Jeremy Corbyn’s “Not All Jews Are Bad” and the New Anti-Semitism

This past Saturday, controversial Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump set off a firestorm when he tweeted a “graphic critical of Hillary Clinton that featured a six-pointed star, a pile of cash and the words ‘most corrupt candidate ever,’” according to a July 4 CNN article.

Not surprisingly, the tweet was quickly condemned on social media, as well as by Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, for evoking traditional anti-Semitic tropes of ‘Jewish money’ and control of the political process.

Despite claims by Trump and his supporters that the image was not related to Jews but instead alluded to a sheriff’s badge, an investigation by Mic discovered that the image “was previously featured on /pol/ — an Internet message board for the alt-right, a digital movement of neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white supremacists…as early as June 22, over a week before Trump’s team tweeted it.”

In other words, the image’s creator intended the graphic as an attack on Jews.

Trump’s campaign has led to a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic assaults on Jews on social media, led by the aforementioned “alternative-right,” which has rightly been condemned by many across the political spectrum.

Yet the political Right is not the only camp dealing with a significant anti-Semitism problem. As evidenced by the massive scandal in which the British Labour party is currently embroiled, the Left has also seen its fair share of anti-Semitism. Oftentimes, however, such sentiments are masqueraded under the guise of criticism of Israeli policy or good intentions rather than traditional anti-Semitism; consequently, they are not denounced as frequently they should be.

Over the past several months, the British Labour party, headed by opposition head Jeremy Corbyn, has struggled with a seemingly unending anti-Semitism problem, an issue which has most recently lead to the sacking or condemnation of over fifty party members.

Although — despite abundant evidence to the contrary — Corbyn has insisted that there is no problem of anti-Semitism in Labour, the party held an inquiry into anti-Semitism in its ranks last week.

During the press conference, Corbyn, in a seeming attempt to rebuke the common practice of blaming all Jews for perceived violent Israeli actions, said that “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”

The head of the British opposition compared a UN member state to the worst Islamic terrorist group of which he could think. In Corbyn’s view, the Jewish state is a reprehensible terrorist entity of the likes of the Islamic State, but that does not mean all Jews are responsible for its actions.

(On a side note, Corbyn later attempted to downplay criticism of his comments, pointing out that he said the plural “Islamic states,” not “Islamic State.” However, as Michael Deacon notes in a July 4 article in The Independent, “[Corbyn] didn’t simply say “Islamic states;” he said “self-styled Islamic states.” Note that adjective “self-styled”…what’s a “self-styled” Islamic country? And how is it different from a regular Islamic country? Also, wouldn’t the more natural way to put it have been “Muslim” countries, rather than “Islamic?” The truth is that there is only one “self-styled Islamic state.” And that’s Islamic State.”)

Sheer ridiculousness aside, although Corbyn’s words constituted an improvement to the anti-Semitic notion that all Jews are responsible for Israel’s actions, they are representative of a rather new anti-Semitic trend: pitting Jews that are worthy of praise versus those deserving of condemnation.

Corbyn’s statement insinuates that not all Jews are bad. It is the Zionists who should be condemned. In fact, there are good Jews who oppose them!

At first glance, the notion seems innocent. This isn’t surprising, as it often comes from a position of goodwill and anti-racism. Those who make such a statement seek to counter the implication of all Jews in what they perceive to be the illegal, immoral actions of the Jewish state. However, whether they realize it or not, in their rush to not commit an anti-Semitic action they unwittingly perpetrate a different one.

John Paul-Pagano, a writer based in New York who recently published an article in Tablet Magazine on how anti-racism erases anti-Semitism, has commented on this phenomenon on Twitter, stating that “anti-racism is the standard…reply, but these people are, in effect if not always in intent, racist anti-racists.”

Beneath the idea’s benign exterior lies a sinister accusation: those who write or utter such a statement take it upon themselves to separate the “good” Jew from the “bad.”

Naturally, such actions elicit several concerns. What is the criteria for such a determination? More importantly, what gives them the right to make this determination? Who are they to tell Jews if they are good or bad (based on their artificial qualifications)? According to this belief, Zionist Jews, both in Israel and outside it, are a problem people who support the nefarious state of Israel. By contrast, the accusers “generously” insist on the innocence of those who don’t support the Jewish state.

