Australia/Israel Review

Antisemitism out of No. 10 Downing Street?

Dec 17, 2019 | David Hirsh

UK Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has made Britain’s Jews anxious
UK Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has made Britain’s Jews anxious


The below is excerpted from answers provided by UK sociologist and antisemitism expert David Hirsh about Labour antisemitism in the UK, in response to questions posed to him by French journalist Paul Sugy. The exchange was subsequently used as the basis of a French-language article in Le Figaro on Nov. 29.


Paul Zugy: Do you agree with [UK Chief Rabbi] Ephraim Mirvis saying [in his article in the Times on Nov. 25] Jews are justifiably anxious about the prospect of Labour forming the next government?

David Hirsh: Yes, Jews are anxious. Yes, their anxiety is justifiable.

Where does this antisemitism come from?

Left antisemitism has a long history, going back to people like Bruno Bauer, critiqued by Marx, who argued that Jews should not be emancipated in the state until they had emancipated themselves from their religion. August Bebel had to oppose the “socialism of fools” – conspiracy fantasy which pictures the oppressors as Jewish. Much of the left at the time of [the Dreyfus Affair] was ambivalent, thinking this was a fight within “the elite”. The Stalinists made use of Jew-hatred, identifying Jews with capitalism and imperialism and they pushed hard this story that Israel is an imperialist and apartheid state.

Today’s left antisemitism begins as furious and focused hostility to Israel, it supports the exclusion of Israelis from the life of humanity, it defines its own identity in relation to the Israeli enemy and it tolerates all kinds of antisemitic discourse and bullying which it attracts.

We saw the huge swirl of hostility not around Israel but around the Chief Rabbi, who is accused first of trying dishonestly to help Israel with his fake accusation of antisemitism and then is quickly also accused of being right-wing and supporting the rich in trying to prevent a Labour government.

[Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn himself, and the faction which raised him to power, and swept into the Labour Party to support him, has a long history of jumping to the defence of antisemites against Jews.

Is Jeremy Corbyn’s defence convincing? Did the party take appropriate measures to fight antisemitism in its ranks?

Corbyn lies. First, he says that he is doing everything he can to rid the party of antisemitism, but this has been shown to be false. The Chief Rabbi called it “mendacious speech”. The truth is the opposite. As demonstrated by John Ware in his “Panorama” [TV] documentary, Corbyn, his office, and his supporters have deliberately slowed the disciplinary system, have helped out their allies.

Corbyn also lies when he says he would like to meet the Chief Rabbi and find out why he’s so upset. The truth is that Corbyn and his people have had a number of meetings with the leadership of the Jewish community – Jewish Leadership Council, [Community Security Trust, Board of Deputies]… he doesn’t listen and he doesn’t reassure.

[Note: I have since been told that there was in fact only one formal meeting of this kind. But the point holds I think. Corbyn has had every opportunity to understand the grievances and the Party has had every opportunity to engage with various institutions and individuals in the Jewish community. – DH]

Corbyn himself has a long history of supporting antisemitism against Jews: he has said Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated to fighting for peace and justice; he has presented English language propaganda for [Iranian regime outlet] Press TV; he said an antisemitic mural should not be taken down; he defended Stephen Sizer [an anti-Zionist former Anglican vicar accused of spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories] saying he was a good critic of Israel etc. etc.

There are thousands of examples, carefully documented, of Labour antisemitism. LAAS [Labour Against Antisemitism], CAA [The Campaign Against Antisemitism], JLM [The Jewish Labour Movement] have submitted them to the EHRC [The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is currently conducting an inquiry into antisemitism in the British Labour party].

There is political antisemitism at the top; it creates institutional antisemitism; that licenses people to bully and harass.

Do you observe such a phenomenon in other left parties in Europe or in the USA?

Yes. But it has not yet tainted the whole party in other democratic countries.

To what extent does clientelism of the Labour Party towards Muslims threaten English Jews?

I don’t think the issue of Labour antisemitism is, in the first place, anything at all to do with Muslims. I think that Corbyn’s kind of antisemitism is a traditional left antisemitism, with a specific Stalinist “anti-imperialist” and “anti-Zionist” heritage, and today mixing and swirling with a more traditional English antisemitism.

It is true that there is some shared political narrative, and some history of joint political work, between Corbyn’s faction and various kinds of Islamist politics. Corbyn has “celebrated” the anniversaries of the Iranian revolution and he has been hosted by Hamas and Hezbollah; he thinks that it is imperialism that is responsible for ISIS and Al-Qaeda. But I wouldn’t want to blame the current crisis on Muslims, and not even, primarily on Islamism.

Why and how does antisemitism threaten Jews? 

Well, we just don’t know the answer.

We know that many Jews feel threatened by the prospect of an antisemite in No. 10 [Downing Street, the home of the British PM]. We know that there are many conversations about leaving Britain, most of it only conversations. I don’t think people are planning to leave Britain in any significant numbers but I do think that people are making sure that that option is open to them – they’re getting foreign passports, thinking about what kind of work they could do abroad, etc.

Are they justified? I don’t know.

There are a number of specific and concrete threats: the use of the British chair in the UN Security Council; funding for security at Jewish schools and synagogues; possible moves against dual nationals or against people who have fought in the Israeli army; a rise in BDS, sanctioned and legitimised by the government.

I think that if kids are bullied at school, for example, by being called “murdering Zionists” it will be difficult for teachers to know how to protect them – well, even the PM thinks it’s true.

We can think of many concrete things. But I’m more worried about the other things.

Both Corbyn’s faction and also Brexit are conspiracy fantasies. They are populist – they divide the world into ‘the people’ and ‘enemies of the people’.

So Labour didn’t engage with the truth of what the Chief Rabbi had said, it merely smeared him as a Tory and a Zionist – as an “enemy of the people”.

The result of an antisemite in No.10 would be the rise of an antisemitic movement. Corbyn will fail and when he does, his people will blame Zionists and Jews. Alternatively, Brexit will fail, and when it does, people will blame cosmopolitans, finance capital, globalists, the metropolitan elite.

The danger is the rise of an antisemitic movement.

Dr. David Hirsh is a senior lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and author of Contemporary Left Antisemitism (Routledge, 2017). He was a veteran member of the Labour party until resigning in April 2019, saying he “had enough of being humiliated by antisemitism in the Labour movement” and “I do not want Jeremy Corbyn to be the next Prime Minister; he is so wedded to antisemitic politics that he has been quite unable to address the antisemitic culture which he imported into the Labour mainstream.” © David Hirsh, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved. 


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