Anti-Semitism and the British Left

          Pursue a left-wing agenda around the political race track long enough and you’ll meet a right-wing agenda sprinting at you from the other direction.
          In the twentieth century Nazism and Bolshevism stood at opposite extremes of the political spectrum and their philosophies were poles apart, yet their regimes bore remarkable similarities to each other: the smothering of dissension, the persecution of political opponents, insistence that the state was more important than the individual, total disregard for the rule of law, rejection of religion, and so on.
          Now, in the early years of the twenty-first century, Britain finds itself witness to an extraordinary situation in which the Marxist leadership of the main opposition party – the Labour Party – has been revealed as harbouring extreme forms of anti-Semitism, the defining policy of fascists world-wide.
          The current scandal, which has resulted in the suspension of two prominent Labour figures and a number of minor ones, and the setting up of an independent enquiry into anti-Semitism in the party, was sparked off in February. When the Oxford University Labour Club – the largest student Labour group in the country – voted to endorse Israel Apartheid Week, the co-chair resigned, asserting that the club was riven with anti-Semitism.
          Alex Chalmers wrote: “Whether it be members of the Executive throwing around the term 'Zio' (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon, senior members of the club expressing their 'solidarity' with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians, or a former co-chair claiming that 'most accusations of antisemitism are just the Zionists crying wolf’, a large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.”
          Chalmers’s whistle-blowing statement was unusual, if not unique, in bringing to the surface the monster that had been lurking in left-wing waters for a very long time – a monster obvious to those outside the charmed left-wing enclave, but never acknowledged within it.
          Following the pattern of such events, one revelation was soon followed by others, and the scandal mushroomed. The MP for Bradford, Naseem Shah, suddenly found anti-Semitic Facebook comments she had posted in 2014, before she was elected, splashed across the media. After a deal of humming and hawing, Labour’s extreme left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, agreed to her suspension from the party. She subsequently made a full apology to the House of Commons for proposing that all Israelis should be deported to the United States.
          The next bizarre twist came when Ken Livingstone, London’s former mayor and a close colleague of the Labour leader, took to the airwaves in vociferous support of Naseem Shah. His defense included a series of bizarre, not to say irrelevant, remarks linking Hitler to Zionism, as if an early and short-lived Nazi plan to permit German Jews to emigrate to Palestine somehow made Hitler an advocate of Jewish national independence. Livingstone’s remarks seemed to many designed to link Zionism with Nazism, and the subsequent media furor was intense. After a period of havering, Corbyn thrust Livingstone, too, into the outer darkness.
            The indecisiveness that marked Corbyn’s response to these episodes directed the spotlight also on him and his record of consorting with anti-Israel and Jew-hating terrorists and terrorist sympathisers. There is no evidence that he himself is anti-Semitic, and much that he is passionately anti-racist, but he seems utterly purblind to the implications of consorting openly with individuals and organizations dedicated to killing Jews whoever they are, or wherever they can be found, inside or outside Israel.
          Leading UK journalist, Charles Moore, has noted that Jeremy Corbyn refuses to share a platform with Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, over the EU referendum, although both favor remaining in the EU. Mr Corbyn’s stated reason is that “We are not on the same side”.
          But, as Moore points out, Corbyn has shared a platform with – among many other such – Sheikh Raed Saleh, who (elsewhere) repeated the “blood libel” against the Jews, and called them “monkeys” and “bacteria”; with representatives of the British Muslim Initiative, which plays the anti-Semitic card of comparing Jews with Nazis with its “Stop the Holocaust in Gaza” placards; and with what he calls his “friends” from Hamas”, an organization whose Charter positively encourages the killing of Jews.
          Moore observes that Naseem Shah and Ken Livingstone must feel bewildered by the condemnation heaped upon them, because they inhabit a party whose leader has, over his 40 years in politics, spent hundreds of hours sharing platforms with virtually every sort of Muslim anti-Semite and advocate of terrorism that one can imagine. They may, he conjectures, have thought they had permission.
          When did it all start? Perhaps after the 6-Day War, in June 1967. The enormous territorial gains made by Israel in that short week resulted in millions of Palestinians coming under Israeli governance – but also in the consequential demand for independence from it.
           Until ‘67, Jews and Israel had usually been well regarded by the Left in Britain. They were perceived as allies in the fight against fascism. Now this changed. Left-wing groups started to become militant about the Palestinian cause. As the ideology spread, it morphed into an all-encompassing narrative of dispossession and oppression, a burning grievance against the West in general and Israel in particular.
           Left-wingers like Corbyn have never endorsed the more extreme tenets of Islamism, but neither have they confronted them. To have done so would have been to betray their sacred anti-colonialist beliefs. As for the charge of anti-Semitism, in their minds it is, like all other forms of racism, a hallmark of fascism. They are anti-fascists, so they simply can’t be racists.
          As Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Mark Regev, remarked, to say “anti-Semitism, that’s the right, that’s the fascists,” is a cop-out. “Part of the Left,” he said, “is in denial.”
          In short, in Britain today Marxism and Fascism are shaking hands, and the left-wing leadership of the Labour party is in disarray.
The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is: “The Search for Détente: Israel and Palestine 2012-2014”. He blogs at: