Opinion

Corbynism Lost, but Its Cultists Are Still Blaming the Jews

The dogwhistle attacks on Jews for Labour’s historic defeat has already begun. They will only get louder

Daniella Peled
Daniella Peled
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Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech on stage after retaining his seat to be MP for Islington North at the count centre in Islington, north London, on December 13, 2019
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech on stage after retaining his seat as MP for Islington North at the count centre in Islington, north London, on December 13, 2019Credit: AFP
Daniella Peled
Daniella Peled

One thing I have learnt this election: British people are a lot more anti-Semitic than I thought.

It’s been a traumatic learning curve for someone who grew up here and for whom anti-Semitism had never intruded into daily life - or not outside the context of being a journalist reporting on Israel-Palestine. That milieu meant familiarity with the kind of far-left extremists who appropriated the Labour party in 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

I knew them well from reporting on parliamentary meetings and the usual round of academic and activist lectures: box-ticking radicals for whom the Palestinian struggle was more an ideological cipher than a real and messy conflict.

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The lunatics took over the asylum and unleashed an epidemic: on social media, at least, where most of this filth was spread and amplified.

There’s something peculiarly freeing about social media’s immediacy and anonymity. For ordinary, mild-mannered Brits, it offers the chance to give full rein to instincts and prejudices usually kept safely restrained and repressed. And the engine of accusations against “enemy centrists” and Jews was constantly fuelled by agitprop from a wild pro-Corbyn disinformation sphere.

If you don’t support Labour, you hate the NHS. If you oppose Corbyn, you hate disabled people. If you’re Jewish as well, then you’re part of an organised smear campaign to malign Corbyn, the world’s bravest campaigner for Palestinian rights. And probably rich and greedy, too.

All the greats were rolled out to show the Jews that other Jews were telling them they were wrong, they were victims of false consciousness, right-wing shills and undeclared agents of the Israeli state - Noam ChomskyNorman Finkelstein and Haaretz’s own Gideon Levy, who in his bitter dotage has squandered the legitimacy he once had.

The Jewish conspiracy was alive and well and living in the mind of otherwise woke and well-meaning progressives.

For most British Jews, social media has been - at its kindest - a barrage of Jewsplaining posts from Corbyn fans who seem to think that posting a picture of two guys from an extremist ultra-orthodox Jewish sect holding a “We heart Corbyn” sign would convince us of the error of our ways.

At worst, it’s been abuse, bullying and death threats to prominent Jewish Labour parliamentarians, like Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth.

Social media is clearly an inaccurate barometer for national feeling, but anti-Semitism has been tolerated within Labour circles in a way that other forms of racism would not be. As a nasty preview of the inevitable post-Brexit immigration system, it seems that there was a new “points system” when it comes to racism too.

Conversations with stay-and-fight Jewish Labour members took on the air of therapy – if not psychological triage.

Jeremy Corbyn reacts after General Election results were announced in his Islington North constituency London, December 13, 2019
Jeremy Corbyn reacts after General Election results were announced in his Islington North constituency London, December 13, 2019Credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS

The wider crisis on the U.K. left became personal. I engaged with people, I debated, I tried to convince myself that it was ignorance or political myopia that meant people I had known for decades were defending the undefendable.

It was like going through the seven stages of grief - but for my relationship with social media. Instead of shock and denial, pain and guilt I went through debate, engagement, revulsion and then the bliss of mass muting and deletion.

I resent being forced into the position of spokeswoman for my people, another thing I remember from my experiences as a journalist covering left-wing fringe politics. In that milieu, being a Jewish journalist was often interpreted as being a freelance representative for the Chief Rabbi. I’ve been challenged over and over again to give a single example of Labour anti-Semitism, usually after giving multiple examples of Labour anti-Semitism. I seem to be expected to present my own credentials as “the right kind of Jew” – left-wing, hyper-critical of Israel – while explaining patiently that no, there is no “right kind of Jew.”

I never seriously thought that the Corbyn project would succeed. But as it gained traction, I began to truly dread what would come after.

I – and many others in the overwhelmingly urban, Remain-supporting and broadly centrist Jewish community - don’t feel any sense of triumph that Corbynism lost.

Boris Johnson speaks during a general election campaign rally in East London on December 11, 2019
Boris Johnson speaks during a general election campaign rally in East London on December 11, 2019Credit: AFP

There is no doubt in my mind that a different Labour leader could and would have delivered a different result, both in the Brexit referendum and in ballot boxes across the country this week. The party had a once-in-a-generation chance, and political and moral responsibility to oppose a rising populist, isolationist, uncaring nationalism. That they chose cultish purity was a huge disaster.

It would be nice to think that Labour’s resounding defeat was a show of solidarity by the British people at large. But as we unpick the results, it seems to have turned out to be more of a second referendum on Brexit than anything else.

It seems that the Jew-hatred did at least feed into Corbyn’s overall aura of untrustworthiness, along with the incompetent economic madness that promised free everything, with high-speed broadband on top. And Corbyn’s Labour was no less morally defective when it came to the IRA, or Syria, or seeing Russia and Iran as brave anti-imperialist forces.

The elections have been deeply traumatic, both personally and nationally. It’s brought out the worst in everybody. There won’t be any healing time either now, not least when Corbyn boosters still cling to the delusion that they were robbed of their rightful victory. Labour’s policies were “popular.” The hostile oligarch far right and centrist media conspired against them. Sinister lobbies were brought into play.

“The Jewish vote was not very helpful,” said Ken Livingstone, with rather notable restraint from a man who doesn’t usually let a spurious Hitler analogy pass him by. 

But the backlash will come, and from more mainstream quarters. The fingers will point toward just one community that will be blamed for enabling a right-wing Tory government with ambitions for further austerity.

The Corbyn faction won’t give up easily. They still have control of the entire party apparatus and can win every vote that goes to the party’s governing body, the National Executive Committee. There were huge numbers of people who were complicit in the anti-Semitism scandals - and it’s not implausible that one of them could even be the next Labour leader.

The dogwhistle blaming of the Jews for this historic defeat has already begun. It will only get louder.

And as a Jewish community, the consequences of such an overwhelming victory for a Brexit-crazed, hardline and nationalist Conservative party will hit us too. We have to brace ourselves now for what is sure to be a horrendous descent into an era of further austerity and social division, and a furious heightening of the definition of who’s “really” British.

Led by Boris Johnson, a prime minister devoid of principle, even bad ones, we’re approaching the Brexit cliff edge in just a matter of weeks – a move that can bring nothing but disaster. There’s never been a time when xenophobia and high walls have risen, but anti-Semitism hasn’t.

But for the regressive Corbynist hard left, who deluded themselves into believing they were in touching distance of Downing Street, any introspection is calamitous for their whole edifice. So even before the civil war within Labour officially begins, they'll be blaming the Jews, their media tools and their Israeli puppet masters for betraying Britain's would-be redeemer.

Daniella Peled is managing editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and has reported widely from across the Middle East. Twitter: @DaniellaPeled

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