Margaret Hodge's deranged hyperbole clouds the real fear that many British Jews do live in

Her comments give those who delude themselves that this is the only truth even more cover to overlook another truth: that the habitual curse of antisemitism on the left, limited as it is but megaphoned by social media, desperately needs sorting

Matthew Norman
Sunday 19 August 2018 18:26
Margaret Hodge says Jeremy Corbyn is 'crossing the line' between being pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic

Amid so much else that is endlessly depressing about Labour’s Groundhog Day – every morning at 6am, the clock radio plays “I Got Jews Babe”, only at an ever increasing volume – Margaret Hodge stands alone.

Anyone hoping to deploy her as the ultimate weapon against Jeremy Corbyn could not choose a more ineffective silver bullet than this grandstanding narcissist and galaxy class hysteric.

Her latest contribution somehow dwarfs the previous one in July, when from behind the speaker’s chair she lobbed petrol onto the fire by allegedly (this has never been denied) telling Corbyn: “You’re a f****** antisemite and a racist. You have proved you don’t want people like me in the party.”

“I am sorry you feel that way,” he replied – and for that show of heroic restraint (if for little else in his handling of this melancholy farce), you have to admire the man.

Jeremy Corbyn releases video apologising for antisemitism in the Labour party

By any conventional standard, Hodge should have faced disciplinary action for that. Parties with pretensions to government need discipline from their elected representatives. The Blairites who demanded rigid conformity when in power have shown none since Corbyn’s two leadership elections and impressive general election result.

The rancorous sense of entitlement which fuels their spite overrides any residual instinct to loyalty. To the likes of Hodge, whom Blair made children’s minister in one of political history’s more auto-satirical appointments (google her handling of an atrocious child abuse scandal when she ran Islington Council, and subsequent smearing of a victim as mentally disturbed), Corbyn is an interloper with no right to respect.

But disrespecting a leader and viciously slandering him are two different things, and it’s hard to doubt that the whip would be removed from a Tory who accused Theresa May of Islamophobia for failing to cleanse her party of that residual stain.

Yet this climate is too febrile to permit conventional standards. It would have been an act of self-harm had that disciplinary action, deserved as it was, not been dropped, even if Hodge hadn’t counter-attacked with legal threats of her own.

It is now even more undesirable for Corbyn to raise the temperature by questioning her response, but others will. “On the day that I heard that they were going to discipline me and possibly suspend me,” she told Sky News, “it felt almost like, I kept thinking, ‘what did it feel like to be a Jew in Germany in the Thirties?’ Because it felt almost as if they were coming for me.”

She then referenced her father, who left Germany in the 1930s to run a family steel firm headquartered in Egypt before bringing the family to London in 1948. “It reminded me what my Dad … always said to me as a child. ‘You’ve got to keep a packed suitcase at the door Margaret, in case you ever have got to leave in a hurry.’”

Despite that pair of “almosts” and the best semantical efforts of certain commentators to muddy these waters, the directness of her comparison between her fear and that of those at the mercy of the Third Reich is crystal clear. Its absurdity is explored in a video commentary by Norman Finkelstein, one of America’s finest historians of the Holocaust with a family history to explain the white heat of his rage.

His parents survived the Warsaw ghetto and two concentration camps. On the train to one, his mother sat next to a woman who “suffocated her infant child to death… She suffocated her child, rather than take her to where they were going. That’s what it meant to be deported”.

Yet the problem with Hodge’s comparison runs deeper than its grotesqueness. It’s that deranged hyperbole serves only to cloud the fact that many British Jews, particularly those with wartime memories, really do live in perpetual fear that the warmth this country has by and large shown them won’t endure.

You can regard that as both paranoid (as I do) and, in this historical context, wholly understandable. Corbyn’s refusal to address the issue stems largely from a failure of the imagination. He seems unable to imagine – and this too, after devoting his life to fighting racism, is understandable – how anyone could hold such fears, let alone about him.

Hodge’s comparison, which would almost be comical if it less wickedly trivialised the horror to which Finkelstein alludes, makes his deathly slow progress towards that imagining even harder. It reinforces the impression (one in which, as with every aspect on both sides of the argument, there is partial truth) that antisemitism is purely the cudgel with which his internal enemies intend to beat out his brains.

It gives those who delude themselves that this is the only truth even more cover to overlook another truth: that the habitual curse of antisemitism on the left, limited as it is but megaphoned by social media, desperately needs sorting.

Hodge didn’t restrict herself to talking “bollocks”, as David Baddiel elegantly put it, about the emotional resonance of threatened disciplinary action. She also said: “It’s a very fine line between being pro-Palestinian and the Palestinian cause, which he’s always believed in, and being antisemitic.”

It is no such thing. That line is every yard as wide as the vast canyon separating the fear of suspension from Labour from the fears of German Jews after the author of Mein Kampf became Germany’s Chancellor.

I am a Jew who loves Jews and Jewishness, and I am pro the Palestinian cause. There are hundreds of millions around the world, Jews and gentiles, Jeremy Corbyn and Norman Finkelstein, who share the sacred right to despise the policies and actions of an Israeli government without being labelled as racists by the self-martyring Hodge.

If Corbyn wants her out of the party, he won’t get his way. But that wish has nothing to do with being an antisemite, and he has all my sympathies.

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