The Labour Party’s problem with Jews

Hatred for Israel and identity politics have given rise to a nasty new strain of anti-Semitism.

Frank Furedi

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Topics Politics UK

As someone who is naturally suspicious about the idea that racism, xenophobia, homophobia and Islamophobia are on the rise, I felt sceptical towards the claim that anti-Semitism has become widespread in the Labour Party. But now my scepticism is waning. This looks increasingly like a serious problem.

I knew that hating Israel had become almost a defining viewpoint among those who call themselves leftists. However, hatred for Israel does not have to involve hatred for Jews. At least, that’s what I thought. This year, however, it has become clear to me that the old distinction between two forms of hatred – anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism – has virtually been erased, certainly among those who class themselves as political activists. It now seems that a significant constituency of people who attack Zionism do so not because they are particularly worried about Israel, but because they dislike Jews.

The Jewish Labour Movement’s submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation of Labour anti-Semitism provides vivid examples of how the normalisation of hatred for Israel goes hand-in-hand with contempt for Jews. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the Jewish Labour Party members who have been denounced by their fellow members as ‘Tory Jews’, or ‘child killers’ or ‘Zio scum’. Imagine sharing a breakfast table at Labour conference with two fellow comrades who say that Jews are ‘subhuman’ and they should be ‘grateful’ we don’t make them eat bacon every day. You don’t have to be a friend of Israel or even Jewish to feel like throwing up in the face of these two vile racists.

If you want to see how the insidious culture of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party works, just watch the video in which the Tory health secretary Matt Hancock raises the problem of left anti-Semitism at an election hustings. No sooner does Hancock mention the need to rid British politics of anti-Semitism than a group of Labour activists erupts in fury. They jeer at him and insult him and try to shut him down. The spontaneous animosity with which they respond to his suggestion that anti-Semitism is a bad thing exposes the depth of the problem in the Labour Party.

The problem is not that thousands of Labour members go around calling Jews ‘subhuman’. It is that far too many of them pretend they didn’t hear an anti-Semitic insult or that left-wing anti-Semitism isn’t that big a problem. In essence, they acquiesce to the creation of a climate in which telling a Jewish comrade to go home and count his money is unlikely to be called out. They may not utter such crude comments themselves, but they are silent collaborators to the open anti-Semites who do.

A recent report published by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism – Antisemitism Barometer 2019 – makes a useful distinction between what it terms ‘Judeophobic anti-Semitism’, which refers to a worldview ‘rooted in hatred of Jews expressed in relation to the Jewish religion or ethnicity’, and ‘anti-Zionist anti-Semitism’, which refers to ‘hatred of Jews expressed in relation to the Jewish State’.

As one would expect, old-school anti-Semitism, of the Judeophobic kind, has remained fairly constant over the past five years that this annual survey has been carried out. Despite the spurious claims that the Brexit referendum incited xenophobia, there has been no increase in Judeophobic anti-Semitism. Since this is the first year that the survey has specifically examined anti-Zionist anti-Semitism, it lacks comparative data for tracking its growth. Nevertheless, it is evident that people are far more likely to express anti-Zionist anti-Semitism rather than Judeopohobic anti-Semitism. Where only four per cent of respondents to the survey said they were not open to having Jewish friends, 16 per cent said they were ‘not comfortable spending time with people who openly support Israel’.

This conceptual distinction between different forms of anti-Semitism provides a useful insight into the dynamic of anti-Jewish racism today. However, to understand how anti-Semitism works in our era, it is also essential to understand and examine the various drivers behind it.

Antisemitism Barometer 2019 says anti-Semitic sentiments are stronger on the far left than on the right. That the Labour Party seems to provide a safe space for anti-Semitism would appear to endorse this thesis. However, on closer examination, matters become more complicated. It seems likely that anti-Zionism has evolved in such a way that it has given permission to everyone who is so inclined, whether they are left or right, to voice anti-Jewish sentiments.

Since hatred for Israel has become a foundational viewpoint of 21st-century leftism, it is not surprising that left institutions have attracted anti-Semites. What has happened is that, gradually, anti-Zionism has strayed into the territory of anti-Semitism, to the point where it seems to have become okay for Labour Party members to make jokes about greedy Jews.

