This time last year, I tore up my Labour membership card for no reason other than the fact that the party I once considered a political home was no longer a comfortable space for a Jew. Throughout this election campaign, of the many criticisms levied at the Labour party, one has arisen more so than others, that of the question of party wide anti-Semitism. Despite the likes of Owen Jones, as well as other campaigners, arguing that the problem is much smaller than made out, here is a Jew highlighting that it isn’t. The issue of anti-Semitism is paramount in this general election.
This election has brought about much confusion for the majority of voters, with questions being raised as to what is and what isn’t anti-Semitic. The working definition provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is that “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” These types of abuses include stereotyping, supporting violence against Jewish people (including the Jewish homeland, Israel) and vandalism of Jewish properties.
Prior to highlighting the institutional racism within the Labour party, it ought to be mentioned that I am a former Labour member, one who would stand with a number of Labour’s policies. I believe in increasing the provision of social welfare, I find the notion of nationalised broadband quite appealing, and the annual increase of 270,000 trees being planted a year is undeniably important. But, there are larger problems and I wrote this article to urge readers of The Saint to consider the British Jewish community, of which 85% or so consider Corbyn and his Labour party to be anti-Semitic.
members investigated for posting online comments such as “heil Hitler” and “jews are the problem” had not been suspended
The Labour Party can only be described as a cesspit of anti-Semitic rhetoric. This past week, our Chief Rabbi spoke out in an unprecedented manner, highlighting the worry within the community regarding the Labour Party. He ultimately highlighted that Corbyn is not fit to be prime minister. Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of Labour in 2015, anti-Semitism in the party has been on the rise with hundreds of anti-Semitic cases being brought about by Jewish members – as highlighted by The Sunday Times in April, with Labour receiving more than 863 complaints. The report highlighted that more than half of the cases remained unresolved while there had been no investigation into 28% of them. It continued to highlight that fewer than 30 people had been expelled from the party while members investigated for posting online comments such as “Heil Hitler” and “Jews are the problem” had not been suspended.
There is, of course, the argument that this represents only a fraction of a party with close to half a million members. This was the argument I made to my community when campaigning for Labour in the 2017 general election. However, there are two reasons I have had a shift in my mindset regarding Labour and their ultimate disregard for the Jewish community.
The first is leadership. Jeremy Corbyn has failed to deal with a problem that has riddled his leadership since its offset. To this day I am unsure whether Corbyn is an anti-Semite or just naive. In the past, he has repeatedly refused to apologise for the way he has treated my community and has thus caused substantial fear throughout. And, even prior to this, Corbyn has a record of questionable actions highlighting his anti-Semitic stance. In 2009, Corbyn described Hamas and Hizbollah as his ‘friends’ and continued to describe both these organisations as groups working towards ‘peace and social justice.’ Both Hamas and Hizbollah’s charters state their aims of wiping every Jew off the face of the planet. Yet Corbyn claimed this was language that was necessary for diplomatic negotiation – I let him off there.
Then last year it came out that Jeremy Corbyn was present and pictured at a wreath-laying ceremony in Tunisia. This wreath ceremony commemorated the death of multiple people; the Black September Terrorists, those who were responsible for murdering 11 Jewish athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, were among them. This was once again excused, this time with the claim that he was ‘present but not involved’. I let him off again. Throughout his leadership, more and more evidence came out against Corbyn, most commonly sharing platforms with individuals spouting anti-Semitic and violent language at rallies, such as Azam Tamimi, who told Gazans to “explode in the faces of Israelis” and that ‘Jihad’ was the only answer against Israel.
Yet his anti-Semitism wasn’t only through anti-Israel platforms; in 2012, Jeremy Corbyn defended Mere One, an artist known for works with anti-Semitic tropes. The specific artwork that was being backed was one stereotyping the ‘Jewish conspiracy’ with six Jewish-looking men sat around an Illuminati table. As the number of examples increased, my trust began to dwindle with the Labour leader. This past Friday, a video resurfaced of Corbyn being interviewed by Iranian TV where he argued that the Israeli government put pressure on media outlets (once again insinuating the common anti-Semitic trope that Jews have undue influence in media), and yet it was what followed that what was most worrying: the clip finishes with Corbyn questioning Israel’s right to exist. This is where the line was drawn for me.
It ought to be mentioned that I know that Israel’s government is far from perfect – and I personally celebrated last week when it was announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was going to be trialled for corruption – but one thing I am thankful for every day is the fact that there is a Jewish homeland, a safe haven that was created only after centuries of persecution in all corners of the world. I don’t believe Corbyn’s disdain towards Israel is towards the government; it’s towards the very being of the nation itself. The denial of the Jewish people to self-determination is anti-Semitic, and this attack from him is a further example of Corbyn completely crossing the line.
The other reason I cancelled my membership wasn’t necessarily the number of anti-Semitic members, rather what the party had become and the rhetoric that was being shared within party circles. David Feldman once wrote that “the number of anti-Semites is not the same thing as the presence of anti-Semitic ideas”, and this underlines the key issue Labour faces in this election. Anti-Semitism is one of the easiest forms of racism that can be dipped into, with a large majority of anti-Semitic cases being ones where the individuals don’t ‘intend’ to be anti-Semitic, and yet the rhetoric being spread throughout the party leads to anti-Semitic language becoming normalised.
The labour party today is a place where I don’t feel comfortable
As a result of this, the Labour party today is a place where I don’t feel comfortable, where fear for my safety is questioned, and an environment in which I see people that I have looked up to, like Luciana Berger MP, receive consistent abuse, ranging from claims of ‘dual-loyalty’ with Israel to death threats for just being Jewish. This is why I left. The Labour Party is not a comfortable place to be a minority, and the majority of the Jewish community have given up on a party that was a political home less than a decade ago.
As we move into this election, I urge all readers of this article to think and vote with their conscience. The Labour Party is not the party that it once was, the one I was inspired by when my interest in politics first came about. The only way to stop this poison from spreading further through the party is by quashing it when it is still in its periphery. This nation faces the prospect of what can only be described as a racist Prime Minister. I implore readers to remember what their true values are and to consider the British Jewish population when voting. To paraphrase the words of the poet, Martin Niemöller, “First they came for the Jews. But I was not a Jew. So I did not speak. But then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” This racism will not cease at the Jewish community. The Labour Party is riddled with racism from top to bottom and we must stamp it out by avoiding any support for them in this election. Please, stand in solidarity with our struggle against discrimination.