On the question of alleged anti-semitism in Labour


December 2, 2019 by Paul Goldsmith


Us Jews are meant to be united on the question of whether Jeremy Corbyn, and by extension the Labour Party, are anti-semitic, and therefore whether it should influence our vote in the election.  But even in my own mind I am not united on it. Here’s why:

This is a hard blog post to write, but it is important I do write it. Many people who know me, and not many other Jews,  want to know how I feel about the issue of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. It is something that is directly impacting voter choice amongst Jews in Britain, and through them, quite a few others.

I guess you might want a straight answer from me, but I am not going to give it to you. At risk of upsetting and offending friends and family, I am not as certain about this issue as I imagine I am supposed to be. This isn’t an easy position to have. The Editor of the JC blocked me in Twitter recently when I asked for clarification on a video, and reading the responses of friends whose opinions I respect to any posts on this I realise my life would be easier if just  thought what I was told to think. It’s important that I explain why I am so conflicted.

Many will have noticed the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, waded into all this with an unprecedented article in the Times. I wasn’t massively comfortable with him getting involved in Politics, yet the thought processes and evidence that led him there worried me. That the response of the left has been to find ‘A.N.Other Jew’ to answer him is telling – like the use of Patrick Minford, one Leave supporting economist, to answer Nobel winning Economists supporting Remain in the EU referendum. Oh, and Noam Chomsky, which is like asking Sol Campbell to talk about his love for Spurs in 2002, just after joining Arsenal. We are probably up at around 95% of our community now believing that a vote for Labour is a vote to make an anti-semite Prime Minister.

The arguments for Jeremy Corbyn being antisemitic are based around the list of evidence provided by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian.

‘Recall that Corbyn’s first reaction on hearing of a plan to remove a mural filled with hideous caricatures of hook-nosed Jewish bankers was to ask, “Why?” Or that he decided to challenge two “Zionists” not on their arguments but by suggesting that, though they “might have lived in this country for a very long time”, they “don’t understand English irony”. Or that, when a Palestinian Islamist preacher was found by a British tribunal to have peddled the medieval and lethal myth of Jews feasting on the blood of gentile children, Corbyn declared that man a very “honoured citizen”, and invited him for tea in the House of Commons. (And those are merely some of the greatest hits; the full discography runs much longer.)’

Freedland goes onto to point out the number of members of Corbyn’s party who seem to like using neo-Nazi imagery and question the Holocaust, the number of parliamentary candidates with a background of anti-jewish bigotry, the interference by Corbyn’s team in anti-semitism investigations and the Labour Party becoming the second political party in UK history to be investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The fact is, Jeremy Corbyn spent years doing things that would disqualify almost anyone else in Politics from leading a mainstream political party. The left like to ‘no-platform’ people, and judge people on who they ‘shared a platform with’. Well, as a committed pro-Palestinian campaigner, Corbyn literally shared a platform on numerous occasions with people who would happily see me dead. To be clear, Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t share those views, but there isn’t a single recorded instance of him standing up and condemning them at the time they were spoken. See this latest instance for another example.

Thr truth is, Corbyn never expected to be in this position, which is why he seems so utterly unprepared for it, but also why, and this is perhaps to his credit, he just carried on campaigning for things he cared about, never thinking about ‘but what would this look like if my history was subjected to the public eye.

Us Jews are effectively being told that all this is a worthwhile price to pay for a political party that could stop Brexit and for achieving the socialist utopia some Jews support. As Freedland so starkly put it, many Jews have to ask themselves how bad would it really be. What’s the worst that could happen?

Freedland ends with a devastating paragraph which really gave me pause for thought:

“I understand that to many, all this will sound overwrought. I’m afraid that Jewish history has made us that way, prone to imagining the worst. We look at our usually sparse family trees and we can pick out the pessimists, those who panicked and got out. It was they who left their mark on us. You see, the optimists, those who assumed things would work out for the best, they never made it out in time.”

Case made, you might think. But it’s just not as simple as that. Because I read a lot and I think a lot, and I am unsure as to what my conclusion should be, despite being told by many Jews and non-Jews that it can only be one thing.

The questions I have in my head are many. Two quite important ones are would Jeremy Corbyn stand by if a single Jew is physically hurt for being Jewish? And would Jeremy Corbyn allow a single policy that directly targets Jews to be implemented?

When I challenge family and friends on this their arguments aren’t great. Some believe that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic. They don’t like the constant use of ‘Zionist’ and ‘Zio’ on the left, thinking that simply gives them a word to use as a euphemism for ‘Jew’. Whatever the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance say is the definition for anti-semitism, which can easily be read as saying criticism of Israel is anti-semitic, doesn’t have to automatically be gospel. There is also a difference between Zionism and Judaism, although many are clumsy with it.

In fact, some friends and family, when pushed, down the road of taxation and regulation or destruction of capitalism as targeting Jews, suggesting that what  they are more worried about is the socialism, and if the way to stop that happening is to call Jeremy Corbyn an anti-semite, then so be it. This can also be why so many non-Jews have jumped on this bandwagon. Again, I’m not sure.

I worry that if we as Jews cry wolf on this, then should the worst really happen we could be ignored, because we claimed anti-semitism when it really wasn’t so. What if we caused Corbyn to lose an election? We stopped Corbyn from stopping Boris? We took away the final chance to Remain in the EU?

But my friends and family worry that if we don’t call this out now, then, as Freedland puts it, it could be too late.

Those on the left point to the Conservative party’s Islamophobia…why isn’t that as big an issue? But that, of course, says nothing about whether or not the Labour Party is institutionally anti-semitic. Jeremy Corbyn says anti-semitism is vile, but he doesn’t define what that is – and to him it could simply be physical attacks on Jews. He also has a tendency to say he is against anti-semitism ‘and all forms of racism’ whilst when talking about islamophobia he doesn’t feel the need to add the second bit.

