UK Jewish voices say 'United We Stand' waging anti-Semitism war against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

The UK's leading Jewish papers - Jewish News, Jewish Chronicle and Jewish Telegraph - on July 25, 2018 carried the same front page on the community's anger over an anti-Semitism row in the Labour Party.

Many of Britain's Jews are aghast that a place many of its political figures felt at home in once now seems to have turned against them – the Labour Party – the main opposition in the lower house of the UK parliament.


"It's a controversy that just a few years ago would have been beyond even the most perverse imagination," wrote Michael Coren in The Globe and Mail on July 28.

"The British Labour Party, in government for more than 25 years since the Second World War, the party of social democracy once led by Tony Blair, is in the middle of an agonizing battle over accusations of anti-Semitism," wrote Coren.

He said the Labour Party was "long considered the natural political home of British Jews," but the party's leader, Jeremy Corbyn a committed socialist, was accused by veteran Jewish Labour lawmaker Margaret Hodge, of being a an "anti-Semite."

The battled has rumbled on for many months and on July 25, the UK's leading Jewish newspapers - Jewish News, Jewish Chronicle and Jewish Telegraph – took the unprecedented step of speaking as one and carrying the same front page on the community's anger over Labour's anti-Semitism row

"We do so because of the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. We do so because the party that was, until recently, the natural home for our community has seen its values and integrity eroded by Corbynite contempt for Jews and Israel.

"The stain and shame of anti-Semitism has coursed through Her Majesty's Opposition since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015," said the editorial.

Coren in his Globe and Mail op-ed wrote that in the UK a small number of Labour MPs and activists, some of them of whom are Jewish, "have made remarks that go far beyond informed criticism of Israeli policies" with some of them suspended or even expelled from the party.


Matters came to a head when the Labour Party was urged to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism, one that is internationally accepted, and used by the British government, and numerous police services.

The party did so, but did not adopt the entire definition raising the ire of  those among the many of Britain's estimated 270,000 Jews who support Labour.

"The reasons are that the IHRA definition argues, for example, that it's anti-Semitic to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, to claim that the foundation of the Jewish state was a 'racist endeavor' and to use classic anti-Semitic images to criticize Israel," said Coren.

"Labour's response is that, 'Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct. It is not anti-Semitism to criticize the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of anti-Semitic intent'"

Coren said, "The party was wrong not to adopt the full definition, and they refused to do so almost certainly because of the leadership's fear that if they did, some party members could be caught up in the IHRA net."

In early July leaders of the Jewish Labour Movement, a membership organization of the Labour Party, wrote to the party's general secretary protesting the soon-to-be published guidelines, The Jerusalem Post reported.

"The Jewish community, and the Jewish Labour Movement believe that the best working definition of antisemitism is the full IHRA definition, including its examples," wrote MP Luciana Berger and JLM national chairman Ivor Caplin.

"It doesn't need changing, and it's unclear for whose benefit these changes have been made. We cannot give anti-Semites a get out of jail free card."

The Jerusalem Post said the Labour Party has been assailed with allegations of antisemitism in recent years, in particular following Corbyn's election as party head in 2015, with numerous party members, including prominent leaders such as former London mayor Ken Livingstone, being accused of expressing anti-Semitic sentiments.


"With the government in Brexit disarray, there is a clear and present danger that a man with a default blindness to the Jewish community's fears, a man who has a problem seeing that hateful rhetoric aimed at Israel can easily step into anti-Semitism, could be our next prime minister," the three Jewish newspapers wrote in their editorial.

Corbyn has previously apologized for what he called "pockets" of anti-Semitism in the party and promised to stamp them out, Reuters news agency reported saying he has responded to protests by meeting with Jewish community leaders reassuring Jews they are welcome in the party.

Jonathan Freedland a columnist for The Guardian newspaper said that "when Jews express their disquiet, they are not greeted with empathy and solidarity from the army of self-described anti-racists.

"Instead, they face an online horde shouting in their faces, accusing them of dishonesty, of smears, of ulterior motives and hidden agendas, of shilling for an Israeli government many of them oppose."

Freedland conceded that maybe that editorial printed in the Jewish newspapers was "over the top."

"But you know what? It reflects the anxiety that many, if not most, in the Jewish community feel. And given our history and the hyper-vigilance it has left us with, it might be an idea to stop wagging a finger and telling Jews, yet again, that they're wrong – and just listen."

In an article headlined, "What is a 'real' anti-Semite?" Olivia Goldhill wrote in Quartz on July 29, "Antisemitism is a strange form of prejudice. Rather than denigrating Jews as inferior, it casts them as maliciously superior.

"It's a bias that's as popular on the left as it is on the right. And whereas leftist politics dictates that something is offensive if the persecuted group says it is, those who otherwise claim to be progressive have a disturbing tendency to insist that, actually, antisemitism isn't really a problem at all," she wrote. 


Goldhilll said Jewish people provide a convenient scapegoat for the world's ills, and so antisemitism persecutes Jews by insisting that Jewish people are the persecutors.

She quoted French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre saying "If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him."

And Goldhill quoted Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard University, saying, "It's ridiculous to think that intentionality can ever be the defining element."

Wisse says, ""Antisemitism is a politics of aggression against the wrong things. It's a politics of deflection and untruth," says Wisse. "It will never be able to solve the real and actual crises and problems of society. That's why it's very dangerous. It will always destroy its users."

Coren wrote, "It's all made far worse by a right-wing media that detests Mr. Corbyn and exploits the situation, and a Conservative Party that wants to appeal to the Jewish community and the mass of British people who reject any form of extremism.

"It's a mess, and I'm about as confident that the Labour Party dispute will be sorted out to everybody's satisfaction as I am that a workable peace will be found in the Middle East. And that is a terribly depressing thought."

Copyright © 2018 Ecumenical News