Labour’s antisemitism row has made everyone look awful, from foolish activists to a hypocritical PM

Theresa May would never tolerate the slightest hint of antisemitism. That’s why she was one of the only leaders in Europe to oppose a motion censuring Viktor Orban

Mark Steel
Thursday 28 February 2019 15:54 GMT
Chris Williamson says he will be working to clear his name

Everyone’s even MORE furious with Jeremy Corbyn now. Unless Labour deals with its antisemitism crisis quickly, Chuka Umunna will be interviewed on This Morning and start fizzing, making all the lights go out until Holly Willoughby fetches the exorcist that ITV keep on standby to deal with Piers Morgan.

The Daily Mail told us in huge letters that Labour’s antisemitism is “Corbyn’s hateful new low”. Given the Mail was accused by a special commission with “fuelling prejudice” under its previous editor, maybe they meant Corbyn was a disgrace for not complaining that Jews are everywhere these days, and making up a story that a Jewish bricklayer’s wall collapsed, because he used cream cheese instead of cement.

Theresa May is furious about Labour’s “institutional antisemitism”, because Labour has ignored all the rules of decency in dealing with ethnic groups. They’re supposed to send vans through Jewish areas telling them to go home, then create a policy called “hostile environment” in which you deport a few because they don’t have the papers you never gave them, proving Labour knows nothing about how to make a community feel wanted.

Nothing similar to institutional antisemitism could ever take place in the Conservative Party, except for Conservative ex-cabinet member Baroness Warsi’s statement that the party was “institutionally racist”, but the Tories probably dismiss that as it only came from a Muslim and they’re always complaining.

Because Theresa May would never tolerate the slightest hint of antisemitism. That’s why, in September 2018, she was one of the only leaders in Europe to oppose a motion censuring the far-right Hungarian leader Viktor Orban.

Jews in Hungary are a little cautious about Orban, because he can seem a tiddly bit antisemitic, as his hero is Miklos Horthy, the wartime Hungarian leader who adored Hitler. Under Horthy’s rule, 450,000 Jews were murdered. But it would be wrong to judge Orban on that sort of trivial detail; the important thing is what his supporters write on Twitter, and as Theresa May doesn’t speak Hungarian, she can’t be offended by it. So it’s only fair to carry on giving him support.

It seems everyone who dislikes Corbyn has found the issue they can attack him on, even if they’ve never shown the slightest inclination to oppose prejudice before. Next week the evening news will tell us the Ku Klux Klan have spoken out against antisemitic comments made by Labour members on Facebook, and they hope to have an interview with the Grand Wizard the following night.

The point at which Corbyn reached his “hateful new low” is the claim that his office delayed the suspension of Chris Williamson, after the MP’s recent speech saying Labour had apologised too much over the issue. Whatever he did wouldn’t be enough. If Corbyn tasered Williamson in the House of Commons, there would be a headline saying “A NEW LOW – ONLY 200 VOLTS FOR ANTISEMITE!!!”

Even so, if the people making accusations are not always to be trusted, that doesn’t mean the accusations are false.

In the case of Chris Williamson, the speech that got him suspended didn’t seem out of character. Last year he supported a petition to lift a ban against the jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, put in place by Islington Council, because of Atzmon’s well-known statements that Jews rule the world, and cause antisemitism through their own behaviour.

Williamson then claimed he had no idea about Atzmon’s views, and “only knew him as a jazz musician”. I suppose the MP didn’t have time to check the reason why Atzmon had been banned, and must have assumed Islington Council banned him because he plays in C minor, traditionally seen as an annoying key in north London.

Antisemitism may not be as widespread as claimed, but there’s a contingent on the left that finds it hard to accept any criticism on the issue, without making it a thousand times worse. So they’ll tell you, “I saw old Mrs Pemberton who works in the garden centre. She said, ‘Isn’t it a shame about some of the things these Labour members have said about Jews?’ I said, ‘How much are you being paid by the Israelis, you old cow?’ I shan’t be going in there for a Zionist cactus again.”

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Perhaps it’s not the most productive response, if someone suggests they’ve witnessed antisemitism, to say “But what about the plight of the Palestinians?” Or maybe it is, and if you were on the bus in segregated Alabama when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back, the right thing to do would be to shout, “Before I support your right to sit in the ‘Whites only’ area, I want to know your views on the following questions – number one, what’s your attitude to the Cornish language?”

Maybe it’s possible to believe two ideas at once. You can be opposed to racism and opposed to Robert Mugabe. You can be aware there are hypocrites who exploit the issue of antisemitism, and be aware there is antisemitism.

There are clearly many Jewish and non-Jewish people, including supporters of Corbyn, disappointed by aspects of some Labour members’ behaviour. But you get the impression some people on the left feel they’ve thought this through carefully, and decided the most considered response is to call them all traitors, and tell them they’ve been duped by the media that’s run by Jews. That should clear it up.

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