Two major organisations, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, attacked Jeremy Corbyn in front of a crowd of hundreds outside parliament on Monday night.
A large number of right wing Labour politicians—mainly Corbyn’s most vocal opponents—also joined the rally along with some Tory MPs.
They claimed that antisemitism had become rife inside the party since Corbyn’s election as leader—a claim used to undermine him and the left.
It follows revelations that Corbyn appeared to defend an antisemitic mural, which was due to be removed, in 2012. He apologised last week, claiming not to have looked closely at a picture of the mural on Facebook.
He apologised again in a letter to the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council yesterday afternoon which said, “Prejudice and hatred of Jewish people has no place whatsoever in the Labour Party, and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure it is never allowed to fester in our society again.
“I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of antisemitism”.
Yet speakers at the protest last night accused Corbyn himself—a lifelong anti-racist—of encouraging antisemitism.
Referring to the period since Corbyn became Labour leader, Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush said, “The last two years have felt like an assault on our Jewish community from some in the Labour Party.
“Time and time again Jeremy Corbyn and those close to his leadership have failed to take action on antisemitism. This has created a space for racists inside the Labour Party.”
His speech echoed a statement released on Sunday by the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council. It explicitly cited the “hard left,” anti-imperialism and opposition to Israel as causes of antisemitism.
It said that Corbyn “cannot seriously contemplate antisemitism because he is so ideologically fixed within a far left view that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.
“At best, this derives from the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel.
“When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, Jews expressed sincere and profound fears as to how such politics would impact on their wellbeing”.
Such suggestions have long been used to undermine the left’s support for Palestinians and opposition to Britain’s wars. Corbyn’s strong support for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Stop the War Coalition means the same accusations are now being used to attack the Labour left.
That’s why several right wing Labour MPs—who otherwise have shown no interest in anti-racism—joined the protest last night. All of those that spoke called for more expulsions from Labour.
Protest organisers read out a long list of Labour MPs who joined the rally. Most of them have recently called for tougher immigration controls as a way of appealing to racist “concerns” about migrants.
John Mann—one of Labour’s most vocal anti-immigration MPs—said, “We stand against discrimination. We stand against racism”. Yet late last year Mann blamed “foreign labour” for poor pay and working conditions.
A number of Jewish Labour Party members and supporters hit back at claims of antisemitism—rightly pointing to the growth of the far right for the rise in antisemitism.
A statement by the Jewish Socialists’ Group released yesterday expressed “serious concern at the rise of antisemitism, especially under extreme right wing governments in central and Eastern Europe, in America under Donald Trump’s Presidency and here in Britain under Theresa May’s premiership.”
The statement said that Arkush had been “one of the first to congratulate Donald Trump on his election as President of the United States on behalf of the Board.
“This action was harshly criticised by many Jews he claims that the Board represents”.
It added, “We have worked alongside Jeremy Corbyn in campaigns against all forms of racism and bigotry, including antisemitism, for many years, and we have faith that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour-led councils across the country, will be best placed to implement serious measures against all forms of racism, discrimination and bigotry.”
Labour supporters’ group Jewish Voice for Labour also rallied outside parliament yesterday, next to the protest attacking Corbyn.
JVL member Mike Cushman said, “We do have a problem with antisemitism in this country. A far right problem with antisemitism, anti-black racism and Islamophobia. Those people over there never talk about that.”
He added, “There are Jews and friends of Jews who detest antisemitism and support Jeremy. Many of us with Jewish heritage are fed up with being accused of antisemitism when we raise the question of Palestine”.
Rob Ferguson from Free Speech on Israel said the accusations against Corbyn were “an attack on the whole of the left both inside and outside Labour.”
He added, “My mother was a Hungarian Jew. She got out of Hungary before the Holocaust started. Her sister did not. Now far right vermin are on the rise again in Eastern Europe.
“The real danger of these accusations is that they divide the potential victims of these people. It divides Jews, Muslims and the left. We should learn the lessons of history.”
Where one form of racism—such as Islamophobia or anti-immigration—thrives, other forms of racism grow behind it.
The left has always led the fight against antisemitism—it shouldn’t concede that it is to blame now. Every concession Corbyn makes only encourages demands he make more retreats. He must stand firm.
Criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism is not the same as antisemitism.
Fighting antisemitism today means building united campaigns that unite Muslims, Jews and others against all forms of racism.