Our Campaign was not among those that offered to give evidence to the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party. Having given support to Baroness Royall’s prior investigation into antisemitism at Oxford University Labour Club and seen its fate, our assessment was that it would be a whitewash, and that Jewish groups and individuals that had taken part in it would prove to be as rudely disappointed as Baroness Royall and Jewish Labour proved to be when the Royall Inquiry was silenced. We therefore withdrew: we were proven correct.
Yesterday, Mr Corbyn appeared before MPs from the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee to answer questions about antisemitism in the Labour Party.
When it comes to antisemitism, he proved himself to be a man who fatally combines the flaws of incomprehension with a lack of responsible leadership.
A most revealing moment in Mr Corbyn’s appearance was when Nus Ghani MP declared that Chakrabarti’s report was one written as if to explain antisemitism to children: the words ‘Zio’ and ‘Paki’ were bad. Jews should not be called Nazis, and so on. For what lies behind that simplistic view is the man himself, trapped in his formative years, when Jews were, as he reminisced yesterday, those such as the Holocaust survivors working in sweat shops that he met as an activist: working class, poor and victims. When questioned repeatedly on all aspects of antisemitism, he repeatedly revealed this Corbyn, a man dedicated to fighting what he sees as a racism like any other, so much so, that he refuses to separate antisemitism from other forms of hate, even when Ms Ghani pressed him continuously to do so.
For the keys to understanding the complexity of antisemitism require a flexibility of mind and intellectual understanding that he demonstrated yesterday he does not possess.
Antisemitism is a prejudice that shape-shifts. It once was purely racism, but now has adapted and grown another skin. As the former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, winner of the 2016 Templeton Prize, points out: after the Enlightenment, it was no longer possible to hate Jews for their religion, so they were hated for their race; after World War II, racial discrimination became unacceptable, and so now Jews are hated for their new country. Mr Corbyn, as evidenced yesterday, is firmly stuck in 1945, and has not, and cannot comprehend the world of antisemitism in which, for example, his brother Piers resides. In this new incarnation, Israel is now the ‘Jew among nations’, creating ISIS, controlling banks, and perpetrating modern versions of the blood libel on innocent children. This new brand of hatred is projected on Jewish communities worldwide by their association with Israel. Jeremy Corbyn, indeed, stands front and centre of that part of the Left that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall embraced an ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Anti-Western position in which they heartily embraced anti-American Islamists, such as those in Iran and Israel/Palestine. In that cauldron, their own strains of Sovietist antisemitism met a genocidally antisemitic Islamism, igniting a new fire of global Jew-hate that has resurrected that which the world believed it would never see again.
Throughout his questioning, Mr Corbyn revealed his incomprehension of history’s emphatic twist. In an excruciating passage yesterday, one MP pressed Mr Corbyn on the fact that Ms Chakrabarti’s report contains no definitions and was therefore meaningless. He responded by explaining that antisemitism is ‘obvious’ and proceeded, child-like, to define it as “hating Jews for who they are”, reducing the most difficult and intricate of human hatreds, which is in large part a conspiracy theory, to simplistic babble. We are therefore unsurprised that he defended Paul Flynn for his attack on the appointment of a Jew as British ambassador to Israel because of his “dual loyalties”, a man famous for such comments who, nonetheless, Corbyn last week appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.
Neither can we be surprised that, when asked, “Does the State of Israel have the right to exist?” he initially replied, resignedly “it exists”. Nor can we be surprised by his continuing yesterday to justify close comradeship and support of those such as Raed Saleh, Reverend Stephen Sizer, Paul Eisen and Hamas, simply because they embrace the ‘Palestinian cause’. In no other walk of political life could any public figure use the promotion of one cause, whatever its merits, to justify strong and supportive relationships with blood libellers, misogynists, genocidal antisemites, Holocaust deniers and homophobes, people who are essentially fascist and as hateful in their motivations as any racist or bigot. At one moment of black comedy, he attempted to avoid calling Hamas antisemitic until Keith Vaz, the Chair of the committee, read him an excerpt from the Hamas Constitution explicitly calling for all Jews to be sought out and murdered. Only then did Mr Corbyn relent.
These associations and their attendant poor justifications have led some to question whether Mr Corbyn is fit for public life, let alone fit to lead a social-justice party.
In the course of the questioning, Mr Corbyn said that he was “content” that the vice-chair of his Momentum movement, Jackie Walker, had had her suspension lifted, justifying it behind the classic ‘virtue’ argument that the Left cannot be racist – that because Ms Walker is of Afro-Caribbean heritage on one side and Jewish on the other, somehow her genetic inheritance released her from the charge of ignorant bigotry in proclaiming the Jews authors of the slave trade. He was by his own admission unaware of whether she’d ever apologised, and he seemed not to want to know either. Mr Corbyn then claimed that another Momentum activist and author of the racist trope against Ruth Smeeth MP was a victim of “the media”.
But apart from his total failure – willing or otherwise – to comprehend the nature of modern antisemitism, he has another flaw that makes him an enabler of antisemitism: his failure to effectively lead on this important issue. Antisemitism bubbles in all societies, but societies only become openly antisemitic when leaders enable it.
As Chuka Umunna MP so pointedly remarked, when Ruth Smeeth was being abused by Marc Wadsworth at the Chakrabarti report’s launch — walking out in tears to jeers from activists under Mr Corbyn’s nose – he had no notion that, as leader of Labour, it was his place to spontaneously act and call it out. Instead, he did nothing, and then exchanged smiling and friendly words with the perpetrator on the way out. Instead of taking an emphatic lead, he refused yesterday to condemn Ken Livingstone’s comments about Hitler’s relationship with Zionism, citing ‘due process’. Similarly, he used half-hearted words about Ruth Smeeth’s abuse: he would not call that ‘racist’. He would not criticise Momentum’s dark heart, but instead praised it. When confronted with Jewish complaints that his behaviour made Jews feel “sad, shocked and insecure” he replied that he was “disappointed” with the victims.
Mr Corbyn yesterday proved that he is aground, a man whom the tide of history has bypassed. He sits, intellectually beached, unable to grasp the antisemitism he continues to enable. Not only that, his failure to assume the mantle of responsible leadership continues to enable the antisemitic bigotry in his party and beyond.
When Mr Corbyn was confronted with Ruth Smeeth MP’s statement that the Labour party is no longer a safe place for Jews, he disagreed. Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn’s performance and the Chakrabarti report have only reinforced, rather than reversed that view.
Campaign Against Antisemitism is a volunteer-led charity dedicated to exposing and countering antisemitism through education and zero-tolerance enforcement of the law. Everything that we do is done by people who volunteer their time, using donations contributed by members of the public. Join the fight against antisemitism by subscribing to our updates, volunteering, or donating.