There is a distinction between criticism of Israel and prejudice against Jewish people. In recent years, however, this distinction has been significantly eroded. Some people have embraced the anti-Israeli cause as a way of expressing their attitude towards Jews. This is particularly pronounced among sections of the Muslim community, who refer to Israel and Jews interchangeably when they condemn Zionism. Given the electoral weight of this community, Labour activists have chosen to look the other way when they hear such sentiments.

One key point that tends to be overlooked in discussions of anti-Semitism is the role of the politics of identity. In an era when identitarian entrepreneurs enjoy great influence over Western culture, anti-Semitism is frequently written off on the basis that other minority groups suffer worse hatred than Jews do. A few days ago, Gus John, a leading anti-racist campaigner, resigned from a Church of England advisory body in protest against Archbishop Justin’s Welby’s endorsement of the chief rabbi’s criticism of the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism. John wasn’t merely protesting against what he called Welby’s ‘disgraceful endorsement of the chief rabbi’s unjust condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn and the entire Labour Party’ – more broadly he condemned Welby for choosing to speak out on this issue rather than on other manifestations of racism. He said, ‘No one section of the population of this nation has a monopoly on oppression, pain and hurt’, before noting that black and Asian people faced discrimination within the church.

That John’s defence of the Labour Party against what he called the chief rabbi’s ‘scaremongering’ was coupled with a denunciation of the church’s reluctance to make one of its black members Archbishop of Canterbury sums up the spirit of competitive victimhood that drives the politicisation of identity. John’s irritation with Welby expresses a widely held frustration on the left – that the focus on Labour’s anti-Semitism distracts attention from more important cases of racism.

Jews have clearly lost out in the identity stakes. According to the worldview of Anglo-American identity politics, Jews are the personification of white privilege. In an age in which white privilege is treated as a cultural crime, Jews are often portrayed as a unique, hyper-white community who have far more privileges to check than others do. Often, this reaction against ‘Jewish privilege’ meshes with hostility towards Israel, producing a very distinctive 21st-century narrative of anti-Jewish hatred.

Identity politics did not set out to promote anti-Semitism. However, it has helped to create a cultural and political climate in which Jewishness is increasingly perceived as a marker of privilege. And in a world in which hostility to privilege is now culturally endorsed, it seems that hostility towards Jews can be judged by a different standard to animosity towards other groups. What has happened is that anti-Semitism hasn’t so much been normalised as rendered banal.

Yes, we are still confronted with vicious forms of anti-Semitism – but it is the banalisation of anti-Semitism that is the most insidious manifestation of anti-Jewish sentiment today. Anti-Zionism may have given permission to anti-Semites to crawl out of the woodwork, but it is the politicisation of identity that discourages society from taking this racism seriously.

Frank Furedi’s How Fear Works: the Culture of Fear in the 21st Century is published by Bloomsbury Press.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

Mike Ellwood

10th December 2019 at 12:42 am

Well, well, I’ve been moderated, for criticising this article, and posting a link to a video of David Graeber, defending Jeremy Corbyn. Surprise, surbloodyprise.

Kevin Rafferty

9th December 2019 at 5:44 pm

Absolutely ridiculous article. The reason for the hysteria is that Labour are no longer taking their marching orders on issues Jewish/Israeli, instead showing a disturbing degree of independent thinking. How dare they!

steve moxon

9th December 2019 at 5:13 pm

[This is a reply to InNegative, which as such did not get through the ludicrous ‘;moderation’ on here.]

