The Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism. If you’re well-enough acquainted with Labour Politics to be reading Labour Vision, you probably know the details surrounding this charge in a reasonable level of detail, so I won’t bother going over them. Instead, I’m going to answer the two accusations that below-the-line-commenters are already starting to type.
First, no, I am not broaching the topic as an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn, or otherwise advance any sort of factional agenda. While I voted (twice) against Corbyn in leadership contests, I’ve more or less accepted that after the results of the General Election a couple of months ago, Corbyn is here to stay as leader. That, however, only makes it more necessary that his commitment to the values of equality and anti-racism that our party stands for are scrutinised. To do so is not a tactic, not an act of disloyalty, but a moral duty. And It’s more than a little insulting when people try to dismiss the concerns of a large portion of my community about the Labour Party harbouring people that mean us harm as simply some kind of front for Yvette Cooper.
Secondly, I am not trying to conflate criticism of Israel or support for Palestine as anti-Semitism. This response is the most pernicious one used by those who seek to deny or defend anti-Semitism. Not only does it itself rely on a classically anti-Semitic trope – that there is a shadowy Zionist lobby seeking to shut down criticism of Israel, but it also seeks to lionise, rather than simply excuse anti-Semites – knuckle dragging bigotry magically turning into solidarity for oppressed peoples. Like most racist myths, this one falls to pieces when confronted by evidence. In 2015, Ed Milliband committed the Labour Party to recognising an independent Palestine. If the so-called Zionist lobby really existed, and if support for Palestinian self-determination was the only issue at play here, then Ed Milliband would have had to have dealt with the same deluge of anti-Semitism accusations as Corbyn. The fact that he didn’t should tell you that those of us who care about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party do not do so in order to advance some kind of anti-Palestinian agenda. In fact, as an advocate of some kind of two-state solution, I probably have similar views on the Israel/Palestine question to a fair portion of Corbynites.
Now, the weakness (not to mention the odiousness) of these points is worth dwelling on, not just for it’s own sake, but also because of the light it shines on the anti-Semitism debate as a whole. The Labour members who construct these noxious defences for Jew-haters to hide behind are not bigots in the classical sense – In fact, in most situations I’d imagine they’d be the opposite. Similarly, I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn harbours any personal animus towards the Jews, but the fact he’s willing to allow Ken Livingstone off with a slap on the wrist for spreading revisionist trash about the Holocaust (not to mention an entire career of Jew-baiting prior to that.), or accept the endorsement of anti-Semites like Mike Sivier of Vox Political, or Tom Clarke of Another Angry Voice, or meet with the genocidal anti-Semites of Hamas while snubbing the Israeli Labor Party means that that is almost immaterial.
The failing, then, shared by the deniers of anti-Semitism from Corbyn downwards, what forces them into the intellectual contortions described above, is not one of tolerance but of bravery. It takes courage, both moral and intellectual, to admit the faults of one’s own side, especially when those faults concern something as big as anti-Semitism, and especially when one belongs to a tradition that prides itself on opposition to bigotry of any form. And that courage, the same courage that the fight against anti-Semitism in Labour is unwinnable without, is something that the Labour Left (with a few honourable exceptions) seems to lack.
Now, in the short run, this might not matter. Corbyn could very easily become Prime Minister without greatly increasing Labour’s share of the vote in the Jewish community. But, if he, and his supporters fail to confront and root out the devils in their mist, then one day history will judge them harshly for their cowardice.