Corbyn may say he's not anti-Semitic, but associating with the people he does is its own crime

“I am not a criminal but I seem to find myself frequently in criminal company” is a statement that evades more questions than it answers

Howard Jacobson
Friday 04 September 2015 18:05 BST
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015

There was something “How very dare you”, about Jeremy Corbyn’s recent temper tantrum in rebuttal of the charge that the company he kept reflected badly on him. “The idea that I’m some kind of racist or anti-Semitic person is beyond appalling, disgusting and deeply offensive,” he said.

Alarm bells ring when a politician stands haughty upon his honour. This isn’t to say we detect outright dishonesty in the deflection. But it is evasive to answer questions about your judgement with protestations of your probity. How very dare we? Well, since you are putting yourself up for election we have every right to dare you. And if our point is that you don’t see racism when it’s staring you in the face, then your assurances that you aren't yourself a racist are worthless.

It is avouched on all sides that Jeremy Corbyn is no anti-Semite. How it is possible to guarantee the complexion of another’s soul when our own are such mysteries to us, I don't know. But very well – he isn’t. Speaking generally, it is easier these days, anyway, to hate Israel rather than Jews, since you get the same frisson with none of the guilt. Besides, anti-Semitism need not be the worst of crimes. Depends on the variety you espouse. Not every anti-Semite is Joseph Goebbels. You can not like Jews much and be no great harm to them.

More serious in a politician riding the wave of a credulous revivalism to high office is a dogma-driven mind, a serene conviction of rectitude, and yes, bad judgement in the matter of the company he keeps. This latter charge, levelled at Corbyn on account of the bigots, deniers and exterminationists he hasn’t scrupled to appear with on platforms and at rallies, is often repudiated as guilt by association, as though it is self-evident that a person is never to be held responsible for those he just happens to go on finding himself standing next to, or perchance agreeing with.

But association with a certain order of person, when it is habitual, can be its own offence. “I am not a criminal but I seem to find myself frequently in criminal company” is a statement that evades more questions than it answers. Corbyn’s explanation for denying all knowledge of meeting a notorious advocate of terror and then recalling it when his advisers remembered the occasion for him – a leftist politician, he argued, couldn’t be expected to recall every radical with a murderous agenda he encountered – was a careless, not to say comical admission of the habituation I’m talking about. Mix less often with bombers and fanatics, Mr Corbyn, in places where bombers and fanatics are bound to congregate, and the ones you do meet might linger longer in your mind.

His justification for calling Hamas or the IRA his friends is that it’s only by talking that peace is achieved. This would be laudable were it not disingenuous. For much depends on what the “talking” comprises. Doubtless the British Government talked secretly to the IRA, but it wasn’t being chummy, or expressing sympathy with their aims, that brought them to the table. And if sweet-talking Hamas is to be forgiven for the results it might yield, then by the same logic Corbyn should be cosying up to Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, the Stop the War Coalition, which Corbyn chairs, is pressing for Netanyahu to be arrested for war crimes when he visits Britain and, at the time of writing, Corbyn is listed to be among those demonstrating against the presence of the Israeli soccer team in Cardiff. To terrorists we speak, to footballers we don’t.

Abhorrence for a person’s views should not stop conversation, Corbyn insists, unless, it would appear, the person happens to be Israeli. If Corbynites see no moral or intellectual contradiction in that – insisting that Israel is uniquely wicked among nations – it isn’t only honesty they are lost to but reason itself. For a phobia is a species of madness.

Still I will not call it anti-Semitism. The truism that criticism of Israel does not equate to anti-Semitism is repeated ad nauseam. Nor, necessarily, does it. But those who leave out the “necessarily” ask for a universal immunity. Refuse it and they trammel you in the “How very dare you” trap. They are, they say, being blackmailed into silence. The opposite is the truth. It is they who are the blackmailers, intimidating anyone who dares criticise their criticism.

Alone of prejudices, anti-Zionism is sacrosanct. How very dare we distinguish the motivation of one sort from another? Or question, in any instance, an anti-Zionist’s good faith? In fact, what determines whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic is the nature of it. Question Israel’s conduct of recent wars and you won’t find many Jews, in Israel or outside it, who disagree with you. Join Hamas in calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, as the prime instigator of all evil, and you’re on shakier ground.

In an apparent softening of party tone, Corbyn’s warm-up man, the journalist Owen Jones, recently reprimanded the Left for its ingrained anti-Semitism. Welcome words, but they will remain only words so long as the Corbynite Left – and indeed the not-so Corbynite Left – refuses to acknowledge the degree to which anti-Semitism is snarled up in the before and after of Israelophobia. The Stop The War Coalition is a sort of home to Jew-haters because its hate music about Israel is so catchy. It simplifies a complex and heartbreaking conflict, it elides causes and effects, it perpetuates a fable that flatters one side and demonises another, it ignores all instances of intransigence and cruelty but one, inflaming hatred and enabling the very racism it declares itself opposed to.

Let’s forget whether or not anti-Semitism is the root of this. It is sufficient that it is the consequence. Face that, Corbyn, or the offence you take at any imputation of prejudice is the hollow hypocrite’s offence, and your protestations of loving peace and justice, no matter who believes them, are as ash.

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