The anti-Semitism problem of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, explained
Take this quiz first before reading the explainer below, to find out how much you understand about this issue.
What tape recorders are to TV and radio, screengrabs are to social media and the digital age. One such screengrab came back to haunt Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK’s Labour Party, and reminded him of a thoughtless Facebook comment he made in 2012.
The left-wing politician opposed the removal of a controversial mural in London’s East end, despite the fact it featured anti-Semitic tropes. The mural itself showed bearded men with large, hooked noses (imagery used as propaganda by the Nazis) playing monopoly on the backs of people (also utilised by the Nazis).
As Guardian columnist Michael Segalov pointed out, the inclusion of the Eye of Providence – a symbol often used as a punchline for the Illuminati – is likewise anti-Semitic in this instance.
Fellow Labour MP Luciana Berger called out Corbyn on Twitter. It took hours before she heard back. Corbyn’s response was perceived as lukewarm and unclear, but he later issued a stronger statement that included a solid apology and an offer to meet with Jewish leaders.
I asked the Leader’s Office for an explanation about this Facebook post first thing this morning. I’m still waiting for a response. pic.twitter.com/DL8ynBtES4
— Luciana Berger (@lucianaberger) March 23, 2018
Corbyn has been constantly berated for not decisively squashing anti-Semitism sentiments littered within his party. But now there is a receipt that implicates him directly. So what’s the deal? Is Corbyn really anti-Semitic? What about the Labour Party?
Labour has long been the party of Jews in the UK, especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust, which is why the anti-Semitism allegations in recent years continue to cut them deep. Much of the criticism and concern – and perhaps the reason Labour’s anti-Semitic issues have persisted in the first place – stem from the lack of categorical action on the part of Corbyn. For example, the failure to expel former London Mayor Ken Livingstone from the party, opting instead for a suspension, after he suggested Adolf Hitler was in favour of Zionism two years ago.
Despite Corbyn’s inaction, pundits don’t see him as anti-Semitic, in large part due to his lifetime of work combating racism. But as The Economist highlighted in its Bagehot analysis column, Corbyn’s view of racism is anchored on class, economic, and ethnic discrimination. And that exposes a potential gap in his understanding of the concept as the Jews are a successful marginalised group of people.
The resurfacing of the mural itself (although long painted over) has sparked discussions on social media, with many questioning what’s anti-Semitic about it. It consequently revealed the extent of ignorance about symbolisms and imagery that mean prejudice against the Jewish people.
It’s difficult to categorically determine whether Corbyn or Labour are anti-Semitic, or if they ever will be. For now, the consensus is they generally aren’t, but there are pockets of anti-Semitism within the party that need to be addressed. The backlash from the UK’s Jewish community, in the form of two demonstrations already held at Parliament Square and outside the party’s headquarters, could motivate that.
It’s also worth noting that anti-Semitism itself is a very complex issue and should not be grossly oversimplified. For one, there are blurred lines between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism – two different concepts. And another, fierce debates are still ongoing around Israel and Palestine, especially among the hard left. Both issues are complicated and deserving of their own pieces.
But on the crisis Corbyn and his party are facing, at best, it will serve as yet another reason to hold Labour back and sow doubt in Corbyn’s competence – one more example of his already infamous indecisiveness as a leader (read: Brexit).
At worst, this goes beyond political gains and losses.
Allowing anti-Semitic sentiment to fester within the ranks of an opposition party poised to take power in the UK can prove dangerous, especially at a time when populism, xenophobia, and bigotry are taking hold in Europe and around the world. The genocide of the Jewish people didn’t happen overnight. Labour and Corbyn must not fuel the embers of hate with inaction, or risk igniting another inferno, like the deadly one a mere 73 years ago.
Graphic by Jane Bracher
Quiz created by Jane Bracher
Sub-editing by Megha Sharma