Everything I never wanted to have to know about Labour and antisemitism
I want the last four years of my life back
Update: two and a half years is a long time in politics. Since the publication of this piece, a couple of the writers cited have gone on to express views I find objectionable with regards to trans rights. As far as I am aware, there was no indication at the of these problematic views at the time of writing. If I had a time machine, I’d go back & quote someone else but in the interests of transparency, I’ve left the piece as it was when I published it. I fact checked it at the time and regardless of the messenger, to the best of my knowledge and research, the information is valid and accurate.
Recently I’ve been in a lot of interactions with people who are totally new to the conversation about Labour and antisemitism. I have found it very difficult to articulate my perspective on it. Not because there’s nothing to say, but because there’s so much to say it’s overwhelming. And because it’s complicated. Very complicated.
First of all, if you’re new to this and listening, thank you. I know a lot of my fellow activists will be annoyed that I’m taking this tone but at this point I am so exhausted from four years of begging people to listen on this subject that I am grateful for any new allies and support. If you are listening, you’re already doing more than most.
One of the most devastating aspects of Labour’s antisemitism crisis has been seeing the sheer volume of people I like, respect, even consider friends, denying or minimising this issue which has caused me so much personal devastation. Tweet after tweet from moderates and pals, suggestions that people who don’t hold their nose and vote for Labour are “idiots” or “as bad as Tories” or “responsible for homelessness”. I will speak more about this at the end of the article, if you get that far. Knowing what I know about Labour and antisemitism and seeing it so callously disregarded by people I hugely respect has been one of the most tiring and demoralising things I’ve ever been through.
I have done my best to approach this as dispassionately as possible, but it has been very difficult. I am passionate. I am angry. I am hurt. I am frightened. Most of all, I am utterly exhausted. This article has taken over a week, a team of dedicated volunteer researchers and fact checkers (who I cannot thank enough for their time and energy) and the very last of my reserves.
I am glad it has done so, because while I was writing this piece, Jewish Labour Movement’s redacted submission to the EHRC (The Equality and Human Rights Commission, currently investigating the Labour Party for institutional antisemitism) was leaked. I will address the damning report, which can be read in full here, later in the article.
This piece is long. If you look up TL;DR in the dictionary, it’s just a link to this piece. But I’ve done my best to keep it as simple and easy to understand as possible. And if you are truly a committed anti-racist who wants to understand what’s going on, it’s worth taking the time to read and digest it. Other, smarter, people have written extensively on this topic and I’ll hyperlink to those along the way.
First of all a bit about me and my history in the Labour Party — and why I feel so strongly about this. As I say in my thread, antisemitism on the left, and indeed in the Labour Party, did not start with Corbyn. But since 2015, it has been mainstreamed and exacerbated in a way I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.
This is an article I’ve been writing in my head and heart for four angry and confusing years. It’s swirled around my brain at night, waking me up, arguing back and forth, keeping my body in a state of constant tension and anxiety. Whenever people have asked me for “evidence” of Labour’s antisemitism I’ve baulked — not because it can’t be provided, but because it’s like saying “show me evidence of the patriarchy” and expecting an answer that fits into a soundbite. And also because those demanding evidence rarely genuinely want to see it when it’s provided.
Anyway, more of that later — let’s dive in.
Are accusations of antisemitism all smears by the right-wing media to undermine Jeremy Corbyn?
One thing I hear a lot is that most people have not been following this story and each development with alarm. They have only seen headline news. And from sources they don’t trust. They’ve also seen a lot of very unsavoury characters, often on the right or even far-right, sharing antisemitism stories and it makes them wonder if the Jewish community is simply being whipped up into a frenzy by nefarious interests. Others engaging less in good faith and more in… well, racist faith… think it’s the Jewish community themselves doing the whipping up, but we will get to that.
First of all to address the far-right point, I share that frustration. One of the worst things to come of this is that on occasion, some of the most horrific people have come out to disingenuously defend us. People with Britain First in their Twitter bios. People who clearly have no sincere interest in combatting antisemitism. Sometimes I have seen others share Islamophobic sources or share platforms with problematic people in order to defend this issue and it has caused me a lot of pain and frustration.
The reason this frustrates me so much is that it makes people think they have the right to undermine the fact that there is a very real and very alarming issue. It paints things erroneously as Labour vs the right and conflates the right with Jews. It drowns out Jewish voices who are genuinely afraid and gets them lost in a sea of confusing noise. It gives ammunition to the idea that Labour antisemitism is all smears to divide politically. It also means some good people become hypocrites in their frustration. It means they are willing to overlook problematic aspects from those willing to defend them. I am not one of those people. Maybe life would be easier if I was.
But as I say the reason this “Jews vs the left” narrative is so frustrating is that it’s not true. The word “weaponised” is thrown around a lot, and perhaps there are some people guilty of doing so, but they would not be able to do that without something to weaponise. I am Jewish, I am left-wing and I have examined the evidence for myself and come to the conclusion that Labour, enabled by Corbyn, has become institutionally antisemitic. Many others like me have done the same. It is appalling to disregard our voices because problematic characters have also picked up on the issue, just as it would be, for example, appalling to disregard the Palestinian cause because it has also been championed by some of the characters you’ll read about below. We do not, as anti-racists, choose who we defend on this basis. This principle, in the last four years, has been tragically lost.
Corbyn has a personal problematic history of racist associations and remarks. It has also become clear that his leadership team, and on occasions Corbyn himself, have been complicit in letting their mates off the hook, burying or capitulating on important cases and allowing the issue to become embedded at an institutional level. However, alongside the institutional issues, a culture of antisemitism and conspiracy theories about Jews and Jewish identity have been spread and promoted over the last four years in and around the Labour Party. This has been spearheaded by alt/new-left media sites such as The Canary and Skwawkbox, high-profile Twitter accounts which purport to support the leadership, and huge echo chambers on Facebook where people share posts to reinforce those views. The result is toxic culture of antisemitism and its associated denial which has seen the mainstreaming of antisemitism into British public life in a way that Jews here have never seen before.
Over the last four years, I have had to be forensic in my examination of each claim, given that some of the sources and sites breaking new information can be dodgy at best & extremely problematic at worst. Again, there are countless amazing activists who are diligent and reliable sources, brave whistleblowers who are relaying first-hand evidence, but if you’re new to the issue it can be hard to know what’s what and who’s who. Confusingly, some of those dodgy sources have often uncovered some of the most egregious examples of antisemitism which have actually checked out, so it is a very complicated picture and one that isn’t easy for someone like me who is left-wing to reconcile. This isn’t a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend for me, but sometimes my enemy’s enemy has found something accurate and alarming which needs urgent assessing.
