Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite. It’s so much worse than that

What do you have to say about Jews not to be invited to Parliament by Jeremy Corbyn?

The Labour leadership frontrunner has a singular talent for extending a warm welcome to anti-Semites and extremists.

He invited “friends” from Hezbollah and Hamas, both proscribed terrorist organisations. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah says of Jews: “If they all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide”. Hamas is committed by charter to “struggle against the Jews” until the “obliteration” of the State of Israel.

He invited Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement, to tea on the Commons terrace. Salah promotes the blood libel that Jews murder children for blood to bake in their matzah and claims that thousands of Jews stayed home from work at the World Trade Centre on 9/11, a key component of the conspiracy theory that Jews and not Islamic fundamentalists were behind the attacks.

He invited Dyab Abou Jahjah and shared a platform with the Belgian radical. Abou Jahjah called the killing of British soldiers in Iraq “a victory” and the 9/11 terrorist atrocities “sweet revenge”. He says Europe has adopted “the cult of the Holocaust and Jew-worshiping its alternative religion”, and in response to the Danish Mohammed cartoons he called on Arabs to spray paint walls across Europe with “hoax gas-chambers built in Hollywood in 1946 with Steven Spielberg’s approval stamp, and Aids spreading fagots”.

Elsewhere, his connections to Holocaust-denier Paul Eisen have been documented by the Jewish Chronicle. Corbyn claimed in an interview with Channel 4 News that he had no contact with Eisen in recent times but might have given money to his organisation some years ago. In fact, as JC political correspondent Marcus Dysch has revealed, Corbyn attended a 2013 event for Eisen’s Deir Yassin Remembered group.

A JC poll finds 67% of British Jews “concerned” about the Islington North MP becoming Labour leader. The newspaper warns that Corbyn risks being perceived as “an enemy of Britain’s Jewish community” and has implored him to answer questions about his associations with anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.

This he has failed to do to any satisfaction. He cannot recall meeting Abou Jahjah, despite a picture of the two of them sitting side-by-side on a panel. He was unaware of Eisen’s views at the time. He stresses that Salah “did not at any stage utter any antisemitic remarks to me”.

Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite. How I wish that he were. How much easier it would make things. We could chalk all this up to the prejudices of one man and we could avoid the raw, awkward conversation we’re about to have. Because this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn; he’s just a symptom and a symbol. The Left, and not just the fringes, has an anti-Semitism problem.

Contrary to left-wing mythology, anti-Jewish prejudice has never been the exclusive preserve of aristocratic snobs or skinhead fantasists. “The Jew is the enemy of the human race,” declared Proudhon. “One must send this race back to Asia or exterminate it.” Bakunin labelled Jews “bloodsucking people” while Orwell, self-consciously anti-Semitic, even obsessed over the excessive number of Jews sheltering in London’s Underground during World War II. (No matter what the Jews do to protect themselves, it’s always disproportionate.) Marx, the grandson of a rabbi, essayed: ”Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible”.

The contemporary Left, in most cases, would recognise these statements as irrational prejudice. But what if we substituted “Zionist” for “Jew”, what would happen then? How many would object to “Zionists” being termed enemies of the human race? How many would be glad to see the “Zionist” become impossible? Anti-Zionism has removed much of the need for classical anti-Semitism by recycling the old superstitions as a political critique of the State of Israel. Why risk the ridicule that comes with quoting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion when you can cite The Israel Lobby and win eager nods from academics and commentators? Why deny the Holocaust when you can throw it back in the Jews’ faces by fictionalising Gaza as a concentration camp? Why hurl rocks at a Jew in the street when you can hurl endless vexatious UN resolutions at Israel?

Every pathology of the anti-Semite can be visited upon the Jewish state in the flimsy guise of “anti-imperialism” or “human rights”. It’s all okay because it’s “Zionism” you’re against and that’s not the same thing as Jews and what about Jews who are anti-Zionist. The hallmark of a bigot is seizing on dissonant voices within a minority community and using them to delegitimise the mainstream of that community. The exception becomes the rule and those whose only connection to Jewish communal life is signing onto letters to the Guardian denouncing Israel become more Jewish than everyone else.

It shouldn’t have to be said but since stupidity is nearing pandemic levels these days I’ll say it all the same. There is nothing anti-Semitic about criticising Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud-led government, or the policies of the State of Israel. There is nothing anti-Semitic about sympathising with the plight of the Palestinians (though it might be nice to recognise their culpability in the conflict too). There is nothing anti-Semitic about lacerating Israel for walls and checkpoints and bombs (though do address your alternative strategies to Beit Aghion, 9 Smolenskin Street, Jerusalem, Israel.)

