Jeremy Corbyn has been labelled an anti-Semite who doesn’t do enough to combat racist attitudes within the Labour party this week. However, gutter politics are at play here.
As campaigning for the local elections begins, Jeremy Corbyn & Labour have found themselves in the media spotlight over anti-Semitism (again), when it was discovered Corbyn had made a comment on Facebook back in 2012. The comment in question relates to a mural (below), featuring the image of six rich old white men with crooked noses, a typical anti-Semitic stereotype, playing Capitalist Monopoly on the backs of the poor. Despite issuing a sincere apology for not looking closer at the picture before commenting, and for the hurt caused, many leaders in the Jewish community felt it didn’t go far enough.
Let us be very clear; anti-Semitism is a problem in the Labour party. Anti-Semitism is a problem in every political party, and in wider society. For us, Labour, anti-Semitism takes form when a vocal minority of Leftwing activists, who morally oppose the state of Israel, unfortunately go a step further into anti-Semitic territory. Whilst their criticism of a national government committing heinous human rights abuses is legitimate and essential, the abuse of an individual for their; race, skin colour, sexuality, or gender, is completely unacceptable. Raising awareness of anti-Semitism & pushing forward more robust internal party procedures for dealing with racism, are two great moves to come out of this latest ‘scandal’, however unfortunately the good stops there.
Whilst we have made it clear that anti-Semitism is a real problem in the Labour party, one to be tackled head on, opponents of the Labour leadership have toyed with racism for their own political gain. The first political play was the coordinated sting against Corbyn, merely a day after the official Labour local election campaign had launched. With Owen Smith breaking frontbench collective responsibility over Europe, forcing Corbyn to sack him, and Luciana Berger expressing outrage over a 2012 Facebook comment on social media. In truth the sacking of Owen Smith failed to create the media splash or division intended, however the idea that Corbyn is an anti-Semite has stuck to the front pages of social media and the mainstream media.
As someone who has always been an early-adopter of anti-racism movements, Corbyn’s critics are fully aware of his pro-Jewish voting record in parliament, and his work in promoting a more just equal society. They know he is not an anti-Semite. His word and apology should’ve been enough to clear the confusion over an honest mistake backdating to 2012 (clearly Corbyn’s opponents are taking a fine comb to his online history), and the implementation of Chakrabati’s recommendations enough to show Labour is acting against anti-Semitism. However, Corbyn’s opponents stepped the situation up into overdrive, by labelling Corbyn personally responsible for a perceived increase in anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
Perception is key, whilst anti-Semitic abuse is real, the organisation Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) used YouGov to research anti-Semitism in society. The results are clear, anti-Semitism is an issue, however Labour members in general are less likely to endorse anti-Semitic statements than the general population. In fact, evidence goes further, and shows that the support for anti-Semitic tropes by Labour members has decreased since 2015 (data YouGov 2015) (data YouGov 2017), when Corbyn won the leadership. Perhaps there is something to the new, kinder way of politics after all?
Aside from the 2012 mural Facebook comment, critics are directly attributing comments from individuals through social media and e-mails, directly to Corbyn himself. By slowly leaking out a trail of Facebook groups Corbyn has been, or is a part of, and retweeting vile anti-Semitic messages, the campaign against not just racism, but Corbyn, is set to continue indefinitely. To keep the debate framed around an anti-Semitic Corbyn, the media and the critics have set Corbyn impossible tasks.
The first centres around social media, the MSM & critics demand an apology every time an anti-Semitic comment is made online. Without becoming an omnipotent presence, it is impossible for Jeremy Corbyn to police people’s individual thoughts and actions, nor can he command Zuckerberg-esk powers to prevent racist content from appearing on the internet.
In normal times the irrationality of holding one responsible for someone else’s actions would be painfully obvious, however the media attacks guilt by association. This line of attack stems from the idea that Corbyn, should be capable of monitoring and sanctioning the actions of others in political pages exceeding 10,000 members, of which he is a member. Not only do Facebook algorithms ensure users rarely see any posts from such groups, the probability of Corbyn personally viewing specific anti-Semitic comments is statistically very low. No politician would survive if this logic was applied to them. All political parties and movements are hosts to vile bigotry, Rightwing groupings more so, particularly as far-Right extremism is rising again.
The next example comes from the BBC’s Newsnight, Lord Levy was given airtime to read out a horrendous anti-Semitic e-mail personally sent to him. Lord Levy quickly goes to directly blame Jeremy Corbyn, for the actions of an anonymous member of the public, demanding a public apology from Corbyn himself. Outrageous. Lord Levy continues to attack the man ‘who happens to be leader at the moment’, letting his aggressive anti-Corbyn bias seep through.
The second impossible demand is that Labour responds forcefully enough to satisfy their concerns. This can’t happen. Every time more is said by senior Labour figures, every new measure implemented, will not be enough. Even describing anti-Semitism as a ‘cancer’ and vowing to root it out, were not deemed strong enough words of condemnation.
We all know it will be impossible to completely eradicate hatred and racism in the party, and Corbyn will still be the leader of the Labour party, something many critics cannot accept. It’s no coincidence that the most vocal aspect of the protests are members of the ‘Anyone But Corbyn’ (ABC) club, Conservative & DUP MPs, and Jewish leaders with Right-wing leanings.
The final evidence that this issue has been inflated and weaponised becomes apparent when pro-Corbyn Jewish Labour members voice their opinion, apparently – the wrong opinion. Jewish Voice for Labour, and a large number of independent Jewish activists online, have decried the use of anti-Semitism for political gain. However, non-Jewish voices and establishment Jewish movements have demanded their voices by silenced in the Labour party. The argument that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite that has not done enough to prevent racial hate falls flat, when so many socialist internationalist Jewish members are speaking out on the media.