 years now. The fact that the Jewish Labour Movement, the oldest affiliate to the Labour Party, felt the need to make a referral to the EHRC should be enough to illustrate the size of the problem. Sadly for a lot of Labour members, it hasn’t. The denial from so many is Trumpian in its nature.
I cannot say what is in Jeremy Corbyn’s heart. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter, and I don’t much care. The point is that the debate about whether Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic or not does not excuse the way in which his leadership has enabled an unforgivable rise in contemporary antisemitism in this country. I don’t want Corbyn to remain as Leader of the Labour Party, but I also know that even if he resigned today, the problem would not diminish.
Hard work is required to cleanse Labour of its institutional racism. Certain figures in the Leader’s office must be sacked. An independent complaints system needs to be created. Labour must comply fully and transparently with the EHRC, and more members need to be suspended and expelled, far more quickly. The systems that currently exist within the Party make it impossible to track the level of antisemitic activity, even if there was the political will from the leadership to do so. At this moment Labour is utterly undeserving of government. To pretend otherwise is a grotesque insult to Jews all over this country.