The Tories’ links to anti-semitism can no longer be ignored by Labour, in spite of deafening silence within mainstream media
Last week, I cordially invited the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Campaign Against Antisemitism to endorse a joint statement calling out the Tory party’s formal and informal links to European political groups and leaders with deplorable records on anti-semitism. All of them refused without explanation.
Just as mural-gate and ‘maror’-gate were beginning to recede from the headlines, we got yet more hysterical and deeply personalised attacks on Jews by the British media. In keeping with the dominant narrative, these attacks have been exclusively focused on left-wing Jews. Their crime on this particular occasion was daring to demand that they be represented in Jeremy Corbyn’s much hyped meeting with Jewish groups, scheduled for this week.
This vitriolic abuse in the name of resisting anti-semitism is depressingly helping to normalise it. To understand why, consider this campaign statement by Hungary’s recently re-elected authoritarian leader Viktor Orban
Such statements surfaced routinely against the backdrop of a billboard campaign exclusively targeting not the actual political opposition to Hungary’s incumbent government, but one George Soros: the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire turned social democrat, accused by Orban and his party of plotting to take over the country.
Now imagine that, in the wake of ‘Mural-gate’, and in spite of widespread condemnation of Orban from Jewish groups around the world, a senior front bench figure from the Labour Party warmly congratulated him and his Fidesz party on their election victory, embracingly referring to them as ‘friends’. The outcry across the media and from ‘mainstream’ Jewish groups would be rightly and undeniably deafening.
That the foreign secretary Boris Johnson did just that, with barely a raised eyebrow in Fleet Street or Westminster, speaks volumes about how politically and ideologically corrupted the fight against anti-semitism has become.
Last week, I cordially invited the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Campaign Against Antisemitism to endorse a joint statement condemning Boris Johnson for his remarks and calling Theresa May to account for the Tories’ formal links to other political parties in Europe with equally deplorable records on anti-semitism. All of them refused without explanation.
The statement — endorsed by four of the main progressive Jewish groups — was shared widely on social media but elicited not the slightest media attention. The message was clear enough: a dangerous and authoritarian regime within Europe’s borders openly espousing anti-semitic tropes whilst the UK’s foreign secretary congratulates them as ‘friends’ is acceptable, normal, not a news story. But a flippant Facebook post by Jeremy Corbyn six years ago questioning the censorship of an unquestionably crap piece of street art that was questionably anti-semitic– a story which originally ran in the Jewish Chronicle in 2015 when it was apparently not deemed sufficiently newsworthy by Fleet Street — suddenly and inexplicably attracted legions of headline copy across the British media, just as Labour launched its crucial local election campaign.
This makes no sense. But then again nor does Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu who has been just as ingratiating towards the Hungarian regime as Boris Johnson. Nor does the farcical ‘general debate on anti-semitism’ held last week in the Commons, called by the Conservatives in the wake of mural-gate. Of course, this was never going to be anything like a general debate on anti-semitism but simply another unchallenged platform for centrist Labour MPs to point their finger at Corbyn. The ‘hit list’ of abuse read out by Ruth Smeeth was indeed shocking, but provided no evidence of a ‘rampant’ culture of anti-semitism alleged to be subsuming Labour, much less any culpability that could reasonably be laid at Corbyn’s door.
Smeeth’s speech nevertheless pinpointed the pro-Corbyn hashtag JC4PM as being a key channel for the abuse she claimed to have faced since attending the anti-Corbyn, anti-semitism march last month. But a search on that hashtag using either her name or Twitter handle reveals no evidence of such abuse. It is of course entirely plausible that offending tweets have since been deleted, though I did find one example from an account that was barely a month old (and not on the JC4PM hashtag). It is equally plausible that any offending tweets were made not by Labour members or even necessarily Corbyn supporters, and the obvious potential for ‘infiltration’ is one of many reasons why Labour must urgently implement procedures for investigating and handling complaints that are robust, transparent, fair and based on the principles of natural justice.
Whatever the inevitable cries of denial or whataboutery, this is palpably not to deflect attention from Labour’s particular and very real problems with anti-semitism. People who question or even defend the right to question the holocaust are indisputably espousing anti-semitic ideas; as are people who invoke Jewish stereotypes or use obviously derogatory language implicitly or explicitly referencing Jews. Examples of such language within the Labour movement have indeed surfaced with alarming regularity in recent years, which is partly an inevitable consequence of Labour’s massive growth in membership under Corbyn. But there is also undoubtedly a worrying tendency amongst some in the left to tread the line between contempt for Israel and hatred of Jews, and to blindly defend or overlook both subtle and egregious examples of anti-semitic discourse.
But this was not the concern of mural-gate, as any cursory look at the anatomy of the story reveals. For years, journalists across Fleet Street have been searching for the smoking gun that will identify Jeremy Corbyn as the anti-semite they believe him to be, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They have fixated on the most spurious examples of guilt by association: a reference to members of Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’ at a peace building meeting wholly taken out of context; or his membership of a Facebook group where anti-semitic comments were made by other members. All the while the Tories’ formal and current inks to anti-semitic political groups in Europe is wholly accepted, tolerated, and ignored by professional journalists in legion.
That their biggest scoop was a six year-old Facebook post that didn’t even endorse the allegedly anti-semitic mural by Mear One suddenly placed back under the spotlight, says all we need to know about what this story was really about.
Speaking personally and as a Jew, I did not think that Mear One’s mural was anti-semitic. For that I’ve been derided and dismissed as irresponsible, harbouring an ‘agenda’, being utterly blinded by a devout allegiance to Corbyn, and espousing ‘horrifying’ views. But those who maintain that the mural was something Goebbels would have been proud of, have obviously not been sufficiently exposed to the horrors of Nazi propaganda.
A mural depicting bankers — Jewish and non-Jewish — with symbolic reference to global conspiracy and Freemasonry (a non-Jewish institution) may be an affront to good street art, but it is far from unequivocally anti-semitic, in spite of the overwhelming column inches and airtime afforded to those who say it was.
I nevertheless respect those who feel differently about the mural. And Corbyn was right to say that allegations of anti-semitism within Labour cannot just be dismissed as a smear campaign. But equally, the Labour Party must now use the opportunity of this week’s meeting with Jewish groups to challenge those who dismiss anyone with views different to their own as anti-semitic apologists; those who hurl personal abuse at left wing Jewish leaders whilst in the same breath decrying the abuse of right-wing Jewish Labour MPs; who turn a blind eye to Tory links to virulent anti-semitism in European politics and who self-proclaim the right to speak for and on behalf of all Jews.
Little wonder the burgeoning movement of Jewish dissent is once again invoking that most powerful and defiant slogan of resistance: Not in our name.