Opinion

There's No Comparison Between Johnson's Crudeness and Corbyn's Conspiratorial anti-Semitism

If Johnson’s words as a columnist were offensive, there's no sign of this in practice. His Cabinet is more diverse than any previous government, and he was not party to his predecessor's xenophobic campaigns

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the media at the scene of a stabbing on London Bridge, in which two people were killed, in London, Britain, November 30, 2019
SIMON DAWSON/ REUTERS

Last week, Daniel Harris wrote in Haaretz that Jews wouldn’t be safe under Boris Johnson (Boris Johnson Won't Protect the Jews, Either) because nobody is safe from a Conservative party responsible among other things for "tens of thousands of deaths" as it cut spending to deal with the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 51Haaretz

But this evades the central issue of the debate about Labour anti-Semitism: that Jeremy Corbyn, unlike every previous Labour leader, has it in for the Jews specifically.

So it is true that the 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government was forced to make difficult decisions because, to quote an outgoing Labour minister, "there was no money left."

Reasonable criticism can be made about which government departments were forced to take the brunt of the cuts. Indeed, traditional Tory priority areas, like the police and prison service, felt the axe far more sharply than the health and social welfare budgets. Hyperbolic language like "tens of thousands of deaths" is just part of the usual leftist mud slung at Tories during election time.

Harris’s accusations of xenophobia need to be taken more seriously, and when Theresa May (in both the Home Office and Downing Street) was advised by Nick Timothy - together building the "hostile environment" for migrants policy - they had merit. The Windrush Scandal (involving the harassment and expulsion of people mistakenly identified as illegal immigrants) is what happens when a cruel and inflexible bureaucracy, whipped to meet arbitrary targets, bears down on a vulnerable population.

Those policies - with roots in legislation passed under a Labour government - are a stain on the Conservatives’ reputation that will take years to fade.

But in Britain, big parties are broad churches. While Home Secretary May was sending vans around high-immigrant density areas of London encouraging them to "Go Home," Boris Johnson, then London’s mayor, was in City Hall calling for an amnesty for undocumented migrants.

And if Johnson’s words as a columnist were offensive, there is no sign of this in practice: this is a government where the Home Secretary and Chancellor are Asian; the party chairman is black; and the policy chief comes from a Muslim background. Indeed, the only party that produced two female prime ministers has also got more people of color in senior Cabinet posts than Labour has ever managed.

This shouldn’t of course be a zero-sum game: I would be delighted if a future Labour government were to set a record of their own for us to beat. Rather, the growing number of Conservative MPs from ethnic minorities is evidence of the increasing acceptance of racial equality even among the distinctly right-wing part of the population that pick Conservative candidates at local party meetings.

Brexit aside, the Tories’ 2019 election campaign is determinedly centrist, focusing on more nurses and police, spending on health and infrastructure. A Johnson government will sign up to the EU’s target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and even proposes reversing planned cuts to corporation tax.

Far from being a Trump administration clone, the Conservatives are expanding into moderate political territory vacated by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

Corbyn, a man whose inner circle includes a former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and another who bemoaned that "it has become almost received wisdom to bracket Stalin and Hitler as twin monsters of the last century," is of course notorious for praising Hamas and Hezbollah as his "friends."

But alarm over his record on anti-Semitism isn’t related to his foreign policy record when he was a powerless backbench MP, but how he has run the institution over which he has complete control since 2015: the Labour Party itself.

Jewish Labour party staff members have been harassed, bullied and driven to the brink of suicide. Jewish MPs like Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman were drummed out of the party.

Senior Labour party spokesmen, including Corbyn himself, seem unable to condemn anti-Semitism on its own, without adding "and other forms of racism." It’s as though being asked to condemn domestic violence they then said, "I’m against it, as well as all other types of crime." Dormant conspiracy theories, echoing those crafted by the Tsarist secret police, have come back to life in the Labour Party.

I don’t believe that Corbyn thinks there’s conspiracy of Jewish bankers manipulating the world in their interests, but he does think there’s an international capitalist conspiracy in which the Rothschild and Goldman Sachs banks play a central role, and the poor in Britain are victims.

And an international imperialist conspiracy led by the U.S., Western Europe and Israel, against which Hamas and Hezbollah, Castro and Maduro are waging justified combat.

He has signed up to the internationalized version of Marx’s class struggle that divides the world into the imperialists and the oppressed.

Unlike Marx himself, whose central idea was that class membership was determined by economic conditions, Corbyn’s ideology makes this into a moral matter. He thinks we have a moral responsibility to be on the side of those he deems the oppressed, and like the Labour health minister Aneurin Bevan who once said of Tories – that they were "lower than vermin" - we forfeit our rights to be the subject of moral concern if we have chosen the wrong side. 

It is up to suspected imperialists to prove their innocence, by condemning and repudiating the imperialist side. If they don’t, he will stand by as they are victimized, dismissed and ignored – an exact description of the fate of Jewish Labour members hounded by the extremists he tolerates inside his own party.

Irish-born, and educated in Argentina and Spain, Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the British Conservative Party, and working at the European University Institute, Florence, based in Brussels. He holds a PhD from the University of Manchester, England. Twitter: @GarvanWalshe