I am angry, and I am not alone. More than half a million of my fellow Britons – good, decent people, many of them Jewish – have been the victims of a grave and disgusting smear campaign.
I am totally opposed to antisemitism, racism, or any other form of bigotry, and always have been. That’s why I joined the Labour Party and not the Conservatives. As has been pointed out many times, if Jewish people, or any other religious or ethnic minority, came under attack, it would be socialists you would expect to come to their aid. Has there been a documented case in history of the Tories turning up to fight oppression?
That’s why it made me angry to read former Labour MP Joan Ryan’s resignation statement, in which she described the Labour Party as “institutionally antisemitic” and made the frankly hysterical point that “it is an oft-stated truism that what starts with Jews never ends with Jews”. Is she actually comparing a future Labour government to the Nazis?
I was less surprised but even angrier to see Labour described as “…an antisemitic party, led by an antisemite… the most powerfully vicious racist party Britain has ever known” in the right-wing Jewish Chronicle.
What the hell is going on?
I first wrote about the accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party 18 months ago and it seemed likely then that this was just another smear against Corbyn and his party that would fade away. Not a bit of it. His enemies reckoned this one had legs, so they have stuck doggedly with it.
Let’s be absolutely clear: there is no room in modern society for ANY antisemitism, racism or bigotry. This shouldn’t need to be said, but ANY Labour member responsible for that should be expelled, if found guilty after due process.
Jeremy Corbyn has made plain on many occasions that nobody who is guilty of any those crimes speaks for him or is welcome in the Labour Party.
He ensured that the new general secretary of the party, Jennie Formby, put into place more rigorous systems to root out anyone guilty. Antisemitism is clearly NOT “institutional” in a party that is doing so much to tackle it. But it seems nothing is going to put an end to a smear campaign that has taken off in a way that all the others didn’t.
Have you noticed how quickly this smear developed?
Bear in mind that Corbyn fought two leadership elections, in 2015 and 2016, and a general election in 2017. If he is so soft on antisemitism, or even an antisemite himself, how come no one thought to mention it then? It’s not like they held back on all the other smears.
Only a year ago, the line was that, although Corbyn obviously wasn’t antisemitic (even Margaret Hodge said so), there were some antisemitic attitudes in the party.
This rapidly escalated into “Corbyn is soft on antisemitism”.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Corbyn was an antisemite himself. Suddenly it was acceptable to label him on TV, unchallenged, as antisemitic. To a lifelong anti-racist like Corbyn, an MP who has probably done more than any other non-Jewish MP to fight for Jewish rights, this must be horrendously painful.
As it is for the rest of us in the party, who stand equally accused of being part of an “institutionally antisemitic” organisation which, even worse and more ridiculously, poses an “existential threat” to Jewish people.
What makes it especially frustrating for those of us who utterly oppose racism yet are apparently guilty by association is that this has the feel of a medieval witchcraft trial. “You are part of the problem” is the stock accusation, which translates as: “So, you deny being antisemitic? That means you must BE antisemitic.”
And this in a party which, less than four years ago, was so antisemitic that it had a Jewish leader.
Of course, any group that is more than half a million-strong is likely to contain some people with unacceptable beliefs. Corbyn has acknowledged this – and has condemned those responsible, repeatedly, and called for their expulsion.
But how much antisemitism is there really in the Labour Party?
The Campaign Against Antisemitism, a Jewish organisation, commissions an annual YouGov survey to measure antisemitism.
Not only did the last survey, in 2107, find that there was more antisemitism in the Conservative Party than in Labour, but Labour antisemitism had gone DOWN since 2015, the year Corbyn became leader.
That might be regarded as cause for celebration, but no, because nothing Corbyn does can ever be enough.
Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn’s leadership recently demanded figures on antisemitism disciplinary procedures from Ms Formby. She provided them, apparently to their surprise – and it almost sounded as if some of those MPs were disappointed the numbers were lower than they had hoped.
Margaret Hodge revealed that she alone had forwarded 200 complaints. The trouble was that before they were investigated as to whether or not they were antisemitic, all but 20 of those complaints were thrown out as the people responsible weren’t even party members.
It seems that Corbyn is being held responsible now for every bit of antisemitic abuse, even from people who aren’t Labour members.
Of course, anyone who uses Twitter knows how easy it is to set up an account, and only the social media-naïve would take everything they see on Twitter at face value.
A year ago, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis boasted in the Daily Telegraph that the Tories were hiring “an army of paid tweeters” to challenge Labour on social media. Who knows what dirty tricks they have been getting up to? Just because someone gives the impression of being a Labour supporter on Twitter does NOT mean they are.
Meanwhile, the Tories continue to totally ignore Islamophobia – arguably the modern equivalent of 1930s antisemitism – despite allegations from senior members. Baroness Warsi (not an eccentric fringe figure, but a former Tory chairman) said last year that the “poison” of Islamophobia has infected every level of the party “all the way up to the top”.
She has called for an independent inquiry but has been constantly ignored. So while Labour is making every effort to remove racism from its ranks, and getting nothing but abuse for its efforts, the Tories are turning a blind eye to their own racism.
Serious and violent antisemitism across Europe is on the rise – across the Channel in France, Jewish cemeteries are being defaced and shots have been fired at synagogues. Here in Britain the only interest in antisemitism seems to be as a way to smear Labour and keep the Tories in power.
No wonder I and so many others are furious right now.