Corbyn opens the door for 'never again' to become 'never say never'

Corbyn's blind spot on post-Holocaust antisemitism suggests 'never again' was merely a comfort blanket for a population traumatized by the Nazis' crimes.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, arrives to vote in Islington, London, Britain June 8, 2017 (photo credit: STEFAN WERMUTH/REUTERS)
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, arrives to vote in Islington, London, Britain June 8, 2017
Is Jeremy Corbyn blind to antisemitism?
The question is worth posing, given that the Labour leader this week appeared to suggest that antisemitism had come juddering to a halt in 1944-5 with the liberation of the concentration camps.
On the election trail at the CBI conference, Corbyn was asked what he planned to do to demonstrate “that Labour isn’t just for the many but not the Jew,” (a play on Labour’s slogan: ‘For the many, not the few’). In response, he gave what has now become his stock answer to such questions:
"I've spent my life opposing racism in any form, be it done by the far-right or by the random attacks on individuals, or against a man that was murdered outside my house because he happened to be a Muslim and there happened to be a racist person driving a vehicle that thought it was OK to drive in a crowd of worshipers," he gabbled, continuing: "Just as much as those people that attack synagogues, daub fascist graffiti over them, or attack Jewish people in this country, the USA or anywhere else, have no place whatsoever in a civilized society."
He then added: "The history of the Jewish people has been one of the most unbelievable and egregious - [with] attacks on them in central Europe throughout the early part of the 20th century, which of course ended with the Holocaust [my emphasis] and all the horrors that went with that."
The insinuation seems to be: if Jews aren’t being gassed and burned en masse, it’s not really antisemitism.
On the face of it, the comment is an odd one. Can Corbyn – a man who claims to care deeply about racism – simply not have noticed the numerous reports showing that antisemitism is once again reaching a fever pitch across Europe, including in the UK?
Can targeted antisemitic attacks such as that perpetrated against the congregation at the Tree of Life synagogue merely have passed him by?
The temptation is to assume that Corbyn is in willful denial over modern forms of antisemitism as a way of alleviating difficulties over his support for the Palestinian cause, but his comments, in conjunction with his track record, suggest something far more pernicious: that Corbyn’s whole worldview – and his appeal to his supporters – is founded directly upon antisemitism.
Contrary to the picture painted by his critics on the left, who have mostly been taken wholly by surprise by the rapid mainstreaming of antisemitism under his leadership, Corbyn’s affiliation with antisemites has formed a core part of his political activities for decades.
In 2006, nearly a full decade before he was elected as Labour’s leader, Corbyn called for the release of two bombers who had targeted Jewish charities and the Israeli embassy in London. Their appeal was later rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.
In 2008, Corbyn stood alongside Ismail Patel, Chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa, as the latter told a crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square that “Zionism […] has made [Jews] immoral in justice,” and that the “Judaic faith” celebrates the killing of Palestinians. At the same event, Corbyn stood by as another speaker told Palestinians in Gaza: “if they [Jews] starve you, if they deny you water, if they deny you life, explode in their faces, do whatever you want.” Corbyn patted Patel on the back as he exited the stage.
In 2009, Corbyn welcomed members of Hamas and Hezbollah to the British Parliament, calling them “friends.” Far from being a terrorist organization, Hamas, he claimed, was dedicated to "long term peace, social justice, and political justice." At the same event, Corbyn dismissed allegations of antisemitism, saying “I refuse to be drawn into this stuff” – a clear indication that his antisemitic proclivities were well understood long before he became leader of the party.
To Corbyn, these activities and more are not antisemitism but ‘free speech’ or ‘anti-colonialism,’ because they support his far-left ideology and don’t involve the rounding up of Jews for systematic murder.
The pattern has remained unchanged during his premiership. For example, Corbyn opposed adoption of the British government’s definition of antisemitism by Labour’s National Executive last year on grounds that it could endanger “free speech on Israel.”
The definition, drawn from that formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), cites four examples of antisemitism pertaining to Israel, including “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” and “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”
Corbyn was emphatic in his opposition to the definition. “[It] should not be considered antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies, or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact,” he argued.
Under this rubric, almost any attack on the Jewish people is tolerable as long as it stops short of genocide, therefore indulging in antisemitism is a perfectly acceptable, even laudable, method of furthering the socialist cause.
While he remained an almost comic figure on the fringe of the party, these associations were viewed as mere idiosyncrasies. They were tolerated within political circles almost fondly, like that old biscuit tin full of sewing notions that your nan keeps at the back of the kitchen cupboard, providing a nostalgic reminder of times long past.
But in denying post-Holocaust antisemitism, Corbyn may have inadvertently laid a bare a hitherto unsuspected paradigm for all to see. After all, who among us Jews hasn’t at some point, upon being confronted with antisemitism, muttered to ourselves: ‘But at least we’re not being herded onto cattle-trucks’? So egregious were the crimes of the Nazis that the antisemitism of the modern era still pales in comparison.
For this is the great tragedy of our times: not that Corbyn and his fellow travelers could justify Jew-hatred to themselves (there have always been antisemites among us) but the blithe assumption held by everyone – Jews and non-Jews alike – that ‘never again’ meant ‘never again.’
So deeply ingrained was this assumption that many Jews felt entirely at home in the Labour Party even as it housed Corbyn and his far-left faction; even as he was meeting with Hamas and Hezbollah and calling them ‘friends’; even as he was laying wreaths for Jew-killing terrorists.
It may well turn out, therefore, that the old hatred has, in some grotesque way, left a dark door open for the new hatred to creep in.