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.