Corbyn refuses to address the specifics of antisemitism and he accuses Lord Levy of bad faith – David Hirsh

Jeremy Corbyn was interviewed on Sky News today. In response to the challenge from Lord Levy to ‘deliver a specific and categoric condemnation of antisemitism’, Corbyn proceeded to deliver a general and partial condemnation.  Labour is against antisemitism he repeated, again and again.  But he did not address the problem, as described clearly by all those who have thought seriously about it.  He refused.  He did the opposite.  He denounced antisemitism in the most general terms possible, as he denounces Islamophobia and all other racisms too.

He shows he does not understand the point by promising to stand by Jews if they are attacked on the street.  But within the Labour Party? He has nothing to say.

And then he accuses Lord Levy of bad faith.  He repeats the phrase Lord Levy ‘knows full well…’ three times .. (1) that I oppose antisemitism, (2) that the Labour Party opposes antisemitism and (3) that we all oppose antisemitism.  If he knows ‘full well’, then why is Lord Levy making all this trouble?  Jews must be up to something.  Corbyn is accusing Levy of mobilizing a bad-faith allegation in order to damage the Labour Party.

It is not enough to say that you’re against antisemitism, you have to show that you understand what it is.  You have to show you understand what is wrong with supporting Hamas, you have to show you understand what is wrong with saying Zionism is central to global capitalism and imperialism, you have to understand why using blood libel against Israelis is antisemitic, you have to show why wanting to boycott Israel brings antisemitism with it, you have to show that you understand why the demonization of Israel leads to, and comes from, the demonization of Jews.

Jeremy Corbyn knows all this full well.  He’s the one pretending not to know things.

There is a problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party.  Jeremy Corbyn jumps to the defense of antisemites, blood libelers and conspiracy theorists, saying that they are only criticising  Israel.  The leader says that Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated to peace in the Middle East.  He supports a boycott of Israel, and only Israel.  Gerry Downing wants to re-open the Jewish Question.  Vicky Kirby says that ‘we’ saved the Jews from Hitler who seems to be their teacher and she calls upon ISIS to attack the real oppressor, Israel.  Students in the Oxford University Labour club taunt Jews by singing ‘Bombs over Tel Aviv’ and they denounce proposals for peace between Israel and Palestine.   Gerald Kaufman gets away with accusing Jewish millionaires of control British politics.  And Ken Livingstone says that he has never, in 45 years in left and Labour politics, ever, seen any antisemitism.

Lord Levy said that the leadership must come out with a message opposing antisemitism ‘in absolutely a specific way, because from my perspective, being a member of this party, that is of paramount importance to me.’

There is an astonishingly clear consensus emerging about what the problem is and how it works.  Jeremy Newmark, Chair of the Jewish Labour movement has explained the problem on the Today Programme.  Jonathan Freedland has explained the problem in the Guardian.  Steven Pollard has explained it on the front page of the Jewish Chronicle.  David Hirsh has explained it inside the Jewish Chronicle.  Dave Rich has explained it in Ha’aretz.  Alan Johnson has explained it for the academics.  Howard Jacobson has explained it often.

Fistly, there is a problem in the way Israel is treated as a unique evil on the planet; it is singled out for boycott; it is called ‘racist’ or ‘aparteid’ or ‘Nazi’.  Jews who are said to ‘support Israel’ are treated as though they themselves were racists or Nazis.

Second, there is a culture on the left which tolerates those who stumble into antisemitic ways of thinking because they are thought of as basically good people who have gone a bit over the top in their criticism of Israel.

Third, the ‘bad apple’ explanation for people like Downing and Kirby will not do.  The wider problem of antisemitism has to be addressed and it cannot be fixed by scapegoating a few crazy-sounding individuals.

Fourth, as Dave Rich put it, ‘the basic idea behind most modern anti-Semitism is that Jews must be up to something’.  When Jews complain about antisemitism, goes antisemitic commonsense, they should really be understood as playing the antisemitism card in order to silence criticism of Israel.


