eaders depressed at the state of U.S. politics can console themselves with the knowledge that however bad off their party might be, it’s not Britain’s Labour. The party of Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, and Tony Blair now finds itself in the worst crisis in its 116-year history. It has not won a general election for a decade. Its advocacy of mass immigration and the European Union has alienated it from much of its voter base. And worse, it has lost whatever halo-advantage it once had by becoming irrevocably tainted with what was once one of the greatest sins of European civilization. Over the last 15 years, it became increasingly clear that anti-Semitism, which had previously been expected to surface only on the political right in Britain, had traveled around the political circle and snuck up behind the political left. And now it has taken over the Labour Party.
Surveying the horrifying news from September’s Labour Party conference, one would have been forgiven for thinking that the biggest question facing Britain is a Jewish one. The place of Jews in the party and in Great Britain altogether seemed to dominate the proceedings. Activists at a “Momentum” grassroots event—Momentum being the group created to promote the leadership of the radical back-bencher Jeremy Corbyn, who won Labour’s top slot in 2015—handed out leaflets calling for the Jewish Labour Movement to be disbanded because its members represented “a foreign power.” Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish member of parliament, found it necessary to bring a bodyguard to protect her from potentially violent anti-Semitic members of her own party. On the main stage of the conference, a Jewish Labour Movement member was heckled from the floor as he was describing how let down many Jews in the party feel. Lord Mitchell, a Jewish peer, resigned from the party. His co-religionists in Labour now find themselves debating whether to stay and fight or declare the party a lost cause. It is not an easy choice.
The evidence of growing Jew-hatred was there for all to see, and yet for years the left refused to carry out even the most basic hygiene at controversial public events.
The evidence of growing Jew-hatred was there for all to see, and yet for years the left refused to carry out even the most basic hygiene at events such as these. Indeed, its panjandra waved away any expressions of concern. How, they demanded, could anyone from a political movement in which “anti-racism” was one of the few remaining certainties be connected with any variety of racism? The leaders and spokesmen of these movements denied evidence that was literally before their eyes. When cornered, they hid behind an insistence that anti-Zionism was a wholly different thing from anti-Semitism—and when that no longer worked, they were left to argue in effect that anti-Semitism was not anti-Semitism. At a loftier and more private level, senior Labour members of parliament aligned with the rival moderate factions led by Prime Minister Tony Blair and his eventual successor, Gordon Brown, consoled critics with the assurance that members of their party who helped propel such forces by attending and addressing their rallies were mere eccentrics and embarrassments: persons of no significance.
Well what a difference 15 years has made. Today the Blairites and Brownites who gave such assurances are almost to a man and woman in the political wilderness, reduced to lecturing dictators for cash or appearing on reality television shows. Meanwhile, the man who spent the years of Labour power outside the Israeli and American Embassies, or at the foot of Lord Nelson’s column in London’s Trafalgar Square hollering through a megaphone at the nation’s monomaniacs now leads their party.
During all those years of Labour’s ascendancy, there was never a protest so low that Jeremy Corbyn—a member of Parliament since 1983 with not a single legislative success to his name throughout his 33 years at Westminster—could not be found among its scruffy attendees, speaking the turgid language of unity, progress, and socialist solidarity. The friends and allies Corbyn collected along the way were a fringe bunch. Here, an obscure Anglican vicar called Stephen Sizer, later banned from social media by his own church for posting links to articles suggesting Israel was responsible for 9/11. There, an “activist” named Paul Eisen who literally calls himself a “Holocaust denier.” And then there were the Islamists. A visit to London by Palestinian hate-preacher Raed Saleh in 2012 won him an invitation from Corbyn to tea on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament. Various leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah—both groups for whom Corbyn campaigned and whom he described as “friends”—were brought to Westminster to be sanitized by Corbyn and his circle. Anyone who noted Corbyn’s movements in those years became perfectly aware of what his acquaintances all had in common. It was not Sizer’s sermons on brotherly love that garnered letters of support from Corbyn. It was not for his friendship that Corbyn described Saleh, arrested for racist incitement in 2007 and finally jailed for it in 2015, as an “honored citizen.” And if Corbyn’s relationship with the Holocaust-denier Eisen could be embarrassing, he could excuse it by invoking Eisen’s stewardship of an organization ostensibly set up to commemorate the Palestinian villagers caught up in the massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948. Just ask yourself: What do all these Corbyn “friends” have in common?
Those who followed Corbyn’s career during these years connected the dots of his associates and called him out for his alliances. But there was never very much interest in the larger political or media world. Corbyn received the kind of “oh, what a wacky comic leftie” treatment long afforded the Labour Party’s extremists: the Irish Republican Army supporters (Corbyn being among them), the left-wing-dictatorship supporters (Corbyn again), and the advocates of pacifism for the West and militarism for everyone else (once more).
The unimaginable then happened with remarkable ease. Having relaxed the rules for membership during his brief stint as the Labour Party’s leader, Ed Milliband (himself a Jew) resigned in 2015—whereupon a flood of new party members rushed in. The extreme left of the party had come to a consensus that it was Corbyn’s turn to represent the cause and lose. But the times as well as the processes had changed. The standing and confidence of Labour moderates had been nearly destroyed by Iraq, mass immigration, and the financial meltdown. And the new generation of Labour members, combined with the new voters, either wished to reward Corbyn for his wilderness years or mistook the staleness of his unchanging orthodoxy for a breath of fresh air. Corbyn became leader by a landslide.