It means I’ve spent four years seeing a headline in a newspaper or an accusation in a tweet and digging into the background of each thing to ensure its veracity & that it’s not an overreach or overreaction before I share it or consider it as part of the overall picture. I never want to be someone who simply grabs a pitchfork or acts on a grudge and I spend a lot of time arguing with myself before I reach a conclusion on anything. Over four years of new evidence and incidents emerging on a daily basis, this has become a rather exhausting pursuit.
When people think it’s all smears, they think one of two things. Either:
- The 87% of the Jewish community who believe Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite is so gullible, easily led & devoid of agency that they have been easily whipped into a frenzy by a malicious media campaign with no merit. Or
- Jews are whipping people up against Corbyn for their own ends. These theories are almost always antisemitic in nature (doing it to protect their money, doing it to protect Israel, all Jews are right wing etc)
Do those sincerely sound like anti-racist views?
Types of antisemitism
I am all too aware of the nuances of anti-Israel sentiment and where that intersects with antisemitism. The reason I feel I need to explain this in detail is that it is one of the more confusing ways in which Corbyn’s particular issue has played out and the issue at large on the left. It’s very easy to identify right-wing antisemitism, but left-wing antisemitism can be tied up in a complicated geopolitical conflict which makes it harder to spot & understand. So here is a quick rundown of types of antisemitism, all of which will play a part in this story.
Classic and conspiratorial antisemitism
Others have outlined, in much more academic terms, the development of antisemitic themes and ideas over time. But for those in a hurry, here are some of the most recurrent tropes:
- The idea of Jews as Christ killers. The idea that Jews are to blame for society losing its Messiah.
- Jews are wealthy and greedy / obsessed with money. See the depiction of Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, for example. Sometimes individual Jews are used as racist dog whistles to exemplify this idea of wealth and control, for example the Rothschild family and George Soros.
- Jews are all-powerful and collude to control key industries such as the media, politics, finance. Even pornography, apparently, is under Jewish control. This belief is at the root of most contemporary conspiracy theories, such as “the Jews did 9/11”.
- Jews are hook-nosed, ugly, vermin, lizards — the dehumanising and othering of Jews.
- Jews are only loyal to their own community over their host country. This is called the dual-loyalty trope and is also used to imply Jews are not full citizens / don’t belong where they live / have grown up. I will expand on this when I talk about crossover with criticism of Israel, but equally I have had many messages from people who I believed should know better, whenever I talk about antisemitism, that the Jewish community is selfishly depriving the nation of a socialist government, that Jews don’t care about the poor (because we’re all rich of course) or the sick (because we’re all in perfect health) and that we are all right-wing bad-faith actors. Speaking out against antisemitism is translated to “Jews hate sick children and want them all to die”.
- An extension of this is Jews “poisoning the well” (in Medieval times this was meant literally) acting nefariously against their fellow citizens. This is used to scapegoat Jews for society’s problems. This is why it becomes problematic when people start talking about Jews in terms of a “fifth column” or “enemy within”.
- Blood libel: most literally it’s the accusation that Jews use human blood for baking matzot (unleavened bread) for Passover. If so, this is news to me as a vegetarian Jew. It usually specifies the blood of children / Christian children. In modern terms, Jews are accused without basis of sinister acts such as organ harvesting or paedophelia. I personally have been put on Twitter lists with names like “paedophiles” for the simple act of speaking up about antisemitism.
- Holocaust denial, minimisation or the accusation that Jews cynically exaggerate or use the Holocaust for political reasons or to garner sympathy (I will expand on this when it comes to talking about issues relating to the state of Israel).
- Calling Jews Nazis / using the Holocaust against them in a way that’s specifically designed to hurt Jews.
- Sometimes Israel is criticised in a way that employs these tropes — sometimes Jews are criticised for the actions of the Israeli state over which they have no control. This is the point at which anti-Zionism and antisemitism intersect, but it’s also more complicated than that, as I’ll outline.
Isn’t this all about protecting Israel?
No. The leaked submission to the EHRC shows that much of the abuse aimed at Jews has very little to do with Israel. However, it does come into it, so I’ll explain it here. If you were paying attention before, you’ll notice that this idea is an antisemitic trope in itself. The classic dual loyalty trope. Jews as a collective are deviously conspiring to protect a foreign state from criticism because ultimately Jews will always put their own interests before those of everyone else.
That is not to say that Israel doesn’t have significant meaning for the vast majority of Britain’s Jews but the picture is far more complicated than its racist caricature.
The problem with Labour’s brand of antisemitism is that in many cases the moment Israel is mentioned, the argument becomes that the comment was solely about Israel. However, there are instances where the comment will have nothing to do with Israel at all but is simply a fig-leaf for age-old antisemitism, perhaps replacing the word “Jew” with “Zionist”. For example, “Zionists control the media” or “you’re just a greedy Zionist” play on the oldest antisemitic tropes of Jews controlling the media or loving money, has nothing to do with criticism of the Israeli government and is very hard to explain to someone who is entirely new to the topic.
Other examples include people shouting “free Palestine” at random Jews. It’s sort of like (an imperfect analogy, I am not comparing Israel to ISIS) shouting “fuck ISIS” at a random Muslim person. It’s collective blame based solely on racial or religious or cultural association.
As I mentioned, another trope is a dual loyalty trope which far predates Israel but is now attached to Israel in antisemitic discourse. The idea of Jews being loyal to Jews above their home state or trying to cause discord in society for nefarious ends. Almost any time I raise the issue of antisemitism, someone will reply to me telling me I’m in the pay of the Israeli government or I’m trying to protect Israel from criticism. This happens daily, when I haven’t mentioned Israel.
I also recognise there are serious grey areas. Some people are too quick to react to legitimate criticism of Israel. Some types of criticism are disputed. I will get to that. Some people argue that ALL anti-Zionism is antisemitism. I don’t believe that either. There is plenty of debate within the Jewish community itself about this. But this type of overreaching is the same with absolutely any type of activism. The fact that some people get it wrong or you disagree with their perspective does not invalidate the overall truth of the situation and Jews’ concerns should not be collectively written off because not all activists have perfect opinions.
Isn’t this all about Corbyn fighting Zionism?
The important thing to address is the word Zionist. There are, of course, anti-Zionist Jews, but the majority of the Jewish community, who do identify as Zionists, do not recognise the definition of Zionism as imposed on them by popular discourse. For many, Zionism simply means support for a safe haven for Jews after pogroms & the Holocaust in a diaspora. While Zionism, both religious and political, existed pre-Holocaust, it gained more traction in the wake of the slaughter of six million Jews in Europe. Those who survived simply no longer felt they could trust the wider world with their safety. In that context it doesn’t seem an unreasonable position. However many non-Jewish people infer from the word “Zionist” unquestioning support for the Israeli government and all its policies and actions. It can also be read to mean a colonialist movement intended to oppress Palestinians or support for the killing of Palestinians. While that might be true for a horrible minority, it is certainly not what Zionism means to almost all Jews. Zionism is a diverse political ideology, incorporating groups from tireless peace activists to hardcore settlers and everyone in between. Many are horrified by the idea that their self-determination has resulted in this seemingly intractable, bloody and horrific conflict and at the expense of another people.
