Anti Semitism has entered my consciousness, it’s now a thing in my head. Why is this? And what does it mean that I am now thinking about it when I never did before? I had friends for years before I even knew of their Jewish heritage and it wasn’t anything I gave a second thought to. Any cultural differences were mildly interesting, like Yorkshireness, no more.
I heard about Israel on the news from time to time but it wasn’t till I travelled there as a student, that the injustices faced daily by Palestinians became something I thought about with any real feeling. If the subject came up I debated people in the pub or online but none of that ever seemed to have any relationship to my Jewish friends who were sometimes more supportive of Israel than me, but not in any way more than my Irish friends were supportive of Irish republicanism. None of them wanted the violence and hatred to continue and could all see the faults as well as the positives on both sides.
The Israelis I know personally are liberal and left leaning. Those living in Israel and on the sharp end of the violence have slowly become more intolerant of the Arab cause while the one who moved here to the UK believes Israel to be a fascist state that will implode under the weight of its own contradictions before long. None of these people have ever talked about antisemitic discrimination as being part of their lives in the UK. Now I’m thinking, do they talk about it, just not to me? Black and Asian friends talk about the problems they have and I’m aware of the discrimination and even open hostility and sometimes violence they are faced with in their lives here, but never my Jewish friends. That thought sits uncomfortably now.
I have personally never, in my whole life, heard anyone on the left utter a single word of hatred for Jewish people because of their Jewishness. Never. Online I’ve seen it from the right wing, I’ve seen the word Jewish conflated with the word Israeli in debates around Israel/ Palestine, and conspiracy theorists and no-neck gammons trot out the world domination of Jewish bankers/ media/ politics tropes, but actual hatred of Jews because they are Jews, on the left, never.
I live not far from Gateshead, home to one of the largest Orthodox communities in England. Men wearing the traditional Jewish garb and rocking the hairstyle are a common sight, are they in fear of their lives now? They don’t seem to be, they go about their business as they always have, I’m not walking in their shoes so I don’t know, maybe their lives are blighted by hatred now?
If they are where has this come from? Is it the fault of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party? Are Labour Party members going round the country fomenting hatred of minorities? Well not in my neck of the woods but maybe it’s different elsewhere, the media has been telling me for months that the party is a cesspit of bile and hatred for Jews simply because they are Jews. It must be true then mustn’t it? There’s no smoke without fire, these vile antisemites must be rooted out. Corbyn is the leader of this stinking bunch of people so he must be the biggest anti Semite of the lot. Something must be done.
Except that none of this narrative sits with what I see and experience myself. When Rabbi Sachs conflates Jeremy Corbyn with Enoch Powell then my scepticism tips over into downright disbelief, and a big blob of anger surfaces.
I’m not a Corbyn fanatic, his thinking seems stuck in the 70’s , he is inept at handling the media and not much of an orator. His stance, or lack of it on Brexit, makes me want to vote for someone else if there was someone else who might have any chance of defeating the Tories. But there isn’t, and on the plus side he represents the first opportunity we have to vote for a left wing alternative to the neo liberal monetarist orthodoxy which has blighted the UK since the coronation of Thatcher.
We’ve had the Tory Tories and the New Labour Tories and the Liberal Democrat Tories and I’m desperate for a renewal of the peace love and understanding that being left wing means to me. Corbyn offers that chance, which is why he has been the butt of the most sustained press and media campaign of personal attack I’ve ever witnessed against a political figure in my lifetime. Many of the things that people routinely ‘know’ about Corbyn are his love of terrorists, Stalin and party purges, his hatred for Jews, the Queen, and his own country, all of which I hear trotted out regularly. These ‘facts’ didn’t arrive from nowhere, they have been manufactured by a hostile establishment, terrified that a government not dedicated to preserving entrenched privilege might actually come to power in this country.
What was patently obvious about Corbyn and why he won such a following in the beginning is that he is blatantly not someone who would betray his principles for a chance at greasy pole climbing. A decades long record of opposition to racism, nationalism and unearned privilege make him a difficult target for demonisation and so it was necessary to mount a sustained attack on precisely those aspects of his character. He’s now seen, as a result of this campaign, as a racist, traitorous, wrecker by large percentages of the population. It’s been quite successful but until the antisemitism row none of it really gained any traction when set against his actual record as a politician. A war monger who chaired the Stop the War Campaign is a hard case to make stick, whereas a man who is accused by ‘all’ the Jewish organisations in the country as an anti Semite MUST be anti Semitic, or else why would they do that? Since most people know nothing about the subject then they have to believe it’s true. Except it’s not. Corbyn has been resolutely against the policies of the Israeli government ever since 1967, but he has been a supporter of all anti racist causes for decades. It’s on the record and can’t be denied. However, thought of an anti Israeli Corbyn government is not one that Netanyahu would accept without trying to do something about it.
And so the racist Corbyn narrative was born. If you listen to the actual speeches where he is accused of calling a Hamas his friend it’s clear that the spin put upon it is false, but most people won’t bother to do that. Similarly his ‘Zionists don’t understand British irony’ remarks when heard in the context they were made are not an attack on British Jews, they are a repost to protests against the Palestinian ambassador being given a platform on which to speak in the UK.
There will always be people who hate what they see as different to them and anti semitism is easy to whip up as has been the case throughout history from 12th century York to 1930s Germany when demagogues look for a scapegoat. Looking at the UK today I would have thought that Muslims have the most to fear from that kind of populist rhetoric but all minorities are always vulnerable and we must always be aware of that and never let it go unchallenged.
Which is why I find the present situation so worrying. The attempt to undermine the Labour Party and peel off one of its historically strongest supporting minorities by blaring anti Semite at it at full volume has the potential to backfire badly. I’m now starting to resent the constant unjustified attacks and resentment against the Jewish organisations promoting it is worming its way into my head. I don’t want to feel like this. Make it stop. British Jews have nothing to fear from Corbyn’s Labour. We are all British and we all stand to gain just as much from a government of fairness, equality and social justice. We have much more to fear from Netanyahu and his overt racism and the right wing forces in this country who are promoting this divisive campaign.
Photo : Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, second from right, speaking with guests during a National Holocaust Memorial Day event at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London, Jan. 26, 2017. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)