Jeremy Corbyn is not antisemitic – but he needs to accept that some of his devoted followers are

Corbyn must face down an extremely difficult problem. Labour’s mad hard left are emboldened by having a man they view as one of their own in charge

Tom Peck
Monday 26 March 2018 16:57 BST
Tom Watson defends Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitic mural

Jeremy Corbyn is right. Labour’s antisemitism problem is indeed confined to what he calls “pockets” within the party.

Those on the left of politics who lack the intellectual capacity to prevent their pro-Palestine worldview tipping over into the racist abuse of Jewish people are few in number.

The deranged opinion that, by virtue of a handful of historically influential financiers being of Jewish ethnicity, the world is therefore controlled by a Jewish master race – there are simply not enough people within Labour who are thick enough to take that to the mainstream.

These views exist in a few Facebook groups. And before Facebook, they existed in the form of pub or coffee shop conversations between strange, socially shunned activists for leftist political entities with tenuous links to Labour.

But the problem is that, look into these pockets, pockets that have long been there, and there you will find Jeremy Corbyn, claiming to be looking the other way.

Look into a Facebook group called “The Labour Party Supporter”, where there are outrageous and unforgivable posts about Israel secretly harvesting human organs. Or a cartoon of a fat mother pig by the name of “Rothschild Bank” at whose teats are suckling MI5, the CIA, Isis and al-Qaeda. Jeremy Corbyn, is a member of this group. Just as he was a member of another, where, in 2012, he defended a clearly antisemitic east London mural on the grounds of free speech.

Guilt by association is a standard political attack method and it is not always fair. Conflating someone’s views with others they have “shared a platform with” or even shared a Facebook group with is very often a cheap tactic.

Judging a person by which Facebook groups they are in is absurd. A cursory look at my own would reveal a fascination with Raef Bjayou, a 2008 candidate on The Apprentice, that year presumably being the last time I ever joined or left one.

Corbyn’s standard response for his proximity to people and opinions conventionally understood as appalling, is that he has spent 30-odd hitherto unnoticed years in Parliament operating as some kind of freelance diplomat. Seeking to bring about peace in the Middle East or Northern Ireland by way of cups of tea in Westminster with representatives from the Hamas and Hezbollah and the IRA. That all problems can be solved through dialogue, and that as a consequence no one can be too unpalatable to speak to.

But he must face down an extremely difficult problem. Labour’s mad hard left are emboldened by having a man they view as one of their own in charge. For years, decades, he has been right there with them, not saying or doing the things they do, but just there. At every mass rally he has gathered over the last few tumultuous years, there will always be at least one Palestine flag in the crowd, with an “anti-Zionist” message.

The reason Jewish leaders have issued furious statements about Jeremy Corbyn and will march on Westminster on Monday afternoon is because, they say, he has not done enough to stamp out antisemitism in Labour.

It is, by the way, two and a half years since Jeremy Corbyn’s Facebook comment about the east London mural was first reported by the Jewish Chronicle. It was written about in November 2015, without summoning forth the masses to the streets. That it has taken off now is a consequence of the Jewish MP Luciana Berger complaining about it to the leader’s office, and publicising her complaint on social media. Perhaps we are all just much angrier now, than in those pre-Brexit, pre-Trump days.

Is it Jeremy Corbyn’s fault that those who have leapt to his defence, do so in a fashion that he may very well not wish to be defended? Ms Berger’s actions are dismissed as “politically motivated.” A hashtag is popularised on Twitter #PredictTheNextCorbynSmear, in which his supporters turn this antisemitic anger, which Corbyn himself appears to be genuinely upset and angered by, into a joke.

Jackie Walker, who was once vice-chair of Momentum, the organisation that has essentially twice propelled Corbyn to massive leadership election victories, has been suspended from the Labour Party over antisemitism claims on two occasions. The first time followed her remark that Jews were the “chief financiers of the slave trade”; the second was in response to her claim that Holocaust Memorial Day didn’t commemorate victims of other genocides (it does).

She, we are now told, will be attending a “counter-demo” on Monday night, in protest at the antisemitism protest.

The comparison between Trump and Corbyn is often made: the populist style, the delegitimising of “mainstream media”, the willing army of social media attack dogs. It is unfair. One man is a reprehensible racist and the other is not, and that should be enough to steer clear of glib comparison. But Corbyn is faced with a challenge Donald Trump would not and could not meet: to convince his own keyboard warriors to desist. His challenge is not just to cross the road, but to shut down the side of the street on which he used to walk.

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