Jeremy Corbyn’s underwhelming response to concerns about antisemitism.

Corbyn’s latest piece in the Guardian opens with a predictable affirmation of his own antiracist credentials:

I have spent my life campaigning for recognition of the strength of a multicultural society.

before moving on to some platitudinous remarks about the Jewish contribution to Britain.

Then followed this bleakly amusing disjunct:

So no one can, or should, try to dismiss or belittle the concerns expressed by so many Jewish people and organisations about what has been happening in the party I am proud to lead.

[That’s good – so what comes next?]

I do not for one moment accept that a Labour government would represent any kind of threat, let alone an “existential threat”, to Jewish life in Britain, as three Jewish newspapers recently claimed. That is the kind of overheated rhetoric that can surface during emotional political debates.

He does go on to acknowledge that there is a problem but is quite vague about both the nature of the problem and the steps which need to be taken:

I want to go further. I want Jewish people to feel at home in the Labour party and be able to play their full part in our work to take our country forward. And I appreciate that this cannot happen while antisemitic attitudes still surface within Labour, and while trust between our party and the community is at such a low ebb.

The problem isn’t really that ‘antisemitic attitudes still surface’ – that’s almost bound to happen from time to time, just as it does in the Conservative Party. What matters more is how these issues are dealt with and what kind of steer is given by the leadership. We’ve seen how Labour has dragged its feet over dealing with individual instances of antisemitism, and how senior Labour figures such as Chris Williamson have only compounded the problem by questioning the integrity of those raising concerns.

Corbyn continues sententiously:

The Holocaust was the greatest crime of the 20th century. Jewish people who are feeling concerned must be listened to. And we would not be socialists if we were not prepared to go the extra mile and beyond to address Jewish concerns.

It’s interesting that ‘Jewish concerns’ are foregrounded here. Of course in one sense it’s entirely appropriate to attend (if only fleetingly and rhetorically here) to Jewish concerns. But Corbyn glosses over the fact that the root cause of the problem isn’t Jewish concern – that’s the effect –  but antisemitism.  The significance of this distinction is made more apparent in the reference to going the extra mile.  This smacks of supererogatory effort, something above and beyond what is necessary.   (Interestingly the idiom is also sometimes traced to the words of Jesus.)

Corbyn goes on to offer a weaselly explanation for revising the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Our code is a good faith attempt to contextualise those examples and make them legally watertight for use as part of our disciplinary procedures, as well as to draw on additional instances of antisemitism.

Although Corbyn does at least acknowledge there should have been more consultation with the Jewish community his summary of what was changed is misleading.

Our actual differences are in fact very small – they really amount to half of one example out of 11, touching on free speech in relation to Israel.

A logical inference of this statement is that Corbyn believes the revised document unequivocally states that Nazi/Zionist parallels are antisemitic.  If he had actually wanted this article to make anyone sit up (apart from the ever-enthusiastic Owen Jones) he could have explicitly apologised for his involvement in ‘Never Again for Anyone: Auschwitz to Gaza.’ That 2010 event happens to have been in the news recently, but it is of course just one of countless examples of Corbyn apparently excusing or failing to recognize antisemitism.  Here’s just one further example – from Ido Vock on Twitter – of how identifying and condemning antisemitic tropes serves to implicate Corbyn himself:

Here’s the thing… if people blaming 9/11 on Israel have ‘no place in the Labour party’ … can someone who blamed an Islamist terror attack against Egypt on Israel have a place in the Labour party?

No wonder he prefers to stick to warm and fuzzy generalities.

Corbyn might also have been honest about his own involvement in associating Zionism with racism. In the article he states:

In the 1970s some on the left mistakenly argued that “Zionism is racism”. That was wrong, but to assert that “anti-Zionism is racism” now is wrong too.

As James Vaughan demonstrates here, the equation was clearly made by the PSC in the 1980s, and Corbyn, then and since, has been a strong supporter of that organisation:

It’s difficult to imagine many people, formerly sceptical, will have their minds changed by this piece – particularly as a substantial section was copied word for word from an article which appeared in the Standard back in April.

Corbyn really needs to ask why – despite protestations such as this – he still attracts enthusiastic support from anti-Semites:

People who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand: you do not do it in my name. You are not my supporters and have no place in our movement.

‘And yet they buzz around you like wasps round a lager can’ as someone colourfully put it on Twitter last night. Equally toxic is the way in which his supporters fetishise their leader at the expense of others’ well founded anxieties, as demonstrated in the use of the #wearecorbyn hashtag, and the dismissive (or worse) comments associated with it.  As Leon Waksberg noted:

It’s sort of good that he said that the antisemites don’t act in his name… I wish he’d said that the people who deny the scale of the antisemitism don’t act in his name too. Cos a lot of them think they do. And he’s given them reason to think they do.

 

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