Is it anti-Semitic to accuse rich bankers of living off the backs of the poor? Or to condemn the Israeli government for its treatment of the Palestinians, or indeed the Lebanese? I don’t think so, and one reason I support the Labour Party is for its robust condemnation of these things. However it is anti-Semitic to suggest those bankers are necessarily Jewish, or that the activities of the Israeli government are necessarily endorsed by all Jews, and I find it disturbing that the Labour party seems unable to distance itself from such views.
There is a long history of anti-Semitism in British politics, both on the left and on the right, but it has no place in the modern world, and no relevance to the central message of Jeremy Corbyn’s new Labour Party. And yet, for some reason, Corbyn seems unwilling to shrug it off with any real conviction.
Take his 2012 response to the erasing of a work in the East End of London by graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman which very clearly depicted Jewish bankers sitting around a monopoly board supported by the naked backs of impoverished workers. The artist certainly has a right to express such views, abhorrent though they may be, and Corbyn could have made a valid defence of freedom of expression, without condoning the underlying message. But no, instead he made a half-hearted attempt to condone the message, and then more recently retreated into the laughable by stating, “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on.”
Or there’s the party’s response to the confused mumblings of Ken Livingstone when he suggested, in a 2016 BBC Radio interview with presenter Vanessa Feltz, that Hitler himself supported Zionism, before he “went mad and ending up killing 6 million Jews.” Livingstone’s assertion is based on a willfully distorted interpretation of the facts, but more important is that the statement had no real relevance to the subject under discussion. As a private individual Livingstone does of course have a right to express such views, but if the Labour Party really believed in “zero tolerance for anti-Semites” then Livingstone’s membership should have been cancelled forthwith, rather than suspended pending a series of interminable reviews.
If the Labour Party, or indeed a future Labour government, is to put pressure on the Israeli government over its behaviour in the Middle East, then it must prove to the world that it really does have no truck with anti-Semitism. When pressed Corbyn may come out with the right words, but the message we’re receiving at the moment is not at all convincing, and I for one am going to find it hard to vote for Labour unless this changes.