• Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Corbyn and antisemitism: can we get serious now?

ByAdrià Balibrea

Nov 10, 2020

Antisemitism, anti-Zionism, anti the current state of Israel. Three completely different things. The first is hostility to a race; the second is hostility to the idea of Jews having a right to live under the protection of a nation; and the third is hostility to Benjamin Netanyahu’s human-rights abusing regime. To bundle and weaponise these three things into one is an insult to the humanist spirit that is at the core of Judaism. It is, in itself, antisemitic, to quote American Jewish Anthropologist, David Graeber.

Whether you supported Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister or whether you thought he would have been a disaster for this country, there are many things you can say about him: perhaps you disagree with him on economic policy; or you think he doesn’t have charisma; or that he doesn’t dress very nice; that he badly needs to shave. These are all differences in opinion, and we are all entitled to them. But no one is entitled to their own facts. And facts, as John Adams said, are stubborn things.

It is, therefore, utterly remarkable that there is even a debate surrounding whether Jeremy Corbyn – one of the most vocal anti-racist politicians to grace front-line British politics in the last four decades – is antisemitic. Positing, as the media has relentlessly done, whether he is antisemitic does serious damage to what truth is, whilst at the same time undermining genuine and dangerous racists in our society. It is literally as ridiculous as questioning whether Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were closet communists.

Here are a few actual facts: Jeremy Corbyn has been a life-long critic of the state of Israel, having always stood up for Palestinian rights. He has never said or written anything remotely antisemitic. Another fact: Jeremy Corbyn has also been the first leader of a major party in Britain to even question the neoliberal Thatcherite consensus. Boris Johnson on the other hand, the self-admitted defender of the bankers who in 2008 knowingly sent tens of millions into unemployment whilst taking home hundreds of millions in bonuses, has written various antisemitic and racist things in his lifetime, but you didn’t know that because the media never talk about it.

Johnson once wrote a book called Seventy-Two Virgins in which he described “oligarchs [running] TV stations that were [mainly] of Jewish origin”. Could you possibly say anything more antisemitic if you tried? In 2018, he described Muslim women who wear Burkas as “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”, something that led to a 375% increase in Islamophobic incidents.

This received media attention for a few days because it was August and there was nothing to report, but went away very quickly. (Can you imagine if a Labour MP had written an article mocking Jewish clothing or physical appearances, do you think their career might have been over?) Also, in 2018, the Conservative Party refused to condemn the racist, antisemite Viktor Orbán, and yet articles in the media mentioning Tory antisemitism that year topped a total of 0. For Labour, around 6000.

Despite all these facts I’ve just thrown at you with no particular coherence or organisation, I do actually have a point: there are two double standards going on. First, is that when it comes to any form of racism, left-wing anti-establishment politicians are disproportionately massacred by the media whilst right-wing neoliberals are largely ignored. This is not a coincidence. Second, is that antisemitism is not treated like every other form of racism, and it should be. Speaking out against the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements will lead political pundits to construct something anti-Jewish from that. It would be like constructing something Islamophobic out of denouncing Saddam Hussein. It would be crazy. It would never happen.

Of course, there is no denying that antisemitism is very real, especially in the UK, including of course, in the Labour Party. It is also true that the structures and leadership of the Labour Party have been ineffective in tackling this issue. But to attribute this to Jeremy Corbyn alone is a disgusting smear. The truth is Labour had barely any methods in place before 2015 to deal with antisemitism and even though what has been done since then obviously isn’t enough, to say that nothing has been done is nonsense.

Everything in the EHRC report must be taken extremely seriously and all advice must become policy. But let’s remember, Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t suspended over that. He was suspended for a statement that accepted everything in the report but also admitted it hadn’t helped that political opponents and the media had at times exaggerated Labour’s antisemitism problem. Just to cite one example, when the general public were asked by pollsters what proportion of Labour members they thought had been reported on the grounds of antisemitism, they estimated one-third, a stunning exaggeration.

It seems that saying the issue is exaggerated by the media equates to denying that the issue exists. It doesn’t. It is another example of how antisemitism isn’t treated like all other forms of racism. It is not a contradictory thing to accept Labour has an antisemitism problem, concede that not near enough has been done to root it out and fully commit to fixing this, but still acknowledge that the media exploit the issue for their own personal gain. The reality of antisemitism within the Labour Party versus how it is portrayed in the media are two separate things. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Image: Jeremy Corbyn via Flickr

By Adrià Balibrea

Comment Editor