Corbyn, November 2020 (Photo: Reuters)
Anti-Semitism in Labor? Only if any pro-Palestinian voice is “anti-Semitism”
Former Labor Chairman Jeremy Corbyn was recently expelled due to his unwillingness to take responsibility for the alleged outbreak of anti-Semitism within his party. However, the report, in light of which he was removed, provides little evidence of institutional anti-Semitism. What does it show? For the most part, remarks against Israel and its government. The equivalences, made by Israel and its allies, between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is a politicization of anti-Semitism.
The former Chairman of the British Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was recently expelled, following a post that was perceived as an expression of his unwillingness to take responsibility for an outbreak of anti-Semitism within his party over the course of his tenure, and even as an example of the fact that he himself allowed and promoted this anti-Semitism. Corbyn’s post was written as a response to a report published by the British Equality and Human Rights Council. Corbyn wrote that the report shows that the claims of institutional anti-Semitism within Labor during his tenure were dramatically exaggerated.
The truth is that there is indeed very little evidence of institutional anti-Semitism within the Labor Party in the report, or of the claim the Corbyn allowed it or promoted it, as claimed by party critics both from within and without. Most of the report deals with procedural issues – from the lack of an efficient complaint mechanism, to the interference by the leadership regarding which investigations into anti-Semitism to advance. One can certainly claim that these occurrences are problematic , but it is doubtful that they can serve as proof of one policy or another regarding anything having to do with anti-Semitism, and that these are not simply bureaucratic issues that every party can be faulted for. Even more so, most of the cases of anti-Semitism, according to the authors of the report, were remarks made by party members on social media. It is unclear whether the Labor party leadership has the responsibility, or the ability to stop these remarks, other than to condemn anti-Semitism, which is what Corbyn did indeed do.
The most prominent cases in which the Party allegedly failed, are remarks made by a number of prominent Labor members: Naz Shah, Ken Livingston, and Pam Bromely. Naz shared a humorous post made by Norman Finkelstein, in which he illustrated and suggested moving Israel to the United States, and commented “problem solved”, as well as a post which included a picture that could be interpreted that she was comparing Israel to the Nazis.
Ken Livingston, who in the past allegedly claimed that Hitler supported Zionism at the beginning of his reign, expressed support for Shah after she was accused of anti-Semitism, and claimed that the accusations were a part of a smear campaign by the Israel lobby. Pam Bromely, posted a number of posts and tweets claiming that the complaints of anti-Semitism in Labor were fake, and that the “lobby” is a fifth column within Labor and that the Rothschilds are behind Trump (she emphasized that the issue was their wealth, not their Judaism).
Most of the above mentioned cases are focused on the State of Israel and Zionism, as also noted by the head of Labor Friends for Israel, Joan Ryan. In order for the cases to be anti-Semitic one must claim that they are a version of classic anti-Semitism- which could be claimed regarding any possible criticism of Israel- or say that any anti-Zionist or sharp criticism of Israel specifically are anti-Semitic, as articulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition. This definition is quite controversial and so any report that relies on this definition and similar ones are essentially taking a stand on a controversial subject with serious political implications. Paradoxically, the report’s main accomplishment is confirming the claims that most of the accusations against Corbyn and Labor during his tenure, are nothing but the politicization of anti-Semitism. The expected outcome of the report, then, is a growing indifference in leftist circles in Britain and elsewhere towards the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, because allegations of anti-Semitism have been used- and are still used- as a primary tool for weakening the left flank of the Labor Party.
This result is especially expected since most of the claims of “new anti-Semitism” among the left are a denial of a clear reality. For instance, Ryan laments “the evil claims that Israel uses the Holocaust as a political tool” as an expression of anti-Semitism within Labor, and expects her readers to forget that just a few years previously Netanyahu claimed that the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini was the one who convinced Hitler to exterminate the Jews, in a clumsy, but characteristic, attempt to politicize the Holocaust. Similarly, the claims that any discussion of an Israeli lobby working against Corbyn- from within the party and without- are anti-Semitic claims that reuse classic anti-Semitic tropes regarding puppeteering Jewish powers, Jewish disloyalty and Jews as a fifth column- as if the existence of this lobby is not a well-known fact.
Other claims that identify anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism clearly turn any pro-Palestinian voice into anti-Semitism, and aren’t even accepted among scholars of anti-Semitism who believe in the “new anti-Semitism”, namely that there is entrenched anti-Semitism within the progressive left aimed against Israel. Most of the claims on the new anti-Semitism among the progressive left in the United States or Britain, have a similar dubious characteristics, and part of the damage that they cause is that they bring about, as mentioned above, indifference to true expressions of anti-Semitism on the left, such as automatically identifying Jews with Israel or with Zionism, and attacks on them due to this.
It is one of the most ironic aspects of this era, that anyone who truly cares about the rising anti-Semitism in Europe and in the United states must distance themselves from the allies of Israel in Britain, as well as in other places in Europe and the United States.