The Left’s unhinged antipathy towards the State of Israel has let loose ugly sentiments wholly unmoored from such legitimate criticisms. Israel is execrated as uniquely malignant and its enemies held up as plucky freedom-fighters or victim-idols. Corbyn and his like sup with Hamas and Hezbollah, they say, because we must talk to all sides to resolve the conflict, even the extreme and unpleasant. It would never occur to them to invite representatives of the Jewish Defence League to Parliament or to count Baruch Marzel or Michael Ben-Ari as “friends”.

Why don’t the policies of the Chinese government in Tibet or against the Uighurs in Xinjiang inspire comparable protests and boycotts? Why do none of our cultural warriors demand the Edinburgh Festival kick out Russian-sponsored acts over Chechnya or Crimea? Why is produce from Iran or Pakistan never flung upon the floors of the nation’s supermarkets in solidarity with Muslim gays and women? Why is Deir Yassin remembered but not Safed or Hebron or the Hadassah convoy?

The problem goes deeper than asymmetry. For too many on the Left, Jewish suffering does not touch them the way Muslim suffering or gay suffering or black suffering touches them. Scrutiny of Corbyn’s associations elicits cries of “smear” or just a collective shrug of the shoulders. It was always going to. We lack a language to talk about anti-Semitism because too many on the Left don’t consider it a serious problem and couldn’t recognise it as readily as racism, misogyny or homophobia anyway.

When Labour MP Paul Flynn challenged the appointment of Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel, demanding instead “someone with roots in the UK” who “can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty”, there was little more than a few murmurs.

The Liberal Democrats looked the other way when their former peer Jenny Tonge urged an inquiry into whether Israeli medics helping earthquake victims in Haiti had actually gone there to harvest their organs. That party also failed to expel ex-MP David Ward, who accused “the Jews” of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians”.

And who would come forward to cast the first stone? The Independent, which once published a cartoon of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian baby? The Guardian, which marked Holocaust Memorial Day 2012 with an expose on public money going to security for Jewish schools? How about the New Statesman, publisher of a notorious cover story on the supposed “kosher conspiracy” influencing Britain?

Those who are questioning Jeremy Corbyn’s associations are dismissed as “extreme Zionists” and yet I struggle to imagine critics of a politician’s links to white supremacists being shouted down as “black nationalists”. The Left gets racism; it doesn’t get anti-Semitism. It’s forever on Cable Street battling a long-gone menace while around the corner thousands march and chant “from the river to the sea”.

Ruth Wisse defines anti-Semitism as “the organisation of politics against the Jews” and says it owes more to political ideology than clerical prejudice. Against the intolerable opening-up of political institutions, social structures and markets brought about by liberalism, anti-Semites offer the Jew as the symbol of conniving and decadence, sinister motives and hidden agendas. It has worked nicely for Soviet communists and Arab nationalists, as for Islamist theocrats and European fascists.

Israel has become the Jew of world affairs, affluent, successful, provocatively different. A rooted cosmopolitan that is to blame for being the only country in that region that is free and open and truly democratic. Why must it taunt its neighbours so?

If only Israel allowed Hamas to build up its terror statelet in Gaza unimpeded, angry Muslim youths wouldn’t riot in the French banlieues. If only Jews were driven once again from Kfar Etzion and Giv’on HaHadasha — this time not in blood but in cushioned, air-conditioned UN buses — there would be no more 9/11s. If only Jews had no national homeland, returned to rootlessness and the kindness of Christian and Islamic hosts, synagogues would no longer be daubed in swastikas and Free Gazas.

As the left-wing Israeli novelist Amos Oz wrote: “When my father was a little boy in Poland, the streets of Europe were covered with graffiti, ‘Jews, go back to Palestine’, or sometimes worse: ‘Dirty Yids, piss off to Palestine’. When my father revisited Europe fifty years later, the walls were covered with new graffiti, ‘Jews, get out of Palestine’.”

To be an anti-Zionist is to say the Jews alone have no national rights. The Left are committed internationalists; they just make an exception for every country in the world besides Israel. Today a European leftist is someone who sees “Jews, get out of Palestine” on a wall and tuts, before scoring out “Jews” and writing “Zionists” above it.

Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite and nor are most people on the Left. He is a petition-signer who never reads the small-print, a sincere man blinded as so many radicals are by hatred of the United States and Western power. But his ascendancy comes at a time of great upheaval and populist torrents battering the centre-left and centre-right. It is a storm in which the organisation of politics against the Jews could once again prove an anchoring force in Europe.

Corbyn has declared: “We all have a duty to oppose any kind of racism wherever it raises its head, in whatever form it raises its head.” When he is elected Labour leader next month, Corbyn will become a pivotal figure on the international Left. He should use that office to mature his own politics and shepherd his comrades towards a civil and tolerant radicalism.

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © Wayne McLean (jgritz) by Creative Commons 2.0.

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