Parts of the Labour right describe the latest attacks on Jeremy Corbyn as a “tipping point”. They say this is the moment that Jewish people stood up to antisemitism inside the Labour Party.
What they also mean is that this could be a tipping point in their fight against Corbyn and the resurgent left inside the party.
Long-time enemies of Corbyn inside Labour have launched the biggest rebellion against him since their failed leadership challenge in 2016. It’s a culmination of more than two years of accusations of antisemitism against the Labour left.
Ever since Corbyn was elected, right wing politicians and media pundits have claimed that his support for Palestinians would encourage antisemites to join the Labour Party.
A statement released on Sunday by the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council accused the left of an “obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel”.
It added, “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.”
These accusations have a longer history than Corbyn’s leadership. Supporters of Palestine are used to being told that their criticism of Israel is antisemitic. Defenders of Israel constantly try to conflate criticism of Israel’s founding ideology Zionism with antisemitism.
It’s not the case. Zionism isn’t simply the idea that Jewish people have the right to self-determination or their own state.
It’s the belief that Israel should be an exclusively Jewish state—and that Palestinians should be excluded from any form of independent political control. Racism towards Palestinians is at its very core.
Similar accusations take on a more Islamophobic edge when used against Muslims.
Many Muslims in Britain identify strongly with Palestinians. Racists have used this to paint Muslims as antisemitic—and to claim that the left has made common cause with antisemites by campaigning alongside them.
This is helped by the idea that the conflict in Palestine is about a clash between Muslims and Jews—or between reactionary Muslims and Israel’s “liberal democracy”.
Now new elements are being added to this narrative.
Antisemitic conspiracy theories—such as that Jews secretly control governments and banking—began with the far right. They were a staple of Nazi propaganda.
Yet over the past week commentators have tried to recast those tropes as another form of “left antisemitism”.
Dave Rich wrote for the New Statesman website this week that these tropes actually come from “the margins of the left”.
The Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council claimed Corbyn was “ideologically fixed within a far left view that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities”.
It’s not a diversion to point out that those who accuse the left of antisemitism support the Tories and the right—and often don’t mind pandering to racism themselves.
The Jewish Socialists’ Group reminded supporters that Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush was “one of the first to congratulate Donald Trump on his election as President of the United States on behalf of the Board”.
This is despite the fact that Trump has deliberately encouraged his racist far right supporters—facilitating the return of Nazi marches to US city streets.
Many of those Labour MPs who joined the protest attacking Corbyn outside parliament on Monday (see right) also want to appeal to racist “concerns” about migrants.
John Mann—Labour’s most vocal anti-immigration MP—astonishingly dared to claim, “We stand against racism.”
Fighting antisemitism can’t be separated from the fight against all other forms of racism. Where antisemitism has grown recently, such as in eastern Europe, it’s done so on the back of attacks on Muslims, migrants and Roma people.
The people attacking Corbyn now are enemies of the anti-racist movement. They want to divide and weaken the left that has the best chance of building a movement that can challenge antisemitism.
Every concession to the argument that the left is to blame for antisemitism makes it easier for them to do that.