No, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn is not enabling anti-Semitism

No, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn is not enabling anti-Semitism
6 min read
29 Apr, 2016
Comment: The Labour leader, a frequent critic of Israel, has cracked down on isolated cases of anti-Semitism, therefore suggesting the party has an inherent problem is disingenuous, writes Usaid Saddiqui.
Corbyn has advocated a UK arms embargo on Israel [Getty]
"If you are Jewish, how can you vote for them? How could you?" quipped Danny Cohen, former director of the BBC, about the alleged rise of anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

"For me, it would like being a Muslim and voting for Donald Trump, how could you do it?"

In September 2015, after Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader, Simon Johnson of the Jewish Leadership Council said: "Jeremy Corbyn's tradition of the far left has tended to be anti-Israel and supportive of boycotts and delegitimisation. The language is often inflammatory."

Despite there being scant and suspect evidence that Labour has become a hotbed of anti-Jewish sentiment after electing a left-wing leader, Corbyn's recent pronouncements and actions should put to rest any speculations that he or the party is permitting anti-Semitism among its ranks.

Bearing in mind that Corbyn is an unapologetic advocate of Palestinian rights, it isn't striking the Labour leader is facing such a backlash, mostly from vocal Israel supporters.

Labour and anti-Semitism

Much of the recent debate surrounding anti-Semitism in the Labour Party arose from the recent expulsion of Labour member Vicky Kirby.
To take a few isolated incidents and portray it as a widespread problem, without any concrete evidence, is highly disingenuous

Kirby, a former Labour parliamentary candidate, was ousted for posting anti-Semitic remarks on her Twitter timeline, referring to Jews having "big noses" and equating the "Zionist God" with Hitler. In one instance she tweeted that Jews were slaughtering the oppressed.

Another activist and member who was suspended for making insensitive remarks about the 9/11 attacks was later found to believe in addressing "the Jewish question" in reference to a supposed decades-long conspiracy against the left.

Undoubtedly tweets like that of Kirby's reek of gross anti-Semitism and should be unequivocally rejected; yet to take a few isolated incidents and portray it as a widespread problem, without any concrete evidence, is highly disingenuous.

Corbyn himself has addressed the issue, stating that he has fought against racism, including anti-Semitism, all his life and will not tolerate it in the party. He recently defended his shadow cabinet member Luciana Berger from vicious anti-Semitic abuse, rightly claiming such attacks were "completely unacceptable" and had "no place in our society".

The Labour leader even shunned his own MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who in October last year said: "It's Jewish money, Jewish donations to the Conservative Party – as in the general election in May – support from the Jewish Chronicle, all of those things, [that] bias the Conservatives."

Corbyn responded: "Such remarks are damaging to community relations, and also do nothing to benefit the Palestinian cause." He added, "I have always implacably opposed all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and will continue to do so."

Nevertheless, Corbyn's critics are unlikely to relent. While the Kirbys of the world are understandably going to draw the ire of most, the larger problem with Corbyn remains his support for the Palestinian cause and how to best resolve it.

An avowed supporter of Palestine

Corbyn has long condemned Israel's occupation of Palestinian land and called for the end of Israel's blockade of Gaza and the ongoing annexation of the West Bank.  

What has particularly riled his detractors is his proposal to bring Hamas into the conversation to reach a long-lasting settlement. In an interview with Electronic Intifada, Corbyn noted that "they do represent a very large sway of Palestinian opinion – if you don't involve them, you're not going to get a deal".

While mainstream UK politicians are unlikely to align themselves with Corbyn on dialogue with Hamas, his views can hardly be classified as radical.

The hard line taken by many western politicians that "terrorists can't be negotiated with" falls in the face of the numerous times previously declared "terrorist" groups have been courted to achieve peace. The IRA and the Palestine Liberation Organisation are among a few that come to mind.

Even though Hamas is consistently portrayed as a hate group hell-bent on killing all Jews, this has clearly not stopped the Israeli government in negotiating with them over the years, despite fighting three full-scale wars in less than a decade. Numerous ceasefires and prisoner exchanges, including the famous case of Corporal Gilad Shalit, are well-known examples where diplomacy with Hamas has successfully worked.

Jonathan Powell, a former member of Tony Blair's government and a member of his negotiating team with Sinn Féin, rightly argues that "all of our historical experience tells us that there can be no purely military solution to a political problem, and yet every time we confront a new terrorist group, we begin by insisting we will never talk to them".

Cables exposed by Al Jazeera in February last year showed the US was "desperate" to make inroads into Hamas in Gaza, a group designated by the US as a terrorist group. In June 2014, the US government said it was willing to work with an interim government agreed by both Hamas and Fatah.

Nowadays, aside from blaming Hamas, much of the anger from pro-Israel supporters has focused on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel that has gone from strength to strength.

The recent motion to pass a law banning universities and public institutions from engaging in BDS is a testament to how popular the movement has become

Corbyn has advocated a UK arms embargo on Israel and supports a boycott of Israeli universities doing arms research.

The movement has picked up steam around the world in recent years, including in the UK where an overwhelming number of trade unions and universities have actively participated in shunning Israeli products made in occupied territory.

The recent motion to pass a law banning universities and public institutions from engaging in BDS is a testament to how popular the movement has become.

Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, recently wrote that protests against Israeli products, speakers and events "can create a sense of fear and apprehension among Jews". While this may argument may hold some water, research has shown that opinion concerning Israel is not a monolith amongst British Jews, including on BDS.

Israel's dwindling support

Similar to Islamophobia and anti-black racism, anti-Semitism is very real and must be challenged every time it rears its ugly head.

However, the Corbyns of the world who have made fighting racism a lifelong task, and who wish to see a just resolution to arguably the oldest conflict in the Middle East, should not be roundly accused for enabling it.

Across the Atlantic, the rise of Jewish presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – a critic of Israel's policies in Gaza and its increasingly erratic Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – has seen the 74-year-old also being attacked in similar fashion to Corbyn, despite his criticism being far milder.

Yet this did not deter his support, and has only given confidence to many Democrat Party voters who increasingly view Israel as having undue influence on US policy.

The reality is that the most vocal supporters of Israel's government are increasingly seeing their political relevance fade. Israel's inhumane blockade of Gaza and its settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank has isolated the Jewish state among western populations.

Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.