Conspiracy fantasy and antisemitism start with claims that appear plausible but eventually they take people right down a rabbit hole into a terrifying world of total make believe.
Some of the Corbynites are now saying that it is Keir Starmer’s Labour Party that is antisemitic. This is evidenced, they say, by the expulsion of a few Corbyn-supporting Jews from the party. They turn reality on its head.
The Corbynite response to the Jews who opposed their antisemitism was always to accuse those Jews of being part of a conspiracy to silence criticism of Israel by pretending that criticism is antisemitic. “It was a scam”, they say. The whole idea that Corbyn was antisemitic was got up by “Zionists” who were afraid of him because he supported the Palestinians and because he threatened “capitalism”.
So, for example, when Corbyn articulates his support for antisemitic organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah, saying that in his judgment they are “dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region”, his defenders say that this is not antisemitism but criticism of Israel.
This construction of antisemitism as just criticism of Israel, and then the construction of Jews who oppose the antisemitism as a conspiracy to silence criticism of Israel, is the Livingstone Formulation. It is an antisemitic, conspiracy fantasy response to Jews who oppose antisemitism.
When the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigated claims of Labour antisemitism under Corbyn, it noticed that this as a key way in which antisemitism inside the Labour Party was turned against Jewish members.
The EHRC specified the following as a type of antisemitic conduct that amounted to unlawful harassment: “Suggesting that complaints of antisemitism are fake or smears. Labour Party agents denied antisemitism in the Party and made comments dismissing complaints as ‘smears’ and ‘fake’. This conduct may target Jewish members as deliberately making up antisemitism complaints to undermine the Labour Party, and ignores legitimate and genuine complaints of antisemitism in the Party.”
Jews in the Labour Party were bullied as being disloyal, or as supporters of “apartheid”, if they spoke out against antisemitism. They were excluded from the Labour community.
The EHRC crystallised a new precedent in the language of UK Equalities law, that the Livingstone Formulation is antisemitic. It has added to the IHRA definition of antisemitism a new archetype of antisemitic behaviour. It simply states that the Macpherson Principle also applies to Jews. When Jews say they experience antisemitism, people should assume that they are speaking in good faith. They should think about, or investigate, what has been said.
The very day that the EHRC published its findings, Jeremy Corbyn again employed the very formulation that EHRC had just said was specifically antisemitic. He repeated the claim that antisemitism was being
“dramatically overstated” by political “opponents”. This was widely and plausibly interpreted as meaning that the Jews who had spoken out, and even the EHRC that had vindicated them, were opponents of the Labour movement and that was why they were “dishonestly” raising, or “weaponizing”, the issue of antisemitism.
The Labour Party has now accepted the EHRC report in full and it has apologized for its antisemitism under Corbyn. It was guilty, it has admitted that it was guilty, it is trying to fix the problem.
But the Corbynites persist with their “stab in the back myth”. Corbyn would be Prime Minister now, they say, if there had not been a plot inside and outside of the Labour Party, to pretend that Corbyn was antisemitic. That was their 860 page response to the EHRC investigation that the EHRC looked at and completely rejected.
So this week, finally, the Labour Party seems to be moving against the group that calls itself “Jewish Voice for Labour”. The activists currently organised as JVL have been working hard for many years to mobilize their Jewish identities in the service of this particular variant of antisemitic conspiracy fantasy. “Asa Jew”, they say, those other Jews only say that there is a problem of antisemitism because they are involved in an Israeli conspiracy to silence criticism of Israel.
Antisemitism in the Labour Party is now a minority phenomenon, but it isn’t dead. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a leader of JVL, was recently elected onto Labour’s National Executive Committee. But now the party has suspended her from membership for speaking at an event organised by a group set up to spread the antisemitic fantasy that antisemitism in the Labour Party as always just a Zionist invention, made up to hurt Jeremy Corbyn.
So what’s new? What’s new is that the Corbynites are now saying that it is Starmer who is antisemitic because he is suspending people like Wimborne-Idrissi, who make a song and dance of their Jewish identities in an effort to legitimise the fantasy that Corbyn’s antisemitism was invented by Israel and the Labour right in order to hurt the Party.
Having long ago concluded that claims of antisemitism made by Jews were illegitimate and dishonest – they were fakes or smears or weaponization – they now try to play the game that they fantasize was so successfully played against them. They are now accusing Starmer of antisemitism. This account, for example, has 86,000 followers:
Notice the characteristic conspiracy fantasy staple, the “mainstream media” which is thought to be involved in the conspiracy.
And from there, another Corbynite goes all the way down the antisemitic rabbit hole. This particular account may be insignificant in itself, but it shows what is possible, and what is being believed:
This is significant because it puts Israel at the very centre of a global phenomenon of “hobbling the left”. Some portray Israel as the instigator, some merely as the pioneer for the global conspiracy against the left. But the fit into antisemitic conspiracy fantasy is complete. Just as Israel is accused of being behind the murder of George Floyd, or behind Covid, now it is said to be behind the global demise of the Corbyn-type left everywhere.
Chris Williamson started as an ordinary Labour MP, not even especially aligned to the anti-democratic part of the left. When Corbyn was the leader, Williamson was enthused by the energy and the hope he saw in Corbyn. He defended Corbyn; then he defended Corbyn’s antisemitism; then he found the only way to defend antisemitism was to employ antisemitic arguments; then, because he did so more clearly than some of the more clever careerists, he was expelled; only later did he start tweeting about the Rothschilds and appearing on Iranian propaganda TV with David Miller, pushing out an antisemitic video in English a week.
For some, once they start with conspiracy fantasy, there is no end to the possible denials of reality that they will embrace, because the only way back is too difficult: it is to understand and to confront what they have done.
There are now thousands of people in Britain who started as left wing people who wanted to make the world better but who are now embracing the most extraordinary and dangerous fantasies about how the world works. Conspiracy fantasy is wide open to antisemitism because the histories of antisemitism are long and profound in our culture, and they offer raw material that is efficient at quenching a particular emotional thirst for people who find themselves on this journey down the rabbit hole.