If ever there was a teachable moment for the British Labour Party, this was it.
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The “why” questions had piled up. Why had so many Labour Party members been suspended for anti-Semitism? Why were they spreading conspiracy theories about Israel being behind ISIS? Why did some want all Israeli Jews to be shipped over to the United States? What on earth is going on in the heads of people who bang on about “the Jewish Zionist bourgeoisie" being the "vanguard of the capitalist offensive”? And what’s with all these party members comparing Israel to the Nazis? And dear me, did one really say Hitler was a "Zionist god"?
The Chakrabarti Inquiry, headed by Shami Chakrabarti, was launched by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in response, in order to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The report’s findings were presented on Thursday. That report should have educated the party about the new anti-Semitism. Old-fashioned Jew hatred has shape-shifted once again and now takes the form of modern anti-Semitic anti-Zionism, it should have said.
Spurning the “few bad apples” explanation, the report could have said, “Look, while the party does not have a neo-Nazi problem, it does have a problem with an anti-Israelism of a particularly excessive, obsessive, and demonizing kind, and it’s now co-mingling with an older set of classical anti-Semitic tropes, images and assumptions to create anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. What ‘the Jew’ once was in older anti-Semitism – uniquely malevolent, full of blood lust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricksy, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on – the Jewish state now is for some of our members, and that’s why we have the shame of anti-Semitism in the party.”
But Chakrabarti’s report did none of that. Instead it reduced the scale of the party’s crisis to “a series of unhappy incidents.” In short, a few symptoms of the disease were called out – the use of the word “Zio,” the use of the Nazi analogy, accusing Jews of dual loyalty. That is to be welcomed, but there was silence about the disease itself.
Everything depended on the inquiry understanding what it was dealing with: almost no old-fashioned Jew hatred, almost all modern anti-Semitic anti-Zionism – a program to abolish Israel, a movement to boycott Israel and discourse to demonize Israel.
Instead, the report didn’t even try to address the “why” questions; Corbyn compared Israel to ISIS; and the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was made to flee the launch in after a Momentum activist accused her of being involved in some kind of conspiracy with the media. As the leader looked in silence, the doughty fighter John Mann shouted out "disgrace!"
Perhaps the best response – because never was the adage “if you don’t laugh you will cry” more apt – came a few hours later on Twitter from Israeli politician Tzipi Livni. “Just as all Muslims are not to blame for ISIS,’ she quipped, ‘not all Brits are to blame for Corbyn.”
Alan Johnson is a senior research fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and the editor of its online journal, Fathom.