W Stephen Gilbert
The issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has not gone away, nor will it. It first arose ahead of the local elections in 2016, the first electoral test of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The local elections of 2017 were subsumed under the general election campaign, but the matter recurred before the local elections this year. There are further such elections next May, when it may be expected to resurface with new supposed outrages from the past.
There is a very simple reason why this will happen. As a means to damage Corbyn and to weaken his chance of leading the party into the next general election, it is a proven success. It is very tricky for him to refute decisively: denial is readily twisted into the ineffectual state of being deemed to be psychologically “in denial”. Corbyn’s long-established support for Palestinian self-determination is readily reframed as opposition to Israel and then parlayed into an existential threat to the Jewish state. His widely recognised reputation both as an anti-racist and as a straight talker – two of his great strengths – is readily tarnished as the charges against him accumulate. His conception of leadership is based on democracy, justice and a hearing for all, which stays his hand when he might reasonably wield a big stick, decry his enemies and expel alleged wrongdoers. Instead, he turns the other cheek, even to those who abuse him to his face, eschews personal criticism of others and insists on the party bureaucracy dispensing discipline according to the regulations.
Because all civilised people agree that anti-Semitism is morally bankrupt, any suggestion of it is apt to generate heat ahead of light. Where it occurs, it must be condemned, opposed and curtailed. And of course it does occur, in the Labour Party as everywhere else. But every Labour supporter knows in her heart that Labour’s history has depended more extensively on Jews that has that of any other political organisation in Britain, that to suggest that anti-Semitism is “rampant” and “endemic” in the Labour movement is a calumny intended only to damage its leader and which, in its repercussions, hurts the whole party. It is further overlooked that false accusations may be just as wounding and resented as the enmity and detriment of prejudice.
Because of the Palestinian dimension, Jews who do not support a two-state solution do not support Corbyn. There are also Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies and the UK Jewish press (under its current editors) that actively support the Conservative Party. For such as these, contention within Labour is its own reward. By the same token, there are Labour MPs who are exploiting the Jews for their own ends, leeching off the emotion of the anti-Semitism paroxysm unleashed over the summer.
That this is opportunism is clear enough. Some of us recall the vile attacks in the press made on Ed Miliband when he was party leader, attacks the anti-Semitism of which was barely confined to a subtext. The most naked defamation was against Miliband’s late father as “the man who hated Britain”, a nation which, as a refugee, he had served fully in World War II, unlike the father of the editor of the Daily Mail. What we do not recall is any sustained outcry from Labour MPs, any demonstrations on Fleet Street, any confrontation wherein Paul Dacre was called an anti-Semite to his face. Many now sitting on the backbenches then served in Miliband’s shadow team; though they found him a bit too left wing, they thought they would be able to rein him in in government. Attacks on him kept him in his place for their purposes. Corbyn is much more of a threat to their retirement directorships in big pharma, academy schools and outsourced jails. He must be stopped.
I am told that I cannot understand the ‘hurt’ caused by the alleged hatred in the Labour Party because I am not Jewish. As a gay man, I do know what being a pariah is like. 78 nations and territories presently make male homosexuality illegal and ten of them punish it with the death penalty. Yes, the Islamophobes concede, but look what happens to faggots in Palestine: they get thrown off buildings. No, that’s Daesh in Iraq and the Levant. There is no record of such horrors in Palestine. It’s true that in Gaza, homosexuality is illegal, a hangover from the laws introduced under the British mandate. Unless they agree to being coerced into spying against their own people, Gazan gays entering Israel are routinely returned. In the West Bank, though, a very light touch is applied over sexual transgression, legally if not socially. Following Jordan’s lead, same sex relations were decriminalised there 67 years ago, 16 years earlier than in Britain and 37 before Israel. It’s a fact that the West Bank is considerably more sexually progressive than, say, Northern Ireland.
I don’t know how many countries presently have laws against being Jewish – none that I know of. But I do know that neofascism is on the march in many parts of the world – via Pegida in Germany, Front National in France, xenophobes and other kinds of fundamentalist in government in Italy and several mittelEurop countries. This is very different and very much more serious than what is actually happening in the Labour Party or indeed anywhere else in Britain; serious for Jews and for LGBT people alike. Those who are concerned about the wellbeing of Jews in both Israel and the diaspora face much greater threats among the nations in whose community most of the previously evoked MPs wish to stay. As prime minster, Corbyn would lead our country against these eruptions as a matter of principle. That’s what his backbench enemies would deny us.
These are unexpectedly comforting days for the banking class. The left can no longer safely characterise the money people as pantomime villains because Jeremy Corbyn has criticised them, and as all bankers are apparently Jewish and Corbyn’s every observation is more or less anti-Semitic, it follows that capitalism has become a sacred cow. Such inconvenient facts as that Corbyn’s remarks about being a threat to bankers were first made last year and that his particular target was Morgan Stanley, well-known to be a gentile company, do not detain those who wish to blackguard Corbyn and neither should they detain us. Justice is not relevant to this matter.
By extension, musical theatre is also now impervious to question. All the major composers and lyricists of Broadway and Hollywood song and dance were Jewish (save for Cole Porter) and by association the British contributors to the form, as well as Lionel Bart who was indeed Jewish, are now protected, however goyish they might be. Scoff at Jesus Christ Superstar or Half a Sixpence at your peril. And then of course clothes are not referred to as shmotte for nothing. Have a pop at someone’s outfit and you’re sure to be hauled up in front of the disciplinary committee of the Jewish Tailors’ Association, no matter that your victim was the House of Givenchy or Ozwald Boateng.
Who would have guessed that speaking out about the denizens of high finance, the musical or haute couture might become politically incorrect? Truly, we live in strange times.