LONDON (JTA) — The head of the Anti-Defamation League praised the British Labour Party for its efforts to combat antisemitism among its membership but warned that those expelled from the party could seek to coalesce under other banners, including the Green Party.
Jonathan Greenblatt, who recently visited Britain to address the United Kingdom government’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism, said in an interview that “there is now a political cost to being antisemitic in British politics.” He applauded party leader Keir Starmer, who since succeeding Jeremy Corbyn in 2020 has focused on earning back the trust of Jewish voters after years of antisemitism controversy that watchdogs have said Corbyn allowed to fester.
But Greenblatt is not the first to point to the Green Party as the next possible hub of antisemitism controversy in British politics. Multiple deputy party leaders have been at the center of antisemitism allegations in recent years. In March, the Jewish Labour Movement wrote to the party’s co-leaders expressing concern about a Green Party councillor in Norwich accused of posting material that “promotes antisemitic tropes.”
And earlier this month, the party’s main representative body for Jewish members gave a senior role to a councillor previously expelled from Labour over her support for a group that denied and downplayed claims of antisemitism.
Zack Polanski, who is now the party’s deputy leader and is Jewish, reacted to the JLM letter by saying that he had not experienced “any personal issues with antisemitism” within the Green Party. He added: “I want to judge people on their actions and what they say right now and in the future, as opposed to fighting old internal battles in other parties.”
Polanski, who grew up in northern England and is currently a member of the London Assembly, is the first Jewish deputy leader of the Green Party. He was born with the last name Paulden, but at 18 he decided to adopt his family’s original surname that had been anglicized after they arrived in Britain.
Wave of online antisemitism
Under Corbyn, a veteran left-wing figure, Jewish Labour members and politicians were hit with a wave of online antisemitism, leading many to leave the party. Corbyn was criticized for not sufficiently addressing the problem and was over the past few years suspended and barred from rejoining the party.
“It is no longer OK even for marginal people to express these kinds of sentiments,” Greenblatt said. “That’s a big win.”
Greenblatt, however, expressed concern about whether enough work had been done to “dismantle the ideas” that contributed towards antisemitism. “You can remove the people without necessarily eradicating those thoughts,” he said.
In 2021, the Green Party adopted both the International Holocaust Remembrance Authority’s definition of antisemitism and the Jerusalem Declaration, which was created in an attempt to address concerns that have been raised with the IHRA definition, including what some say is a stifling of free speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
“All those people with those [antisemitic] views, they didn’t go away, they were just pushed out,” Greenblatt added. “The question is where are they and what would it take for them to come back or coalesce into a different form.”
Greenblatt said that he hoped to meet with Starmer during his next visit to Britain in the autumn. He met with Jewish communal groups, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and John Mann, the U.K. government’s advisor on antisemitism, during his brief visit to London.
His visit to Europe followed the publication of the ADL Global 100, which through a survey of 10 European countries found Britons to hold the second-lowest rate of antisemitic attitudes in Europe after the Netherlands.
While the survey found that some 34% of Britons agreed that Jews were more loyal to Israel than to the United Kingdom, the finding was the lowest in Europe. Greenblatt said that relative to elsewhere on the continent “things are trending in a better direction here.”
“You don’t have the same threat of the extreme-right which we see in France, in Germany, and in much of central and eastern Europe, and which we certainly see in America,” Greenblatt said.
He added that Britain had been able to integrate its Jewish community to a degree that made it stand out.
“The sense that I have is that there is a strong sense that you can be British, and you can be Jewish, and that these identities are not at odds and in fact you can proudly and openly be both.”