Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Will Britain’s opposition Labor Party succeed in uprooting anti-Semitism within its ranks? Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is going through the motions. But the task appears unsurmountable.
The problem is that – as the ancient Greek saying states – the fish stinks from the head. Labor’s recently elected leader is a man who has referred to Hamas and Hezbollah – Jew-hating terrorist organizations that seek to wipe the Jewish state off the map – as his “friends.”
In a meeting with Jewish leaders in February – his first after being elected head of Labor – Corbyn failed to express regret for his statement about Hamas and Hezbollah despite being pressed to do so.
In September of last year the newly minted party leader attended a “Labor for Israel” dinner in London and managed to give a 10-minute speech without once mentioning the country that was being honored – no small feat.
It is therefore not surprising that Corbyn’s arrival as leader has been accompanied by a series of anti-Semitic incidents within the ranks of the Labor Party, as though a cesspool dam of pent-up hatred had been torn down.
In February, the co-chairman of Oxford University’s Labor Club resigned after charging that its members have “some kind of problem with the Jews” and sympathize with Jew-hating terrorist groups such as Hamas.
According to statement by the Oxford University Jewish Society, senior members of the Labor Club liked to regale listeners with a song called “Rockets over Tel Aviv” and to endorse attacks on Israeli civilians.
They were in the habit of casually referring to Jewish students as “Zio.” They repeated tropes about the “Zionist lobby” and “high net worth Jewish individuals.” They said all Jews should be required to denounce Zionism and the State of Israel, and that those who refused to do so should be shunned. And they arranged for a group of students to harass a Jewish student and shout “Filthy Zionist” at her.
In March, two former shadow cabinet ministers from Labor, Michael Dugher and Rachel Reeves, accused Corbyn of trying to “bury” the party’s problem with anti-Semitism after he refused to publish an investigation into harassment of Jewish students at Oxford University.
In the same month, Vicki Kirby, vice chairwoman of the Labor Party’s Woking branch was suspended after tweeting that Jews have “big noses” and “slaughter the oppressed.” MPs attacked the party leadership – including Corbyn – after it initially failed to suspend her.
Last month, Labor councilor Aysegul Gurbuz was suspended over anti-Semitic tweets in which she praised Hitler as the “greatest man in history” and said she hoped Iran would use a “nuclear weapon” to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Just last week, Labor MP Naz Shah was suspended for calling on Israel to “relocate” to America. Shah, who had been a member of a parliamentary committee looking into anti-Semitism in British society, posted on her Facebook page a picture of Israel superimposed onto a map of the US to show her “solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Then there was Ken Livingston’s comments about how Hitler had been a Zionist, an attempt to associate the Jewish movement for national self-determination with Nazism.
That this string of incidents of Jew-hatred inside the British Labor Party comes in the wake of Corbyn’s rise to leadership is no coincidence. Indeed, many politicians on the British Left know well that their electoral success depends on their willingness to reject the Jews’ right to a state of their own or risk being denounced as “Zionists” – a term that has become an anathema.
Under the circumstances, there is little reason for optimism regarding the outcome of Corbyn’s investigation into anti-Semitism in the party.
In an essay first published in April 1945 titled “Anti-Semitism in Britain,” George Orwell, who all but admitted to suffering from what he referred to as the “neurosis,” wrote that the starting point for any investigation of anti-Semitism must be introspection: “Why does anti-Semitism appeal to me? What is there about it that I feel to be true?” What sets the intellectual apart from others is not the lack of hatreds of one kind or another, argued Orwell, rather it is the fact that he or she “can feel the emotional tug of such things, and yet see them dispassionately for what they are...”
Members of Britain’s Labor Party are under the sway of anti-Semitism. Will they succeed in seeing it dispassionately for what it is or will they be held captive to their collective neurosis?