Contrite and Apologetic, Corbyn Must Lead the Charge Against Antisemitism. Or Quit
With the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party has become - in numbers terms - the largest political party in Western Europe, with over 600,000 people signed up as Labour members.
It is commendable that thousands of people - outraged by the injustices of Conservative government - have been motivated to engage in Labour politics. But the party’s expansion has proven to be a double-edged sword.
It inevitably includes individuals who harbour ugly viewpoints, the most visible being the dark scourge of antisemitism.
The Labour Campaign against Antisemitism has described a party in chaos, overrun by complaints of antisemitism by its members. This has unsurprisingly left Labour as the least trusted party amongst Britain’s Jewish community.
Corbyn has issued statements condemning all forms of racism. His diplomatic dealings with the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah are controversial, but they cannot be automatically conflated to tolerance for antisemitism. His praise for other extremist characters is put down to ignorance of their views.
But investigations into Corbyn’s social media activity have revealed conduct that cannot be glossed over.
it is hardly encouraging that the Labour leader has failed to pay attention to the detail of the poison blemishing his party
First brought to light was Corbyn’s membership of Facebook group named “Palestine Live”, which seemed much less concerned with the Palestinians than with bashing Jews. Corbyn commented on the forum, awash with conspiracy theories typically accusing “Zionists” of controlling world politics and the media, as well as Holocaust denial.
Corbyn claimed inattentiveness, leaving the group in September 2015 when its antisemitic content became apparent to him.
But a second Facebook case, from 2012, is simply beyond the pale. Corbyn expressed solidarity with an artist whose wall mural in the East End of London was erased after the Jewish community complained of its antisemitism.
The artwork portrayed a group of demonic businessmen, with hooked noses, enslaving humanity from the secret helm of a New World Order. The antisemitic canards could not be more obvious, and the artist even implicated the Rothschild family - an antisemitic scapegoat for centuries.
Following this revelation Corbyn explained that he did not recognise the antisemitic sentiment of the mural, and that he defended it on the grounds of freedom of expression.
Imagine if Nigel Farage - who has ranted against the “Jewish lobby” on his radio show - defended similar propaganda on “free speech” grounds. It seems unlikely this would cut it for the left.
The most generous interpretation is one of inexcusable judgement by Corbyn. This might not be comparable to deliberate antisemitism, but it is hardly encouraging that the Labour leader has failed to pay attention to the detail of the poison blemishing his party.
Antisemitism has manifested itself much more perniciously on the left than on the extreme right, which is why Corbyn’s politics - critical of capitalist elites and often the Israeli government - has attracted the toxicity.
He has offered regret for the pain inflicted by Labour’s “pockets of antisemitism” and reached out to Jewish community leaders, but this is only a foundation for building trust and credibility. Corbyn should not only personally apologise but take bold, practical steps as leader.
The Parlimentary Select Committee on Antisemitism found that Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry into Labour’s antisemitism was inadequate and compromised by conflict of interest, as Chakrabarti accepted a peerage shortly after its completion.
The Committee also noted that antisemitism was no more prevalent in Labour than in other political parties - no doubt the Tory Party has prejudice in its ranks. Parties cannot be held responsible for members’ bad behaviour, but they can be for a failure to act against it.
Without decisive action against antisemitism, the sincerity of Corbyn’s commitment will remain in doubt
A good start would be for Labour to adopt shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s suggestion of antisemitism resulting in a ban for life. But the resolve to combat it must go beyond party.
Antisemitic hate crime is at a record high - this is a crisis for the Jewish community. Labour should commit to a ordering a Home Office public inquiry into antisemitism - a judge-led, independent panel taking evidence from experts and witnesses, giving guidance to public bodies on conclusion.
Despite the influx in antisemitism, only a fraction of perpetrators are brought to justice. Labour must make clear that its properly-resourced criminal justice system will have zero tolerance for antisemitic abuse or violence, and indeed other forms of hate crime. It can show grit by calling for tougher penalties, including in prison sentences.
Corbyn should make all of these pledges in a keynote speech, beginning a healing process by setting the national agenda and media focus against antisemitism. This might help to expunge antisemites from Labour and the Corbyn cause.
The cynical, knee-jerk reaction of some observers is to cite antisemitism complaints as an agenda to sabotage Corbyn’s leadership, as if opposing one of the most murderous forms of racism in history is a partisan issue.
The entire point of socialism, and the founding values of the Labour Party, is to stand up for the marginalised in society and fight discrimination. A failure of the left to confront the antisemitism in its midst leaves its claims to morality hollow.
Without decisive action against antisemitism, the sincerity of Corbyn’s commitment will remain in doubt - both amongst his parliamentary colleagues and a Jewish community under attack.
To be taken seriously as a potential prime minister, and as the representative of his party’s traditions, Corbyn must show contrition for his own errors and lead the charge against it - or stand aside for a socialist who will.
About the author
Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.
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