Having come under intense criticism over antisemitism in the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn’s article in the Evening Standard on Tuesday attempted to defuse the criticism by admitting the problem and apologising for it.
In the article, Mr Corbyn set out his position on what constitutes antisemitism as well as some of his proposals for addressing it, but despite superficially appearing to be positive, closer examination reveals that what he wrote was guarded, grudging and disingenuous.
For example, the article, which was doubtless carefully crafted, claims that “Anti-Zionism is not in itself antiSemitic and many Jews themselves are not Zionists”, a statement guaranteed to provoke the Jewish community. Within the Israeli polity, its free press and among its academics, the nature of their nation and its past and future constitution may be a legitimate matter for debate. However “Anti-Zionism” more widely – and most definitely within the context of the British Labour Party – simply amounts to the expression of the idea that Israel should not exist. This is not only antisemitic under the International Definition of Antisemitism, but as the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, has stated: “Antizionism is antisemitism”. By attempting to legitimise this ‘Anti-Zionism’, it is also likely that Mr Corbyn’s intention is to allow disingenuous voices such as the fabricated, so-called Jewish Voice for Labour group – stacked as it is with antisemitic conspiracy theorists – room to continue to sow division within the Jewish community by posing as an equivalent counterweight to the views of the overwhelming majority of British Jews.
Further, the letter admits that there are genuine cases of antisemitism in the Party, but then quickly describes them as extremely rare and that they only represent “0.1%” of Labour members. In doing so, Mr Corbyn is once again taking our community for fools by continuing to characterise a very extensive problem as merely being a case of ‘a few bad apples’.
Mr Corbyn’s disingenuousness does not stop there. He is seemingly apologetic that the Chakrabarti report has not been fully implemented. Campaign Against Antisemitism and many others cannot have made their feelings clearer in this matter: the report was a totally inadequate whitewash which exacerbated the problem. We do not wish anything more than that it is ripped up and replaced by an independently commissioned report with real teeth. By fully implementing the report, for example, the Labour Party will not have to observe any transparency at all in its disciplinary processes, nor will cases older than two years be investigated, both of which are, and continue to be unacceptable to the Jewish community. We once again call on the Labour Party, along with all other political parties in the UK, to adopt our manifesto for dealing with antisemitism in political parties.
Mr Corbyn is engaging in doublespeak, appearing to apologise whilst poisoning the debate further.
There was no better proof of this than in an interview given by Mr Corbyn as he walked through the streets on Monday, in which he dismissed the Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis as though it were a mere extension of general problems in society at large. Even as he spoke, commuters were starting to read the carefully-crafted article in the Evening Standard in which he personally apologised for failing to deal with an exceptional problem.
Having published the letter, Mr Corbyn and the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Jennie Formby, went to a meeting with two Jewish charities at which he and those representing the Labour Party refused to accept the International Definition of Antisemitism in full, even though evidence shows that the Labour Party had already done so. By comparing how Mr Corbyn defines antisemitism in the letter and the definition’s full terms, we can see clearly what he now intends to exclude from the defininition. Without listing those items at length, what becomes clear is that under Labour, it will still be possible to say that Jews have no right to self-determination and that Israel is a racist endeavour which has no right to exist. Labour members will be able to apply a double standard to Israel that does not apply to other democratic nations. Such treatment of Israel is regarded by the world as antisemitic and wholly separate from legitimate criticism of the Israeli government’s actions as they would be applied to other nations. Mr Corbyn should be in no doubt that this vilification of the Jewish state is constantly used by antisemites in order to intimidate Jews in the UK into declaring themselves ‘good Jews’ that reject Israel, and any failure to do so used to ostracise them from what the academic David Hirsh calls the “community of the good”. In another example of doublespeak however, Mr Corbyn condemns those who use anti-Israel discourse as camouflage for their antisemitism.
Where Mr Corbyn’s letter betrays him most however, is in creating a distance between his own actions and those of the Party. After years of leading it, he finally admits that “When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties we must recognise them as we would those of any other community. Their concerns are not ‘smears’.” How then, when Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman complained of antisemitism in her constituency, did Mr Corbyn agree with his brother when he said that she had ulterior motives – to attack him and defend Israel? How is that when the renowned journalist Jonathan Freedland published a reasoned article on antisemitism on the Left, Mr Corbyn characterised his motivation as “utterly disgusting subliminal nastiness”? How is it that on his own Facebook page, he published a video that pictured Jewish complaints of antisemitism as rubbish to be thrown on the floor? Or how did he come to stand by when Ruth Smeeth was attacked at the launch of the Chakrabarti report, leaving smiling and smirking with the perpetrator, and subsequently failing to apologise? Then, within twenty-four hours, when Len McCluskey attacked Labour MPs defending their Jewish colleagues’ claims of antisemitism as being guilty of ‘smears’ in exactly the way he had described, Mr Corbyn was silent.
However, what Mr Corbyn now admits in his article reinforces our disciplinary complaint against him, which includes not just these cases, but the newer, unanswered charges regarding his participation in antisemitic facebook groups and his comments on the Brick Lane Mural.
If we extrapolate from what Mr Corbyn does include in his letter, then this is what we should still expect: regarding high profile cases, the immediate expulsion of Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth; that all sitting councillors, MPs and council candidates who have breached the International Definition of Antisemitism in exactly the way Mr Corbyn describes in his article are to be suspended and stood down from their positions; and that there should be discipline for Ken Loach, Len McCluskey, Diane Abbott, Chris Williamson and others who have all been egregiously guilty of characterising Jewish complaints as smears in exactly the way Mr Corbyn describes. We should then expect a rapid series of explusions of the many hundreds, if not thousands, of Labour members who have indulged in conspiracy theories about the Rothschild family, Holocaust denial, Holocaust revisionism and Holocaust inversion. We would also expect sanction for those in the Party who have supported Ken Livingstone’s retention as a member on the grounds that his claims that Hitler “was supporting Zionism” were tolerable.
Finally, we insist that the same standards should be applied to the party leader as would apply to rank and file members, as dictated by the Labour Party rulebook: if the Party intends to discipline all members of the Party who have infringed its rules, including those who have fallen foul of the terms specifically outlined in Mr Corbyn’s own letters, then Mr Corbyn himself should be first in line.