At a time when UK Labour should be confidently demolishing the shambles that is the Conservative/DUP Government the party finds itself unable or unwilling to defend itself against charges of anti-Semitism.
Clearly Jeremy Corbyn is no bigot. He’s spent his whole adult life opposing racism. Yet he’s just been called a “fucking anti-Semitic racist” on the floor of Parliament by one of his own MP’s, Margaret Hodge.
UK Labour is avowedly anti-racist and has a solid history of walking the talk.
So is there a problem in the party?
The anti-Semite claims are not going away and they’re not being dealt with well. For example, the recent Labour Party decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, but censor the examples of anti-Semitism that normally accompany it, was inept at best. At worst, it just provides ammo for those that want to do Corbyn down.
The IHRA definitions include claims that it’s anti-Semitic to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, or to claim that the foundation of the Jewish state was a racist endeavour or to use classic anti-Semitic images to criticize Israel. Hard to argue with the latter, though the first two are debatable points.
Labour said they rejected those definitions because:
“Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct. It is not anti-Semitism to criticize the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of anti-Semitic intent.”
Here’s the nub of the problem. Labour is technically correct in its response. However, it’s poor optics and not helping one little bit.
Look, lets be frank. The State of Israel sucks.
They’ve just formally introduced apartheid inside their own self defined borders after decades of similar abuse of their fellow Semites, the Palestinians. They’ve been keen students of the practicalities of ethnically based population confinement from the days when they were racist South Africa’s only friend.
That line about Israel being the ‘only democracy in the region’? Straight from the South African segregationist playbook.
And, yesterday, just for kicks, the Israeli state kidnapped a New Zealand citizen, Mike Treen.
It is not antisemitic to criticize the actions of the Israeli state. It is not antisemitic to reject the racist Zionist philosophy.
It is not antisemitic to offer the opinion, as I’m about to, that the state of Israel is like the battered child that goes on to beat its own children.
No, the problem for UK Labour, and for us, is that we live in a bizarro world where the right’s favourite party trick is to call virtue a dirty word and to claim our empathy with the exploited majority of this world’s peoples is actually anti-western prejudice.
The right can embrace racism with gusto, but god help the left if we express our exasperation inexpertly. One slip of the tongue and we’re The Worst Bigots Ever.
There’s no easy answer for Corbyn’s Labour Party. They need to crack down swiftly and transparently on those members who are guilty (and, yes, it appears there are a few) and they need to acknowledge the genuine anger of MP’s like Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin who are challenging the party’s failure to act.
Much better to front foot this matter now. Corbyn should acknowledge that the Labour Party has not dealt with the issue well and do whatever it takes to make it go away. For a start, that means accepting that the criticism is not just some Blairite plot.
While the next general election is not scheduled until 2021, there looks like a real chance the May Government will fall well before then. The Tories are in even worse shape than Labour and a Brexit based snap election cannot be ruled out.
Perhaps somebody should explain to Jeremy Corbyn the benefits of a dead rat diet?
Better to swallow now than choke later.