Written by Jacob Jaffa |
A report commissioned by the EU’s agency on fundamental rights in December found that British politics has the worst record in Europe on anti-Semitism, with 84% of British Jews stating that they believe it to be a “very or fairly big problem” in political life. This is contrasting with the average of 70% across the 12 countries surveyed, and the 75% of British Jews who perceive it to be a problem in day-to-day life.
The implication of this is that the problem of anti-Semitism in the street and the normalisation of anti-Semitism in politics are separate issues, the latter being at the root. And at the eye of this racist storm lies the Labour Party.
While I am Jewish, I am not easily persuaded of anti-Semitism. I am not someone who is looking to be offended, in fact I’ve heard just about every ‘Jew joke’ there is and, indeed, have laughed along at many of them. I even defended Ken Livingstone’s association of Hitler to Zionist groups which, in my opinion, was more a sloppy account of history than a genuine attack on the Jewish people.
However, there is nothing historically accurate nor amusing about the behaviour of Labour MPs, councillors and members and the abusive culture being created within the party. Nor is there anything remotely sloppy or unintended about the inaction of the party leadership in dealing with this issue.
“… There is nothing historically accurate nor amusing about the behaviour of Labour…”
Just last month the shadow cabinet came to blows over General Secretary Jennie Formby’s report that 673 anti-Semitism complaints were dealt with by the party over 10 months. The first issue with this was that of these 673, only 12 members were expelled and 96 suspended, while 357 were only issued a “preliminary warning” or “notice of investigation”.
The second problem with these figures was discovered after Dame Margaret Hodge objected to the official number on the basis that she had reported over 200 instances of anti-Semitism.
This led to the revelation that these numbers only show the number of individuals reported, not the number of cases dealt with (as one individual could be subject to multiple cases) and are only the number of party members reported, thus not including non-members who are Labour supporters. According to Formby in her statement, this includes a further 400 complaints.
Furthermore, the party cannot provide numbers for such complaints before April 2018 because, according to the party, there was “no consistent and comprehensive system for recording and processing cases of antisemitism” before that time.
Let’s take a few examples to illustrate what this means in practice. First of all, there was Andrew Slack, a councillor from Chesterfield, who was demoted by his local party to a backbench councillor after an anti-Semitic social media post (and then reinstated in 2018). His offence: sharing a social media post which claimed that “Israel was created by the Rothschilds & what they are doing to the Palestinian people now is EXACTLY what they intend for the world”.
Similar to this was the case of Blackburn councillor Salim Mullah who stated that “Zionist Jews are a disgrace to humanity”. He was initially suspended by the party but then reinstated in 2017 having been fully cleared of anti-Semitism. I wonder which definition of anti-Semitism Labour used when looking at this case – clearly not a comprehensive one.
Even when the party does do something it is usually just to suspend the offender and then engage in a protracted investigation in even the most clear-cut of cases. This allows them to jump before their pushed. This is exemplified in the case Bognor Regis councillor, Damien Enticott, who resigned his membership a week after being suspended for posting on social media that “Jews drink blood and rape children”. Somehow, he was still pending investigation by the time he resigned.
Sat atop this whole “institutionally racist” (former Labour MP Chukka Umunna’s words, not mine) mess is Jeremy Corbyn. While I am unsure as to whether Corbyn is an anti-Semite, he is definitely, due to his hatred of Israel and Zionism, more permissive of anti-Semitism when it is dressed up in the guise of legitimate anti-Zionism. Corbyn himself has fallen foul of this rhetorical tightrope walk on many an occasion, openly associating with anti-Semitic, genocidal terrorist organisations in the form of Hamas and Hezbollah, even calling them his “friends”.
“Sat atop this whole “institutionally racist” mess is Jeremy Corbyn.”
This is the nub of the issue. I, fortunately, have not experienced many instances of actual anti-Semitism in everyday life. I have not, unlike many more visibly Jewish people in Orthodox communities, had racist abuse, or eggs hurled at me from the windows of passing cars. I do not feel afraid to go out to Jewish sites and events in my area. But when I see the normalisation of hatred against Jews from political leaders, I am deeply worried by it.
Of course, there is still a significant issue of anti-Semitism for many Jewish people in their daily lives. There is a reason Jewish schools and places of worship employ significant numbers of private security guards and that my mother tells me to wait until entering a synagogue to put on my kippah (the skull cap worn by Jews in places of worship).
“There is a reason my mother tells me to wait until entering a synagogue to put on my kippah.”
But the biggest danger to the Jewish community is when the behaviour of random thugs on the street is legitimised in the Palace of Westminster; when a major political party becomes tolerant of racism in the guise of discourse. It provides a hazardous space in which such people and such ideas can be allowed to come together and grow in number and force. This is what scares the Jewish community most. And, if you don’t believe me, ask the other 84% of UK Jews.