Opinion | Britain’s Anti-Semitism ProblemCorbyn’s Labour Party is a warning to the American left.
The majority of extremist murders in the United States in recent years—including recent attacks on synagogues—have been the work of white nationalists, motivated by the violent conspiracy theories emanating from the extreme right. It’s not surprising, then, that many on the left view anti-Semitism in America as exclusively a problem of the right. When confronted with disparaging remarks about Jews from people of the left, these individuals often resort to one of two excuses: first, that these leftist bigots are powerless and therefore irrelevant to any discussion of anti-Semitism; second, that individuals associated with the anti-racist left can’t, by definition, be anti-Semitic.
One need only look across the Atlantic to the Labour party of the United Kingdom to understand the inadequacies of these justifications and the danger arising from growing anti-Semitism on the left.
The best synopsis of the anti-Semitism catastrophe that is consuming Britain’s Labour party is documented in a recent report by Alan Johnson titled “Institutionally Antisemitic: Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party.” Johnson is a non-Jewish political theorist and self-proclaimed socialist. He paints a devastating portrait of a party that long prided itself as a protector of minorities but that now, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, is becoming a safe haven for anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy theories.
“Institutionally Antisemitic” describes a “two-camp” worldview that has infected a significant part of the UK’s left. In this mindset, the world is divided into only two camps—“the good-oppressed vs. the bad-oppressors.” Applied to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a highly complex historical conflict is reduced to a cartoonish struggle between good and evil. In that struggle, Israel and the vast majority of British Jews who feel an affinity toward Israel are the personification of evil.
As Johnson describes it, this mindset plays out in three types of anti-Semitism found among many of Corbyn’s strongest supporters. The first is a form of anti-Zionism that is merely a cover for anti-Semitism. Scores of Labour elected officials and activists have made statements of this kind. Some claim the Mossad is in control of ISIS. Others state that “Zionist Jews are a disgrace to humanity.” One local elected Labour official shared a video on social media produced by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke titled “CNN Goldman Sachs and the Zio Matrix.”
This is not the only form of anti-Jewish rhetoric that has contaminated segments of Labour. There is also a type of Jew-hatred that is often characterized as the “socialism of fools.” It dates back to the 19th century and stereotypes Jews as the masterminds behind financial capitalism and the oppression of the working class. A Labour candidate quoted in Johnson’s report charged Jews with being “often agents of exploitation.” A prominent Labour activist claims that Jews were the “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade.”
Finally, in a party that defines itself as anti-racist, there is a virulent strain of anti-Semitism that must simply be called racist. A former chair of a local Labour party organization tweeted a far-right article that stated, “Jews control Britain and are committing genocide on us.” A local elected official used Facebook to call for the execution of “Talmud Jews,” invoked the blood libel and called Jews “parasites.” These are just a few of many, many examples.
These cases of hate speech are not the end of the story. In an attempt to undo the political damage they create, Labour leader Corbyn instituted a process for suspending or even expelling Labour party members found guilty of anti-Semitism. Yet reporting by The Times of London revealed that Corbyn’s own staff have undermined this process, protecting people who are strong supporters of Corbyn while sacrificing people who are not. And many of Corbyn’s followers have resorted to blaming the Jewish community for initiating a witch hunt against Corbyn.
Worst of all, many of Corbyn’s supporters charge that any criticism of anti-Semitism within Labour is merely an insidious tactic used by Zionists to discredit any criticism of Israel. It might be true that a small handful of individuals employ such schemes. But the overwhelming majority of British Jewish leadership and non-Jews within Labour who are fighting the rise of anti-Semitism are themselves sometime critics of policies of the government of Israel. It is especially heinous when anti-Semites who use the most despicable charges against Jews (without even mentioning Israel) turn around and claim they are victims merely because they choose to criticize Israel.
There is a very steep price to pay for this anti-Semitism. A September 2018 poll found that 40 percent of British Jews would seriously consider emigrating if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister. The Labour party specifically and the left in general are being discredited in the eyes of much of the British electorate for allowing anti-Semitism to fester within its ranks: When asked if they think Corbyn is an anti-Semite, two-thirds of voters in one poll—not just Jewish voters—said yes or they didn’t know; only a third were willing to say he wasn’t. And if one of Britain’s two mainstream parties becomes a welcoming home to anti-Semites, it bodes ill for the very survival of democracy in the United Kingdom.
The United States is not the UK, and the Democratic Party is certainly not the British Labour party. But the echoes of British, left-wing anti-Semitism and a two-camp worldview can be heard on many American college campuses, within extreme-left political groups and even among some American progressives. It reminds us that anti-Semitism in America is not simply the property of the American right.
Ira N. Forman is a senior fellow of the Moment Institute and the former U.S. special envoy of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.