'We receive documents which present us with “50 reasons why Corbyn doesn’t have an antisemitic bone in his body”'sophie brown/wikimedia commons

The recent controversy surrounding the treatment of Jewish students by Cambridge Parliamentary candidate Daniel Zeichner is emblematic of a wider disease that has taken hold of both the Labour Party and left-wing spaces here at Cambridge. The fact that our former MP, and current Parliamentary candidate, felt it appropriate to ‘Labour-splain’ antisemitism to Jewish students shows how little we are being listened to.

Too often Labour-supporting activists respond defensively when the issue of antisemitism is brought up – many feel personally attacked. As is common in our age of factionalism, others simply retaliate by highlighting the ills of another political party or questioning the motives of Jewish students who speak out about the prejudice they’ve witnessed and experienced. In doing so they betray a lack of empathy and humility.

The disturbing choice between speaking out against the belittling of the left’s antisemitism problem, or suffering in silence, has taken a profound toll on Jewish students at Cambridge. Both approaches impact our mental health, taking over our minds in an already stressful environment. We are always conscious of the social cost of speaking out: on social media, we experience an interminable stream of imperatives to ‘Vote Labour’ – a jarring reminder of the political insignificance of our concerns.

Why is it that Kippa-wearing students have had their pigeon-holes stuffed full of Labour leaflets, while all others lay empty? Why are those same students aggressively approached by Labour activists? The targeting of Jewish students is a further example of how the problem is perpetuated at our University.

“Why is it that Kippa-wearing students have had their pigeon-holes stuffed full of Labour leaflets, while all others lay empty?”

It is extremely painful to be told that we’re simply being ‘oversensitive’ or biased because we’re Jewish. Surely it is up to the minority to define what it finds offensive. A plea from the biggest Jewish Newspapers, the leaders of the main Jewish denominations including the Chief Rabbi, as well as multiple Jewish MPs leaving the party, has still not succeeded in conveying the magnitude of our community’s fears. Instead students send us documents which provide us with “50 reasons why Corbyn doesn’t have an antisemitic bone in his body”.

Too often, blatantly antisemitic tropes are excused as mere criticism of Israel. This is dangerous and harms Israelis, Jews and Palestinians. It is legitimate to criticise any government, but if you endorse antisemitic terrorist organisations as ‘friends’ and ‘brothers’ and ‘movements committed to social justice’, you are crossing a line. Just as we have a moral responsibility to condemn those on the right who normalise racism, so we must speak out when leftwing figures normalise and support racist organisations. This the case with Hamas and Hezbollah. Many Jews know or are related to people whose lives were cut short by their suicide bombings. We remember the Hezbollah attack on the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aries that claimed the lives of 85 people and the Jerusalem synagogue attack in November 2014 by the PFLP that killed four rabbis as they prayed. Only a month before, Jeremy Corbyn was pictured next to Maher al-Taher, the leader-in-exile of the PFLP, laying a wreath in Tunis. How do you think we feel when we hear ‘progressive’ students coldly pontificate on the legitimacy of such organisations?

Some on the left seem to consider themselves immune to racism, yet polling published last week found a statistically significant increase in agreement with anti-Jewish sentiments among ardent supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, compared to those who were not.

The barometer of an antiracist is not whether you can condemn the racism of your political opponents. We can all do that. The true test is whether or not you recognise and fight the racism of those who share your politics.

Repeated support for those who feel no remorse for the murder of Jews is far from the only way in which Jeremy Corbyn, the man whose name people gleefully chant in the queue for Cindies, harms our community. In 1994, he campaigned for the release of two convicted bombers who set off explosives at a building where Jewish charities were based and at the Israeli embassy. In 2010, on Holocaust Memorial Day, he hosted an event at which Israel’s actions in Gaza were compared to those of the Nazis, and featured more general Holocaust inversion. When you misappropriate the most traumatic chapter in our history, you embody the prejudice you pretend to fight.

“We have seen holocaust denial met with a written warning. This is the reality of Labour’s mislabelled ‘zero-tolerance’ policy”

In 2012 he questioned why a nakedly antisemitic mural should be removed. The ‘lifelong anti-racist’ also appeared five times on the Iranian propaganda channel Press TV, receiving up to $27,000 from the Holocaust-denying Iranian regime. The Visitors’ book over the years makes for grim reading: Abou Jahjah, Stephen Sizer, Abdul Aziz Umar, Raed Salah and Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. This shameful catalogue of events is airbrushed out by those telling us who to vote for. Mr Corbyn has frequently stood for many antisemites against the Jew.

Students who have never experienced the indignity of antisemitism tell us to grin and bear it for the supposed greater good of the country. That our experiences don’t matter. But we know what we have seen. We were there when Labour hounded out a nine months pregnant Jewish MP. We know other MPs who were bullied out of the party they had faithfully served for decades. We have seen holocaust denial met with a written warning. This is the reality of Labour’s mislabelled ‘zero-tolerance’ policy.

This election has forced us to try to reconcile what were once harmonious aspects of our identities. We now agonise over whether we are more Jewish or more British. It ought to be possible to be both, but Labour’s tolerance of antisemitism has forced us to choose. It seems we cannot support policies such as a ‘Green New Deal’ or a ‘National Education Service’ whilst remaining proud British Jews.

The default identity of a Brit who is anti-Labour should not be assumed to be pro-conservative. The default identity of a Labour-supporting Jew should not be supposed to be self hating. The default identity of an anti-Labour Jew is not that they are a “Zionist’’ in search of ‘world domination’.

Identity, be it political or religious, is self defined. Antisemitic abuse is not a new experience for us, but this election is the first time we have felt like an outspoken political, as well as a religious minority. Many of us feel politically homeless, the issue made more painful by Labour’s woefully inadequate response.


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When Daniel Zeichner compared the Labour party’s racism to that of a football club he exposed the conspicuous ignorance of many Labour MPs. Football clubs, unlike political parties do not aspire to run our country. In responding to a student’s question about the difficult choice that British Jews are facing in this election, Zeichner simply diverted attention towards concerns about Labour’s internal financial situation and the dire state our country would be in without a Labour government. This exemplifies the warped mentality that has infected the party. It should not be for Jews to protect the Labour Party from the ramifications of institutional antisemitism, it should be for the Labour Party to protect Jews from the trauma of institutional antisemitism.

We ask our fellow students to consider the plight of their peers and to campaign in this election in a more empathetic manner. This election poses uneasy choices for us all and will cause many to compromise on principles they hold dear. However, “Labour-splaining’’ antisemitism to those who have endured it will never be acceptable. The Left is not immune from racism and it is dangerous for anyone to assume it is.

We have written this article to give a voice to our experience, in the knowledge that other Jewish students at Cambridge feel powerless to do the same. Many tell us behind closed doors that they feel unable to speak out. It is incumbent on everyone reading this to consider why this is the case.

This article has been supported by fifty members of the Jewish community at the University of Cambridge.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following information and support is available:

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