Here’s a transcript of Corbyn’s answers. 

Jeremy Corbyn on Sky News today:

Sky News:  Lord Levy said he would quit the party unless you deliver a specific and categoric condemntation of antisemitism.

Jeremy Corbyn: Lord Levy clearly hasn’t been listening to the seven times since I became leader.  I’ve absolutely condemned antisemitism; I’ve condemned Islamophobia, I’ve condemned any form of racism anywhere within our society.  It is absolutely something I totally passionately believe in; and I’m disappointed that Lord Levy has made these remarks.

He knows full well what my views are. He knows full well what the views of the Labour Party are. He knows full well the kind of decent inclusive society that we all want to live in.  I look forward to having that discussion with him.  If there is anybody behaving badly anywhere in society, any kind of racism, it has to be dealt with it has to be investigated.

I had a long meeting with a group of women in my constituency, Muslim women, who told me the levels of abuse they receive on the buses and trains.  Transport for London are dealing with that because I’ve asked them to.  Exactly the same applies to anybody else.  Jewish women or Jewish men; if they’re abused on the street, deserve exactly the same protection as everybody else.  We have to recognise we are a multi faith, multicultural, multi ethnic  society and behave with decency and respect and inclusivity towards everyone.  That is exactly what I’m doing as leader of the party, that is exactly what the Labour Party stands for.

We’re the party that introduced the first Race Relations Act.  We’re the party that introduced the Human Rights Act.  We’re the party that introduced the Equalities Act.  We’re the party that stands up for that decent inclusive society that we all want to live in.

Sky News:  But Mr Corbyn, you find yourself having to state that here on Sky News this morning, why isn’t that message getting through? Why is one of your Labour Peers having to ask that question?  You have got investigations going on within the Labour Party of some of your members.  I use the example of Vicky Kirby who was excluded from the party over antisemitism, then included in the party then excluded again then back in.  Why isn’t this trickling down through the Labour Party ranks?

Jeremy Corbyn:  It is very much through the Labour Party ranks, it is something which is fully throughout the LabourParty.  Fully understood.  And we do take action on the very very very small number of cases where anything happens and if we hear any allegations they are properly and thoroughly investigated.  This is a party that stands up for all the things that we as a society absolutely believe in.  And if there are complaints, if anybody has, then they will be investigated as they are being investigated at the present time.  But the idea that somehow or other there is a tolerance of any form of racism is wholly and totally fallacious.

Jew hate and today’s Left – David Hirsh

This piece by David Hirsh is from the Jewish Chronicle.safe_image.php

Last summer, Jeremy Corbyn swept to power in the Labour Party — in spite of his political support for the anti-peace and antisemitic Hamas and Hezbollah. And it did him no damage when it emerged that he had leapt to the defence of Raed Salah, the blood libeller, and Steven Sizer, the 9/11 conspiracist. When the Corbyn campaign accused those who raised the issue of antisemitism of doing so to silence criticism of Israel and to hinder opposition to austerity, Corbyn’s reputation remained intact.

When people realised that he had worked for the Iranian state’s antisemitic TV propaganda channel, nobody seemed to mind.

Labour now has a leader who supports the campaign for a boycott of Israel, who prefers anti-Israel politics to the politics of peace and who has shown himself to be quite unable to recognise antisemitism.

His ally Ken Livingstone recently said that in his 45 years on the left of the Labour Party he had never — not once — seen any antisemitism.

In 2014, Vicki Kirby, a Labour Parliamentary candidate, was warned by the party for posting antisemitic tweets. ‘We invented Israel

when saving them from Hitler, who now seems to be their teacher,’ she wrote. She also asked why ISIS was not attacking the ‘real oppressor’, ‘evil’ Israel. It emerged this week that she had been reinstated as a party member and that she was active in the Corbyn support network Momentum; she was then suspended. A picture of Kirby and Jeremy Corbyn, smiling happily together, has been circulating online.

