“Jeremy is not an antisemite”
One of yesterday’s defence lines against Panorama from the LOTO outriders was that “Jeremy is not an antisemite”. You saw, for instance, Liam Young, labour staffer, putative London Assembly candidate and sometime print commentator start a lengthy twitter thread with this declaration.
Whilst I know a (pretty large) number of left wing British Jews who would disagree with that, the use of it as a defence shows, essentially, ignorance of what the charge “institutional racism” means.
When Jack Straw instigated the Macpherson Report into the Met’s handling of the Stephen Lawrence case, nobody seriously suggested the head of the Met was personally racist.
In a sense, it was irrelevant whether he was or not. A second order problem. The charge was (and this was found correct by the report) that a culture existed within the Met. Whether through individual malice, through neglect, through indifference, through lack of understanding – the causes could be manifold. The conclusion was that culture existed and was racist.
And – whether you think Jeremy is saintlike or devilish on this – this charge is what is currently being levelled at Labour.
It is a charge I find hard to deny. At present, I can’t escape that conclusion that the organs of the party – as differentiated from individuals or “the membership” – are. There’s enough examples of cases of Jews leaving, disciplinary cases being overruled or dragging on forever, abuse etc etc. Even if there were no malice (and I’m possibly more generous than most on my “side” in that I think malice is the least of the drivers to this situation), nothing else involved, just a lack of understanding of nuance and the issues present, any other organisation and any other race facing similar would lead to the same accusations as here, I think.
And I also find it hard to deny that Corbyn is the major cause of this. Note here, I am not individualising it – while it this mat be illustrative at times, and very tempting (we are humans, we like to put faces to things), this is not what the charge I am making is. It matters, really, not a jot whether Corbyn is – or is not – a “fucking antisemite”, to quote Margaret Hodge. I am not going to list, here, any of the statements going back a long time which could be seen that way, or any of the policy positions. What I am interested is not so much Corbyn The Man, I do not have a window on his soul. What matters more is about “corbynism” as organised by and constituted *around* Corbyn, if that makes sense.
I don’t think any candidate of the left aside from Corbyn would have provoked the current state – Abbott has been often tone deaf and sometimes seemed conspiratorial on the issue but she isn’t as knee deep in the milieu as Corbyn; McDonnell has been emollient (although my Jewish comrades note his words don’t match his deeds) and again, crucially the milieu – for those two, involvement in pro-Palestinian activism is a given Cf their position on the left but it’s very far from a major driver.
Note – I’m not saying that anti-Jewish sentiment is a given being involved in that milieu, but certainly proximity to it is…often hard to avoid, and Jeremy has been deep in there.
Factor in something similar about appointments – we see, for instance, who Jeremy has tended to appoint *or* protect. Auld allies. McDonnell, on the other hand, has been a lot more pliable, appointed a lot more young people without those decades in the trenches to his team, been open to new ideas and new thinkers. I don’t think he’d have brought either the proximity or the dubious allies if he were leader.
Some of it is about tactical choices, too. I think Margaret Hodge’s remarks about anticapitalism being inherently antisemitic are (with respect to Mrs Hodge) a cartoon of the more coherent point – that the particular brand of economic populism that speaks of rigged systems carries with it – even without any of the other baggage Jeremy came with – the germ, the possibility of conspiracism (see Pitt and Bolton’s “Corbynism: a critical perspective”, for a fuller explanation of this point). A more adroit leadership would have been possibly – probably – able to surf this economic populism without the conspiracy element having as much of a hold.
Then there’s the culty elements of corbyn support. I think they are definitely exaggerated by opponents, why I tend not to articulate the point too much, but anyone who has encountered the memes where he’s some messianic figure has to acknowledge there’s some element of that to his support. I don’t think most of that survives any of the other left leadership candidates – there’s a certain air of vagueness about the man, a blank canvas that people project on, that enhances that element. I can’t see people writing poems about John McDonnell. He’s a more substantial and yet *conventional* politician, for good or ill. And the culty air – however exaggerated it is by opponents of Jeremy, however it is played up – is a vital element of the ongoing bunker mentality developing. There is a segment of the party who identify with Jeremy as labour leader in a way they never identified with any other. And this, too, makes conspiracist thinking more likely, which then can lead to antisemitism.
Note, in nothing above have mentioned any of the instances where Jeremy has been at least borderline A/S. As I say, it is about him but not about his statements or policy positions. About the effects his leadership is having on a portion of the members, and about the inability of the party machinery to deal with it. Again, in a sense, it matters not what Jeremy believes.
And even should every other charge against Corbyn be dismissed, all those dodgy utterances and weird alliances be ignored – the charge that this culture came to fruition on his watch remains, and that the party was unable to manage and deal with this fruition remains, and remains to me unchallengeable.