The BBC Panorama documentary on Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis was harrowing, but not surprising. It was harrowing because it featured tired, dejected accounts of many people I recognised and respected. It was not surprising because this has been chronicled for years now, and more fool those of us who fell for Jeremy Corbyn’s charm first in 2015.
It feels a long time ago now that Corbyn seemed like a breath of fresh air in a Labour Party gripped by stale, technocratic and unambitious social democracy. Kinder, gentler politics was the mantra but in reality became the severity of punishment doled out to those guilty of anti-Semitic offences.
In the four years since, we have seen Jewish councillors abused and bullied until they have resigned. We have seen Jewish activists threatened and intimidated. And we witnessed a pregnant Jewish MP effectively forced out of the party by the leadership’s indifference towards a crisis that kept snowballing into something larger.
It has become the left-wing equivalent of the “I can’t be racist I have black friends” to declare your anti-racism credentials when confronted with accusations of anti-Semitism. But anti-racism isn’t something judged in words but actions. Not merely recorded in attending rallies and protests but the manner in which you hold corrupt institutional powers to account. The bravest anti-racism is found in standing up to your friends.
This has been severely lacking in Labour Party who have decided that socialism without Jews is worthwhile. And every now and again, when someone justifiably raises the heat on Corbyn, they will insist that he is a veteran of anti-racist politics and is utterly opposed to all forms of racism. They will then, jarringly, divert to Islamophobia within the Conservative Party where a similar culture of denial and deflection exists regarding the hostility towards Muslims. In light of what happened in Christchurch this year, Muslims in the West have been left extremely anxious. Tell MAMA reported a 93% spike in Islamophobic hate crime in the first week after the atrocity.
Yet here is the problem for me. I am a Muslim, but defeating Islamophobia can never be achieved at the expense of neglecting anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. And I hold a party that claims to be anti-racist at far higher standards than a historically racist party. Anti-racism cannot be partisan, treated as a football, but must be applied across the spectrum. Muslims and Jews are comrades in a shared struggle against racist stereotypes and one cannot triumph without the other. A fitting example of this interfaith solidarity is how Tell MAMA and the CST, hate crime agencies fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism respectively, regularly support each other in acts of solidarity. This is the kind of anti-racism empathy we deserve from our political parties.
I am also an ethical socialist. I believe in an economy built by workers, with greater space for trade unions, cooperatives and a regulated private sector with accommodation for workers’ interest. Anti-austerity has to be at the basis of any Labour platform. The ethics of community and solidarity, of mutual generosity and tolerance have to be rooted in what the Labour Party are about. But all of this can and should be achieved without the toxic baggage that accompanies Jeremy Corbyn. He has shown he is not fit to fight anti-Semitism. He cannot because of his own complicity in it.
Ask yourselves this: why is Chris Williamson derided so much yet Corbyn is not? How radically different are their crimes towards the Jewish community? Corbyn has supported anti-Semitic Islamist movements wedded to Jewish genocide. He has shared platforms with genocide deniers and Holocaust deniers. He defended an anti-Semitic mural and laid wreaths at the funeral of terrorists. He accused Jews of not understanding English irony. He refused to offer solidarity to Luciana Berger when pressed by Jon Snow and sought to tone-police Margaret Hodge rather than listen to her. He refused to listen to the Board of Deputies when meeting with them. His office have interfered with cases of anti-Semitism repeatedly.
How is he a friend of the Jewish community? How is this man credibly an anti-racist campaigner? He has empowered confidence in anti-Semitic rhetoric because of his past. Racists are enabled to treat Labour Party as their safe space because they have seen him comfortably stand alongside those who share their vile views. It almost does not matter whether Corbyn himself is an anti-Semite or not. His silence in the face of blatant racism exposes his inability to fight this.
The problem for the party is that it has turned into a cult lacking introspection, and treating all criticisms of him as a smear because it is all built on him. A day after the Panorama investigation aired, a Twitter hashtag circulated in support of the man. That in itself is indicative of the lack of willingness on the part of many Corbyn supporters to listen to Jewish grievances.
The Labour Party has been ruined by this and it will take years to mend relations with British Jews. But this cannot happen while Corbyn is in charge. That much is clear.