Although the matter of his consorting with every variety of anti-Semite and Islamist was raised repeatedly during his election campaign, these facts made no dent on the army of loyalists who elevated him. Corbyn and his friends helped this along by recasting each of his associations as evidence of an involvement in “interfaith dialogue” or “working toward a peace process.” Too rarely was it pointed out that, as with his earlier advocacy of the IRA, Corbyn had never been interested or involved in any such positive activities; he had merely consistently campaigned for those who wanted Britain and our allies to lose. Labour’s newest supporters were either uninterested in such details or thought they were irrelevant, or that the facts were politically motivated, or that the facts were lies. Some appeared able to believe all of these things at once. And some liked Corbyn for the truth.
So when news of routine anti-Semitism among the Labour club at Oxford University—culminating in the decision to support an event called “Israel Apartheid Week”—became public, the party found itself in an impossible position. The same problem arose again a short while later when Naz Shah, the member of parliament who had taken the Saddam Hussein apologist George Galloway’s old seat in Bradford, was found to have posted anti-Semitic material on social media. Or when a number of Labour councillors (local officials) were caught throwing around the term “Zio” for everything they disliked, or describing the citizens of Gaza as the real Holocaust survivors. Or when a member of the party’s executive, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, went on every television and radio station in the country and insisted that “the Zionists” had cooperated with Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.
Corbyn’s Labour Party chose to respond to all these claims by initiating two “inquiries” to determine what had happened and what should be done. The first (into the Oxford Labour club) was suppressed after it was written, and leaked to the press only months later by its report’s aggrieved author, Baroness Royall. The brief summary the Labour Party released said the report found no “institutional anti-Semitism,” but in fact, the full report described a “cultural problem” that made Jewish students uncomfortable about attending meetings. Meanwhile, the report into Naz Shah was as transparently fixed as any such inquiry could be. Its author, Shami Chakrabarti (a lifelong independent) joined the Labour Party on the day she agreed to write the report and promptly produced a whitewash. Denying that the party was overrun by anti-Semitism, she did concede that there were some “ignorant attitudes” and suggested that these could be solved by educating members about language. At the report’s launch, Corbyn himself appeared to equate the State of Israel with ISIS, saying, “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organizations.” During this event, even as the party’s leader and the report’s author stood on stage beneath a banner featuring the phrase “Standing up, not standing by,” a grassroots Corbynista shouted at Ruth Smeeth, alleging that she was in cooperation with the right-wing media. Smeeth left the room in tears as Corbyn and Chakrabarti stood by, rather than up. Corbyn swiftly rewarded Chakrabarti by elevating her to the House of Lords (the only such appointment of his leadership so far).
The unspoken truth was that no investigation into anti-Semitism among Labour Party members could possibly find anyone truly guilty because any individual punished would have the greatest possible defense: How could the party suspend, let alone expel, someone for crimes no worse than those committed by the party’s leader? If a grassroots activist or member of parliament were to be permanently suspended from the party for anti-Semitism, he or she could point at any moment to the infinitely worse record of Jeremy Corbyn.
At the very least, he could plead ignorance: How was he to know it was not open season on the Jews? Or that such things might be looked down upon by the Corbyn-led Labour Party? After all, the party had elected Corbyn in the full knowledge of his fondness for all manner of Holocaust-deniers and anti-Semites. If Labourites had wanted a leader in the philo-Semitic tradition of Harold Wilson (who served as party leader from 1963 until 1975 and was twice prime minister during that time), then they would have elected such a person. Having faced a leadership challenge this summer—a challenge Corbyn saw off with an increased majority among an even larger party membership base—it would be an easy misreading for any aspiring anti-Semite to make. The flood of new stories of anti-Semitism in the Momentum movement in the days since Corbyn’s September reelection are just further demonstrations of this fact. A Corbynista named Jackie Walker was suspended from Labour for insisting that the Jews were behind the slave trade. She was readmitted (with a public hug from her friend Corbyn) but has since been suspended as vice-chair of Momentum for questioning why Holocaust Memorial Day is so focused on Jews and insisting that there is no definition of anti-Semitism she finds herself able to “work with.”
It has become a staple of Corbynista politics that British Muslims are the new Jews. But the Jews remain the Jews and increasingly sense they are being isolated.
Even more striking is that insertion of “Islamophobia.” Corbyn-supporting journalists like the Guardian’s Owen Jones spent the early part of this year insisting that if the party was to set up an inquiry into anti-Semitism, it must also set one up into Islamophobia. Their aim is to distract from the serious charges against themselves by setting off firecrackers elsewhere. Indeed, it has become a staple of Corbynista politics that British Muslims are the new Jews. But the Jews remain the Jews and increasingly sense they are being isolated and fixed upon as an ideological scapegoat.
Were the ardent Zionist Harold Wilson to return from the dead to inspect his party today, he would not only not recognize it, he would find no home in it. At the 2015 election, a majority of British Jews for the first time voted Conservative. It seems unlikely that this political migration will be reversed under the leadership of a man whose career has been spent baiting Jews in all ways available to him, and who is making Britain safe for open anti-Semitism for the first time since the Victorian era.