The idea of Jews as a colonialist or colonising force is partly rooted in the idea that Jews are white. Judaism is both a religion and an ethnic group — an ethnoreligious group — which originated in the Middle East during the 2nd millennium BCE. Through various periods in exile, the Jewish diaspora has grown in many places across the world, leading over the centuries to many different groups of Jews. Northern European Jews such as most British Jews are Ashkenazi. The other major groups of Jews are Sephardi (Spanish and Portuguese Jews), Mizrahi (from the Middle East and North Africa including Iran and Central Asia), Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) and several smaller groups such as Indian Jews, and Chinese Jews. Mizrahim are the majority in Israel (some 61% of Israeli Jews) while Ashkenazim are the majority worldwide. All of these groups are as Jewish as each other. Even Ashkenazi Jews were murdered throughout Europe and in the Holocaust on the basis of their ethnicity, not their religion. White nationalists do not view Jews as white, but as white-passing enemies who wish to replace white people. However, white Jews do benefit from white privilege in many ways and the types of discrimination they experience can be very different. Within the Jewish community itself, Jewish intersectionality is a complicated and thorny issue, but it is problematic, ignorant and historically illiterate in itself to dismiss Jewish suffering on the whole due to “whiteness” or to attribute the desire for self-determination to a form of white supremacy.
The word Zionist as a slur and the demonisation of any Jews who identify as such, no matter how humanitarian or supportive of Palestinian statehood, has blurred some very complicated lines as to demonise the vast majority of the Jewish community, often with little understanding of political or religious Zionism.
What this means in practice is several things, which are intrinsic to the way this Labour crisis has played out. The first is that Jews on the left are often expected to denounce Zionism as a concept or expect no solidarity, which to them is simply about somewhere to go should the shit hit the fan again. The position is very extreme — if you don’t want the state of Israel wiped off the map, you don’t belong on the left. While there are many on the left who don’t think this way, this has been at the core of some of the types of exclusion and bullying of Jews. How this can manifest is Jews being excluded from progressive movements in general. Worldwide Jews have been banned from taking rainbow Star of David flags, the symbol of Judaism since the 1400s (the Star of David, not the rainbow, that’d be cool though) on LGBT+ marches. In the eighties many of Corbyn’s pals (Seumas Milne, George Galloway) attempted to have Jewish societies banned on campuses because they were labelled Zionists. There have been campaigns to have kosher foods banned because they come from Israel. It has also resulted in a very sinister form of Holocaust denial or minimisation.
This begins with the idea that Jews have milked the Holocaust for sympathy or to be granted their own state and leads people down very dangerous paths of stating that the figure of six million dead is exaggerated or that the Holocaust itself was a hoax.
So how does Corbyn come into it?
This leads me to Corbyn. The way the issue has been portrayed by many is that Corbyn is a well-meaning peacemaker who has only associated with some unsavoury characters in the name of dialogue. A lifelong anti-racist who has been unfairly picked on by the right-wing media and apparent “Jewish establishment” (whatever that means — I wasn’t aware of a homogenous Jewish establishment, for all the times I’ve been accused of being part of it).
However, having been close to peace activism around the Middle East for much of my adult life, having been involved at various points with groups like One Voice and Yachad, which focus on a two-state solution and dialogue, I have a different perspective. It is more than possible to be passionate about advocacy for Palestinians without sharing stages with hate preachers and associating with convicted terrorists. The same way it is perfectly possible to advocate against antisemitism without befriending extremist Islamophobes. In exactly the same way, it is perfectly possible to be supportive of the existence of the State of Israel without denying Palestinian humanity and statehood. Those choosing not to must always be held accountable for this, even when it’s difficult and especially when they are seeking public office. People who legitimately want peace tend to focus on peace-oriented groups, not collective blame, demonisation and extremism. People who speak to extremists in the name of peace tend to speak to people on both sides of the divide in order to understand their views and bring people closer to conciliation. I find it difficult to accept that Corbyn’s associations were in the name of bringing all voices into the debate as I cannot find evidence anywhere of Corbyn associating with anybody related to the Middle East but the most extreme and divisive of figures, nor ever engaging in any meaningful dialogue with any Israeli left-wing groups, let alone right-wing figures, in the name of peace. Please do feel free to correct me if I am wrong about this, but if this has happened I have not been able to find any evidence of it.
A caveat here: Corbyn’s pattern of behaviour when it comes to excusing or indulging antisemitism is not the full issue for me with Labour and antisemitism. But his refusal to acknowledge problematic past associations has led to a culture of denial and hostility to Jews seeking answers. His tacit approval and proximity to extremism and terrorist groups, as well as his support for or silence around conspiracy theorists, and his angry denials of any issues arising from these behaviours, has created a toxic culture of permission for these views which were once on the fringes to become mainstream. When Corbyn was elected and people from a combination of radical left factions such as Left Unity, SWP and Respect joined the party, the issue was exacerbated. Social media has played a horrendous role, particularly Twitter and Labour-supporting Facebook groups. This is the biggest political movement in Western Europe and technology has allowed the Labour Party to become a vehicle for these once-niche ideas to spread widely.
Jeremy’s greatest hits
So some specifics, as so many have spent the last four years demanding them from me: there are some now-infamous moments, some of which hold more weight for me, others less so. Some can be explained away, perhaps, but as an overall pattern of behaviour, as someone much smarter than me put it, he must be the unluckiest anti-racist in the world.
I cannot overstate this enough — this is simply Corbyn’s personal history — it is not the sum total by any means of Labour’s antisemitism problem. It is simply background information. For me, the real story is in the handling of antisemitism cases within the party and the culture of intimidation towards Jews which has escalated since Corbyn became leader.
Support for and associations with terrorist groups and convicted terrorists
- Labour’s antisemitism crisis is often scathingly reduced to a single incident, on both sides of the argument, Corbyn calling Hamas & Hezbollah friends. That could indeed be explained away by the language of good faith and dialogue or as simply being about reaching out to solve the Middle East conflict. Many Jews feel differently, but let’s be generous. Here is Corbyn discussing the issue. Judge for yourself if you feel this is the temperament of a man who feels comfortable with his actions.
- However, further in that speech Corbyn says Hamas are a “force for peace and social justice”. The antisemitism question aside, this is a much less reasonable position, given that Hamas notoriously murders Palestinian citizens including members of the LGBT community. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are openly antisemitic, although Hezbollah has on occasion claimed to simply be anti-Zionist. These claims are generally considered to be false by experts (Gleis & Berti, Hezbollah and Hamas: A Comparative Study). Hezbollah engages in Holocaust denial and actively spreads antisemitic consipracy theories. The Hamas charter (1988) references killing Jews (Article 7, attributed to the Prophet Mohammed), Zionists starting wars for their own gain (Article 22) and cites The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as proof of Zionist ambitions of world domination (Article 32).
