The Labour Party & Anti-Semitism, Put Simply

By Blog writer Lyell Tweed

Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the head of the Labour party in 2015 the party has faced many internal challenges, from a perceived leadership coup in 2016 to the resignation of many significant figures in the party from its front benches. However, after three Jewish newspapers all stated Corbyn to be a threat to Jewish life in the UK, the latest conflict looming over the party may be the most damaging to date.

The allegations of historical Anti-Semitism within Labour came back to haunt them after a Facebook post from 2012 was found showing Corbyn supposedly defending what many saw as an overtly Anti-Semitic mural in London.

Ken Livingston and Naseem Shah’s comments in 2016 also caused much concern within the British Jewish community. Both made what were widely regarded as Anti-Semitic comments as they looked to compare Israel to the Nazi regime in Germany. Livingstone trying to suggest that Hitler himself was a Zionist, whilst Shah claimed that the ‘Jews are rallying’ and that Israel’s population should be ‘transported’ out of the Middle East to America. Livingstone has since resigned whilst Shah has apologised. Though intended to strengthen her relationship with the Jewish community in her constituency, Shah’s apology, as well as recent appointment as Shadow Equalities Minister, has done little to calm the concerns of the Jewish community.

As well as the previously mentioned controversial incident of Corbyn defending the offensive mural in central London, Corbyn has been discovered to have historically shared platforms or expressed views that have made many uncomfortable. This is not to say that Jeremy Corbyn himself is Anti-Semitic, he just has the tendency to share platforms with people who are, with his excuses for doing so often appearing vague. One of the most famous examples of this is when Corbyn described it as an ‘honour and pleasure’ to host ‘our friends’ from Hamas and Hezbollah in Parliament.

These groups are very well documented in their negative opinions on the Jewish community and Israel. He also shared tea on a Parliamentary terrace with Raed Salah, who Corbyn described as a ‘very honoured citizen’. This despite the fact that Salah spent eight months in prison for Anti-Semitic crimes. As well as this he has been accused of donating money to the self-proclaimed Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. All of this does not set up a good defence for there not being an Anti-Semitism problem within the Labour party.

These events are viewed by many to have acted as a flashpoint, or what should have been a wakeup call, for the Labour party over its relationship with itself and the left, as Anti-Semitism can sometimes be associated with the Far Left. Until Corbyn’s rise to power in 2015, the Labour party had seemed to reach a consensus that it was a party that represented the centre-left and was very successful because of it. However, since Corbyn’s election there has been a massive split in the party between those representing ‘New’-Labour and those supporting Corbyn’s more traditional leftist views. This, combined with Corbyn's strong Pro-Palestinian views, has a tendency to make many in the party, and many in the Jewish community, feel uncomfortable, highlighting the divisiveness of the issue.  

Together this has snowballed to cause massive problems for the Labour party both internally and externally at a time when many believe it should be capitalising on a struggling Conservative party during the Brexit process. The last few weeks have seen the party have to quickly adapt to ease tensions over this situation. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, has had an investigation into her dropped after claims she called Corbyn ‘an anti-Semite and a racist’ whilst a momentum backed candidate for the Labour National Policy Forum was suspended for perceived Anti-Semitic comments towards Labour deputy leader Tom Watson. It has also led Corbyn himself to write an article in the Guardian defending himself and his party over the whole situation.

Since this the GMB, one of Britain’s leading trade unions with active links to the party, has called on Labour to adopt the full IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism with all examples, a deal breaker for the Jewish community. Momentum has also recently urged Corbyn to back down for the sake of the party.

We can see where Labour’s problems arise and that there is still much to be done before the party can regain the trust of the Jewish community and unite itself. Perhaps starting with the full adoption of the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism, the benchmark definition of Anti-Semitism for the majority of the Jewish community; and the dropping of cases against MPs such as Ian Austin who seem to be targeted for criticising Corbyn. Only time will tell whether Corbyn’s Labour party can ever fully recover from these damaging allegations.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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