My parents, who see anti-semitism everywhere and in everything, have talked far more about the anti-semitism they have experienced in older, more Conservative circles. When I discussed this with one of them, they argued that the anti-semitism they see is not connected, and hasn’t been connected, with the leadership of the party, whilst in Labour it is. Also, they expect anti-semitism from the right of politics. When in comes from the left it is like a friend stabbing us in the back. Which somehow makes it worse. A sort of ‘Et tu, Leftie?’

When friends at work or in outside life ask me what I would think if they should vote Labour, in effect worrying about whether I would think they support anti-semitism if they did so, I tell them to vote for who they want to.

Many young people today don’t know many, or any Jews. So it is difficult for them to understand the impact on us of having been the subjects of an attempt by a Western country to systematically annihilate every one of us in some of our lifetimes. It affects everything. It affects Israel’s behaviour, it affects our response to perceived threats that others may feel innocuous, and it causes the Editor of the JC to lash out at anyone, Jewish or not, who questions his deeply felt fears.

But I am totally conflicted on it. I realise that many will be disappointed and say that I shouldn’t be. So I leave it with them and respect their right to make up their own mind. I guess I have decided this isn’t a simple issue and it doesn’t have absolutes.

But I could be wrong. That’s what I am really scared of.


5 thoughts on “On the question of alleged anti-semitism in Labour

  1. Jenny Manson says:

    Jonathan R’s article betrayed terrifying ignorance. It is packed with untruths. At least read the rebuttals to him on the JVL
    site by v knowledgeable analysts. Or read the published and unpublished letters which I can send you.

    In fact our information officer could send you a package of this?


  2. Jenny Manson says:

    Hi again

    Naomi is going to send you her vg unpublished letter, plus a bit more if time including Brian Klug’s published letter



  3. Jenny Manson says:

    Sorry – correct Naomi now tho they are both brilliant.


  4. Alex says:

    Well reasoned and, I think, fair. Most deeply disturbing to me (whilst I am unsettled by the incidents) has been the response. No one will hold the claims of fringe wingnuts and cranks against a political party. Nobody believes that the Lib Dems think tap water makes you gay, although councillors have been found who say that. So why do people think Labour is anti-Semitic? It must be the response, not the presence.

    Labour pride themselves on being an antiracist party. Perhaps Mr. Corbyn’s antiracist credentials are good, perhaps they are not. Regardless, it seems to me that the response on the part of the party has been to minimise, marginalise and equivocate. From the explicitly anti-Semitic (albeit rare) response of “smears” perpetrated by a “Zionist” media, to weaker forms such as accusing “Tories” of “weaponising” these allegations (leaving aside that some of the most trenchant criticism has come from within).

    The attitude that has been taken is decidedly not a conciliatory one. For a lot of Jews (including myself), the response has been taken as condescending. When the leader of the party refuses to give an interview to major community organisations, and when he does he evades and provides no answers. When engagement with the mainstream, like the Board of Deputies of British Jews is eschewed in favour of fringe organisations like Jewdas, JVL and Labour Against the Witch Hunt. Where the question of anti-Semitism is met again and again with assurances that Corbyn “opposes racism in any form.” That’s not what we’re asking, though.

    These answers, I think, are just not good enough. They are not reassuring enough, and they are not sincere enough. Leaving aside the failures of the administration, what really seems at issue is some sort of mental block. When Jews are told that they are not in a position to determine what constitutes anti-Semitism and what does not, then their concerns are ignored. For Labour, quite rightly and reasonably, it is for black people to determine what is racist. It is for Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs to determine what constitutes discrimination. For immigrants, for the local poor, for women. Not, it seems, for the Jews, for Labour.

    Irregardless of whether or not the party is anti-Semitic, it is simply a true fact that Jews believe that a Corbyn government will make them unsafe.

    In my synagogue, every Friday night and Shabbat service I attend is filled with whispering in the back by Jews for whom freedom from discrimination is no longer a given. The back door is now locked, and our security protocols are doubled. On Yom Kippur this year, we could not stand outside after Ne’ilah because CST was worried that someone might drive a truck into us. That was new. Members of our community have started wearing hats over their kippot. That is new. Two large jugs of water sit in both entrances to protect (vainly) against acid attacks. That is new. We now have double the number of security cameras we used to. New. Last year, we ran a drill to determine what was to be done in the case of attack. New.

    If we do not have a minyan, our security guard now cannot come upstairs from outside to make up the numbers. That is new, too.

    It is perhaps not so hard, after all, to understand why the reassurance that Corbyn is against racism in any form is cold comfort. It is not so hard to understand why Jews believe that Corbyn poses a threat to them. And it is not so hard to understand why Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the claims of anti-Semitism in his party discomfits so many and reassures so few.


  5. Roisin says:

    I think you speak for many people here. I would only add that one part of this discussion that has been shamefully under-reported is the steady, persistent flow of letters and comments from Jewish men and women (very frequently academics) who do not support the prevailing narrative. I would not expect the right wing media to consolidate all the voices who speak out firmly against the ‘story’ that has gained the most traction, but nevertheless, those voices exist and at some point they will be heard. It hardly needs to be said that hatred of Corbyn runs deep in the Parliamentary Labour party and the cynical use of a lethal bandwagon to run him down cannot be ruled out.

    There is a serious problem in assessing the truth of a situation when you do not have all the information and where strong emotions are involved. Not having a set position is the only mature and thoughtful stance to take – feelings, assumptions, suppositions and connotations are not facts, however real they might seem to be. If the facts are not totally transparent, and in this instance the eloquence of the testament on both sides suggest that they are not, then reserving judgement has to be the best call.


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