Anti-Semitism is still alive and well in the British Labour Party

Corbyn, reelected by a large majority, shows little inclination to combat anti-Semitism in the party - and it is growing.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

OpEds Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn might have thought that the Chakrabarti Report, published at the end of June, would lay to rest the debate about anti-Semitism in his party. His hopes were shared by the party’s associated whitewashers and minimizers of anti-Semitism.

The opposite has happened. The number of aspects related to the anti-Semitism scandal has been increasing. During Corbyn’s reelection campaign a slew of new issues emerged. This development requires more than a single article. We thus focus below mainly on those issues which directly concern Jewish party members. In the meantime Corbyn’s leadership has been confirmed. He was reelected with a sizable majority over his opponent Owen Smith, of about 62 versus 38 percent.[1]

The worst case of anti-Semitism concerns Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth. She was harassed at the presentation of the Chakrabarti report by a Momentum supporter. Smeeth defines herself as “British first:  British, Labour, socialist, Jewish, woman.” Despite this identification, and her lack of involvement in the issue of Israel and Palestine, she was targeted by an unprecedented outbreak of anti-Semitic slurs.[2] Smeeth received death threats among 25,000 abusive messages.[3] She has been called a “yid c***” and other racial slurs, a “CIA/ MI5/Mossad informant”, a “dyke” and a “f***ing traitor”.[4]  This led to two people being investigated by the counter-terrorism unit.[5]

Of one of these threats, a 1,000 word essay on how the author would murder her, Smeeth says, “I initially assumed [the author] was from the Far Right, and then someone rang to inform me it was a Corbynista.”[6] Because of threats -- probably coming mainly from Labour members or sympathizers -- Smeeth now has “security.” It is organized by the parliamentary authority and police. A bodyguard accompanied her to Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool.[7] Of the situation under Corbyn, Smeeth said, “I’ve never seen anti-Semitism in Labour on this scale. There were one or two incidents before and the reason why they were so shocking is that there were only one or two. Now the sheer volume has made it normal.”[8]

Smeeth may put her Jewishness in the fourth place of her identity. However, the huge number of hate mails she received consider her first and foremost as a Jew. For comparison: Herzl understood what was happening when he saw another Jew Dreyfus massively abused. One will have to wait for what conclusions Smeeth will draw from the huge direct attacks on her being Jewish.

In another development, documents revealed that the left wing Momentum group has tried to recruit “radical” Muslims in order to de-select Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman.[9] Furthermore, at a Momentum meeting during the Labour Party conference, leaflets were distributed that called for the Jewish Labour Movement to be removed from the Labour Party. They said that it was a “representative of a foreign power -  Israel.”[10] This is an allegation that falls directly under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism: accusing “Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”[11]

The Jewish Labour Movement’s national vice chair, Mike Katz, spoke at the Labour Conference, saying that “the lack of support among British Jews for Labour made him ‘weep.’” He also expressed his dismay that the party’s National Executive Committee had not included, in its list of reforms, changes needed to expunge anti-Semitism from the party – at which point he was heckled by a Jewish audience member yelling “rubbish” and, “you don’t speak for all Jews!” Despite this reception, Katz did receive two standing ovations by the end of his speech as he said the Jewish Labour Movement would be working with MPs, Councillors, and members to “show that Jews are welcome in the Labour party.”[12] A delegation of youngsters from the Israeli Labour Party visited the Labour conference. Jewish News reported about their impressions.[13]

In contrast to the shows of support from the Jewish Labour Movement, stands Lord Parry Mitchell. He had announced that he would leave Labour  if Corbyn were reelected as leader,[14] and has indeed made good on that promise. Explaining his decision Lord Mitchell said “the Momentum people have the party by the throat” and that Corbyn, “surrounds himself with a coterie of people who hold violent anti-Israel views and allied with it they are very hostile to Jews.” He added that he does not believe that Corbyn has “leadership qualities whatsoever.”[15] One wonders whether other Jewish Labour parliamentarians will follow his example.

Among those who have been suspended recently from Labour was a Jewish member and large donor to the party, Michael Foster. He had called Corbyn’s followers “Stormtroopers” in an article in the Daily Mail. Foster claims that the paper added the word “Nazi” to “Stormtroopers” in its title.[16] In the article he had written: “If you are like me, a Jewish donor to Labour, you are smeared as a Blairite conspirator, plotting to falsely use the accusation of anti-Semitism to damage the Left.”[17]

Partly, in light of the Labour anti-Semitism debate, various British Jewish leaders have asked the British government to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.[18] Even though there are many issues close to anti-Semitism, which are not included in this text, such an adoption could help to fight anti-Semitism in Labour better, the more so as Corbyn apparently has only limited desire to do so.

Senior Israeli Holocaust and anti-Semitism scholar, Yehuda Bauer, has also criticized the Labour Party. He said that Shami Chakrabarti’s report on anti-Semitism and racism in the party, which concluded it was “not overrun by anti-semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism,” was “wishy washy” and “turned horses into camels.”[19]

It is an implicit racism which does not hold the politically weak and people of color responsible for their acts, implying that they are inferior.
ne Jewish party member, Michael Segalov, wrote in the Independent that the real danger to the Jews comes from far-right fascists and neo-Nazis, and not from the Labour Party.[20] In post-modern times, however, major threats come from many directions. The Labour Party, with the largest membership of any party in Western Europe, is one of them.

In analysis: the Labour Party has many anti-Semites and whitewashers of it. On the other hand, it has also many people who are willing to counter it. Probably the most prominent among them is Sadiq Kahn, the mayor of London and a possible contender for future Labour leader.

Beyond that, the Labour Party is tainted by racism. It is not the classic racism of looking down upon non-whites and therefore justifying discrimination against them. The party’s racism is of the humanitarian kind.[21] It is an implicit racism which does not hold the politically weak and people of color responsible for their acts, implying that they are inferior.

Only in this way one can explain the vote to recognize the non-existing Palestinian state, which Corbyn’s Jewish predecessor Ed Miliband brought to parliament. The motion was supported by the great majority of Labour’s  parliamentarians and a number of others.[22] It was the recognition as a state of a Palestinian entity, where the largest party is an Islamo-Nazi party, Hamas, which wants to kill all Jews. It’s second largest party, Fatah, honors and rewards murderers of Israeli civilians.

In such a Labour Party environment, anti-Semitism will not go away.