THE PROBLEM of anti-Semitism on the Left of British politics is not new but it was brought into sharp relief in 2015 with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, who has long been associated with pro-Palestinian movements in the UK and a hardline anti-Israel stance.At the time of his election, past meetings with representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah, and others including Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, were publicized in the British media. At a meeting with the Board of Deputies, Corbyn stated that, while he would reflect on these meetings, he refused to pledge not to hold similar encounters in the future.
There is not any suggestion that Corbyn is an anti-Semite, but there is a strong feeling of discomfort that his election has emboldened those on the hard Left whose views on Israel go further than the criticism of Israeli government policies. Dozens of Labour Party members have been suspended for comments and social media posts that range from ignorant to outrageous, culminating in former London mayor Ken Livingstone claiming that, “before he went mad,” Hitler was a Zionist. Livingstone remains unapologetic, and claims that he is himself a fighter against anti-Semitism.Here lies the problem. There are the ancient anti-Semitic tropes that everyone agrees are anti-Semitic – the stereotype of the greedy, manipulative, powerful Jew, the blood libel and the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Anyone who repeats or supports these can only be a Jew-hater.But we are also concerned that vehemently anti-Israel or anti-Zionist statements or actions can sometimes cross a line. Actions that create a sense of fear and apprehension among Jews can include protests against events with Israeli or Jewish speakers; targeted boycotts of, or vandalism against Israeli or kosher products; and questioning the right of Israel to exist.People engaging in these sorts of activities have to ask themselves whether they are applying a double standard to the world’s only Jewish state, and if so, why? Students at Oxford University Labour Club have been accused of calling Jewish students by the pejorative label “Zio” and singing “Rockets over Tel Aviv.” Both we and the Labour Party leadership are concerned by this bullying of Jewish students and by an atmosphere of intimidation created by the anti-Israel lobby.Baroness Janet Royall’s inquiry into the Oxford University Labour Club has made recommendations, and we wait to see what the Chakrabarti inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour party will decide.But the fact that there is a need for such inquiries vindicates our position that the Labour Party needs to take strong, firm action to ensure it tackles left-wing and Islamist anti-Semitism with the same clarity it has opposed right-wing anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.