BRITISH LABOUR Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to vote in local government elections in London on May 3.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Long considered the natural political home for British Jewry, the British Labour Party is in the throes of a sordid battle in England over accusations of antisemitism. And in the middle of the conflict is its pugnacious leader Jeremy Corbyn, who many believe has blurred the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment.
A hard left-wing politician, he has called Hezbollah and Hamas his friends and he defended an antisemitic mural in 2013, among other scandals involving his party’s policies on antisemitism. The previous leader of the Board of Deputies of British Jews accused Corbyn of having “views that are antisemitic.”
Only this past weekend, footage emerged of a 2012 interview Corbyin did with Iranian propaganda outlet Press TV in which he pedaled a conspiracy theory about Israel being involved in attack by Islamic jihadists in the Sinai peninsula on an Egyptian army base, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed while sitting down to their Iftar meal to break the daily Ramadan fast.
Corbyn’s anti-Israel rants, combined with a recent controversy over the Labour Party’s recently adopted definition of antisemitism has prompted some drastic responses.
In an unprecedented move, Britain’s three usually combative Jewish newspapers, jointly published the same front-page editorial warning of the “existential” threat to British Jewry that a government led by Corbyn would pose.
The Jewish Chronicle
, the Jewish News
and the Jewish Telegraph decided to take the extraordinary decision because, as the editorial stated, “the party that was, until recently, the natural home for our community has seen its values and integrity eroded by Corbynite contempt for Jews and Israel… the stain and shame of antisemitism has coursed through Her Majesty’s Opposition since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015.”
Among the laundry list of various scandals, statements and controversies related to antisemitism in the party that the editorial included, the culmination was Labour’s recently adapted guidelines on antisemitism. The Labour Party was urged to adopt the internationally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, that is used by, among others, the British government.
The Labour Party adopted the guidelines, but with some important omissions. Their reasoning? “Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct. It is not antisemitism to criticize the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent.”
According to the editorial by the Jewish papers, the Labour Party’s incomplete definition of antisemitism that was adopted enables party members “to claim Israel’s existence is a racist endeavor and compare Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany, unless ‘intent’ – whatever that means – can be proved. ‘Dirty Jew’ is wrong, ‘Zionist bitch’ fair game.”
After the adoption of the guidelines, Jewish MP Margaret Hodge called Corbyn an “antisemitic racist.”
“It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. And he hasn’t adopted the full definition of antisemitism...,” Hodge said on the BBC.
The argument over semantics does not come in a vacuum. British Jewry’s main watchdog on antisemitism – the Community Security Trust – recorded 727 hate incidents through June of 2018, the second-highest total on record its record for a six-month period.
Earlier this year, the Labor Party in Israel suspended its relations with Corbyn, accusing him of showing hostility to the Jewish community and allowing antisemitic statements and actions from his party officials. Labor leader Avi Gabbay, distinguishing between Corbyn and the Labour Party, cited the party leader’s “very public hatred of the policies of the Government of the State of Israel, many of which regard the security of our citizens and actions of our soldiers – policies where the opposition and coalition in Israel are aligned.”
Valid criticism of Israel’s policies is healthy, encouraged and a welcome part of the vibrant dialogue between people living in democracies. However, when leaders like Corbyn blur the distinction between blind hatred of everything Israeli and Jew hatred, it’s time to take the gloves off and call an antisemite an antisemite.
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