Corbynites take a knock, but it could be a hollow victory
For the past few months, Jeremy Corbyn and his party’s attitude towards Jews has been under the spotlight. Accusations of soft-pedalling on the question of Jew-hatred abound. Is this the case? Does Corbyn’s decades old support for the Palestinians, and his visceral hostility towards Zionism make him a Jew-hater? Indeed, is the Labour Party itself soft on anti-Semitism?
Enter Dame Margaret Hodge, a Labour member of Parliament for Barking since 1994, a former minister, and the child of European Jewish refugees. “You’re a fucking anti-Semite and a racist,” she bluntly told her leader during an altercation some weeks back.
Her outburst followed the refusal of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party to adopt a widely recognised and inoffensive definition of anti-Semitism developed over several years by the intergovernmental International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and presented in the Stockholm Declaration of 2016. The NEC was uncomfortable with the examples of anti-Semitism included in the declaration, maintaining that they curtailed free speech.
The NEC’s baulking confirmed a growing drift away from specifically Jewish concerns in the Labour Party. Even its Chakrabarti Inquiry into anti-Semitism and racism established in 2016 was dubbed a whitewash. Numerous other complaints have been dealt with leniently, including the infamous comment that Hitler was a Zionist made by former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.
It is little wonder that the NEC felt uncomfortable with some of the examples of anti-Semitism outlined below in the Stockholm Declaration:
- Calling for aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion;
- Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective, such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government, or other societal institutions;
- Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews;
- Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust);
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust;
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations;
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, such as by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour;
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation;
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis;
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; and
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
Extreme anti-Zionists no doubt gag at some of the examples. Corbyn certainly did. But a flood of criticism, including explosive investigative revelations of his past actions, has resulted in his star – at least on this matter – waning. Photographs of Corbyn endorsing a mural in London that contained a grotesque anti-Semitic caricature, coupled with his celebration of Hamas and Hezbollah, and his connections to Holocaust deniers, not to mention his presence at a wreath-laying ceremony for “terrorists” in Tunisia, revealed a murky past. He is no friend of the Jews. The final straw was a recording of Corbyn suggesting that Jews were alien to British culture. They had no sense of irony, he said.
Such essentialising is unacceptable. Two former Labour Party leaders, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, implored the NEC to accept the Stockholm Declaration in full. This was duly done at a follow-up NEC meeting, where Corbyn failed to get his way. However, he did manage to have a statement issued in which his party reserved the right to support full rights for the Palestinians, and the right to criticise Israel. A hollow victory for the anti-Corbynites one could say.
Jews remain concerned. A recent poll suggested that 40% would consider leaving Britain should Corbyn become Prime Minister. The Stockholm Declaration, in spite of widespread endorsement, remains controversial. Enemies of the Jewish state are unhappy with the examples of anti-Semitism included, claiming they are not part of the declaration. This, however, is not the case according to those who drafted it.
The Corbynites have taken a knock. One can be sure of that. One can also be sure that should the Stockholm Declaration ever become a subject of debate in South Africa, it will fail to gain acceptance. Hatred for the Zionist idea is simply too deeply entrenched at the tip of Africa.
- Milton Shain is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town.