Anti-semitism on the Left
On 26th March, 1,500 protestors joined together in Parliament Square in a march called by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) in opposition to the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and to anti-semitism within the Labour Party. Alan Bolwell reports.
In response to: the march, accusations of not acting quickly enough on anti-semitism within the party, and associating with anti-semitic public figures, Jeremy Corbyn has: asked a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to resign, requested meetings with the groups that organised the march, and given an interview with Jewish News expressing the importance of tackling the issue. Concluding a written response to a letter from the BoD and JLC asking Corbyn to tackle anti-semitism, Jeremy Corbyn wrote, “I must make it clear that I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of anti-semitism. In this fight, I am your ally and always will be.”
Critics cite a slow clearing backlog of accusations, associations with Palestinian solidarity groups, and social media connections to Labour-associated groups in which anti-semitic posts have been published by third parties – a problem largely perpetuated online by members who are critical of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians but are sometimes unable to express that without using prejudicial tropes.
Christine Shawcroft recently gave way to Eddie Izzard on the NEC, after it was revealed that she opposed the suspension of a Labour councillor who was accused of publishing a post on Facebook saying the holocaust was a hoax. Izzard was quick to release a statement, saying, “We must make amends and repair the damage with the Jewish community as Jeremy Corbyn has promised to do.”
After the march a constituent local to Islington invited Jeremy to seder dinner – a feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The dinner was hosted by Jewdas, a Jewish group The Guardian describe as ‘political activists who make fun of establishment Judaism’. Jewdas is broadly composed of radical, left-leaning, and non-Zionist Jews; their website is a satirical masterpiece: www.jewdas.org
This antagonised the BoD and JLC, who would very much fit the descriptor ‘establishment’, and both have a conservative, right-wing, pro-Israeli institutional identity. After the perceived jilting, a media narrative developed of Corbyn shunning what BoD President Jonathan Arkush, Guido Fawkes, Alex Wickham, John Stevens and Claire Ellicott for the Daily Mail, Labour MP John Woodcock, and other largely inexperienced faith-commentators, referred to as ‘mainstream Jews’.
A counter-narrative, on social media and in more Corbyn-tolerant sections of the press, deplored the division of ‘good’ Jews and ‘bad’ Jews – with the implied assumption that Corbyn was having dinner with the wrong kind of Jews. The problem was not their Jewishness but their politics. By demarcating Jewdas members as not ‘mainstream Jews’ the BoD, and others, committed exactly the same anti-semitic conflation of ‘Jewishness’ and ‘stance on Israel’ that they had organised a march against earlier in the week.
In a piece for The Guardian entitled Jeremy Corbyn celebrated Passover with us. It’s a simple good news story, Jewdas stated, “As a radical Jewish collective, we were delighted Corbyn came to our seder. To claim we are not ‘real’ Jews is offensive and antisemitic.”
The debacle may force Labour to offer some concessions, such as taking a harsher stance in disciplining instances of anti-semitism; especially in high profile cases such as Ken Livingston’s. In a statement calling for an independent inquiry, the BoD President Jonathan Arkush said, “There must be a genuinely independent and prompt inquiry backed up by firm disciplinary action that includes expulsions where necessary.”
The intervention also unexpectedly highlighted radical Jewish perspectives and undermined the legitimacy of self-selecting, self-appointing groups who suppose to speak on behalf of British Jewry who may have loosened, rather than tightened, their monopoly of prescribing the voices and politics of British Jews. Jewdas now have more Twitter followers than the BoD, whatever that counts for; they have also exposed the BoD as a politically motivated pro-Israeli organisation.
To have an honest conversation about anti-semitism on the left there must be two concessions: firstly, to admit that it is possible to be anti-semitic while criticising Israel; secondly, to admit that it is possible to criticise Israel without being anti-semitic.
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