It’s become an all too regular occurrence, waking up to headlines reporting that anti-Semitism in the Labour party is now an endemic problem, and that bad feeling against Jewish people in the party is on an upward trajectory.
As a Jewish Labour Party member, they are stories that should have me alarmed. I know from experience just how dangerous anti-Semitism can really be: vast swathes of my ancestors were lost to the murderous hands of the Nazis, and observant Jewish friends of mine have been harassed and attacked on British streets. I’ve read the slurs, faced the trolls, had neo-Nazis shout abuse in my face.
And yet it’s not just anger against bigots that hits as I scan story after story, but frustration towards those trying to use an all too real threat facing my community for their own political gain. Since Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, unsupportive MPs, campaigning groups and journalists have been desperate to paint him and the movement who support him as anti-Semitic fanatics, despite knowing it’s really not the case.
I could tell you about my own experiences, how I’ve never experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism inside the party – but that’s just what I’ve seen, non-Jewish defenders of my religion will claim. My experiences, and those of countless other Corbyn-supporting Jewish members who I’ve spoken to, aren’t reflective of what’s really going on, apparently.
Just a few months ago, I found myself sat in the Channel 4 News studio, tasked with discussing anti-Semitism under Corbyn. Sat opposite me was John Woodcock MP, desperate to tell me it’s the “hard-left” who are “associated [with] Soviet Russia” with anti-Semitic views infiltrating the party who were responsible for stirring up hatred.
Now, we only need look at the most high-profile of cases to see that anti-Semitism is by no means a product of Corbyn’s supporters. Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, was rightly suspended for sharing anti-Semitic posts on Facebook, not a Corbynite but a backer of Yvette Cooper in the last leadership election. Ken Livingstone, similarly sanctioned for his remarks about Hitler, has been a party grandee for decades. An insurgent? I think not.
Woodcock pointed me towards “a rise in anti-Semitic incidents” within the party, without having a single statistic or figure to back it up. It’s an answer I hear time and time again, and for those of us – Jewish or otherwise – committed to fighting anti-Semitism, enough is enough.
It’s tiring and it’s frustrating, but moreover it’s frankly dangerous.
For years now I’ve travelled across the UK to report from far-right, fascist and neo-Nazi rallies, and the counter-demonstrations that take place alongside. I’ve seen the real threat that faces Jews in the country, those who profess hatred for Jews and our religion, who wear swastikas as badges of honour, who’ll salute like a Nazi in front of your face. Where was your concern for my community then?
It’s not just the distinct absence of those MPs in Labour who now claim to be at the forefront of the fight against anti-Jewish prejudice that’s striking, but the presence of those they now claim to be British Jewry’s biggest threat.
It’s the left, and Corbyn’s supporters, who’ve put their bodies on the line time and time again to protect us from these racist organisations.
That’s why these cries of anti-Semitism make a mockery of a real and present danger. Corbyn’s commitment to fighting discrimination and prejudice has been well documented for decades. His supporters are those who’ve stood alongside him. Accusing these people now of peddling prejudice is nothing but political point-scoring at its worst. It undermines real hatred, and waters down the impact of calling out anti-Semitism when it rears its ugly head.
I’m not saying Labour members haven’t experienced anti-Semitism inside the Labour Party, and of course, a progressive movement like Labour should hold itself to higher standards than other organisations. Those few who blindly label all incidents of anti-Semitism as anti-Corbyn slander and restrictions on critiquing Israel need to listen to the voices of victims and let conversations about Judaism and Israel be led by Jewish members: we are here and we know how to speak.
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
1/11 He called Hezbollah and Hamas ‘friends’
True. In a speech made to the Stop the War Coalition in 2009, Mr Corbyn called representatives from both groups “friends” after inviting them to Parliament. He later told Channel 4 he wanted both groups, who have factions designated as international terror organisations, to be “part of the debate” for the Middle East peace process. “I use (the word ‘friends’) in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk,” he added. “Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No.”
2/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a tragedy’
Partly false. David Cameron used this as a line of attack at the Conservative Party conference but appears to have left out all context from Mr Corbyn’s original remarks. In an 2011 interview on Iranian television, the then-backbencher said the fact the al-Qaeda leader was not put on trial was the tragedy, continuing: “The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy.”
3/11 He is ‘haunted’ by the legacy of his ‘evil’ great-great-grandfather
False. A Daily Express exposé revealed that the Labour leader’s ancestor, James Sargent, was the “despotic” master of a Victorian workhouse. Addressing the report at the Labour conference, Mr Corbyn said he had never heard of him before, adding: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise for not doing the decent thing and going back in time and having a chat with him about his appalling behaviour.”
4/11 Jeremy Corbyn raised a motion about ‘pigeon bombs’ in Parliament
This one is true. On 21 May 2004, Mr Corbyn raised an early day motion entitled “pigeon bombs”, proposing that the House register being “appalled but barely surprised” that MI5 reportedly proposed to load pigeons with explosives as a weapon. The motion continued: “The House… believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.” It was not carried.
5/11 He rides a Communist bicycle
False. A report in The Times referred to Mr Corbyn, known for his cycling, riding a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle” earlier this year. “Less thorough journalists might have referred to it as just a bicycle, but no, so we have to conclude that whenever we see somebody on a bicycle from now on, there goes another supporter of Chairman Mao,” he later joked.
6/11 'Jeremy Corbyn will appoint a special minister for Jews'
False so far. The Sun report in December was allegedly based on a “rumour” passed to the paper by a Daily Express columnist who has written pieces critical of the Labour leader in the past. The minister did not materialise in his shadow cabinet.
7/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn wishes Britain would abolish its Army’
False. Another gem from The Sun took comments made at a Hiroshima remembrance parade in August 2012 where Mr Corbyn supported Costa Rica’s move to abolish it armed forces. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world…abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army,” he added. The caveat that “every politician” must take the step suggests Mr Corbyn does not support UK disarmament just yet.
8/11 Jeremy Corbyn stole sandwiches meant for veterans
False. The Guido Fawkes blog claimed that the Labour leader took sandwiches meant for veterans at at Battle of Britain memorial service in September but a photo later emerged showing him being handed one by Costa volunteers, who later confirmed they were given to all guests.
9/11 He missed the induction into the Queen’s privy council
True. After much speculation about Mr Corbyn’s republican views and willingness to bow to the monarch, his office confirmed that he did not attend the official induction to the privy council because of a prior engagement, but did not rule out joining the body.
10/11 Jeremy Corbyn refuses to sing the national anthem.
Partly true. The Labour leader was filmed standing in silence as God Save the Queen was sung at a Battle of Britain remembrance service but will reportedly sing it in future. Mr Corbyn was elusive on the issue in an interview, saying he would show memorials “respect in the proper way”, but sources said he would sing the anthem at future occasions.
11/11 He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cheese
True. The group lists its purpose as the following: “To increase awareness of issues surrounding the dairy industry and focus on economic issues affecting the dairy industry and producers.”
This isn’t to say I don’t value the concern, but I want to make a few things perfectly clear. Anti-Semitism is not a problem particular to Labour; using the words “Judaism” and “Israel” interchangeably is just as (if not more) common on the right as on the left.
Oppression, discrimination and Jewish identity are complex; the relationship between our religion and the state of Israel is constantly debated; disagreements will happen inside our community. Let us lead these discussions. Don’t quickly take sides simply to advance your faction, angle or personal interests.
And if you’re truly concerned about fighting racism and anti-Semitism, I look forward to seeing you stand alongside us in meetings and on the streets.