Last week Gerry Downing was expelled from the Labour Party, but only after David Cameron raised his case at Prime Minister’s Questions, after having been allowed to re-join following a previous expulsion. Downing believes that Zionism is at the heart of global capitalism and he advocates re-opening ‘the Jewish Question’. He also said explicitly what Kirby implied — that terrorism is the violence of the oppressed and should never be condemned; it is fundamentally defensive against the real aggression, which is the violence of the global system, of which Jews and Zionism are a key element.

Oxford University Labour Club has been torn apart by Israel-haters who succeeded in drumming out their co-chair Alex Chalmers. Chalmers wrote on his resignation that a large proportion of club members had ‘some kind of problem with Jews’. There was a culture in which the politics of peace between Israel and the Palestinians was mocked as ‘Zio’. A politics of war against Israel was considered more appropriate and the ‘Zios’ were routinely baited with the song ‘Rockets over Tel Aviv’. Jewish students were treated as defenders of racism and apartheid and attempts were made to deny ‘Zio’ members the right to vote in club business. Alex Chalmers wrote that the antisemitic incidents he witnessed were less troubling than the culture which allowed such behaviour to become normalised.

Back in 2011, Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman turned to a neighbour on the Commons benches as pro-Israel MP Louise Ellman rose to speak and muttered: ‘Here we are, the Jews again’. He has a record of talking about the influence of ‘Jewish millionaires’ in UK politics and how the Israeli government exploits Holocaust guilt as justification for their murder of Palestinians.

We have just come through ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ on campus. Jewish students are given the choice of keeping silent or standing in the dock to answer charges of racism, imperialism, child-murder and oppression.

University College London Students Union this month voted to support Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel but against no other state. In January, an event put on by pro-peace group Yachad at King’s College, London, was prevented from going ahead when protesters stormed the room.

A significant international academic conference was held last October at Exeter University which normalized the view that Israel is a ‘settler-colonial state’ and so is uniquely illegitimate.

The boycott movement has succeeded in opening up debates across North America about whether Israelis should be excluded from the global sporting, cultural, academic and economic community. Legitimate academic networks such as the American Studies Association and the American Anthropological Association have put their weight behind boycott.

After the murderous attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse, leading academic Tariq Ramadan denied that the killing of Jewish children was antisemitic, insisting that it was really to do with Israel. The attacks on Jews and Jewish targets in Paris, Copenhagen and Brussels did little to raise questions about contemporary antisemitism.

The Palestinian campaign to kill Israeli civilians in the streets has hardly impacted either the news or the political agenda in the Britain.

Owen Jones, Jeremy Corbyn’s most articulate supporter, has this week sounded the alarm about antisemitism in the Labour Party. He says that the old sickness infects progressives as well as the right and he calls for the left to act in solidarity with Britain’s Jews. He says that anyone who responds to the issue of antisemitism by crying ‘Israel’ is part of the problem. But Jones has not yet understood how so many of his comrades fail to see it. He has not yet seen how Kirby, Downing and Kaufman’s worldviews are related to those of Corbyn and Livingstone.

We remember the shoddiness, one-sidedness and the ferocity of Jones’ own condemnation of Israel at the time of the Gaza conflict; we remember his failure to speak out against the campaign to boycott Israel. The crazy, obvious antisemites cannot simply be singled out and expelled from the party like bad apples in a good barrel.

Jones needs to take to heart that there is a relationship between hostility to Israel and antisemitism. Hostility to Israel is partly caused by antisemitism and is also itself a cause of further antisemitism.

In 2012 the key institutions of the Jewish community said that the University and College Union had a problem with institutional antisemitism. Members who opposed the boycott, and the antisemitism which came in its wake, were routinely denounced as supporters of Israeli racism; a string of respected academics resigned from the union in disgust at the treatment they had received; the union stood stonily aloof as Jewish members were denounced as Nazis, as the Torah was portrayed as the source of Israeli racism and as opposition to the boycott was said to be allied to the forces of global capitalism. By 2012, there was hardly anybody left who was willing or able to oppose the boycott campaign at the union’s congress; they had been driven out or silenced.