- Raed Salah, convicted in an Israeli court of incitement to violence, and more recently of incitement to terrorism is widely regarded as a hate preacher. In a rally in 2007 he is accused of saying “We have never allowed ourselves to knead [the dough for] the bread that breaks the fast in the holy month of Ramadan with children’s blood. “Whoever wants a more thorough explanation, let him ask what used to happen to some children in Europe, whose blood was mixed in with the dough of the [Jewish] holy bread.” Corbyn was lobbying on his behalf in 2012. A man who thinks Jews drink the blood of children. He called him a very honoured citizen and invited him to tea in Parliament. Corbyn also accused the “Zionist lobby” of being behind Salah’s deportation from Britain. That in itself is an inarguably antisemitic trope. It was not a question of process. Corbyn did not address nor condemn Salah’s comments. He made no good-faith attempt to find out what Jewish or national concerns were over Salah. He immediately assumed Salah was wholly innocent and a victim of a conspiracy by the “Zionist lobby”.
- Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami were two men convicted for their part in the car bombing of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish charity in Kensington. Corbyn campaigned for their release.
- One of Corbyn’s numerous paid appearances on Iran’s Press TV (this one taking place seven months after the channel lost its Ofcom license for its role in the torture of a journalist) was with a convicted Hamas terrorist named Dr Abdul Aziz Umar who was given seven life sentences for helping to organise a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2003 that killed seven people. Umar provided a safe house for the terrorists and guarded the property while the bomber was fitted with a suicide belt. Umar was released a year prior to the conversation with Corbyn. This was as part of the controversial prisoner exchange arranged to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. On the topic, Corbyn said: “You have to ask the question why they are in prison in the first place” and “I’m glad that those who were released were released.” He continued: “I met many of the brothers, including the brother who’s been speaking here when they came out of prison, when I was in Doha earlier this year.” The full Press TV segment can be viewed here.
- Allegations emerged that in 2014, Corbyn was present at a wreath-laying ceremony which honoured senior figures of Fatah and the PLO, Salah Khalaf, who claimed in his memoir to have hand picked the gunmen who murdered eleven Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and Atef Bseiso who was also alleged to have been involved in the planning of the attack. The Munich massacre holds special meaning in the Jewish psyche — this was an attack on unarmed civilians, outside of Israel, simply because they were Jewish and Israeli. The brutality with which some of the athletes were murdered and the decision to continue the games after a short suspension left Jews in shock.
Corbyn had claimed that he was laying the wreath for victims of an Israeli air strike on the PLO headquarters in Tunisia, while the Daily Mail article alleged that Corbyn was not standing in the correct place for this to be the case. This claim alone is perhaps dubious as other reports have claimed that where Corbyn stood was typically where visiting dignitaries would have stood to honour victims of the air strike. However — an article written by Corbyn for Morning Star about the events was unearthed in which Corbyn stated that “wreaths were laid at the graves of those who died on that day and on the graves of others killed by Mossad agents in Paris in 1991”. Corbyn has not confirmed to whom was referring (Bseiso was killed in Paris in 1992, and Khalaf was assassinated in Tunisia in 1991). Corbyn later issued a partial admission saying that he had been present at such a ceremony “but not involved”. A statement that for many British Jews has come to define Corbyn’s position on antisemitism. Channel 4 provided a thorough fact check of the circumstantial evidence, claims and counter-claims here. Once again, you can decide for yourselves.
Corbyn and the Holocaust
- Corbyn remained a prominent supporter of an anti-israel organisation, Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), years after their organisers (including Paul Eisen) were exposed as Holocaust deniers, despite having claimed to have cut ties after Eisen’s views were exposed.
- In 2010, Corbyn hosted an event on Holocaust Memorial Day titled “Never Again For Anyone, From Auschwitz to Gaza”. At the event, Jewish Auschwitz survivor and anti-Zionist Hajo Meyer, who died in 2014 aged 90, compared Israeli policy to the Nazi regime. The main talk was entitled: The Misuse of the Holocaust for Political Purposes. While it is fair to say that it is a huge grey area when it comes to the involvement of a Holocaust survivor, Corbyn himself cannot claim such a history. The meeting was also addressed by phone from Gaza by Palestinian activist, Haidar Eid, who reportedly said: “The world was absolutely wrong to think that Nazism was defeated in 1945. Nazism has won because it has finally managed to Nazify the consciousness of its own victims.” On this one occasion, Corbyn issued an extraordinarily rare apology, stating: “In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused.”
- In 2011, Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, proposed an Early Day Motion to change the name of Holocaust Memorial Day to “Genocide Memorial Day — Never Again for Anyone”. The Early Day Motion was supported by Corbyn, amongst others, although support for EDMs politically means very little. What is more troubling is McDonnell, widely regarded as Corbyn’s closest political ally, proposing an EDM to effectively erase Jewishness from the memorialising of the Holocaust.
- Corbyn wrote a letter in defence of the Reverend Stephen Sizer after he shared a link to an article on a website which also contained antisemitic material and Holocaust denial. While it is not an unreasonable point that the reverend may not have been aware of other materials on the site, Corbyn went further, suggesting that Sizer was under attack by “certain individuals.” Sizer later went on to claim that Israel was responsible for 9/11, a well-known conspiracy theory with notoriously antisemitic undertones.
Other notable incidents
- Muralgate. In 2012, a mural depicting deeply antisemitic imagery by Mear One appeared in East London. The mural showed hook-nosed men playing Monopoly on the backs of oppressed workers. Without context, it could have been a Nazi propaganda leaflet. When the artist Mear One posted on Facebook that it was being painted over, Corbyn replied: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin”. Corbyn later claimed to have simply not looked properly and not to have noticed the antisemitic tropes immediately apparent in the image. Present but not involved. The mural is pictured below. Please make your own judgments.
- In a 2013 speech, Corbyn (speaking about a group of “Zionists” who had attended a meeting in Parliament where a speech was being delivered by Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Ambassador to the U.K.) claimed that the “thankfully silent Zionists” in the audience had “two problems — one is they don’t want to study history and secondly, having lived in this country a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.” Woah. For me, personally, this was the moment where Corbyn’s personal antisemitism became undeniable. Supporters argued that he might not have meant Jews, he might simply have meant political Zionists, (by which they mean supporters of the State of Israel) but if this was the case, why address them in such racialised terms? Here is an article by an anti-Zionist Jewish commentator on the subject which clarifies why this is a racist dogwhistle. To my mind, the othering statement of: “having lived here a very long time, probably all their lives” can only be read one way — despite being British citizens who have lived here their whole lives, they do not truly belong. They don’t understand English irony. They’re not like us. Corbyn’s supporters also tried to argue that he had been speaking about a specific group of Zionists, to which I pose the question — is a racist slur any less racist when aimed at individuals in a minority group, as opposed to a collective? Watch the video here.
