There is something rotten in Britain. Over the last week, nine UK Labour MPs have resigned over what they say is an outbreak of antisemitism and racism plaguing the party.
The most recent defector – MP Ian Austin – told British media over the weekend that he was “ashamed” of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the Labour Party, adding that he was “unfit to deal” with the party’s antisemitism.
“Jeremy Corbyn and the people around him have turned what was a mainstream party into something really different. They’ve created a culture of extremism, intolerance and bullying,” said Austin, adding that his father, a refugee from the Holocaust, had taught him about the evils of hatred and prejudice.
“That led to me as a teenager 35 years ago... to join the Labour Party, to fight racism,” he told The Guardian. “I would never have believed that I would be leaving the Labour Party today because of racism as well.”
Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP since 2010 who also resigned last week, told The Jerusalem Post’s Jeremy Sharon that she left the party because she had done everything she thought possible to challenge the rising antisemitism in Labour – including speaking about it and bringing forward motions to deal with it within the party, as well as challenging it in public – but all of that did not have the desired effect.
Noting that Corbyn himself has talked of a “zero-tolerance attitude” to antisemitism, Berger said that little has actually changed.
“There’s clearly a gulf between the warm words and the promises, and what has actually happened every step of the way – and regrettably, there is a catalogue of terrible incidents which, in my view, bring shame to the Labour Party,” she said. “Despite my best efforts... I was seeing things getting worse, not better.”
Corbyn has deflected the criticism, telling Sky News that the Labour Party “does not accept antisemitism in any form.” In direct response to Austin’s statements, Corbyn added that “there is no place for harshness, bullying or anything else” in the party.
“I don’t believe that it exists on a wide scale. Where there is bad behavior, we deal with it.”
However, in Labour’s case, the bad behavior starts at the top. Corbyn has almost single-handedly become the case study of whether it’s possible for a public figure to express virulently anti-Israel sentiments without spreading over to blatant antisemitism.
Corbyn, a long time campaigner for the Palestinians, has famously called officials in Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends,” called extremist Palestinian hate preacher Raed Salah who pedaled the blood libel against Jews “an honored citizen,” and questioned what he described as media “bias” towards Israel for assuming it has a right to exist.
In the most recent disclosure, a video emerged of Corbyn during a debate at Cambridge University in 2009 apparently expressing understanding for why Palestinian suicide bombers commit their heinous acts.
Describing how he met Palestinian youth in Nablus, Corbyn said that, “They said ‘put yourself in our place: a life of hopelessness, a life under occupation, a life of demoralization and bitterness’… that is where it leads to.”
It’s not surprising that Corbyn would rationalize suicide bombings against innocent Israelis. He’s always looked at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only through the lens of Palestinians being the victim without a shred of understanding about the history and nuances of the conflict.
It could have been chalked up to coming from a rigid, left-wing orientation that doesn’t allow for such nuances.
But the Labour MPs who resigned didn’t leave because of Corbyn’s views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Clearly not spokespeople for Israel themselves, they bolted their party because the statements and attitudes expressed by its leader have transcended the boundaries of acceptable criticism into clear antisemitism.
Their bold moves are a wake-up call, not only for Labour but for all of England, that the situation for Jews is much graver than previously thought. The Labour Party is just one manifestation of the growing antisemitism that threatens to run away unharnessed. Whether vaguely disguised as criticism of Israel or blatantly expressed as out-and-out Jew hatred, it must be stopped in its tracks.