Can Labor stamp out antisemitism as long as Corbyn is chairman?

A series of events in the last three months show even more clearly that Corbyn is far too much part of the problem to reasonably expect the party to handle antisemitism complaints.

BRITISH LABOUR Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to vote in local government elections in London on May 3 (photo credit: REUTERS)
BRITISH LABOUR Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to vote in local government elections in London on May 3
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Recently the Deputy Chairman of the Labor Party, Tom Watson, admitted that the antisemitism problem within the party has deteriorated in the past year. In a message to the Jewish Labor Movement he said the problem was not “just with individual cases of antisemitism,” but with “wider patterns of association.” Watson mentioned that he was ashamed that antisemitism was “ignored or minimized or excused” by some Labor members.

Watson’s statement begs the question of whether the party can overcome antisemitism as long as Jeremy Corbyn is its chairman. This has been doubtful for a long time. There are many indications that Corbyn is highly uninterested in frontally facing this hatred. In addition, he has for years been close to various antisemites. He also promoted antisemites to party positions when he became chairman. A series of events in the last three months show even more clearly that Corbyn is far too much part of the problem to reasonably expect the party to handle antisemitism complaints.

Labor has said that it wants to deal with the majority of the complaints by the end of July. The party appointed Gordon Nandell, a leading left-wing lawyer who is Jewish, to oversee its disciplinary process. There have since been many revelations of his links to the party’s hard left and activists involved in antisemitism issues.

Upon these disclosures, the Jewish Labor MP, Luciana Berger, asked the party’s national executive committee to review Nandell’s appointment. She tweeted: “This individual had made worrying statements on social media and was identifiably connected to organizations and individuals that seek to deny the antisemitism problem. We were ignored.” She also said that she “had no faith in how the party was going to tackle antisemitism.

In March 2018, Corbyn said that since he had become party chairman, there have been 300 complaints of antisemitism. He added that 150 people have either been expelled or resigned. Corbyn stated the backlog of complaints to be 60 cases. The Daily Mail reported, however, a backlog of 74 cases. It added that MP John Mann said he knew of another 130 complaints. One source in Labor told the paper: “Many of these cases include the most shocking and blatant antisemitism that would make even a committed Nazi blush.”

IN APRIL, a highly emotional meeting took place in the House of Commons in which antisemitism was discussed. Some of the cases quoted could have occurred in any extreme-right-wing party. They, however, came from the supposedly “progressive” mainstream opposition.

During this meeting, Berger – who is the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labor Movement – said that, “in 2018, antisemitism is now more commonplace, more conspicuous and more corrosive within the Labor Party.” She added: “They have said that I am Tel Aviv’s servant and called me a paid-up Israeli operative. Essentially, this is antisemitism of the worst kind, suggesting that I am a traitor to our country.” Berger received a standing ovation. Corbyn, however, walked out of the Chamber.

Other Jewish Labor MPs also spoke. Ruth Smeeth said that she had fallen victim to attacks “from within the Labor family.” Ivan Lewis said he was convinced that “Mr. Corbyn was not an antisemite himself.” But he added that, “his leadership has attracted new members whose antisemitism is pernicious and exposed long-standing members whose use of antisemitic language and imagery is shocking.”

Louise Elman observed that “it was a fallacy to believe that people who profess to be anti-racist cannot be antisemitic.” Dame Margaret Hodge said that she “felt like an outsider in Labor.” She added: “I have never felt as nervous and frightened as I feel today at being a Jew.” She went on to say that, “it feels as if my party has given permission for antisemitism to go unchallenged.” Alex Sobel quoted what was posted about him on a Facebook page: “why is this Jewish Zio-Nazi speaking in the English parliament?”

During the debate, Mann, who is not Jewish, said that the far-left Momentum group – Corbyn’s main supporters in the party – were “targeting Jewish members of the parliamentary Labor party because they are Jewish.” He mentioned that his wife was sent a dead bird via the post from a Labor Marxist antisemite. She was also threatened with rape by a leftist antisemite.

Corbyn’s closest relationship in recent months with Jews was with the extremist anti-Israeli group Jewdas. He participated in their Passover Seder. This organization called Israel a “steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of.”

 ALSO IN April, the heads of the representative Jewish organizations, Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) and the Board of Deputies (BoD) met Corbyn. Afterwards they said that he had failed to agree to any of their requests regarding tackling antisemitism. In May, Jonathan Arkush, outgoing President of the BoD, claimed that Corbyn held antisemitic views. He mentioned that the Labor leader had been chairman of the Stop the War organization which is known for some of the worst anti-Israel discourse.

All of these developments over the past few months have come on top of two years of the party’s procrastination on the antisemitism issue and of a botched investigation into this hatred by Shami Chakrabarti, who afterwards became Baroness Chakrabarti. There were also many empty words against antisemitism by Corbyn, as well as his appointment to important party positions of the antisemite Ken Livingstone and the Hamas supporter Seumas Milne. Before becoming chairman, Corbyn had called the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas his friends, inviting them to the House of Commons. He also had given financial support to and attended many meetings of an NGO headed by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen.

The future can be even more problematic. The Conservative government is handling the Brexit negotiations with the European Union very poorly. It can thus not be ignored that Corbyn may very well be the next Prime Minister of the UK.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.