Does the Labour leadership even care about its Jewish members?
An old Jewish joke has a shipwrecked Jew building a synagogue on a desert island to help him keep his faith during long years of isolation. The captain of the ship which eventually rescues him is impressed with the castaway’s construction but is confused that he has built a second synagogue on the other side of the island. ‘Oh’, explains the Jewish man. ‘That one is the synagogue I would NEVER go to!’.
At the 2006 Labour Party annual conference I was speaking at a fringe meeting on Jewish-Muslim relations and, in answer to a question about the diversity of opinion in both communities, improvised a joke on a similar theme, explaining that there are 270,000 Jews in the UK, with 270,001 opinions on any given subject.
We do enjoy a good joke about ourselves, us Red Sea Pedestrians. Especially the ones that reveal a deeper truth such as joy in disputation. For even more than a good joke we do love a good broiges.
From the quarrelling rabbis of the Talmud, through the various strains of religious and political thought emerging from the Enlightenment, to the chamber of the Knesset (which contains both Jewish and Islamic fundamentalists), we’ve always rather thrived on intellectual confrontation. It takes quite a lot for Jewish people to walk away from vigorous debate.
That is what is happening now though in the Labour Party with debate over the Middle East.
Events this week at the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) have meant a full exposure of what many have been insisting for well over a decade: Labour has a Jewish problem and it reveals itself in the over-emotional, slanted, monomaniacal treatment of ‘Israel’ at all levels of the Party.
This madness has three symptoms:
- Obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict to the near-exclusion of all similar or even more significant conflicts. This is usually coupled with hypocritical justifications for this. Israel is a democracy and therefore should be held to a higher standard say the people who in the next breath insist that Israel is not a democracy. The UK and Israel have unique links which we can use for influence say the same people who also want to break the link and boycott, divest and sanction anything Israeli.
- The use of tropes in relation to Israel’s place in the world that exactly match millennia-old antisemitic tropes. According to much of the ‘left’, Israel and its supporters (‘zionists’) use wealth and cunning, including guilt-tripping over the Holocaust (that may also have been faked), to control the world’s media and governments so it can get away with bloodthirsty behaviour. No other country gets treated this way. Not China with its extensive ‘soft power’ in Africa. Not Russia, Iran or Qatar with their state-sponsored media empires. Not the various tyrannies that pepper our planet and who kill more people in a year than the Israel-Palestine conflict has managed in 70. No. Only Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, gets associated with behaviour that just so happens to be precisely the same as that which antisemites have insisted are Jewish traits throughout history.
- The complete denial of point 2 while simultaneously insisting on the prevalence of other prejudices. The debate over Europe engenders xenophobia. Discussion of the muslim world is frequently islamophobic. Our view of Africa is unavoidably racist. But no way, not ever, does engagement on ‘Israel’ veer anywhere near to antisemitism. Impossible. And because it’s impossible, those who do raise it can only be doing so in a mendacious way, in order to defame and undermine those who are legitimately criticising Israel.
In recent years, this mania has further embedded itself in the Labour ‘left’ through alliances with harder left groups, who see responsibility for all the world’s problems as lying with the capitalist, expansionist West (of which Israel is the apparent epitome); and with Islamist organisations who are more, shall we say, traditional and fundamental in their opposition to Jewish, never mind, Israeli presences anywhere.
Tonight, on LBC, Ken Livingstone, a man who as Mayor of London literally rolled out the red carpet and literally embraced at City Hall the openly antisemitic Yusuf al-Qaradawi, said that he had never — never — come across anti-Jewish sentiment in his decades on the ‘left’. It is a wilful blindness to a problem that he has helped create.
It is from leaders like Ken and Jeremy Corbyn (when he praises the likes of Raed Saleh, for example) that the brattish, tinpot social justice warriors of OULC get their cues to invoke antisemitic tropes, dismiss concerns about them, and to portray themselves as brave challengers of a privileged ‘Zionist’ ‘class’. (Of course, sometimes the mask slips and our SJWs forget to replace ‘Jews’ with ‘Zionist’).
And it is from that leadership that we need to see a full and sincere response to the allegations of antisemitism in OULC. Labour Students, much to their credit, have responded robustly and launched an inquiry. Former students have spoken out most eloquently. At the time of writing, however, we are heading in to the third day of this story and not one Labour frontbencher, never mind a member of the Shadow Cabinet, has said a word. I know they’ve been busy vociferously condemning the Russian bombing of the MSF hospital in Syria, but does not one of them, perhaps even the Dear Leader himself, have a single thought about the bigoted behaviour of our Party’s student members?
The silence, it greatly saddens me to say, speaks volumes.