Opinion |

Tamika Mallory and Jeremy Corbyn Have the Same Problem With Jews

Two significant progressive spaces - the Women's March and the UK Labour party - have become unfriendly, if not unsafe, spaces for many Jews. And the reasons are depressingly similar

Esther Solomon
Esther Solomon
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Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, and Women's March co-leader Tamika Mallory
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, and Women's March co-leader Tamika MalloryCredit: REUTERS/Phil Noble, AP/Bebeto Matthews
Esther Solomon
Esther Solomon

It’s really quite easy to denounce racism – recognize it for what it is, denounce it in clear language in all its forms, no matter from which direction they emerge. And keep doing it, consistently and unconditionally.

Easy, that is, unless you actually have private racist views – which might emerge in unguarded moments – or if you have a constituency with a tendency towards racism that you’re keen to cultivate. Or if you’re ideologically wedded to a form of politics which is so self-reverential and self-righteous that you’re convinced that racism in your camp is an impossibility, and anti-Semitism an irrelevance.

>> In major blow, Democratic National Committee withdraws women’s march sponsorship

Donald Trump is probably the easiest example of the former, Jeremy Corbyn the latter. The Trump examples are so well know they’ve become a dark ritual litany: Birtherism, Charlottesville, Buchanan, the Migrant Slur, the Muslim Ban, America First, Globalists, Shithole Countries.

Corbyn, so ploddingly loquacious when it comes to multinational corporations, the shallow media and ignoring his own party’s pleas for a second Brexit referendum, hits a brick wall when asked to take responsibility for the incidents of anti-Jewish hostility in his party.

He resorts to eye-rolls to justify having been paid by the gay-executing Holocaust-denying Iranian regime through its official state television channel, or why he ascribed prominent Jewish journalist Jonathan Freedland’s skepticism towards him to “utterly disgusting subliminal nastiness.”

He can’t, and won’t, recognize or acknowledge the reality of anti-Semitism on the British left or his own contribution to it, except in the most half-hearted and useless terms.

Tamika Mallory also belongs in the second category. One of the founders and leaders of the Women’s March, and a serial booster for Louis Farrakhan, Mallory refuses to see what blatantly stares the rest of us in the face: Farrakhan’s grotesque and explicit hatred of Jews, which is fundamental to his iteration of the Nation of Islam's ideology.

Watching Mallory being cross-questioned by Megan McCain on The View this week was excruciating for those who still held out some small hope that the Women’s March leadership had in fact turned a corner towards seeing their Jewish sisters. She was given (yet another) nationally televised opportunity to set the record straight, and to reset the March on the right path. But she couldn’t, and wouldn’t.

Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland discuss Women’s March controversy | The View

Mallory was asked why she called Farrakhan "GOAT," the greatest of all time. "I didn’t call him [that]…because of his rhetoric…[but] because of what he’s done in black communities."

"I would never be comfortable supporting someone who [said] ‘I am not anti-Semite, I am an anti-termite. It is the wicked Jews, the false Jews promoting lesbianism, homosexuality,'" interjected Megan McCain.

When Mallory parried with the assertion that Women’s March leaders themselves hadn’t made those remarks, McCain asked: “But you’re associating with a man who does, publicly.”

Mallory: “What I will say to you is that I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements.”

McCain: "Specifically about Jewish people?"

Mallory: "As I said, I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements.”

McCain: “You won’t condemn it."

Mallory: "To be clear, It’s not my language, it’s not the way that I speak, it is not how I organize. I think its very clear over the 20 years of my own personal activism, my own personal track record who I am and that I should never be judged through the lens of a man [Farrakhan]."

Tamika Mallory's Instagram post praising Louis FarrakhanCredit: Instagram

For anyone who’s followed the death-spiraling rollercoaster of UK Labour's anti-Semitism scandal and the pushback accusing Jews of being agents of vested interests, of weaponizing anti-Semitism and conspiring against the left’s electoral chances – it was horribly familiar.

The cult figure who can’t be criticized, the marshalling of identity, gender and class politics to delegitimize critics, the defense of "present but not involved," the suggestion that there are bigger problems to tackle so why do Jews keep going on about anti-Semitism, that over-sensitive Jews have a hang-up on words (even when they’ve already mutated into physical threats and verbal abuse).

And the identification of the leader as inseparable and essential to the cause – to the extent of a refusal to recognize the leader’s own damage to a cause far bigger than themselves, and then…the deep sinking realization that no, Mallory just won’t accept that praising Farrakhan to the high heavens means legitimizing his vitriol, just as backslapping terrorists whether from Ireland or from Palestine legitimizes their bloodshed.

It’s a depressing affirmation that anti-Semitism gets a pass when other racisms are, rightly, instantly disqualifying.

How galling for this to be her blindness when even Republicans in Congress have belatedly found some vestigial moral courage to take active measures to condemn America’s white nationalist congressman, Steve King.

Of course that disappointment is compounded by the fact that both Labour and the Women’s March had the opportunity to capitalize on so much left-of-center positive energy, volunteer time and grassroots participation and leadership. The March took the double disasters of Trump being elected and Clinton losing and channeled them into action, as a particularly prominent voice of the "resistance." Labour had the chance to offer a fairer, open-to-the-world alternative to a tired, parochial and split Conservatives.

Vans with slogans aimed at Britain's Labour Party are driven around Parliament Square ahead of a debate on antisemitism in Parliament, in London, April 17, 2018.Credit: \ HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS

Both movements, thanks to their ethically-challenged leadership, have squandered so much. That kind of grassroots energy and basic goodwill is hard to keep recharging especially when so much has already gone to waste.

Numerous civil society organizations have pulled out of partnering with the national Women’s March. It’s impossible to determine what effect the anti-Semitism saga has on Labour’s electoral appeal, but in any case the Corbyn-led party is trailing six points behind what’s been termed "the worst [UK] government in living memory."

Those that remain in these movements that stink from the head are either masochists with a moral backbone who have the energy to keep seeking change from within, and those who have blind spots about the specific kind of prejudice called anti-Semitism – or were never so bothered about it anyway.

In any cases, it’s hard to deny that thanks to Corbyn and Mallory, two significant progressive spaces have become unfriendly, if not unsafe, spaces for many Jews.

Esther Solomon is the Opinion Editor of Haaretz English. Twitter: @EstherSolomon

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