- At a 2008 rally, Corbyn shared a stage with Ismail Patel, chair of the campaign Friends of Al-Aqsa, while he made the following comments: “We see the impact of Zionism on Palestinians, but it has had a devastating effect on the Jewish community itself: it has made them immoral in justice. How can you have a community that can celebrate 60 years of dispossession? How can you have a community that celebrates the killings of innocent Palestinian people? This is what Zionism has done to Judaic faith.” Patel then said that two groups, the latter being extremely controversial, Jews for Justice and the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta had “gone above Zionism and seen Zionism for what it is.” This is effectively stating that all Jews barring those two particular groups were immoral and celebrate the deaths of Palestinians. Corbyn is seen on stage waving at somebody in the crowd as the comments are made. The video can be seen here. Present, but not involved.
- In a 2016 Vice Documentary, Corbyn spoke about Jewish commentator Jonathan Freedland, calling a Guardian piece in which he said Labour had a problem with antisemitism under his leadership: “utterly disgusting subliminal nastiness”. Freedland had been at great pains in the article to say Corbyn himself isn’t antisemitic.
- In 2012, during one of his now-infamous appearances on Iran’s Press TV, Corbyn baselessly suggests “the hand of Israel” is behind a terror attack on Egyptian police (part of which took place on Israeli soil), alleging that it had been a false-flag attack to “kill Egyptians” and destabilise the relationship between Palestine and the Egyptian government.
- Corbyn wrote a foreword for a 1902 book, Imperialism: A Study, written by John Atkinson Hobson in 1902. In it, Hobson claimed European finance was controlled by “men of a single and peculiar race” and contained clearly antisemitic material. Corbyn made no reference to the antisemitic content, calling the book “brilliant”. While it is not unusual for political leaders to honour historical figures with problematic views, given that sections of the book’s arguments rely on antisemitic conspiracy theories, it was deeply troubling that Corbyn failed to acknowledge this or caveat it in any way when lending it his endorsement. Once again, this indicates that Corbyn either cannot recognise antisemitism or doesn’t care when he does.
- The Chakrabarti report, formally the Chakrabarti Inquiry, into antisemitism in the Labour Party was commissioned on 29 April 2016, after two specific incidents: the sharing of an antisemitic cartoon by MP Naz Shah and her subsequent suspension, and the defence of Shah by former London mayor Ken Livingstone. The cartoon suggested Israel be moved to the United States, and Livingstone’s defence included claims that Adolf Hitler was “supporting Zionism” by working for a Jewish homeland before he “went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” The report was published on 30 June 2016 and while proposing several changes/guidelines around discrimination and in general and antisemitism in particular, concluded that the Labour party was “not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism,” although did find an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” and “too much clear evidence [of] ignorant attitudes.”
The launch was overshadowed when activist Marc Wadsworth, on seeing Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth speaking to a Telegraph journalist, accused her of working “hand in hand” with that newspaper and right-wing media in general. Corbyn, who was present at the launch, said nothing in defence of Smeeth, who later said, “It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report on antisemitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people, which were ironically highlighted as such in Ms Chakrabarti’s report, while the leader of my own party stood by and did absolutely nothing…a Labour Party under his stewardship cannot be a safe space for British Jews.” Corbyn said nothing as Smeeth was heckled and left the launch in tears. Present, but not involved. He was later seen chatting to Marc Wadsworth. Corbyn indicated that he had seen what had happened and sent Marc Wadsworth a text. The friendly exchange can be seen here.
Shami Chakrabarti was appointed a Labour peer by Jeremy Corbyn in July 2016. She was the only Labour appointment to the House of Lords that month. The Home Affairs Select Committee called the Chakrabarti enquiry “compromised” and further stated that “the failure of the Labour Party consistently to deal with antisemitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic.”
- The IHRA definition of antisemitism. Over the summer of 2018, a huge row erupted in the Labour Party when, having promised to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the Labour Party instead adopted a modified version, which had been altered without consulting any Jewish groups within the party.
The International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance (IHRA) has created a standardised definition of antisemitism, recognised by over 30 countries and some 130 UK local councils, the police, and the Crown Prosecution Service. No definition is perfect and, within the Jewish community, it has created debate — but the done thing is to include Jewish people in debates about what defines their own oppression. In fact, the McPherson Report specifies the necessity for minority groups to define their own oppression.
The IHRA definition specifies 11 non-binding but illustrative examples of “contemporary antisemitism” and leaves the door open to more being added. Labour adopted a modified version, omitting the examples pertaining to “dual loyalty” accusations (Example 6), claiming the State of Israel is a racist endeavour (Example 7), and comparing actions of Israel to those of Nazi Germany (Example 10). “Dual loyalties” is mentioned in the Labour definition, but further down the document, and is simply called out as being “wrong.” The Labour definition further states that a given statement is not antisemitic unless “there is evidence of antisemitic intent.”
In December 2018, after months of tension, a time I personally believe solidified the “us and them” narrative against Jews in the minds of many activists, the Labour party adopted the full IHRA definition of antisemitism. Corbyn personally spent several hours in the final meeting still trying to attach his own accompanying statement, which was ultimately rejected. There was renewed criticism by Jewish groups since the announcement was accompanied by a statement saying “this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians,”
- It would take another whole article to go into the appalling treatment of Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who was forced out of the party by a virulent campaign of antisemitism. Fortunately, Marlon Solomon has already written the article. You can read it here. Here is Corbyn in an interview responding to Berger being accompanied by police at her own party conference before she left. The lack of empathy shown has stayed with me since I saw it over a year ago.
Is Labour institutionally antisemitic?
The EHRC investigation
At the time of writing, Jewish Labour Movement’s damning closing submission to the EHRC, currently investigating the Labour Party for institutional antisemitism, has just been leaked. Some of this information is new, some of it has been presented already in the Panorama documentary Is Labour Antisemitic? The documentary itself is well worth watching, especially for those more interested in interference from the leadership’s office and the role of Thomas Gardiner in this scandal.
As this is pressing and new information, I will address some more famous incidents over the last four years later, but first I’d like to speak to the culture within the Labour Party as revealed today. Dave Rich has addressed this in a Twitter thread, which can be read here, as can a thread by Frances Weetman here, but I will reiterate and consolidate their observations below:
- As Dave Rich highlights, the report finds antisemitism embedded at every level of the party — at meetings, conferences and online.
- Dave goes on to explain: The party leadership & staff have been actively complicit in allowing this to happen. The leadership has “repeatedly denied the problem, supported those accused of antisemitism and encouraged the idea that it is all a smear”.
