Labour still has an anti-Semitism problem
Azhar Ali’s 7 October conspiracy theories remind us that this was never just about the Corbynistas.
In September 2022, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced that he had ripped anti-Semitism out of the party ‘by its roots’. Given the recently unearthed comments by Azhar Ali, Labour’s candidate for this month’s Rochdale by-election, it would appear Starmer might have a fair bit of weeding left to do.
In a recording made at some point last autumn, published by the Mail on Sunday this weekend, Ali can be heard telling a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party that Israel deliberately allowed Hamas to massacre Israeli citizens, as a pretext for an invasion of Gaza. Ali told his fellow Labourites that Egyptian and American intelligence agencies both warned their Israeli counterparts days before 7 October that there was ‘something happening’. Apparently, in response, Israel ‘deliberately took the security off’ its border. And it ‘allowed that massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want’, Ali said. In other words, a would-be Labour MP was arguing that the Jewish State effectively orchestrated atrocities against its own people – all in pursuit of its supposedly ‘genocidal’ aims in Gaza.
That right there is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. It accuses Israel of greenlighting the massacre of its own citizens. It draws on old tropes about Jewish bloodlust, but presents them in modern ‘anti-Zionist’ garb.
For a party that has supposedly rid itself of anti-Semitism, this doesn’t look good, to put it lightly. After all, Ali wasn’t just mouthing off in private, among friends. He gave vent to his cranky theories at a meeting of local Labour members. And none of them – as far as we can tell – so much as raised an eyebrow at the time. Indeed, a couple of months later, those same Labour members chose Ali to be their candidate for this month’s Rochdale by-election.
After the story broke over the weekend, Ali was quick to say sorry. ‘I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant and false’, he said. Quite how someone can go so quickly from believing that Israel was behind the 7 October massacre to declaring such a belief ‘offensive, ignorant and false’ is unclear.
Still, for the time being at least, Ali’s apology is apparently good enough for Labour, which is currently standing by its man. A Labour spokesman says Ali is ‘genuine in his contrition’ and that his indulgence of a gross anti-Semitic conspiracy theory was ‘out of character’. Shadow cabinet minister Nick Thomas-Symonds, wheeled out for press duties on Monday, claimed that Ali had simply ‘[fallen] for an online conspiracy theory’. Well, if that is the case, it hardly says much for Mr Ali’s judgement.
This whole affair shows that Labour’s problems with anti-Semitism go far deeper than Starmer and his supporters think. It shows that anti-Semitism was never solely a problem of Jeremy Corbyn’s reign and his faction’s decadent anti-Zionist posturing. It remains a problem in other parts of the Labour Party, too. And Starmer’s Labour is still nervous about tackling it. After all, Ali is no student lefty. He’s a Starmerite loyalist. And yet he has been caught making comments every bit as grotesque as those heard during Jezza’s inglorious reign.
So, how did Labour get here? How did it find itself backing a candidate found spouting anti-Semitic nonsense? Clearly, this can’t be laid at the feet of Momentum. Instead, it stems from Labour’s long-standing and cynical multicultural politicking. From its pork-barrel identity politics.
For too long, Labour has sought to appeal to certain voters less on the basis of any shared class interests than on their cultural and ethnic identities. In constituencies like Rochdale, this approach leads Labour to obsess over what strategists patronisingly call ‘the Muslim vote’, as if Muslims are a monolithic bloc prone to think and vote as one. Labour has long tried to connect with these citizens on the basis of what it believes are ‘Muslim’ concerns, no matter how reactionary those might sometimes be.
As a result, Labour has, time and again, proved reluctant to challenge certain anti-Semitic statements, for fear of alienating the so-called Muslim vote. The grim, patronising logic here is that to come down too hard on anti-Semitic comments, particularly when they relate to Gaza and are uttered by a Muslim, risks alienating Muslim voters, as if they are all prone to these prejudices – a congenitally reactionary voting bloc who must forever be tiptoed around. Tellingly, Labour is reportedly reluctant to dispense with Ali in Rochdale because it fears this would hand the seat over to that other master of pork-barrel identity politics, George Galloway.
Labour still has a serious problem then. Starmer may have happily expelled former leader Jeremy Corbyn from the party on the grounds of his apologism for anti-Semitism. He may have promptly suspended other Corbynista MPs when they made comments relativising the Holocaust. But while Labour’s current leadership is happy fighting these factional battles, it is clearly less comfortable facing down anti-Semitism when it emerges elsewhere in the party.
This is shameful. It makes a mockery of the fight against anti-Semitism. And it’s an insult to both Jews and Muslims.
Tim Black is a spiked columnist.
Picture by: Getty.
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