Britain’s Labour Party is finally admitting that it has an antisemitism problem, launching a formal inquiry and drafting a code of conduct that will “make explicitly clear for the first time that Labour will not tolerate any form of racism, including antisemitism,” said its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, this weekend.
The very fact this needs to be made clear suggests something has gone terribly wrong, though, and that is an inditement of Corbyn’s leadership.
His recognition of the problem was long overdue.
Days earlier, the left-wing leader still insisted that there was “not a crisis,” claiming people “nervous about the strength of the Labour Party at a local level” were stirring up trouble. In other words, blaming the party establishment of looking for an excuse to discredit the activists Corbyn has brought into the fold.
A long-time peacenik and backbencher, Corbyn unexpectedly emerged triumphant from an internal leadership contest last year with the support of a flood of new members and the traditionally more leftist trade unions.
Antisemitism has reared its head since.
Naz Shah, a lawmaker for Bradford West, was recently revealed to have shared a “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on her Facebook page in 2014 that involved “relocating” Israel to North America.
The revelation caused a controversy and Shah was condemned by many in the Labour Party.
Except by Ken Livingstone, the former mayor or London and a Corbyn ally, who said Shah had been the victim of “a well-orchestrated campaign” by the “Israel lobby”. The Facebook post, he maintained, was “over the top” but not antisemitic.
“Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel,” Livingstone told BBC radio. “He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
As if that wasn’t bizarre enough, Livingstone later argued in a television interview that “a real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel; they hate their Jewish neighbor in Golders Green or in Stoke Newington” — suggesting there is a distinction between the two that matters.
Corbyn suspended both Shah and Livingstone from the party, but only after a day in each instance and under pressure from his shadow cabinet
Livingstone’s suspension was “very sad,” Corbyn said, but “there is a responsibility to lead the party.”
“The abiding impression was that he had suspended his old comrade with the utmost reluctance,” writes George Eaton in the leftist New Statesman; “it was the burden of office that had forced him to do so.”
Corbyn reiterated that Labour is “not tolerating antisemitism in any way or indeed any other kind of racism.”
His inability to condemn antisemitism in insolation has rubbed many the wrong way. The reason, some lawmakers told Eaton, is that Corbyn subscribes to a “hierarchy of racism” under which antisemitism is a lesser offence than, say, Islamophobia.
“In rejecting a systematic focus on the former, Corbyn’s critics say he is in denial about the scale and significance of the infestation,” Eaton reports.
The problem was obvious before Shah’s 2014 Facebook post was found and before Livingston opened his mouth.
Vicki Kirby, vice chair of the Labour Party in Woking, was suspended last month after posting a series of antisemitic tweets, including one saying Adolf Hitler “now seems to be their [Israel’s] teacher.”
Gerry Downing, a far-left activist who believes there is a “Jewish question” that needs to be addressed, was expelled after writing that “imperialism” in the Middle East was an “entirely understandable motivation” for suicide bombings and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Beinazir Lasharie, a Labour councilor in West London, wrote on Facebook she had “heard some compelling evidence about ISIS being originated from Zionists.”
The co-chair of the Oxford University Labour club resigned in February, saying his colleagues had “some kind of problem with Jews.”
Gerald Kaufman, a parliamentarian, said last year “Jewish money” was influencing the Conservative Party and its Middle East policy.
Kaufman still sits in the House of Commons. Corbyn called his remarks “completely unacceptable” before arguing they did “nothing to benefit the Palestinian cause.”
None of the aforementioned prompted Corbyn to launch an inquiry or admit that Labour might have a problem.
He has made clear where his own sympathies lie, though.
Before he was named leader, Corbyn invited representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah to London, saying it was his “honor and pleasure” to host such “friends”.
Corbyn has defended those invitations by saying all sides need to be involved in a peace process. Except neither Hamas nor Hezbollah is interested in peace. They exist rather to destroy Israel and kill Jews. It’s not something they hide; they are quite explicit about it.
It wasn’t even the first time Corbyn sat down with Jew haters. As James Bloodworth has reported for The Guardian, he also invited Raed Salah to Parliament, a man who leads an organization that is outright committed to the islamization of Israel and who was convicted of inciting violence against Jews in 2008.
Given the company he keeps, and his instinct, as recently as Thursday, to blame allegations of antisemitism on a political establishment that is in thrall to the “Israel lobby,” skepticism about Corbyn’s ability and willingness to purge this prejudice from the Labour Party naturally abounds.