How the UK got here: The normalization of antisemitism in England

Between 2015 and 2018, incidents of antisemitism in the UK rose by 74%.

BRITAIN’S OPPOSITION Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in London yesterday.  (photo credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
BRITAIN’S OPPOSITION Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in London yesterday.
It used to be that the stench of antisemitism rotted the credibility of any person, institution or political party. A leprosy that was visible for all to see and avoided like the plague has become a badge of honor that is encompassed in all aspects of British society. As painful as it is to admit, antisemitism is the new normal and the frequency of incidents has skyrocketed to such a level that it has begun to both invigorate allies as well as diminish the will to fight on for others.
Between 2015 and 2018, incidents of antisemitism in the UK rose by 74%. Not coincidently, 2015 saw the election of Jeremy Corbyn to leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. His new Labour Party has seen countless accusations of anti-Jewish racism, such that the Equality and Human Rights Commission set up by a proudly anti-racist Labour government has felt the need to investigate the party for its intrinsic antisemitism. The only other party subject to such an investigation was the far-right British National Party. But is this a surprise?
The candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn brought in hundreds of thousands of new members with influence over the democratic procedure and party policy. These new members weren’t disaffiliated members of society, rather extremists who flocked from the Revolutionary Communist Group and Socialist Workers Party among others, in order to guarantee the leadership of the radical Jeremy Corbyn over a mainstream and electable pillar of modern British democracy. When racists are given a home and not shown a red card, it legitimizes those views and creates a breeding ground with a race to be the most radical.
And that is precisely what we have seen. With a leader who writes a glowing foreword for a book echoing the taunts of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is it any surprise that members call for the annihilation of the Jewish state and its entire population? Is it any surprise that its parliamentary candidates are conspiracy theorists who believe ISIS is a creation of the Mossad and that the prime minister is controlled by the “Zionist Slave Master’s agenda”? The rotting core of Corbyn’s Labour Party has set a societal precedent from which I fear we may never come back; it has made antisemitism seem both necessary and normal to many people; and it has offered a half-arsed apologetic gesture that has been taken as gospel as renunciation of Labour’s actions and its racist worldview.
WHEN WE allow for the election of an antisemite we tell the radicals exiled to their houses that their Jew-hatred isn’t to be ashamed of, but rather grounds to have you elected to the mother of parliaments. The actions and lack of action by Corbyn’s Labour Party with regard to antisemitism have acted as a catalyst for racists to seep out of their holes and regain platforms to further incite their hatred.
The consequences go far and wide, and the normalization of antisemitism has spread to our campuses. From Nottingham to Bristol and countless places in between, student union officers have been found to be antisemitic by their universities’ investigations yet no action has been taken. After telling a Jewish student to “be like Israel and cease to exist,” Omar Chowdhury’s apology that came as a recommendation of the investigation was accepted as sufficient for Chowdhury to continue in his role as the University of Bristol Students’ Union’s Black and Minority Ethnic officer. Ridiculous right? But this is just one example. There are hundreds of incidents taking place on campus that get no coverage whatsoever because antisemitism is expected, and universities are reluctant to act. And why should they take it seriously when our own electorate and political leaders do not?
Only when we start taking a genuine zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism not just in name, but with substance, will we be able to start undoing all the damage that Corbyn’s Labour Party has instigated. That means not accepting every apology for antisemitism, it means removing antisemites from any position where they can further their agenda, and it means restoring our political discourse to that of civility and fact-based dialogue as we have had with the once proud Labour Party.
For our campuses, there is some hope. Universities Minister Chris Skidmore wrote to vice-chancellors stating that universities must do more to stamp out antisemitism on campus and adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This is a necessary step in combating the atmosphere of antisemitism swamping our institutions, but this will ultimately depend on the innate nature of vice-chancellors and whether they choose to listen to such calls.
My own experience tells me that just like the cases at Bristol and Nottingham, our entrusted intellectual leaders will be reluctant to act and will hope for cases to blow over, mirroring the same action taken against the highest profile cases of antisemitism. Jeremy Corbyn’s platform to incite has made British society more hostile to Jews than at any other point in the modern era.
The writer was the Israel and campaigns officer at the Nottingham Jewish Society and a 2018/19 CAMERA fellow.