The Employment Tribunal took the side of the union leadership, saying that raising the issue of antisemitism was an illegitimate and dishonest strategy to silence criticism of Israel, and it seemed ready to punish the Jewish litigant by making him pay the costs.

Fears are now mounting that what Jews experienced in the UCU and in the Tribunal was neither an isolated incident nor an exaggeration, but a prototype of what was to come in the wider labour and progressive movement.

There is no catastrophe. But there is a relentless and incremental deterioration in the ways in which Jews are imagined, described and suspected by many of the people in Britain today who think of themselves as good and clever.

Jewish life in the UK is still rich and free. In spite of legitimate fear of terrorist attack and in spite of the fact that Jewish communal buildings are marked by the fluorescent vests of the Community Security Trust, Jews are not subjected to significant violence on the streets. Antisemitism in Britain today is largely an elite phenomenon. It does not figure hugely in the popular press and in mass culture. It is, so far, a phenomenon about ways of thinking rather than physical violence.

Contemporary antisemitism is carried by people who believe themselves to be opponents of antisemitism; it is neither transparent nor obvious. The antisemites take the high ground, they feel virtuous and courageous. It is an antisemitism which makes Jews feel fearful and lonely, which makes us doubt ourselves and our own judgment. We accuse ourselves of inwardness and of paranoia and our instincts for self-preservation are disrupted and confused. But antisemitism is not a subjective feeling of hatred towards Jews, it is an objective social phenomenon and it can be defined and recognised by those who understand how it works and how it manifests itself.

One key fact about contemporary antisemitism is that it must not be mentioned. Antiracists are educated to assume that talk about antisemitism is an indicator of a Zionist attempt to silence the oppressed Palestinians; it is mis-recognized as the mobilisation of Jewish victim-power, the playing of the Holocaust card. The left is not hostile to Jews when they are powerless and stateless; but it finds it hard to shake the idea that Jews are untrustworthy and are connected to money. The image today is that the Jews have managed to strike a bargain with the American and capitalist devil; instead of playing their role as the symbol of the oppressed, they are conceived of as having saved themselves at the expense of everybody else.

Jews learn to keep quiet about antisemitism because talking about it makes them appear dishonest and selfish. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that the only way of understanding the weirdness and the menace of contemporary hostility to Israel is to understand it in the context of antisemitic movements and discourses.

But there are reasons for hope. The Jewish Labour Movement — the old Poale Zion — is emerging as a key organising focus within the Labour Party. Labour is at war with itself and it has, for the moment, broken free form its anchor to democratic politics. Academics are organising scholarly responses to their colleagues who teach that Israel is a key evil in the world. Jewish students are defending themselves against antisemitism with courage and with brains.

As well as being a threat to Jews, antisemitism is an indicator of contempt for democratic norms in any movement which tolerates it. Those who fight antisemitism, and the totalitarian movements which feed on it, fight for democracy. They stand for democratic peace, they defend democratic movements, they champion democratic liberty and they argue for democratic equality. So long as Jews understand their resistance to antisemitism as being part of a global struggle for democratic life, they will remain part of a huge, strong, diverse and global movement for freedom.

David Hirsh is Lecturer in Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London


This piece by David Hirsh is from the Jewish Chronicle.

Book Review│The Definition of Anti-Semitism – Robert Fine

 This review by Robert Fine, is from fathom.  
1302363604 Kenneth Marcus, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 296.

The First Shall Be the Last: Rethinking Antisemitism – book launch

The First Shall Be the Last: Rethinking Antisemitism
Brill – Nijhoff ISBN 978-90-04-29836-1

Adam Katz and Eric Gans

ISGAP Center,  165 EAST 56th Street,  2nd Floor,vNew York, NY 10022, RSVP

Thursday March 17, 2016
6:00-8:00 PM
Wine Reception
Followed by a Q & A with Adam Katz and Eric Gans

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