In allowing Jackie Walker back into its ranks, the British Labour Party has failed in one of its first major tests to prove that it is serious about fighting anti-Semitism.
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Walker was suspended from the Labour Party on May 5 after writing on Facebook that “many Jews were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade,” thus implicated in and guilty of perpetrating “the African holocaust” in which “millions more Africans were killed” than in the Shoah. Asking, “What debt do we owe the Jews?” she implied Jews exploit an over-hyped victimhood in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Having been a victim does not give you a right to be perpetrator.” Following an internal party investigation, Walker was cleared of wrongdoing and found herself back in the party by May 28.
Walker managed to minimize and relativize the Holocaust in just a few lines, and her final thought echoes the charge that Jews in Israel are paying back the Palestinians what the Nazis did to them during the Second World War. Doubling down in an article published by the leftist Labour Briefing, Walker said, “I will never apologise for being an Internationalistfor not valorising one genocide, one holocaust, over any other,” adding, “Anti-Semitism is not a major problem, the [party] suspension process is.” She argued she was a victim of “McCarthyism” perpetuated by “Israeli propagandists and their fellow travellers” and noted an “increasing convergence between Zionists, the right of the Labour Party, the Tories and our right wing media.” That’s quite the conspiracy.
But it was her statement that Jews were largely responsible for the slave trade that generated the most heat.
Until the Walker saga, the meme that Jews were “the chief financiers of the slave trade” was not an integral part of leftist British political discourse at all. Far from it, its appearances were confined to online neo-fascist circles, within which theories of Jewish guilt and culpability in a crime against humanity had an obvious appeal. Yet when Walker’s comrades in Momentum defended her on social media, they linked to Wikipedia articles that read as if they were written by white supremacists, selectively quoting from the works of Jewish and non-Jewish historians of the slave trade to greatly exaggerate the role of Jews in this criminal enterprise.
Jewish responsibility for the slave trade is an idea imported from the United States, specifically from the chauvinist and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. In 1991, his stooges at the Nation of Islam published a weighty and well-annotated tome entitled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews: Volume One. The book — which had no named author or editor and manipulated the work of mostly Jewish historians in order “to defame Jews” — argued that the trade in African bodies “was initiated by Jewish ship owners and merchants, who as a group remained the main beneficiaries of the slave economy and who ‘carved for themselves a monumental culpability in slavery,’” according to a report on the book compiled by the Anti-Defamation League.
The Secret Relationship was bunk, of course. “The book massively misrepresents the historical record, largely through a process of cunningly selective quotation of often reputable sources,” Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote in 1992 of a book he called “the bible of the new anti-Semitism.” Eli Faber, author of Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight, told Tablet: “Overwhelmingly, Jewish merchants and shippers were not involved at all; they represent a minuscule portion of owners of ships.” Jews were involved with the slave trade “to an insignificant degree” and only to the extent that “everyone made money off African slaves.”
America’s white supremacists were and are partners in Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam’s endeavor to blame Jews for the slave trade. Alleged Jewish culpability in this crime is of particular interest to David Duke, who’s made two ‘remarkable,’ ‘must-see’ videos on the subject and has gleefully written about it on his website. “When Nation of Islam researchers began quoting what the Jews had written for Jewish consumption,” Duke has said, “Minister Farakhan [sic] and others were condemned as ‘anti-Semites’ simply for revealing that Jews controlled the historical slave trade!” Articles on the Jewish role in the slave trade are easy enough to come by on far-right, anti-Semitic websites, including the unsettlingly named Jew Watch and National Vanguard.
Gates wrote that underpinning The Secret Relationship and the anti-Semitism of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam was “the tacit conviction that culpability is heritable.” The book suggested “a doctrine of racial continuity, in which the racial evil of a people is merely manifest by their historical misdeeds.” This conviction also underpins the thinking of white supremacists, who also need the narrative that Jews were not only responsible for the African slave trade but for the institution of slavery itself in order to exculpate those who were in fact its main practitioners: white European Christians. As for Farrakhan, his motive, Gates asserted, was to be found in his desire to turn the tables on Jewish-black relations, “to convert a relation of friendship, alliance and uplift into one of enmity, distrust and hatred.”
Less evident is what motivates the British far-left to echo the old arguments of both American black and white separatists — intentionally or otherwise. It might have something to do with their tendency to no longer see Jews as a minority group, subject to prejudice and discrimination, but as white — oppressor rather than oppressed.
As an act of defamation and denial of Jewish victimhood, Walker’s charge is tied up with the far-left’s increasingly bitter and corrosive discourse on Israel and its desire to separate Labour and the left from pro-Israel politics. In the present as in the past, for the sake of intellectual ‘consistency,’ it is necessary to see Jews as oppressors.
But motivation, about which one can but speculate, is less important than the substance of her remarks. If it’s anti-Semitic when Louis Farrakhan or David Duke state that Jews were responsible for the slave trade, then it must follow that it is anti-Semitic when Jackie Walker says the same, however tightly she might wrap herself in the banners of internationalism and anti-racism.
How exactly the Labour Party concluded otherwise is a question only they can answer. It does make one wonder, to paraphrase the commentator Dan Hodges, if Jackie Walker is Labour’s example of an anti-racist, then what do their racists sound like? Next thing you know, Labour members will be suggesting Adolf Hitler was a Zionist.
Liam Hoare, a graduate of University College London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, is a freelance writer on politics and literature.