The curious case of Michael Foster

Language invoking the Third Reich has no place in our political discourse. The Community Security Trust and various other groups fighting antisemitism have been unambiguous in criticising this bizarre indulgence, and with good reason.

At worst, it trivialises the events of those times and the memory of the murdered. It can demean and undermine those working in Holocaust Education. It is scarring to the survivors who lived to pass on their story to future generations.

In that vein, Michael Foster’s decision to label Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership team as ‘Stormtroopers’ was unwelcome in the extreme, or as the Board of Deputies litigiously described it – “inflammatory”.

Michael Foster, for the uninitiated, is a former Labour Party donor. Having recently taken the Party to court for allowing Jeremy Corbyn to contest the leadership election, it is fair to say he remains uncertain in his current support for Labour. He also happens to be Jewish, but more about that later.

In my view, his comments smacked of an unbecoming bitterness, rarely on show from the leading figures of our community. Surely British Jews face enough existential threats without the need to level the absurd and curious suggestion that Brownshirts somehow front Her Majesty’s Official Opposition?

Equally curious is the reaction that has followed Foster’s comments.

Swathes of the far left have decried Foster’s “antisemitism” as “worthy of immediate expulsion”. Waves of online petitions have been posted, letters to the General Secretary have been compiled, and demands for the party’s compliance unit to act have been uncompromising.

This newfound fervour amongst the far left in calling out perceived antisemitism must be welcomed. With Rosh Hashannah just around the corner, it is both timely and appreciated. Who knows, we could well be seeing the heralding of a sweet new year for fatigued Jewish members of the Labour Party.

Encouraged? Not so fast.

Notwithstanding the public fallout over the Chakrabarti Inquiry, there is still a shameful, unrelenting hostility from some corners when Jewish members speak about their concerns. There is still a shameful, unrelenting demonisation towards those trying to pitch in and make things better on our behalf.

At a recent leadership debate, there was audible heckling of a candidate who dared to raise Labour’s recent troubles with antisemitism.

On social media, criticism over the handling of anti-Jewish behaviour is still met with counter-accusations of smears and malicious intent.

In local Labour Party meetings, including one in the Leader’s backyard of Islington North, recent party misfortunes have been blamed on “the Israeli Ambassador”.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Labour Movement’s endorsement of Owen Smith in the leadership contest was followed by a deluge of bile targeted at its online forums.

So forgive me for saying that something does not sit well with the sudden bat-like sonar the far left have developed when challenging antisemitism.

Many in such circles have spent months criticising the ‘weaponisation’ of antisemitism by ‘the right’ within the Party. That is to say, the use of allegations of antisemitism for political ends unrelated to stopping anti-Jewish hate.

It therefore seems remarkably curious that Foster, a chief critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, has come in for such fierce condemnation, not least when those accusing him have reacted with such hostility towards similar claims placed on their own doorstep.

As a Jewish Labour Movement executive member, I have been repeatedly asked to condemn Foster’s comments. I am personally happy to do that, as I have done in this piece. However, I would suggest that obsessive demands for Jewish community figures to take responsibility for a prominent individual’s questionable behaviour enters more worrying territory.

Foster’s comments were undoubtedly regrettable, and there is a strong case to argue that he should retract them. However the not so subtle salivating over a Jewish figure’s very public gaffe is giving me more cause concern than Foster’s regrettable choice of words.

In thinking this, I am sure I am not alone.


About the Author
Jay is a National Executive member, Jewish Labour Movement
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