This idea overlooks the fact that anti-Zionist Jews are a fringe group, constituting a minuscule percentage of the Jewish population worldwide. For example, according to a February 2014 article by Jonathan S. Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary, “the Pew Research Center of U.S. Jews published in October reported that 91 percent of Orthodox Jews, 88 percent of Conservative Jews, and even 70 percent of those who identified themselves as Reform Jews are either very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel. That means any discussion about observant Jews who are anti-Zionists is, by definition, one about a very tiny minority.”

Thus, to denounce Zionist Jews is to denounce the vast majority of Jews.

Relatedly, many use this idea of Zionist Jews versus the “good” Jews as a useful tool to demonize Israel through insinuating that a majority or plurality of Jews oppose the state.

In a feat of impressive proportions, Corbyn was able to touch on both of these aspects in follow up remarks he made several days after his comparison of Israel to the Islamic State.

Doubling down on his insistence that there is no problem within the Labour Party, Corbyn rejected Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth’s contention the party is not a “safe space” for Jews, stating that there are plenty of Jewish Labour organisations. He cited Jews for Justice for Palestinians, a British anti-Zionist organization, as an example.

Once again, Corbyn invoked the notion of the “good” Jews versus the “bad” ones, the good being those who oppose Israel. As was tweeted by Yair Rosenberg, a senior writer at Tablet Magazine, Corbyn insists that Labour welcomes Jews by “citing as evidence a fringe Jewish group that wants to boycott Israel.”

Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, agreed, tweeting that “JFJFP is a fringe [organization] that has almost no communal support.”

For Corbyn, Labour is a very welcoming place for Jews — as long as they are of the “approved” variety.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn is not the only one to express such sentiments.

Mehdi Hasan, a British political journalist who is the political editor of the UK version of The Huffington Post and host of Al Jazeera’s UpFront (the same Mehdi Hasan who bashed the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel as someone who went “from being a great victim of war crimes to being an apologist for those who commit them” a few hours after his death), committed the same condemnable error four days before Corbyn did.

During a June 26 interview with former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on the official’s anti-Semitic history, Mohamad stated that “Presidential candidates [in the United States] need to inform the Jewish lobby that they are supporting Israel.”

In response, Hasan calls Mohamad out on the latter’s anti-Semitism, asking him why he “[i]s conflating Israel with all Jews. All Jews are not responsible for Israel. Should all Muslims be conflated with ISIL?”

Just as with Corbyn, Hasan separates the “good” Jews from the “bad.” He admits that Israel is a “terrible” entity, but disputes that all Jews are responsible for it. From his perspective, Israel is as reprehensible as the Islamic State, but not all Jews support it, just as not all Muslims support the terrorist organization. Only Zionist Jews are deserving of condemnation; there are good Jews who oppose Israel, and they shouldn’t be criticized.

The irony of the fact that Hasan made the disturbing statement during an interview meant to address Mohamad’s anti-Semitism was seemingly lost on him.

Again, Hasan’s statement carried with it good intentions. He was valiantly interviewing Malaysia’s anti-Semitic former Prime Minister on his own sordid history. Yet in doing so, Hasan committed an egregious  mistake of his own. He then defended his comparison of Israel to the Islamic state as an “analogy” rather than a “conflation” in a subsequent tweet. Unlike with Corbyn, however, limited media attention was given to Hasan’s terminology.

Veiled under the guise of good intentions and simple criticism of Israeli policy, a new type of antisemitism has slowly been gaining traction. It is unique in that it usually comes as a response to another form of antisemitism, and that oftentimes — though not always — the perpetrators do not mean any harm. And it is quickly becoming a favorite tool of the anti-Israel intellectual Left.

The blatant anti-Semitism of Donald Trump’s supporters (and more than a few members of Labour) is rightly and correctly denounced. Other, less obvious variations of anti-Semitism, however, are just as condemnable as its traditional form, and need to be called out for what they are.

About the Author
Dor Cohen is currently a student at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.
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