Before I started writing this I wrestled with whether I should write it. I’m not Jewish, I’m not an expert on antisemitism, so what do I know? And then I thought to myself, I’m a Labour member. I have a nose for injustice. I’m being called an antisemite in the street, for sitting in the passenger seat of a car that sports a Labour bumper sticker. Of course not everyone will agree with what I’m about to write but these are my thoughts laid out for those who are interested in reading them. This is me unpicking what ‘Labour’s antisemitism problem’ really means to me, and what we can do about it.
Has Labour got an antisemitism problem?
Yes, in so much as any degree of antisemitism is a problem.
Less than 0.1% of Labour members have been disciplined for antisemitism over the past three years. This might seem like a relatively low figure, but unreported incidents mean it could be much higher than this, and in a
party that prides itself on being opposed to all forms of discrimination and prejudice, we should be aiming for 0.0000%. Of course this is a tall order but we don’t shy from tall orders on the left, like the eradication of homelessness, so let’s let our much maligned idealism guide us on this too. There is also a tendency by a small minority on the left to buy into conspiracy theories about shadowy, hugely wealthy figures running the world. This is not a giant leap from nazi propaganda about Jews running the world, and therefore needs to be challenged and avoided. We need to see it as a system we are striving to transform, rather than a few all powerful individuals who need to be overthrown. The understandable and passionate anger surrounding the actions of Israel can occasionally cross the line into Jew blaming, though of course it is NOT antisemitic to blame the state of Israel for its actions toward the Palestinians and the two should not be conflated. Those who do conflate it, should be condemned. We can educate ourselves to become more aware of antisemitism, and what constitutes questionable or offensive language, theories etc via organisations like Jewdas.
Does society have an antisemitism problem?
According to the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, over a quarter of all Brits hold antisemitic views to some degree. So yes, it is a huge societal problem. According to hate crime figures in the UK, crimes related to antisemitism are on the rise, with 1382 incidents recorded last year,the highest figure since records began in 1984. Empathy and validation for the understandable fears Jewish people feel about antisemitism on the left and in society as a whole, are essential if we are going to move forward together.
Why is there so much focus on antisemitism on the left when research has proven its far more prevalent on the far right?
Because the left are close to power and the far right are not, is the short answer. Under Corbyn we have become a populist party with a strong vein of anti-Israel sentiment running through it. This is enough to trigger anxieties which stem from a collective trauma still recent in historical terms. Of course this fear will be exploited by those who don’t want to live under a Corbyn led government.
How should cases of antisemitism in Labour be dealt with?
As swiftly as possible and via education where possible, rather than expulsion, unless the person is closed off to being educated. Why? Because when antisemitism is not addressed within the party via education, all we are really doing is washing our hands of it, rather than tackling it as the societal issue it is.
Are some MPs, sections of the media etc, exaggerating and therefore exploiting the understandable fears around antisemitism?
Undoubtedly. The same MPs who try to insinuate the membership is made up of Trotskyite thugs, who spend all their days trolling hard working MPs online, are the same MPs who are now labelling the left as being intrinsically antisemitic. This is no coincidence. We are right to be angry about this, and we are right to call it out when we know it’s happening. However we should
not fall into the trap these people are deliberately setting for us where we grow so defensive, we deny there is any antisemitism on the left. I’m not saying that’s easy. As I mentioned earlier, only a week ago a complete stranger marched up to my friend’s car which sported a Labour sticker, and aggressively shouted ‘antisemites’ at us through the open drivers window. That was living proof that Labour is being so successfully stained as an antisemitic party, people assume you must be antisemitic if you are a member. That hurts and makes me angry because it’s wrong. Labour has a proud history of fighting racism and antisemitism and we are continuing that tradition under Corbyn. A small element with antisemitic views does not mean Labour is an antisemitic party, anymore than a few callous doctors means medicine is an uncaring profession. Fighting negative stereotyping is part of our political DNA, so why should we allow ourselves to be unjustly stereotyped? However we must still accept the exploitation of antisemitism and the existence of antisemitism are not either/or issues. Either the issue is being exploited, or there is no issue.
Both can co-exist, albeit uncomfortably alongside each other.
What makes you so sure it’s being exploited?
Apart from the fact it’s the same MPs who have denigrated Corbyn and his supporters from day one of his leadership and before, who are suggesting the party is a hotbed of antisemitism, they do often out themselves as exploiters through timing (ramping up the outrage just before key elections, and then falling relatively quiet after), or by inadvertent comments through which their agenda slips. For example, Thangam Debbonaire, an MP on Labour’s right, stated on Daily Politics that antisemitism in the Tory party is not her problem. As a Labour MP her concern was only with antisemitism in the Labour Party. Why would you only care about antisemitism in your own party? Doesn’t antisemitism within government ranks affect your constituents just as much, if not more than antisemitism in the Labour Party? Or is it the case that antisemitism in the Tory party is of no interest to you because you are not interested in damaging them electorally? The same goes for the right wing media. I tallied up 42 Labour/antisemitism based articles in the month preceding the local elections and only 3 since. If antisemitism is a huge problem in the Labour Party, why does it cease to be a huge problem the day after elections?
There are many left Jews who are angry at antisemitism being exploited in this way, and they are right to be, and deserve our support. There are also left Jews who are growing increasingly frustrated at the way the issue is slammed as merely a smear or a non issue. We need to ensure we call out the exploiters without denying antisemitism exists.
Why doesn’t antisemitism and racism in the Tory Party get a fraction of the exposure Labour are getting over antisemism?
Because they are Tories, and no one in the establishment or on the Labour right wants to give them a hard time.
But aren’t we falling into their trap if we say the left have a problem with antisemitism, when statistics show we are not rife with it?
No. Falling into their trap is denying we have any problem with antisemitism at all, because firstly, that’s not true. How could we be spared a problem so prevalent in society? And secondly, denial of its very existence feeds into the fears of Jewish people who need reassurance that we do take it seriously. I actually think Jeremy Corbyn has it right when he cites the actual statistics whilst acknowledging the problem exists. That way we are not denying the issue, but we are putting it into context.