Sunday, April 01, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn simply doesn't get anti-semitism - that's why he's unfit to lead

Corbyn with his friend Jackie Walker, currently suspended for Antisemitism
I should have spotted an early glimpse of Labour's antisemitism crisis in Stockport Labour club in 2014, when I passed a positive comment about the effectiveness of Andrew Gwynne, the MP for Denton and Reddish. The retort came that he was "dodgy on Palestine". Apart from questioning then how often this came up on the doorsteps of Dukinfield, I wondered what kind of Labour activist even knew what Andrew thought about the Middle East and why it would be the first thing you'd say about him. The same activist seemed animated to discover on another occasion that a prominent local Liberal Democrat "might be Jewish".  All of this pre-dated Jeremy Corbyn as leader and could at a stretch have been described - or even dismissed - as an "isolated pocket".

There was a telling moment in the Vice documentary about Jeremy Corbyn when he got incredibly prickly about Ken Livingstone. His response was an irritable repetition about Ken being suspended for "inappropriate" comments. He both refused to, and was unable to, explain what that was. In the whole rumble about antisemitism he would continually condemn "antisemitism, and all forms of racism". It showed that Corbyn actually doesn't understand it at all. He had no appreciation of why Ken Livingstone had caused such grave offence, no awareness of the intricacies of his crass and cod historical scholarship of Nazi Germany, or of why the dripping of poisonous revisionism of history is a trope to minimise the memory of the Holocaust.

To Jeremy Corbyn racism is generally perpetuated by white people on minority ethnic people, usually blacks and Asians. It comes largely in the form of racist jokes and comments about other ethnic groups, escalating to discrimination, racist graffiti and outright violence. Of course he's against it. In his world only the virtuous left wingers like him are against it quite as seriously as him. The Tories and the right wing of the Labour Party aren't, either because they don't care, or they feed off the divide and rule of cynical neo-liberalism. I don't know, I'm guessing.

People like him don't do things like that, so the very notion that anyone on his side does so is absurd. So, it follows, the accusation that anyone does is almost certainly a cover for something else. Or to quote the Unite union boss Len McCluskey, a smear: "I believe it was mood music that was created by people who were trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn."

You don't have to look very far before you find a strong body of opinion amongst the Corbyn adoring left that this is a "smear". There are opinion polls which back this up. If Jeremy says something, then it's true. If you contest it, then you *must* be acting in bad faith against him and weaponising an issue that simply doesn't warrant a serious consideration.

As the most recent exposition of Labour's problem with the Jews emerged in late March, Tom Peck, summed up the reaction in the Independent:  "#PredictTheNextCorbynSmear, in which his supporters turn this antisemitic anger, which Corbyn himself appears to be genuinely upset and angered by, into a joke."

Apart from quoting a bit of Shelley at Glastonbury, I genuinely struggle to remember literally anything Corbyn has said in any of his rather rambling speeches to his following, but it is impossible to imagine him actually speaking the words in his open letter to the Jewish community. For a politician who’s brand is supposedly straight talking and honest, that is a serious charge.

In the open letter he says: "While the forms of anti-Semitism expressed on the far right of politics are easily detectable, such as Holocaust denial, there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism in the Labour movement. Sometimes this evil takes familiar forms - the east London mural which has caused such understandable controversy is an example. The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. This was long ago, and rightly, described as "the socialism of fools"."

Instead, when he was finally pinned down by Jewish News to be asked about antisemitism on the left, we got the usual waffle - "all forms of racism" and "all abuse is wrong". But most tellingly of all, "I’ve obviously locally met people from the mosque and so on to deal with that and indeed Muslim women groups because they have suffered the most in exactly the same way as many Jewish people have suffered abuse as well. Abuse is wrong whoever it is against. "


Frankly, he's still in the realms of street attacks and Twitter abuse. A one-dimensional characterisation of how racism plays out. Intellectually, he can't seem to get his head around the insidious nature of left antisemitism and where it comes from, what it fuels and how it ultimately destroys communities from within. Which is why the lazy conspiracy world view, that a cabal of Zionists, Tories and Blairites (the few) control the world, has taken such deep root in this swamp of soundbites and easy answers.

But this, by Neil McCrae, starts to posit the question that no-one actually wants to ask. Why now, and where has this come from? It sort of comes full circle to the original view about what we traditionally think the racist enemy looks like and how they behave. "They are aghast at the resurgent ogre of anti-Semitism, which ranges from casual remarks to blood-libel conspiracy theorists, Holocaust-deniers and that ugly combination of hard Left and Islamo-Fascists who want Israel wiped off the map. Will this change anything, I wondered? Walking back over Westminster Bridge, I overheard an answer to my question: ‘He won’t bat an eyelid’. After all, there is a voting bloc twelve times larger than the Jews to harvest."

He's obviously talking about the Muslim community. George Galloway built his Arabist political rebirth on this rumbling, adopting the rhetoric and language of the middle eastern dictator. As the writer Nick Cohen put it back in 2016, "George Galloway, who, never forget, was a demagogue from the race-card playing left rather than the far right, made the private prejudices of conservative Muslim voters respectable."

I don't think Corbyn's up to this. His judgement, his intellect and his moral range are too limited. Despite his pretence at being this man of peace, he rarely seeks to find common ground, just to take sides. The "dodgy" company he keeps doesn't contradict this. Seeing him parading around with his long term friend Jackie Walker (picture, above), was open mockery of concerns in the party and explains the limp response that follows. It was she, lest we forget, a vice-chair of Momentum, who has been suspended from the Labour Party twice. Firstly because she claimed the “chief financiers of the slave trade” were Jewish; secondly some nonsense that Holocaust Memorial Day didn’t commemorate victims of other genocides (it does). (Hat tip, Tom Peck again).

It would be generous to say that the leader of the opposition, and his team, have been asleep at the wheel, thinking at best that they can sweep it away. Now, they even appear to be blaming the previous General Secretary of the party for not acting quickly enough to implement the findings of his whitewash report. It's been a depressing and sickening time to see this divisive, inelegant and hateful debate linger on.

Manchester's response a year ago showed how the issues that divide this country need to be addressed by inter-faith and inter-community dialogue and by calling out hatred and warped ideology early. There are lines to be firmly redrawn around support for terrorism and racial hatred, and not looking the other way because it is on "our side" or that every debate is viewed through the prism of supporting "Jeremy".

And I sort of count myself in all of this. Instead of rolling my eyes at the Andrew Gwynne detractor, I should have confronted directly what was staring me in the face.

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