Like many in the UK I have been carefully watching the anti-Semitic comments and undertones coming out of some sections of the UK Labour Party over recent months. That a political party with a long established and distinguished history can have spawned (and tolerated) this kind of behavior is shocking.
Many outside the UK will no doubt be wondering what the evidence is that has led to this crisis, so here are some examples as reported in the UK press: Khadim Hussain, a Bradford Labour councilor, is under investigation for sharing a Facebook post that complained that the deaths of millions of Africans are not taught about in schools but “your school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler.”
A London Labour councilor reportedly posted a video on Facebook entitled: “ISIS: Israeli Secret Intelligence Service,” commenting on it: “Many people know about who was behind 9/11 and also who is behind ISIS [Islamic State]. I’ve nothing against Jews... just sharing it.” She then added, “I’ve heard some compelling evidence about ISIS being originated from Zionists!” Vicki Kirby, the vice chair of Labour’s Woking branch, tweeted Jews have “big noses” and “slaughter the oppressed.”
The Guido Faukes website found that Councilor Istiaq Ahmed another Labour councilor, from Bradford, posted a link to the Nazi film The Eternal Jew. A film commissioned by Joseph Goebbels.
Luciana Berger, a senior Jewish Labour MP and member of the Shadow Cabinet says in an interview with the Mail Online that she has been sent thousands of insults. Some feature the yellow star Nazis used to label Jews, while others caricature her with a big nose or greedily rubbing her hands.
Some even call her a pig or threaten to rape or kill her.
All of this is before we get to the case of the now suspended Labour MP Naz Shah and her apparent desire to see all Jews deported from Israel to America.
Then there is the inexplicable outburst from Ken Livingstone.
He is a former London Mayor and current member of Labour’s National Executive, who publicly claimed in an interview where he was attempting to defend Ms Shah, that Hitler, in the early days of his government was a Zionist.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and more examples are coming to light almost every day now.
I had hoped that the hard lessons of the past about the evils associated with anti-Semitism had been well learned.
History has taught us that anti-Semitism led directly to the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust which claimed the lives of many millions of innocent Jewish men women and children. This included my grandparents as well as my three aunts who were all children at the time they were murdered.
To be clear, I believe the vast majority of Labour Party activists in the UK are not bigots or anti-Semites. I may have many differences with them on matters of policy and government but this is part of our democratic process.
Some prominent Labour politicians have also been courageous in speaking out against anti-Semitism in their party.
Labour’s London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan recently said he wears a “badge of shame” because of anti-Semitism in his party. Others include Wes Streeting, a London Labour MP; Andy Burnham MP, the Labour Shadow Home Secretary and John Mann, the MP who publicly confronted Livingstone after his shocking claims about Hitler and Zionism.
It is also important for those of us involved in UK politics to ensure that anti-Semitism is not confused with legitimate, responsible criticism of the actions of the government of Israel. The legitimate criticism of any state and its behavior is an essential part of a vibrant democracy.
What is not acceptable is to label Jews as having a unique responsibility for all the actions of the government of Israel irrespective of where Jews live or even what nationality they hold. Neither is it reasonable or appropriate to hold all the citizens of Israel responsible for the actions of their government, just as citizens of the UK can not be held responsible for the actions of our government.
What is alarming is the apparent reluctance of the Labour Party hierarchy to respond to these comments. It seems that action is taken only after an outcry: often too little, too late.
Just last week, the comments of MP Naz Shah were only acted on after significant pressure from the press, the Conservative Party and the public at large. There appears to be an unacceptably high level of tolerance for racist and anti-Semitic views in the Labour Party today, a level not seen since the 1930s.
An indication of how bad things are is that, to the best of my knowledge, none of the Labour officials listed earlier who made such shocking statements have been expelled.
Much of this problem has surfaced since the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader last year. A veteran of the hard Left, Corbyn has brought with his victory an influx of a large number of very left-leaning new members that previous Labour leaders had fought hard to keep out. Many have a long standing dislike and, some say, a hatred for Israel which they openly espouse.
They freely intertwine “Jew” and “Israel” with the results we have all seen. For me, Corbyn is not an anti-Semite himself, but he is inept and apparently incapable of stamping out anti-Semitism/racism in the party he leads.
No one should be left in any doubt: this is not a matter of political correctness. These comments and this behavior are deeply offensive. Offensive to the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom and for those of us who lost loved ones in the Holocaust.
The Labour Party leadership needs to get a grip on this situation, which it has patently failed to do so far. This means more than feeble protest, painfully slow investigations and half-hearted “corrective” actions. It needs to sign up to a zero-tolerance policy for any and all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. It needs to ensure that this is rigorously enforced, well understood and adhered to throughout its membership and party apparatus.
It needs to do this now.
The author is a councilor in Hammersmith and Fulham, UK.