Let’s assume for a moment every allegation of anti-Semitism made against Jeremy Corbyn has been unfair, if not totally unfounded; that he’s taken all reasonable action to eliminate or prevent anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. We can even assume he’s the least anti-Semitic person the world has ever known, and a valuable ally to the Jewish people.
Here’s the thing: at this point, it doesn’t really matter. The perception is firmly established that the leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition – the political party with the largest membership in the country – is, at the very least, anti-Semitic-adjacent. He seems either unwilling or constitutionally unable to shatter this perception. Nonetheless he’s been allowed to continue as Labour leader, with enthusiastic support from many Labour Party members, creating a situation that’s made a significant number of Jews extremely uncomfortable. Were Corbyn to genuinely care about the Jewish people, he’d care that his leadership has made us feel this way, and were he to do that, he’d see no option but to stand down.
It would of course be sad for him and those close to him, especially if he truly has been nothing more than the victim of a media-led character assassination. Labour has already complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (coincidentally just hours before Donald Trump again decried the free press as the ‘opposition party’) over coverage of his 2014 Tunisian cemetery visit, and maybe something will come of that. But his resignation needn’t be sad for anyone else. There are 257 Labour MPs, many of whom share Corbyn’s socialist outlook. Several are members of his Shadow Cabinet; more still lurk on the backbenches after being demoted from it. Last year rules were changed to help guarantee a left-wing candidate’s name would be on the ballot in the event of a Labour leadership contest. There may even exist such a candidate – if the imagination can stretch so far – more charismatic, more charming, than Corbyn himself. That would surely benefit all who hope to see a left-wing government in Westminster. Why should it concern anyone outside Corbyn’s inner circle if he’s not the person spearheading it?
None of this is to say anything of the situation should he actually become Prime Minister either. As the results for last year’s general election came in and it transpired Labour had done better than expected, I – despite voting Labour myself – felt genuine fear. It wasn’t that I believed Corbyn to be an anti-Semite, but having recently seen an EU membership referendum that maybe wasn’t about racism and a newly elected US President who maybe wasn’t racist empower those who definitely were, I envisaged similar hatred being channelled towards Jews. (Incidentally, in a Remain-voting constituency with a large Jewish population, my Leave-campaigning, expenses fiddling Tory MP just about held onto his seat.) Had Corbyn become PM, or should he do so in future, any anti-Semitism would be under the governance of a man who might be able to sincerely lament associated tension or violence, but who would be perceived to not care about us – about Jews – as people. That would be intolerable.
Even now, it’s not just Corbyn who broadcasts his apathy. While political expedience compels him to escalate his zero-tolerance rhetoric from whisper to murmur, his supporters seem to be doubling down in the opposite direction. Where once I was distressed by Corbynites overlooking the negative environment he was creating for Jews, left-leaning people now actively dismiss Jewish concerns. A common approach has been to highlight current government activity to underline the supposed insignificance of Corbyn’s antagonistic behaviour; to insinuate peace of mind within the Jewish community would be an acceptable thing to trade away for an end to Tory rule. I’m fairly certain the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. On the other hand, I don’t see how an openness to such a trade can be anything but mutually exclusive with a genuine regard for Jewish people. If someone is to claim otherwise, they must either be mistaken or lying.
Perhaps that’s the issue. When Tim Farron was forced to resign as leader of the Liberal Democrats for a single vague comment he later retracted, it was said to be because his personal beliefs weren’t compatible with the values of the party. It was a little sad for him, but entirely proper. He could not continue to lead a party founded on liberal ideals while there was any doubt over his support for gay rights. For Corbyn though, his perceived personal beliefs increasingly are the values of the party. He can insist all he likes that anti-Semitic elements in Labour don’t speak for him, but that misses the point: he speaks for them. Realistically the only way he can stall the rise in hate that has protected him from pressure to stand down is by resigning voluntarily. If he’s the man of integrity he’s supposed to be – if he believes Jews deserve someone who can lead for them as much as any other minority does – he’ll do so. Until then, every word of reassurance he offers the Jewish people will be hollow.