Melanie Goldberg discusses antisemitism within the Labour party from a Jewish perspective.
Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, the Labour party have been embroiled in a heavily publicised antisemitism row. This unresolved issue has been ongoing for years, and has become even more divisive and controversial in the run up to the election. For many Labour supporters, it is seen as a “media plot” to discredit Corbyn and the potential for a left wing government. However, for many Jews, myself included, the issue is far more complex and nuanced than most others perceive.
A reappearance of institutional antisemitism has been recurring over a long period of time and, in hindsight, there were many potential warning signs signalling an escalation. For Jewish students, this began with the election of Malia Bouattia as president of the National Union of Students and her comments referring to the Jewish society at Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost”, and a reference to the “Zionist-led media”. Her insistent denial of any wrongdoing not only made Jewish students feel like their concerns were not valid and that they were unwelcome, but also played into the antisemitic trope that Jews are untrustworthy and their intentions are always malicious. The principal sign of things to come was the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Whilst antisemitism did exist prior in the Labour party, Corbyn introduced a new political era where Jews began to feel unsafe in a supposedly “anti-racist” party who were there to protect us. Referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”, supporting a clearly antisemitic mural, being too lenient on expelling party members who have been involved in antisemitism (such as Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, and Chris Williamson), and a reluctance to fully adopt the International Holocaust Rememberance Association’s definition of antisemitism, are just a few demonstrations of Corbyn’s internalised antisemitism.
Why is this still happening? Why are our concerns and fears, as British Jews, consistently being trivialised and belittled? Our fear over antisemitism in the Labour party is valid, and our lived experiences are more valuable than the constant “evidence” demanded of us. Why are we not given the same consideration as other marginalised groups when we categorise discrimination? Why is this still a conversation to be had?
Compared to other forms of racism, antisemitism is unique, as it appears much more subtly. Common tropes include Jews being treated as untrustworthy, conniving, disloyal, and all-powerful. The Rothschilds, George Soros, and Mark Zuckerberg are often used as examples of the “Jewish lobby”, or “Jewish controlled media” or “New World Order”. Antisemitism is not as obvious, so it is easy to miss, especially on the left where it would not be uncommon to encounter statements that openly express disdain for Jews. But that is what makes it even more concerning, that even those who participate in this prejudice are so conditioned to believe in the harmlessness of this rhetoric. It is much more difficult to explain why “Zionist-led media” is offensive, in contrast to a more obvious statement like “I don’t like the Jews”. Unfortunately, Zionism, which is the belief in the right of Israel to exist, is often used to cover up antisemitism, claiming a defence of being “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic”. Although Israel, Zionism, and Judaism are not one in the same, at the same time it is discriminatory to assume dual loyalty, untrustworthiness, and automatic support for Israel and Zionism due to one’s Jewish identity, as well they are inextricably linked and it would be dangerous to not think critically when critiquing all.
I am not a voice for every Jew, but my views do reflect many in our communities. Not all Jews hold the same political views or have the same life experiences, and tokenising us is majorly problematic. It plays into the “good Jew, bad Jew” trope; the “good Jews” are the anti-Zionist, anti-Israel, Corbynite Jews, whereas the “bad Jews” are the ones who visit Israel for their holidays, and express concern over antisemitism in the Labour party. What is unacceptable is using one Jew’s opinion to attack another: this has to stop. One Jewish person’s support for Labour does not discredit another’s fear, and vice versa. Even more so are the Jews who are told that they “deserve” antisemitism; the Israelis, the Tory supporters and the ardent Zionists. Irrespective of political views, nobody deserves to be discriminated against based on race, religion or ethnicity.
Quite honestly, I have never felt so unwelcome in the UK for being Jewish. The prospect of a Johnson government is terrifying, but I find the prospect of a Corbyn government terrifying also. What we do not need is “Corbyn is the lesser of two evils”; what we need is a complete zero-tolerance of antisemitism on the left, and support. I personally am still unsure about who to vote for, but I know that it will not be for a party that I do not feel safe in. I am not telling you who to vote for, but if you do vote Labour, please acknowledge that there is an antisemitism problem and aspire to fix it, otherwise you are complicit.