steve moxon

9th December 2019 at 10:23 pm

‘In Negative’ does not understand what is ‘identity politics’. It is the backlash by the Left against the masses, specifically ‘the workers’ of old, for not buying Marxism. The workers of old in effect are retro-stereotyped as male, white and heteros, in the wake of the Left’s co-option of the US civil rights and Stonewall movements as being seemingly proto-revolutionary, and, therefore, apposite as replacement for ‘the workers’ as the ‘vanguard’ of ‘the revolution’; this in the wake of the much earlier attempt by the Left to salve its cognitive dissonance by pretending that capitalism ‘represses’ the workers, who in turn ‘repress’ their wives — the foundation of contemporary male-hating feminism. This astonishing nonsense initially put only women in place of ‘the workers’ as the ‘vanguard’, the implausibility of which being what obliged the subsequent co-option of the male sub-groups of blacks and gays as more believable set of ‘agents of change’ .
‘Identity politics’ has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘groups’ of abstracted sets of people supposedly setting themselves up for victim status. This is imposed by the Left, and through no consideration for any minority. It is solely in pursuit of hatred towards the mass of ordinary people.
Jews are seen by the Left as uber white males, building on the former basis of Left contempt towards Jews as uber-capitalists, from the stereotype of the Jew as having above-average wealth and social position — this last being not inaccurate, and the result of historical restrictions on Jews obliging them to develop specific and deep forms of expertise and to remain an enclave, enabled by the very high average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews. The ensuing elitist-separatism of European Jewry naturally has aroused hostility in the past, but in contemporary societies it is near non-existent. The Left has become the new locus of Jew-hating through its pathological extreme ideology, but it’s actually only an intensification of the Left’s hatred towards ordinary people more generally. Leftism has thus become even more obscene that Nazi anti-Semitism. The Nazis reserved their hate for Jews as a minority, whereas the Left hate Jews actually as exemplars of the majority.

James Williams

9th December 2019 at 5:00 pm

There has been a marked increase of reporting of anti-Semitism for sure and that is no doubt because of Corbyn’s past involvement with the Palestinian cause, this has emboldened some of the nastier elements of membership to show their faces. I don’t doubt Corbyn’s sincerity in believing in a two state solution but his and his teams dismal efforts in controlling the issue is worrying. TBH its very similar to the Tories and any racist that is outed as a member of their party. Slow to react and issue warnings when it should be easy and quick to boot these morons out of their party and demonstrate to the rest of us they have conviction.

Andrew-Paul Shakespeare

9th December 2019 at 4:30 pm

“Jews are the personification of white privilege”

Except that most Jews are not white. As anybody who’s actually been to Israel can tell you, Jews come in all colours, and Caucasians are very much a minority.

cliff resnick

9th December 2019 at 4:20 pm

The denial of Jewish self determination is in itself anti semitic, it’s hardly pro Jewish is it!

David Webb

9th December 2019 at 3:52 pm

Frank, I’m a former supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and I attended a meeting in London in 1990 at which you called for the destruction of the state of Israel – a position you now claim is anti-Semitic. I challenged you in the Q&A after your talk, and asked you why you didn’t support the right of self-determination for Israelis, but did for other states. To your credit, you did answer my question, and stated that the state of Israel existed only on the basis of oppression of the Palestinians, and for that reason the only solution the RCP and you supported was destruction of the Zionist statelet. Yet now you claim that is anti-Semitic. I don’t think many people in the Labour Party hate Jews as such (why would they?), but some do advocate for the position you yourself used to take.

Hugh Roper

9th December 2019 at 2:20 pm

Mark (9.52am): thank you for your comment. ‘Seized’ power seems a novel term to describe the result of a properly conducted leadership election. Did Mr Johnson also ‘seize’ power? I suppose he did.
Anyway, you wrote that ‘There has been a marked increase in anti-semtiism (sic) in the labour party since Momentum and Corbyn seized power’. I think I know what you mean but I’d like to know more. Can you provide some examples?

Jim Lawrie

9th December 2019 at 6:05 pm

We both replied simultaneously to that allegation.

Willie Penwright

9th December 2019 at 2:15 pm

“Anti-semitism” has increased because the definition has been widened to include all those who abhor Israel’s policies of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, mass incarceration and daily killings of civilians.
One can hate these policies and not hate Israel, just as one could oppose the US war against Vietnam and not be a US-hater or, closer to home, one could oppose British killings and internment in Ireland and not be anti-British.
If the definition is now to include all who have empathy for the sufferings of the Palestinian people then ‘anti-semitism’ is indeed a major global problem.

cliff resnick

9th December 2019 at 4:24 pm

All lies and exaggeration, self defense is not aggression and defeat or containment is not the moral high ground.

Gerard Barry

9th December 2019 at 4:25 pm

I think what many people find disturbing is the left’s obsession with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, while refusing to condemn the bad behaviour of other nations to the same extent.

Major Bonkers

9th December 2019 at 7:33 pm

Indeed. The cradle the Christianity seems to have very few Christians in it.