- “People who have themselves made antisemitic comments, or who believe allegations of antisemitism to be a smear, are promoted as candidates, staff or key committee members, while whistleblowers and complainants are attacked.
- “The party’s own figures about antisemitism cases are worthless because the people producing these statistics actively work to block disciplinary cases, reduce sanctions and keep cases off the books.” Rich goes onto explain how at one point last year, cases were not allowed to go onto the system before they had been cleared by Corbyn loyalists. Personal emails and USB sticks were used to avoid any digital trace.
- Frances Weetman notes specific incidents. “One Jewish Labour member listed 22 examples of antisemitic abuse directed at him during CLIP meetings, including the phrases ‘Hitler was right’, ‘child killer’ and ‘shut the fuck up, Jew’.” Another Jewish member “shared a breakfast table at party conference with delegates who agreed that Jews were ‘subhuman’ and should ‘be grateful we don’t make them eat bacon every day’”. Another Jewish Labour member “alleged an article arguing that Jews were overrepresented in the capitalist class was defended on official Labour Party mailing lists.” A Jewish sixth-form student was “forced to leave the Labour Party Forum on Facebook after members sifted through his account for links to Jewish organisations. When a Jewish Labour member commented online condemning Holocaust denial, “the administrator of the Labour Party Forum group responded by calling him a “frothing Hasbara Troll”. Another Jewish member “faced death threats after she was filmed being upset watching a debate about antisemitism at the Labour Party conference”. On and on it goes, it is well worth reading the full thread by Frances.
The tokenisation of Jewish outliers
A huge part of the ecosystem of antisemitism is the tokenising of Jewish outliers, or those claiming Jewish heritage (frequently this comes up on Twitter — an account claiming to be Jewish, to support Jeremy Corbyn which later changes its story about its heritage, or it is found to have made different claims in the past and shuts down when this is queried). People claiming sudden Jewish heritage in order to support Jeremy Corbyn are so prevalent now that they have earned the nickname “AsaJews”.
Letters are frequently written in support of Labour and Corbyn, usually by the same 100 or so Jewish names — many of whom can be found, at merely a cursory glance, to be sharing antisemitic material themselves.
Jewish outliers and fringe groups, such as Jewish Voice for Labour (see below) have been frequently and extremely effectively used to portray the Jewish community as profoundly divided on the issue of Labour antisemitism. Many non-Jewish friends have assumed this to be the case, despite regular polling consistently showing numbers of around 86% of British Jews are concerned by Labour’s antisemitism issue. Corbyn-friendly media and pundits have shared views and articles by JVL members in order to justify minimising accusations of antisemitism within the party. Corbyn himself has used the small fraction of friendly Jewish voices to all-but justify ignoring those with whom he disagrees.
As with any community, there will be legitimate disagreement and dissent on the topic of what is and isn’t discrimination — and it is always important not to dismiss minority voices. But too often, non-Jewish pundits and politicians have used these voices to paint the community as significantly more divided than it is, or to tokenise the few Jewish voices in their favour.
Jewish Voice for Labour
Jewish Voice for Labour was set up in 2017, ostensibly, it would seem, to counter claims of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. Chair, Jenny Manson, has stated that she “began to identify as a Jew in order to argue against the state of Israel” and that JVL’s core purpose is to “tackle allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party”.
Accoridng to Manson, the group is not anti-Zionist but seeks to provide space for Jews who do not support the Jewish Labour Movement’s “profoundly Zionist orientation.”
JVL’s stated aims “to strengthen the party in its opposition to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism… to uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities” and “to oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards, or discrimination against, Jews as Jews”
JVL has defended Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson and Moshe Machover. It has been criticised by diverse figures including Momentum founder Jon Lansman (JVL “is an organisation which is not just tiny but has no real connection with the Jewish community at all”), the Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl and Jewish Leadership Council president Jonathan Goldstein.
JVL Secretary Glyn Secker is on record describing the Jewish Labour Movement as a fifth column. He was scheduled to provide antisemitism training to Reading and District Labour members but this was later cancelled. Other members of the group have been associated with antisemitic statements and even Holocaust denial.
Much of the “smears” narrative has been enabled by Corbyn-friendly media sites and organisations, such as The Canary, Novara media and others. It has also been perpetuated by key individuals, who have taken different stances at different points, but have consistently spoken over the majority of the Jewish community in order to downplay or undermine claims of antisemitism.
Weirdly, at one point or another, many of these outriders have had sobering moments of realisation, in which they appear to understand the gravity and scale of Labour’s antisemitism problem, only to immediately go back to denying, obfuscating and gaslighting British Jews.
Owen Jones, a notable left-wing activist of whom I used to be a big fan, is one such pundit, whose now-infamous cry for an “all-out war” on antisemitism has been somewhat undermined by his consistent downplaying of the issue as a fringe problem which needs addressing but ultimately isn’t as serious as people would have you believe. I’d link you to some of his tweets, but in the interests of full disclosure, he blocked me for calling him a Sorting Twat. Fair enough.
Ash Sarkar, an anti-racist and anti-establishment hero to many, who defended the right to deface the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto with “free Gaza and Palestine. Liberate all ghettos”. Collectively blaming the dead of the Holocaust for a conflict which hadn’t yet happened on a memorial site seems the definition of racism, yet Sarkar was later invited to speak as an expert in a documentary about the Holocaust.
Aaron Bastani has also consistently downplayed or denied allegations of Labour antisemitism. One need only glance at his Twitter account for evidence of this. Here is his moment of realisation. Sadly, it was only a moment.
A few more notable cases
- Jackie Walker is a Corbyn-supporting left-wing activist and former vice-chair of Momentum who identifies as Jewish, stating her mother was black Jamaican Sephardi Jew. In February 2016, in a private Facebook discussion about “the debt” owed to Jews following the Holocaust, she made the accusation that Jews were among the chief financiers of the slave trade:
“[Opression of black people] continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews… and many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean.”
The JC published her comments in May 2016 following their discovery by the Israel Advocacy Movement. She was suspended by the Labour party but following an internal investigation which concluded, within a few weeks, that no further action would be taken.
In September 2016 Walker attended a JLM training session on antisemitism and was subsequently was the subject of a second investigation by Labour following comments made in that session. JLM chairman Jeremy Newmark has stated that Walker had acted “to denigrate security provision at Jewish schools” when, at the meeting, she said “I was a bit concerned by your suggestion that the Jewish community is under such threat that it has to use security in all its buildings. I have a grandson, he is a year old. There is security in his nursery and every school has security now. It’s not because I’m frightened or his parents are frightened that he is going to be attacked.”
Walker was suspended from the party pending the second investigation which, after being referred to the Labour NCC, led to her being expelled from the Labour party in 2019 for “prejudicial and grossly detrimental behaviour against the party.” Around three years from the original comment to, under great pressure, her expulsion.
