Jews are being used as human markers in a political battle over Labour party loyalties
I’ve been on a journey. Perplexed that I felt unqualified or too queasy to comment on the mess that Labour finds itself in over accusations of anti-Semitism, I went to speak to Jews.
But how, I asked one rabbi, do I tell if you are the right kind of Jew?
As Jeremy Corbyn discovered only last week in what has, at best, been described as ‘a clumsy’ attempt to build bridges with some in the Jewish community, good intentions can fall foul.
And it is messy. There are so many agendas at play. Competing issues. So much politics – both big and small, at home and abroad, and there are, rightly, massive sensitivities that can unwittingly silence and censor.
They almost silenced me for fear of offence, however inadvertent. But I’ll press on because all of this right now is so important and not helped by being filtered through an internal Labour Party shitstorm that has basically, and paradoxically, given what the criticism is all about, resulted in an unholy weaponising of Jews. And that is wrong.
Jews are being used as human markers in a political battle over party loyalties and that is to denigrate a faith that has felt enough harm and destruction over the years without it being further used as anyone’s shield. And it is exposing deep wounds that go far beyond the travails of a political party.
So, a starting point. Anti-Semitism is wrong in anyone’s book. It is an anathema to a modern, liberal democracy that regards racism as a crime and where prejudice and discrimination have no place, not least in a party of the left.
But bigots do exist everywhere and that includes within the very institutions that should have equality baked-in.
Corbyn has apologised for the pain this has caused. And is making moves to have the rot cut out.
But for some, he is wrong even when he is doing right.
And in last week’s latest attempts to prove that Corbyn is an anti-Semite by, ironically, him attending a Jewish event, seasoned commentators, who frankly, should know better, were prepared to decide who is a good Jew and who a bad by calling those Jews behind the Jewdas Group ‘nutters’.
The Jews in Jewdas define themselves as anti-Zionist Jews or non-Zionist Jews or even just Jews. But they are Jews so calling them ‘nutters’ to attack Corbyn opened the broadcaster, Andrew Neil, to accusations of…well, anti-Semitism?
More widely and including from some within his own party, Corbyn’s participation in the Seder last week organised by Jewdas has been presented as evidence of either his anti-Semitism or his blindness to it. He just cannot win.
The Labour MP John Woodcock, who only two weeks ago in parliament, apparently encouraged by the Tory prime minister, accused his own leader of lying about being a constant critic of Russia, tweeted that Corbyn was “deliberately baiting the mainstream Jewish community” by attending the Jewdas Seder.
Angela Smith, the Labour MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said Corbyn’s attendance at the event read “as a blatant dismissal of the case made for tackling anti-Semitism in Labour”.
So, wrong Seder. Wrong Jews. With comrades like these, for whom Corbyn can do no right, who needs enemies?
One rabbi I spoke to, coincidently a Labour supporter with a deep disdain for Corbyn, said that the Labour leader may have shown some unsophistication in his actions given the febrile agenda but he was more angered by the descriptions of Jewdas. He told me that he attended a number of the group’s social events because they were fun. After all, this is a group of left-leaning, intellectual, young Jews who have a more radical agenda and a particular view about Israel. They are, he said, an interesting group to be around. Challenging, satirical, provocative and compassionate about issues that should matter to the left.
Jewdas members participate in demonstrations against the extreme right and neo-Nazis, Islamophobia and economic austerity. Most of the people at the alternative Seder were young; many belonged to the LGBT community. The evening included a prayer for the release of prisoners and the return of refugees and a toast to women and others oppressed in a patriarchal society.
This should be bread-and-butter to the Labour Party and its leader. These are Corbyn’s kind of people. And they are Jews. So how him attending their Seder can reinforce the view that he suffers anti-Semites gladly is beyond me.
But that is where his critics are. A place where logic and reason has been replaced by blind fury.
And unforgivably, the moderates within his own party are cynically exploiting an opportunity to leverage against a very real problem of anti-Semitism on the far-left and attach it to Corbyn. It reignites stereotypes and amplifies prejudice that go far beyond the party and thereby helps the bigots win.
Corbyn’s credentials on fighting racism and discrimination can’t really be challenged – they earned him the accolade of being in the ‘Loony Left’ during the 1980s by the same newspapers that now accuse him of turning a blind eye – but that does not mean he is beyond reproach.
You don’t need to be a conspiracist to see that it is no coincidence that the rhetoric about Corbyn ramps up as his ratings improve in the polls, but neither does that excuse the existence of repugnant behaviour within his party.
There are nuances riddled throughout this debate, there is also the elephant in the room of Israel, but you can’t be a little bit racist or a tad anti-Semitic – you just are or you aren’t – and equally, you can’t just be a leader in name alone.