Or Zoroastrians, Yazidis, and so on.

Christopher Tyson

9th December 2019 at 1:36 pm

What appeared to be a family squabble within the Labour party has rumbled on, to the extent that it does now appear to be a failure of leadership to get a grip of the problem or a problem too serious for the Leadership to cope with. Spiked will know from its own below the line activity that there are determined racist and anti-semites around. They are not dummies either, some of their rhetoric, propaganda and strategy is clever. They saw an opening in spiked’s commitment to free speech and who’s to say that some of these people are not now exploiting the Labour Party’s problems. The banality of anti-Semitism is an important point, a racist who genuinely believes that other races are inferior and deserving of inferior treatment will deny that he is a racist or that there is any such thing as racism, similarly with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The left today is attached to a paternalistic, therapeutic anti-racism that Jews to not easily fit in to. There is a warning here for other protected minorities, if you aspire to be rich, successful or powerful, will you continue to receive the support of your anti-racist protectors? The far right put you in a box marked ‘inferior/undesirable’, the left put you in a box marked ‘vulnerable/protected’.

Pragmatix Pragmatix

9th December 2019 at 1:02 pm

Perhaps some fine day, some more erudite person than I could explain to me how A boy exists titled, The Labour Friends of Israel, alongside the clear and proven Anti-Semitism of the present party and its leader?

Labour Politicians: (mixed list).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_Jewish_politicians

John Millson

9th December 2019 at 11:55 am

As non-Corbynite/non-Momentum Labour activist this issue has caused inner-torment ever since Corbyn was elected – a major reason for never voting him as leader.
Complicating things is the not insignificant number of Corbynite Israel-hating, Jewish people themselves, in the LP. The Jewish Voice for Labour giving Corbyn a powerful ‘cover’. This can’t be overlooked and obviously makes the whole issue deepy fraught and divisive.
The old cliche: Corbyn is not really anti-semitic in the first sense, but his dimness coupled with ineffectiveness make him very dangerous.
If Labour were to get in and some sort official govt.-sponsored ‘BDS’ was put in place, urged on by the Momentum parasite, what would we do…?
This seems unlikely to occur.
If the Conservatives do win and Corbyn goes quickly one can only hope anti-semitism in the Labour Party starts to wither. His leadership bears the responsibility for ruining the party. What a terrible indictment.

Hugh Roper

9th December 2019 at 11:01 am

Thank you, Frank, for this intreresting article. I have seen many comments in the mass media attacking Jeremy Corbyn for ‘anti-semitism’, but have so far seen no examples of his making any anti-Jewish statements. Yes, Corbyn is actively concerned about the plight of Palestinian Arabs in blockaded Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Is that so reprehensible? Should he be ashamed of that concern?
What do you think of this recent opinion article in the online English edition of mainstream Israeli print news paper Haaretz? See haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-the-contract-on-corbyn-1.8192769

Ven Oods

9th December 2019 at 10:15 am

What’s in a name?
I never could see how anti-semitism is classed as racism. Jews share a faith system, but hail from many different countries and ‘races’.
Ditto for ‘Islamophobia’. When did unease or distrust become a phobia? And when did disliking a faith’s precepts become racism?
Of course criticism of Israel can’t always be dismissed as anti-semitic. The country is run by politicians every bit as venal as ours. The idea that they can never do something that deserves criticism is ludicrous.

In Negative

9th December 2019 at 10:14 am

All sounds like more “identity politics” to me. The use of one’s victim-image to secure political endes. I mean, Judeophobic anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist anti-Semitism? C’mon lad.

I don’t doubt there are issues on the left, some genuinely antisemitic and some just mis-spoken ignorance, but a battle for the soul of the country? Seriously?

Jim Lawrie

9th December 2019 at 11:17 am

It is a cheap attempt to ban criticism of Israel and that is why it sounds ridiculous. It is from someone who only a few years ago was implacably opposed to the existence of Israel.

The author does not grasp that people are inured to all these accusations of …-isms and …-phobias, and just shrug them off.

Kevin Rafferty

9th December 2019 at 5:47 pm

That’s my take as well.