- Kayla Bibby, a Labour activist and member shared an image of an Alien facehugger on the Statue of Liberty, with a star of David on its back (the alien). This image, shared with the caption “The most accurate photo I’ve seen all year!” was taken from a far-right website after Bibby specifically contacted the image’s creator to ask for a download link. She was allowed to continue as a delegate at the national level for her constituency. She was not suspended as the image was ruled by Labour (Thomas Gardiner) to be anti-Israel, not antisemitic. Bibby was not suspended for another year, after press attention forced the issue. In this time she was allowed to attend Party Conference.
- Chris Williamson was the Labour MP for Derby North. He has been highly critical of accusations of antisemitism in the Labour party, calling them proxy wars and bullshit” and stating “I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.” He was also forced to apologise after promoting notorious antisemite Gilad Atzmon.
Williamson was suspended in February 2019 following his comments that the Labour party “given too much ground (and) been too apologetic” about antisemitism claims. He was readmitted to the party in June 2019 but subsequently suspended days later following a review of the decision to unsuspend him. Further accusations of misconduct and a pattern of antisemitic behaviour were made against him in leading to separate suspension on 3rd September 2019.
- Pete Willsman is a Labour activist and member of the National Executuve Committee. On 2018 he was recorded claiming that those claiming antisemitism in the Labour party were “Trump fanatics”, and anyone claiming “severe and widespread antisemitism” should be asked for evidence. In May 2019 a recording emerged of Willsman speaking to undercover Israeli-American author Tuvia Tenenbom in which Willsman claimed, in relation to antisemitism allegations, “Almost certainly it was the Israeli embassy. They caught somebody in the Labour Party. It turns out they were an agent in the Israeli Embassy.” He further claimed that a letter abour Labour antisemitism, signed by 68 rabbis, was “obviously organised by the Israeli embassy.”
- Former Labour candidate for Peterborough Council Alan Bull, who has allegedly shared posts claiming ‘the murder of six million Jews is a hoax’. The posts claimed that “International Red Cross report confirms the Holocaust of six million Jews is a hoax” and, separately, Israel and ISIS were working together. He claimed that he had shared the post calling the Holocaust a hoax without comment, did not agree with its content, and had shared it for the purpose of debate.
Bull also shared photos of himself allegedly protesting outside the Holocaust museum in Washington DC, with Palestinian flags, as well as claiming that John F Kennedy, Robin Cook and others were assassinated by Mossad. Bull claimed the images were manipulated.
His suspension was opposed by Christine Shawcroft, head of the Labour Party’s disputes panel, who sent an email calling for his reinstatement ahead of the May 2018 local elections. She claims she was not aware of the Holocaust denial posts, but her original email opposing Bull’s suspension said she was “concerned” to hear about it and that the post was “taken completely out of context and alleged to show anti-Semitism.” Shawcroft resigned in March 2018.
- Another famous case was Leslie Perrin, who posted a video denying the Holocaust and questioning the 6 million figure in 2017, yet received merely a warning letter in 2019. No other sanction was issued. In an interview with Andrew Neil, Corbyn claimed that this happened because he had not yet strengthened procedures, a claim he appears to make on multiple occasions when he is questioned on a case of this severity.
Antisemitic incidents/statements by candidates in 2019 General Election
- Maria Carroll, candidate for Labour in Carmarthen East, ran a FB group to help members defend themselves against antisemitism and other disciplinary charges. One of the members of the Facebook group was Alan Bull.
- Bill Curran was* the candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, dumped by Labour after supporting Chris Williamson.
- There was a row over Cities of London and Westminster Labour candidate Gordon Nardell — accused of inaction over antisemitism issues and ties to Labour leadership
- Gideon Bull, Labour candidate for Clacton, was forced to quit after it came to light that he called a Jewish comrade “Shylock”. Bull claimed that he didn’t know the famous Shakespearean character was Jewish.
- Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) quits after posts surfaced where she said she’s celebrate the deaths of Blair and Netanyahu and supported Palestinian “violent resistance”
- Kate Ramsden (Gordon, Scotland) quit following posts comparing Israel to an abused child who goes on to abuse. She is also reported to have written that antisemitism allegations were “orchestrated by the wealthy establishment who do not want a socialist Labour government.”
- Even the candidate fielded in Boris Johnson’s constituency, Ali Milani, has a problematic history of antisemitic statements. Although he has apologised, is it so much to ask that when an opportunity arises to unseat the worst Prime Minister in living memory, left-wing Jews aren’t asked to compromise themselves in the process? Was there nobody available who had clean hands?
- Activist Danny Stone has been curating a much more thorough thread of Labour antisemitism this general election cycle.
- Anecdotally, I have heard of several troubling incidents of canvassers laughing at Jewish voters on the doorsteps with concerns about antisemitism. Worryingly, this type of approach seems to be endorsed and promoted by Jewish Voice for Labour.
Is Jeremy Corbyn personally antisemitic?
Yes. No. I don’t know. Does it matter?
Honestly I think in his heart of hearts he doesn’t believe he is. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t hold deeply rooted antisemitic beliefs which are too intrinsically held to recognise. It is a pointless and moot viewpoint that someone doesn’t themselves think they’re racist. Most racists, aside from hardcore neo-Nazis who wear their racism as a badge of honour, don’t think they’re racist. They just think they’re right. That’s how prejudice works.
I believe Corbyn, at the very least, cannot recognise antisemitism in its most basic and obvious forms, definitely cannot recognise antisemitism in its more complex forms or when it is tied into criticism of Israel and has shown repeatedly that he feels he is the victim in this scenario, that dealing with the whole thing is beneath him and that he is above reproach. He has failed, in interviews, to recognise the most basic forms of antisemitism and refused to apologise directly and without caveat for his role in this crisis. His office, and indeed Corbyn himself, have been shown to be complicit in covering up allegations of antisemitism.
I often think about how different things could have been if on day one of his leadership, Corbyn had addressed the concerns of the Jewish community head on. All he had to say was “I realise in the past I have associated with extremist groups and lent my support to people who, with hindsight, it was wrong to support. I am listening to the Jewish community and apologise for my past associations.” He has made such a statement perhaps about one event (listed above), and continued to do nothing to demonstrate any meaningful change or goodwill towards the Jewish community.
Instead, Corbyn doubled down, insisting on numerous occasions over four years that he has been a “lifelong anti-racist”, he abbhors “all forms of racism”, his “mother was at Cable Street” and that he doesn’t have a “racist bone in his body”. Translate this to — I as an infallible person am incapable, ever, of racism, therefore I do not need to examine my own behaviour in any way.
In interviews on the subject, Corbyn has repeatedly refused to offer a sincere apology, either lying that he has dealt with the issue.
Whether Corbyn meant to or not, he has become a figurehead for antisemites. Antisemites flood to his party with Corbyn at the helm. They cry on social media for him not to “capitulate” to the Jewish community, who they so fundamentally mistrust and abhor.
