The Jewish mouse finally roared – and just look what happened.
For the first time in its history the congenitally nervous Board of Deputies of British Jews, along with the Jewish Leadership Council, publicly denounced the leader of a mainstream political party over his support for antisemitism.
They published a blistering letter yesterday denouncing the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for facilitating antisemitism in his party. Then they organised a demonstration outside Parliament. This was supported by dozens of Labour MPs along with other parliamentarians. These joined the Jewish community in demanding that the Labour party finally take action to purge itself of the antisemitism coursing though its ranks and which Corbyn has denied for so long.
In response to this unprecedented public display of fury and distress by British Jews, Corbyn actually moved his position. For the first time he admitted that “anti-Semitism has surfaced within the Labour Party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples”. He even acknowledged that “newer forms of anti-Semitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli governments”.
These admissions are of no small significance. Corbyn has finally understood, or perhaps the people closest to him have finally understood, that what the Jews are going on about can no longer be brushed aside with the contemptuous dismissiveness of the party’s previous responses.
Someone in his circle has got the point that the revelations of the past few days – the three Facebook groups to which Corbyn belonged and which all teemed with vile antisemitic tropes, and then the repellent antisemitic mural whose removal he had opposed – were simply indefensible. Someone has understood that this issue is now calling into question the moral basis of the Labour party itself.
Hats off to the Jewish communal leaders whose magnificent letter made the right points in the right way. They wrote:
Jeremy Corbyn did not invent this form of politics, but he has had a lifetime within it, and now personifies its problems and dangers. He issues empty statements about opposing anti-Semitism, but does nothing to understand or address it. We conclude that he cannot seriously contemplate anti-Semitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.
When Jews complain about an obviously anti-Semitic mural in Tower Hamlets, Corbyn of course supports the artist. Hizbollah commits terrorist atrocities against Jews, but Corbyn calls them his friends and attends pro-Hizbollah rallies in London. Exactly the same goes for Hamas. Raed Salah says Jews kill Christian children to drink their blood. Corbyn opposes his extradition and invites him for tea at the House of Commons. These are not the only cases. He is repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views, but claims never to hear or read them.
Again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews. At best, this derives from the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel. At worst, it suggests a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity, a class enemy.
…There is literally not a single day in which Labour Party spaces, either online or in meetings, do not repeat the same fundamental anti-Semitic slanders against Jews. We are told that our concerns are faked, and done at the command of Israel and/or Zionism (whatever that means); that anti-Semitism is merely “criticism of Israel”; that we call any and all criticism of Israel “anti-Semitic”; that the Rothschilds run the world; that Isis terrorism is a fake front for Israel; that Zionists are the new Nazis; and that Zionists collaborate with Nazis.
Rightly or wrongly, Jeremy Corbyn is now the figurehead for an anti-Semitic political culture, based on obsessive hatred of Israel, conspiracy theories and fake news that is doing dreadful harm to British Jews and to the British Labour Party.
Today, several people have said that in his response Corbyn finally said the right thing but needs to follow through with action. But Corbyn’s response was actually weaselly and patently insincere.
He acknowledged the community’s “anger and upset”. That means nothing.
He said he was repeating his “offer of an urgent meeting to discuss the issues you have raised”. On BBC radio’s Today programme yesterday, the JLC chairman Jonathan Goldstein said the Jewish leadership had received no such offer. It isn’t clear whether such an offer has now finally been made; but according to this report, around one week ago Corbyn’s staff and Baroness Chakrabarti (she of the whitewash report on antisemitism in the party) did find time to discuss the issue with Jewish Voices for Labour – a group which says it tackles not antisemitism but those who tackle antisemitism. Nice, eh?
Corbyn wrote further in his response: “I will not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism that exists in or around our party and movement. I am committed to eliminating anti-Semitism wherever it exists.” This is demonstrably untrue. He has taken no action to eliminate it from his party.
Much more to the point, he has personally associated himself with it. His protestations that he never noticed the multiple and grotesque images and tropes of classic Jew-hatred in the material to which he lent his name or support beggar belief.
But even if this were true, his response conspicuously failed to acknowledge let alone apologise for his association with all this material. Nor did he repudiate the antisemitic content of those Facebook groups or denounce the people from whom it emanated.
He was more careful to criticise the mural whose vicious depiction of purported Jewish power and cruelty, so redolent of Nazi imagery, finally left him with nowhere to hide. Yet even here his comments jarred. He wrote:
“…there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism in the labour movement. Sometimes this evil takes familiar forms – the east London mural which has caused such understandable controversy is an example. The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. This was long ago, and rightly, described as ‘the socialism of fools’. I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.”
But this mural wasn’t “foolish” or “understandably controversial”. It was vile and disgusting. It was outrageous and appalling that it was painted on that East End wall in the first place. Antisemitism is not “the socialism of fools”. It is an evil, paranoid and deranged mindset. If Corbyn had no idea what the mural contained when he condemned its removal, he should now be utterly horrified that he had supported it. Yet there was no sense of that at all in his response.
On Israel, he sidestepped the major issue. Yes, it was welcome that he said this:
“…comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as ‘Zio’ all constitute aspects of contemporary anti-Semitism. And Jewish people must not be held responsible or accountable for the actions of the Israeli government.”
But this was pretty minimal stuff. It failed utterly to address the root of the problem here. This is the obsessive hatred that Corbyn and many Labour party members display towards Israel. It’s the lies and distortions and falsehoods about Israel that they disseminate or help promote, the libels and slanders with which they demonise Israel, the groups committed to the extermination of Israel that they support. It’s all these factors, plus the fact that this indefensible and unhinged delegitimisation of Israel is treatment afforded to no other country, which identify this attitude as a new form of antisemitism.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this has now become an existential crisis for the party. I will explain the implications of this whole issue in my Jerusalem Post column on Friday.