"Is he really an antisemite, I sometimes wonder, or is he just a dunderhead?"Louis Ashworth

A few years ago, it would have been considered strange that antisemitism could be of any major political relevance. Stranger still is the fact that allegations have dogged the Labour Party, which prides itself on a history of tackling racism and prejudice, and has historically enjoyed close ties with the Jewish community. But the modern Labour Party, which positions itself as a champion of the oppressed, is perceived by many within the Jewish community as having failed to tackle antisemitic prejudice. All too often these Jewish voices from within the party are dismissed, but for Labour’s claims of promoting equality to be credible, more must be done to make Jews feel welcome.

The most frustrating thing for Jews in the Labour Party is that their voices are seldom taken seriously. Len McCluskey dismisses complaints of antisemitism within the party as being ‘created by people who are trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’. Ken Loach finds it ‘funny that these stories suddenly appeared when Corbyn became leader’. Legitimate Jewish concern becomes subsumed into broader conspiratorial narratives: Jews are, on this account, part of a sinister cabal, intent on undermining Corbyn and on maintaining the capitalist status quo.

All of this derives from a sense that Jews are different from other ethnic minorities, which are, from a left-wing perspective, characterised and defined by their shared misfortunes under capitalism. Jews, meanwhile, appear to benefit from this system: we are stereotyped as rich, white, and Tory. We are rightly suspicious when we see white people denying racism, or men doubting the existence of misogyny; in these matters, the voices of ethnic minorities or of women have primacy.

I feel uncomfortable in left-wing spaces, and no surprise that a lot of other Jews feel the same way

It is hard to imagine anyone allowing white men like McCluskey or Loach to deny racism or misogyny. Why, then, do they get away with denying antisemitism? On a certain level they, and many others on the left, find it difficult to believe that Jews are just as capable of being victims of oppression as are members of any other ethnic minority.

What I find most striking in left-wing circles is the expectation that I, as a Jew, must constantly explain and justify why I feel unwelcome. There are a few concrete cases which I have therefore committed to memory, lest I be accused of being a fantasist set upon Corbyn’s downfall.

Vicki Kirby, the Labour Party councillor, described Adolf Hitler in 2014 as a ‘Zionist God’, an ahistorical absurdity which was parroted by Ken Livingstone when he stated that Hitler ‘supported Zionism before he went mad’. The party was almost comically reluctant to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, while bestowing to all other ethnic minorities the right to define what counts as prejudice against them.

And, of course, we find a cornucopia of missteps and blunders – is he really an antisemite, I sometimes wonder, or is he just a dunderhead? – in the person of Jeremy Corbyn. He protested the removal of a mural which included blatantly antisemitic imagery. He notoriously described Hamas, a terror organisation which includes in its founding charter a hadith calling for the murder of Jews, as 'friends’. He defended the mayor of Umm al-Fahm in Israel, Raed Salah Abu Shakrah – a rabid conspiracy theorist who denies the Holocaust, thinks Jews were complicit in 9/11, and promotes the Blood Libel – as a ‘very honoured citizen’ who ‘represents his people extremely well’. Salah’s voice, which has continually incited hatred and violence against Jews, is one which, according to the Leader of the Opposition, ’must be heard’.

No surprise, then, that I feel uncomfortable in left-wing spaces, and no surprise that a lot of other Jews feel the same way. Sadly, I doubt that we will be made to feel more welcome any time soon.


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The Jewish vote, once a reliable source of left-wing support, has been dwindling in significance for decades. There is little evidence that voters outside the negligible Jewish community are dissuaded from supporting Labour by allegations of antisemitism, which understandably are not at the forefront of the average voter’s mind. There is no pressing electoral need for Labour to be expunged of antisemitism, nor is there a widespread sense within the party that change is necessary. None of this is helped by the influential views of figures like McCluskey and Loach, who think that it is likelier that Jews are conspiring with ‘the establishment’ to bring down Corbyn than it is that Jews really do feel bullied and abused.

This has the depressing consequence of pushing Jews who are ideologically aligned with Labour – Jews who would have proudly voted Labour in every general election before 2015 – towards less stomach-churning alternatives. I joined the Liberal Democrats when Corbyn was elected, and I intend to vote for them on the 12th of December. However, like many Jews, I am fearful that, through whatever might happen in Westminster this Winter, my vote will inadvertently help to install Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street. Jewish fears at such a prospect are often trivialised, but they are real, and ought to be taken seriously.

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