As a black woman, Labour makes me feel safe. I can rest assured that, on the whole, my identity and my voice is valued and protected. As a Jewish woman, however, I find that that same courtesy is not extended to me or people like me.
This is not to say that racism does not exist in the the Conservative Party – I am fully aware of how racist they can be, with a former foreign secretary who referred to black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. The reason I am choosing to focus on Labour is because I want them to redeem themselves and champion minorities once more. Labour must truly be an anti-racist party again, which can only be accomplished if anti-Semitism is seen as something they are responsible to fight, and not something that they are attacked with.
To even begin tackling this, one of the most important phrases to be addressed is one a Jew hears whenever they express that they feel threatened in Labour and left-wing spaces: “It isn’t anti-Semitic to criticise Israel”. Who is saying it is anti-Semitic to criticise Israel? When I pose this question, people cannot provide me with an answer. It becomes clear that all this statement does is derail addressing anti-Semitism by using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a tactic, in itself a betrayal of Jews and Palestinians.
Furthermore, the suggestion that, collectively, Jews think any criticism of the Israeli government, and by extension criticism of its treatment of Palestinian people, is anti-Semitic implies that Jews are immoral or evil or they do not care about the suffering of others – all classic anti-Semitic tropes. This stereotyping is exactly the same as me being portrayed as lazy, angry, or uneducated just because I am a black woman.
That said, talking about Israel can descend into anti-Semitism: when people call for the destruction of Israel, say Zionists are evil, say Zionists control the world, or say Zionists want to kill Palestinians, to name a few pejorative examples. If our definition of Zionism is “the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel”, it starts to become bizarre at best and sinister at worst that Zionists are so despised. The word ‘Zionist’ then often becomes a substitute with ‘Jew’ in indirect anti-Semitic tropes. That’s not to say that far right-wing religious and political figures don’t manipulate Zionism for their agenda, but the suggestion that Zionism and Palestinian liberation are mutually exclusive is false.
Why is the concept of the self-determination of Jews so repugnant to so many on the left? Admittedly, you can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic, as many believe any ethno-nationalist state can become dangerous. But, given that Israel and Zionism are an attempt at Jewish self-determination after thousands of years of persecution (something that I believe would be sympathised with for other persecuted ethnic groups), there should be more compassion and less hate.
Lastly, arguing that the anti-Semitism is being overinflated, or that it is a smear campaign against Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, is completely counterproductive to Labour’s redemption. It delegitimises fears among British Jewry when anti-Semitism is on the increase and, yet again, distracts from the core issue.
It would be wilful ignorance to suggest that anti-Semitism is not being weaponised by all sides of the political spectrum, which is common for marginalised groups. However, Labour have an opportunity to lead the way by taking a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism, refusing to weaponise it to attack other parties, and listen to the voices of British Jewry. The more people argue anti-Semitism is a smear campaign, or engage in whataboutery, the more insincere and weak Labour will appear. Labour can, and I hope will, be better - but only if it looks introspectively, holistically, and compassionately to become a party that truly protects the marginalised.