If, as a lifelong anti-racist, I somehow, even accidentally, became a symbol of permission and emboldenment for the resurgence of racism against any minority group, I would consider my life’s work an utter failure and damaging to humanity. I would be ashamed, contrite and do everything in my power to make myself understood and to educate people out of the hatred I enabled. But maybe that’s just me.
But not voting Labour enables the Tories
This election presents an impossible choice (or at least, for me it is an impossible choice), I’m afraid I don’t have an answer. I am terrified for the country on both counts. I will never vote Conservative. I could never bring myself to vote for their horrific policies nor to throw my Muslim friends under the bus. Ideologically and as a human being, I abhor everything they stand for and the abominable way they have destroyed the country, much of our welfare system and, possibly, the fabric of our society.
So please understand that I’m not trying to convince you that they would in any way be better or that you shouldn’t vote Labour. I’m not sure what I’m trying to achieve to be honest — I think I’m just desperate to make people understand that it’s a genuine sacrifice being made and that I am that sacrifice. The situation is desperate and terrible. I can’t bear either outcome. I think I just want people to acknowledge the gravity of the situation when it comes to Labour and antisemitism when making that choice. Too many are not. I, personally, will be voting Lib Dem. I understand why many feel they cannot.
What I am furious about is, given the sheer volume of evidence against Corbyn and the Labour Party, being blamed for not giving them my vote. I have never, once, advocated voting Conservative for some perceived greater good, yet I am asked to do the reverse on a daily basis. I will get onto this momentarily when I talk for a moment about the personal toll the last four years have taken on me.
I am expected and told, by people who ought to know better, to disregard Labour’s institutional antisemitism and vote for them anyway. I am told that racism in the Conservative Party is far worse and that I am selfishly putting my own interests first for not voting Labour.
The victim-blaming aspect aside, I am devastated that it has come to a point where people cannot understand why we need a robust, anti-racist left-wing party. Why sacrificing that principle means the left loses moral authority to speak for ALL minorities. How can a Labour Party infested with racism itself combat racism on the right? And believe me, I am terrified of the rise of racism on the right. It’s not as if Jews are immune to it. But what platform do we have to fight fascism from if we turn to our friends for help and find them nodding and agreeing with our enemies? Who is fighting for us?
This isn’t about sacrificing Jews. Many people have shown they don’t give a crap about us. What you have sacrificed is a Labour Party of principle. One ideologically placed to fight the ills in society you claim to hate. Jews indeed are the canary in the coalmine. Perhaps you don’t care about the canary. But what you’ve truly lost in this utter mess is the soul of your party.
The personal toll this has taken on me
In the last four years I have lost countless hours of my time to Labour antisemitism. I am autistic and have a couple of good hours in me a day. When I think of what could have been achieved in that time, professionally, personally and for society as a whole, if I hadn’t been expending almost every bit of precious energy I have assembling evidence, begging people to believe me and dealing with astounding abuse, I want to weep.
Over the last four years, I have been on the receiving end of a plethora of abuse. I have been told I am in the pay of the Israeli government, I have been called a smear merchant, I have been told I am only trying to protect my money. I have been called a baby murderer, I have been told I am enabling homelessness, I have been mocked and harangued and harassed. I have been told I’m “going on” about antisemitism, that it’s getting boring. I have had doubt cast on my political leanings, been met with disbelief and derision when I have explained that I too am left-wing. I have been asked what makes Jews so special that our concerns should be considered above everyone else’s (I have never for a moment suggested that they should). I have been called selfish. I have been told to “get over myself” for the “greater good”, that thinking about others once in a while ought to make me feel better (this was by someone in my own industry). My fears about antisemitism have been met with replies like “ahh diddums”, of having “crocodile tears”. Someone tried to arrange a whip-round for a “one-way ticket to Tel-Aviv”. I have been told Jews are a cancer on the world. When sharing a story about my childhood, I have had people respond that a Palestinian child would not have the same privilege and nice memories. I have been told I am bringing antisemitism on myself and not helping my cause. I have been told I have mental-health issues (I do, by the way, like most people, but that has nothing to do with anything) I have been called a “boring cunt” (the poster then went on to explain to me how people of all faiths are welcome in Labour — I have never felt so welcome). I have been told to fuck off and join the Tories. I have been told I have it easy compared to the disabled community (I am autistic), I have been on the receiving end of Holocaust denial. When I posted a video of snow falling, someone commented that it was ash from the crematorium. I have been relatively lucky. More prominent Jewish activists (especially women) have been subject to abuse I feel too sick to even list here.
Evenings with my husband, family celebrations, precious moments have passed me by in a tearful blur as I have torn my hair out trying to educate, explain, beg, plead, listen, reason… I feel like the last four years of my life have been so intrinsically stewed in this situation that I can barely think of a single memory in which I was not in some way distracted or anxious by trying to combat this one particular crisis.
I have developed chronic, stress-related illnesses. I have lost weeks in bed. I have lost close friends, who believe the Labour antisemitism crisis to be “all smears”. I have had to cut off non-Jewish family who have shared Rothschild conspiracy theories and letters in support of Corbyn from tokenised Jews who are firmly in a minority on this. I have, I am quite sure, lost work. I have felt terrified every time I have met someone new that they too will be an antisemite or someone who denies it. I have felt, at times, that the only people I can safely be around are other Jewish people or people actively fighting antisemitism. I have met up with fellow activists — I have met up with ordinary Jews who have nothing to do with politics. We have shared drinks and meals with tears in our eyes. We have exchanged ideas with increasing desperation. The fear at these occasions is real and palpable.
I have at times doubted my sanity and my perception of reality. I have felt that I have no place in British society but felt trapped by the reality of having no other plausible options. My mental health has suffered to the point where I have had suicidal thoughts. The people I love the most have been affected by having to take time out of their lives to watch me and care for me. The more I shout about it, the more I’m shouted down. This one tweet, which I had the pleasure of waking up to just yesterday, says it all:
I have nothing more to give this situation. I am terrified of how quickly the culture in the country has turned on Jews, the ease with which people are scapegoating us for destroying Corbyn — their Messiah — that we will be blamed for whatever comes next. I am scared if Corbyn wins, I am scared if he loses. I am devastated by having been reduced so much to a single issue that being afraid of more of this horrendous Conservative government is a nightmarish afterthought.
At this point, I can’t make anyone listen. I have promised my family, for my health, that I will step back from this issue at least for the rest of the year. All I will say is, if after all you’ve read you still feel it’s appropriate to jeer at Jews, to place our concerns as an unimportant, low-ranking consideration in a hierarchy of issues, to set us in competition with other minorities and to tell us we are complicit if we don’t hold our noses and vote for Labour, perhaps you’re not the anti-racist you think you are.
* This has been amended to show that Curran is no longer the Labour candidate in that constituency.