The Jewish Community stands at a key moment in its history as a minority community living in the United Kingdom. Though after the Second World War it might have expected a certain low-level of antisemitism to rumble on — particularly on the far-right, among neo-Nazis — it did not expect antisemitism to make the leap it had made in earlier epochs: namely to reinvent itself and find a stronghold on the left.
Though this reinvention has been in the making for several decades on the so-called hard, doctrinaire left, it did not fully bear fruit until the Gaza War of 2014, when it finally became obvious in mainstream discourse: especially to users of social media, in sections of the press, and to Jews on campus, both as teachers and as students.
But when that same ‘hard left’ took over the leadership of the Labour Party, there was a sickening lurch, as those closest to this new antisemitism became emboldened and promoted. In a short period of time under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, that antisemitism has matured beyond tropes demonising the Jewish state, until it is now possible to hear tropes favoured by the Nazis being spouted by elected Labour officials.
Despite losing the election, Mr Corbyn has strengthened his grip on the Labour leadership. Amongst the young in particular, he seems to have attained a populist status that is impervious to criticism. Labour Party critics of Mr Corbyn, who formerly laid down antisemitism as a red line issue for endorsing his leadership, are now seeking posts in his cabinet, as if that racism is now an ‘undesirable flaw’ that can be morally accommodated. In this setting, British Jews cannot be blamed for imagining themselves to be living in a dystopia: one in which many Corbynites identify with a community of virtue, but where hatred of a particular ‘other’ is nevertheless permitted. The atmosphere is pregnant with premonitions of disaster for the Jewish community.
Arguably two individuals personify that dystopia best, as both are not only senior figures on the Corbynite left, but also have been close personal friends and allies of Mr Corbyn himself: Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London and Jackie Walker, the former Vice-Chair of Momentum.
As regards Ken Livingstone, three months ago today the Labour Party failed to expel him for claiming that “Hitler was supporting Zionism”. At that point, 107 Labour MPs and 48 Labour peers signed a statement expressing their disgust, declaring: “We stand with the Jewish community and British society against this insidious racism. This was not done in our name and we will not allow it to go unchecked.” Though a snap General Election intervened, the dust has settled to reveal Livingstone still standing, and the summary expulsion that should have seen him banished so long ago apparently forgotten.
Then this week, Jackie Walker, an individual who has taunted Jews with offensive references to the Holocaust that even Corbynites like Owen Jones have been repulsed by, as well as citing the trope promoted by Louis Farrakhan that “many Jews” were the “chief financiers of the slave trade”, launched a renewed tirade on social media.
In addressing a Jewish social media user against whom she had taken umbrage, she wrote “I’m offended by people who claim Israel is a democratic state and who use holocausts for political ends. I’m offended that in a year when we have seen unparalleled attention on racism it’s been almost 100% confined to antisemitism. I’m offended that in the recent dialogue on racism it’s power that has counted not so much evidence. I’m offended by people who…claim victimhood to mask their own deep racism, who copy fascists…who make one people more important than another.” She concluded: “You want to be offended — go ahead.” Though repetition in her case is proving tedious, Jackie Walker has once again made statements in clear breach of the International Definition of Antisemitism accepted by the Labour Party, which are also clearly offensive to Jews, and which, in addition, bring the Labour party into disrepute.
On the three month anniversary of the ‘Not in my name’ declaration, and in the light of yet another offensive post by Jackie Walker, we at Campaign against Antisemitism call once again — despite the imperviousness of the Labour party — for swift action to be taken and for transparent justice to be seen to be done. We will, in addition, continue to point out that antisemitism has holed Labour below the moral waterline, in a way that ultimately will cause it to sink entirely, no matter how healthy its fortunes seem to be now.
However, nothing less than the moral health of the United Kingdom’s polity is now at risk. For Her Majesty’s Opposition to turn away from such bigotry as if it was something to be politically accommodated is unacceptable for the nation as a whole, let alone a party that claims to be a bulwark against racism.
To an adoring crowd at Glastonbury, Mr Corbyn proclaimed to the biggest cheer of the night: “…racism is wrong, divisive and evil within our society”.
We live in a dystopia of the kind we never thought we would witness, but it is here. As a consequence, both the Jewish community and the Labour Party find themselves teetering on the edge.