Let’s get together to cut Corbyn’s wriggle room

This year may well be defined as when British Jewry and its representative organisations fought an onslaught of anti-Semitic attitudes and campaigns in Parliament, campuses and many public organisations with renewed vigour.

Prejudice and anti-Semitism are hardly new phenomena and I too had my share of battles in earlier parliaments. However, the number of new incidents and the co-ordination of anti-Semitic groups threatens national life and racial harmony.

To try to explain the how and why of anti-Semitism is complicated because of its deep roots from centuries of inexplicable hate.

The writer Hannah Arendt said the reason for this enmity was too irrational for any serious analysis and she used a joke to describe the limitations of this approach.

It went like this: “An anti-Semite claimed that the Jews had caused World War 1. The reply was : Yes the Jews and the bicyclists. Why the bicyclists? asks the one. Why the Jews? asks the other.”

Currently, some anti-Jews find it convenient to link their anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and the state of Israel. When the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was challenged with evidence of this within his party he dodged the issue. Hugo Rifkind writing in The Times remarked: “If he wants to shake off his extremism wing, (he) needs to stop wriggling and show humility”.

Extremism had found a convenient niche in Labour with the result that Corbyn was able to exploit the dissatisfaction associated with the economic situation in a similar fashion to other political leaders such as Alexis Tsipras in Greece and Pablo Iglesian in Spain. These have captured populist support.

Corbyn and John McDonnell and the associated Momentum group are in the process of controlling constituency Labour parties, for example in Bristol, and making life difficult and tense for sitting MPs. Against this background, it is unlikely the attitude of the leadership towards anti-Semitism will change.

Another dangerous concern is Corbyn’s contempt for parliament illustrated by his response to the all-party home affairs select committee, which found he failed to provide “consistent leadership” in tackling anti-Semitism within the party.

Typically, Corbyn responded by saying the damning report was biased and disproportionate. For Corbyn to dismiss a select committee report will create a precedent if he chooses to dismiss other reports affecting the country should they not meet with his politics.

So what is the future for Labour? It will be a testing time for those of us remaining in the party because Corbyn’s divisive policies of extremism will prevent an electoral majority. Come 2020, the nation will be confronted by Corbyn and the hard Brexit line of Theresa May. It will be a hard call as the 48 percent who voted to remain in the EU seek revenge for the cynical referendum campaign which the prime minister approved even if not party to it. Also, increasingly I hear from colleagues on all sides that Theresa May will not risk losing Number 10 and a snap election is on the cards. A new left-of-centre grouping is likely.

Finally, returning to Jewish concerns, specifically the growth of anti-Semitism, it is essential we respond to any attacks or abuse as racist.

One of the lessons of the Stockholm international forum, the largest conference devoted to the issues of prejudice, recognised that we shall, as Jews, need to overcome prejudice by forming the widest possible alliances.

At that conference and since, I have urged Jews and other minorities need to work together to ensure we are not isolated in our response whenever the charge is anti-Semitic or anti-black. Just as the anti-Semitic oppositions have forged links, we should make it clear Jews do not stand alone. Also it would have the clear advantage of minimising the wriggle room of Corbyn and others.

About the Author
Eric is a former Labour Party MP
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