Gerard Barry

9th December 2019 at 11:20 am

You’re right, it does sound like more identity politics. On the other hand, though, it’s perhaps not a bad thing to highlight the hyprocrisy of the left when it comes to racism, anti-Semitism, etc., given how they make (sometimes false) accusations of this type against the right all the time.

In Negative

9th December 2019 at 1:01 pm

“it’s perhaps not a bad thing to highlight the hyprocrisy of the left when it comes to racism, anti-Semitism, etc., given how they make (sometimes false) accusations of this type against the right all the time”

I don’t have a problem with this. It’s one of the things I like about spiked – it serves a kind of hygenic function for the excesses of the left. I just don’t think it does them much good when they pile in with the more idiotic excesses of the Right.

There is a problem for Zionists and supporters of Israel with a Corbyn government. It’s very likely there will be foreign policy consequences – the UK would probably be less supportive of Israel. They’d be better making that case than hiding behind the implication that should Corbs get in it’ll all be ghettos and death camps.

But who knows – maybe I’m way off on this and there really are some dangers to the domestic security of our Jewish communities given left wing preferences? I just don’t see it.

K Tojo

9th December 2019 at 9:51 am

Throughout their history the Jews have been one of the world’s most persecuted people. The ultimate persecution was the attempt by the Nazis to exterminate all European Jewry. In spite of this they have shown themselves to be profoundly resilient and very successful. That success stirs envy and resentment. The Left in particular have trouble coping with Jewish achievement. The Jews have shown adaptability and resourcefulness in their battle against centuries of oppression and prejudice. Other ethnic groups would do well to learn from them.

Gus John’s reaction is revealing. This man is a long term member of what might be called the “anti-racism establishment”. When he talks about the accusations of anti-semitism being a distraction from the fight against other “more important” types of racism I suspect only one racial group is uppermost in his mind. Within living memory a fanatical socialist movement made a very determined attempt to exterminate millions of members of one particular ethnic group. How can the return of prejudice against this group be deemed unimportant? Have Labour’s activists and their favoured victim groups developed a kind of moral complacency where they see no need to accept criticism or examine their own consciences?

Jim Lawrie

9th December 2019 at 9:24 am

“They may not utter such crude comments themselves, but they are silent collaborators to the open anti-Semites who do.” So anyone who does not actively campaign as directed by you is an anti-Semite? Thousands of them, according to you. Name them. Words have meanings. Collaboration means active participation. That silence does not denote consent has been a fundamental part of our legal system for centuries. The right to free speech includes the right not to speak.
Your condemnation by denunciation and imputation is at one with your Leninism and Maoism. The allegations you rely on have not been proven. Repeating them does not achieve that.

The overwhelming majority of Jews in this country, as Jews, support Israel as an ethno-religious State.

The article is shot through with fallacy and false argument.

Lloyd Reid

9th December 2019 at 8:58 am

Great article.

Andy Gil

9th December 2019 at 8:07 am

Brilliant article. The first step in reversing the rise in antisemitism in the UK is to deliver Corbyn a big kicking at the polls. If he can be humiliated by the voters, perhaps he can be forced out, and the Labour Party can be taken over by decent people, and the racist activists expelled.

The soul of this country is at stake.

Lloyd Reid

9th December 2019 at 9:00 am

It would be good if the so called Labour party tore itself apart after losing the election and a new modernist party evolved as a decent opposition.

Warren Alexander

9th December 2019 at 9:40 am

Sadly, if Labour loses loses the election, it will merely fuel the conspiracy theories amongst Labour Party supporters.

Jim Lawrie

9th December 2019 at 9:52 am

The rise in numbers and intensity of accusations has gone hand in hand with increased support in the polls for Labour.

Mark Bretherton

9th December 2019 at 12:25 pm

Utter rubbish. There has been a marked increase in anti-semtiism in the labour party since Momentum and Corbyn seized power. It’s been attempted to be dismissed or swept under the rug as ‘anti-zionism’, but it’s the same hatred when all said & done.

Jim Lawrie

9th December 2019 at 2:24 pm

Mark Bretherton nothing you say in reply to me makes my post rubbish.

There has been a “marked increase” in support for Labour since “Momentum and Corbyn”.
They were elected. Twice. Did you not know that? Did a big boy tell you they “seized power” and did he then run away?

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