It seems the Labour Party can’t go a day without a new accusation of anti-Semitism. I am acutely aware of the concern this is causing, well-illustrated by the recent protest outside Parliament. I went along to speak with attendees; these weren’t hardened protestors - they were everyday Jews and friends - some of them Labour supporters - who had had enough of Jeremy Corbyn’s laissez-faire approach to anti-Semitism in his party.
Of course, anti-Semitism is not new and cannot all be laid at the door of Mr Corbyn. That said, there has been a significant rise in such incidents since he and his Momentum acolytes took over in 2015. Leadership must come from the top; as the old saying goes, ‘a fish rots from the head down’.
For some time, there have been warning signs. Two years ago, the former Mayor of London and long-time Corbyn ally, Ken Livingstone was regularly popping up on TV to tell us why he believed Hitler supported Zionism “before he went mad”. This came to a farcical head when John Mann, a principled Labour MP with long record of opposing anti-Semitism, chased Mr Livingstone down Millbank, accusing him of being a “Nazi apologist”. Almost a year later, in April 2017, Mr Livingstone was suspended - not expelled - from the party for two years (having already ‘served’ a year).
Then Naz Shah MP’s Facebook posts, suggesting that Jews should be “transported” out of Israel and “relocated to the United States – problem solved”, came to light. Ken Livingstone, naturally, defended her comments.
Following several other incidents, Mr Corbyn realised that something had to be seen to be done. He asked the former head of Liberty, Shami Chakrabati, to undertake an internal inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party. The report’s launch was itself marred by an ugly incident, where a Jewish Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, was targeted by a Momentum activist in the audience and accused of being part of a media conspiracy against the Great Leader. She left the event in tears. Mr Corbyn, watching, stood by meekly. Of course, the report concluded that “The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism” but that there was a minority of “ignorant attitudes”. During his speech, Mr Corbyn likened Israel to the Islamic State. Ms Chakrabati was subsequently elevated to the Lords and took the Labour whip.
Every party has its oddballs and xenophobes. It is about how a party and its leader deals with them. Other leaders have managed it. Tim Farron MP, then Leader of the Lib Dems, sacked former MP David Ward as a Parliamentary candidate ahead of the 2017 General Election over his views on anti-Semitism.
I spent the first evening of Passover at a local Rabbi’s home. He spoke poignantly about the Exodus from Egypt and the beginnings of the persecution against the Jewish people. This persecution continues to this day and has taken many forms over the years, from the Russian pogroms, to the Dreyfus affair, to the Holocaust itself.
Anti-Semitism has no place in the modern world, let alone in a political system that is there to represent everyone. All of us, and especially political leaders, have a duty to lead the way. It seems clear to me that Mr Corbyn is either incapable or unwilling to do this. His blind spot for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party damages our society and saps confidence from British Jews.
The Labour Party’s slogan - divisive in itself - is ‘For the many, not the few’. It has become painfully clear who that ‘few’ refers to.
Published in the NW Circular magazine, March 2018.