Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his bank-manager-like sidekick John McDonnell have pulled off a remarkable trick. They have managed to convince young people, unfamiliar with their sinister political histories, that they represent a new exciting strain of radical policy.
Talk of nationalising the railways and other public services and abolishing tuition fees for universities, plus the image of plain-speaking ‘nice’ leaders has taken them a long way among great swathes of the population. Members of my own family in trendy media and high-tech tell me how deeply disturbed they are about the enthusiasm among colleagues for Corbyn and his colleagues and how little knowledge, if any, they have about the anti-Semitism of the extreme left.
There is a modern tendency to associate anti-Semitism with parties of the far right, a legacy of the Nazi era and the Shoah.
That still exists, as we know from some of the people involved in extremist parties across Europe which have come to the fore because of the twin pressures of eurozone economic turmoil and immigration.
But there is an equally virulent strain of anti-Semitism that now disguises itself as anti-Zionism and comes from the left. It goes a long way to explaining the madcap theories of Ken Livingstone, the mealy-mouthed condemnations of Jeremy Corbyn and his ilk and the shabby inquiry by former Liberty boss Shami Chakrabarti, now sitting
comfortably in the Lords.
There is a tendency among progressive opinion leaders in the Jewish community to regard the Labour left’s anti-Semitism as a passing phase, a reaction to perceived Israeli misbehaviour in the Middle East which could be erased if, for instance, Israel retreated behind the ‘Green Line’ or gave up its settlement policy. It is a smokescreen.
When Israel does withdraw from ‘occupied territory’, as when late prime minister Ariel Sharon uprooted settlements in Gaza, the critics simply shift to another target. Meanwhile, it is rare to hear the hard left condemning the real genocide in the region, Bashir Assad’s assault on his own people.
A new book* by Kingston University professor Philip Spencer, a member of my Richmond US community, traces the roots of left-wing anti-Semitism back to the 18th-century enlightenment. Before then, Jews were discriminated against because they were different. Afterwards, they were allowed to become fuller members of society but because they insisted on retaining some of their separatist traditions were seen as having acquired special privileges and exploiting them for economic gain while refusing to become part of a universal society.
Spencer and his fellow author argue that on the far left the Jewish question is used to explain the winners and the losers of a capitalist society. Jews are seen in all contexts as standing out against universal principles.
Spencer argues Corbyn and his cohorts have a ‘grotesque’ view of the world with a long history of supporting bad causes including the old Soviet Union and the IRA and are now intent on demonising Jews through their support of Israel.
He describes those members of our society who write to papers such as the Guardian complaining of Israel’s actions as the new ‘Court Jews’ who buy into a universalist creed rather than identify with their own
We haven’t heard enough of that part of the Corbyn narrative in our all-too-polite general election campaign.
*Antisemitism and the Left, by Robert Fine and Philip Spencer, is published by Manchester University Press, priced £20