British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has drawn much criticism of late, over his attitude toward Israel and, many assert, Jews.
In an unusual step, the three British Jewish newspapers last month published a joint editorial on their front pages warning of “an existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.”
The editorial asserted “a clear and present danger that a man with a default blindness to the Jewish community’s fears, a man who has a problem seeing that hateful rhetoric aimed at Israel can easily step into anti-Semitism, could be our next prime minister.”
A Labour Party politician recently admitted that the party’s “staff have seen examples of Holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel, and even one individual who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood.” He continued by acknowledging that the party had “been too slow in processing disciplinary cases of, mostly, online anti-Semitic abuse by party members.”
“The Holocaust,” the Labourite went on to state, “was the greatest crime of the 20th century. Jewish people who are feeling concerned must be listened to.”
What is surprising about the quotations in the previous two paragraphs is that they are the words of Mr. Corbyn himself.
He also recently wrote in The Guardian that “Driving anti-Semitism out of the party for good, and rebuilding that trust, are our priorities. One part of that is working to ensure that all Labour party members show a higher degree of empathy with the perspective of the Jewish community, a community which endured a campaign of extermination across Europe just 75 years ago.”
There is little question that Mr. Corbyn holds views vis-à-vis Israel that are abhorrent. A proud “democratic socialist,” he embraces the Palestinian cause with gusto, and has met and even praised people who deserve contempt. In 2009, the Labour leader called Hamas and Hezbollah representatives “friends,” though he later explained that he didn’t mean the word literally and that he “profoundly disagrees” with those group’s violent tactics.
Mr. Corbyn also asserts that people should be able to condemn Israel without fear of being branded anti-Jewish. “In the 1970s,” he wrote in his The Guardian essay, “some on the left mistakenly argued that ‘Zionism is racism.’ That was wrong, but to assert that ‘anti-Zionism is racism’ now is wrong too.” But, of course, anti-Zionism all too often is racism.
Mr. Corbyn is, to state the obvious, a typical far-leftist. Whether that constitutes sufficient reason to call him anti-Semitic, though, is arguable.
The Labour party certainly includes, as Mr. Corbin admits, unsavory elements. And recently, the party’s leaders could not bring themselves to endorse the entirety of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes as anti-Semitic comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany, and the claim that Israel’s founding was a “racist endeavor.”
“Discourse about international politics,” the party averred, “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.”
Some would say that making such comparisons itself bespeaks anti-Semitic intent. Martin Luther King once said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews.’
Disagreeing with specific Israeli policies is not tantamount to anti-Jewish sentiment. There are, after all, many Israelis and Jews worldwide who, rightly or wrongly, take issue with decisions taken by Israel. But it is no less true that scorn aimed at Israel is often only political window dressing, mere cover for deeper, darker contempt for Klal Yisrael.
But even the leftist anti-Israel sentiment that is born of “high principle,” not anti-Semitism, abhorrent as it is, can be the product of ignorance and naivety but not necessarily malice.
Only Hashem knows whether Mr. Corbyn, in his heart of hearts, bears only political disdain for Israel or also harbors ill will toward Jews.
The former, to be sure, with current Prime Minister Theresa May, post-Brexit vote, in a weaker political position than ever, is reason enough for many British Jewish subjects to fear the specter of the Labour leader one day becoming Britain’s prime minister.
Both Mr. Corbyn’s own words, though, no less than his socialism-inspired embrace of objectionable Palestinian groups or individuals, must be noted. The embrace of the Labour leader by unabashed anti-Semites and offensive characters like Norman Finkelstein is rightly disturbing. Mr. Corbyn could do much to clear the record by not only denying accusations against him personally, but by clearly, loudly and categorically rejecting the support of such people.