On Thursday the much talked about Chakrabarti report into antisemitism
and other forms of racism in the Labour Party was released to the public in the Houses of Parliament. The release of the Chakrabarti report should have been an opportunity to heal wounds and end divisions between Jews and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
It should have been and could have been the moment when Corbyn, already under fire from the parliamentary Labour Party, could have healed at least his rift with the Jews.
It could have been, it should have been, but it was not.
Instead the press conference descended into farce when the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was accused of being part of a media conspiracy by a Corbyn loyalist called Mark Wadsworth. This was mere moments after Corbyn had given what was supposed to be a landmark speech setting out his opposition to antisemitism. Corbyn had literally just said that
To assume that a Jewish friend or fellow member is wealthy, part of some kind of financial or media conspiracy, or takes a particular position on politics in general, or on Israel and Palestine in particular, is just wrong.
After saying the above and then hearing one of his own MPs insulted in precisely the way he had just stated categorically was unacceptable one would expect Corbyn to step in and give a clear rebuke to Wadsworth. Swift and very public action on Corbyn’s part would certainly have shown he was serious about implementing the recommendations of the report and sticking by the words he had just spoken. He did nothing of the sort. In fact he did nothing at all.
To just stand by while one of his own Jewish MPs is accused of being part of a media conspiracy is shocking. That Corbyn would then go on to have a jovial conversation with the very man who had made such an accusation without offering a reprimand or any kind of opprobrium is bizarre, that he then made it clear that they would be in touch later by text message adds insult to injury is beyond belief. But this is precisely what happened in a moment caught on video and posted to youtube.
A closer reading of Corbyn’s speech means we shouldn’t be surprised.
During his speech Corbyn said that
Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.
The former Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs was quick to make his outrage clear at Corbyn’s comparison of Israel to the Islamic State writing that
Jeremy Corbyn’s comparison of the State of Israel to ISIS is demonisation of the highest order, an outrage and unacceptable. That this occurred at the launch of the report into the Labour Party’s recent troubles with antisemitism shows how deep the sickness is in parts of left of British politics today.
The Corbyn team later apologised to the Israeli ambassador but the damage was done. Furthermore his comments were not made off the cuff they were made as part of a prepared speech and vetted by his team. He made the “mistake” of saying what he really thinks.
Other comments in the same speech point to a line of thinking that cannot comprehend anyone taking umbrage at antisemitism in the context of an argument about Israel:
No one should be expected either to condemn or defend the actions of foreign powers on account of their faith or race. At the same time, we should have the sensitivity to understand how upset many Labour party members and supporters are likely to feel about various human rights abuses around the world.
Bear in mind that this was said during a speech about antisemitism at the launch of a report into antisemitism in the Labour Party and how to stamp it out. What are Jews meant to take from this statement other than that anyone who defends Israel should be sympathetic to the abuse they face from Labour Party members bearing in mind “how upset many Labour party members and supporters” get?
It is precisely the linkage between caring about human rights and being antisemitic against Jews in the UK that Jews took issue with in the first place. The idea that being antisemitic is okay as long as Israel is involved in the argument is precisely the nonsense that Corbyn and Chakrabarti are supposed to be challenging. Instead the message to Jews is that they shouldn’t be defending Israel in the first place as it is akin to the Islamic State and that should they receive abuse back it is because their defence of Israel rightly made people so upset that any antisemitism is to be excused.
But the sad truth is that if this is something new it is only a new episode of the same phenomenon that has already been happening for a very long time. Too much has been written about the antisemitism of the left, particularly the British left, for the Jewish community to feel that more understanding is needed. If you don’t get it by now it’s because you don’t want to get it and Jeremy Corbyn clearly doesn’t want to get it.
The release of the Chakrabarti report into antisemitism in the Labour Party and Corbyn’s response to it was supposed to be an opportunity for Corbyn to draw a line under a great deal of antisemitic unpleasantness from within the Labour Party instead it exposed the real Jeremy Corbyn and not that “decent” politician people were once harping on about.