Analysis

Anti-Semitism Remains Blind Spot for Blinkered Corbyn Supporters

Barring a last-minute shock, Jeremy Corbyn will win the leadership vote for the British Labour Party on Saturday. But the same questions remain about his fans.

LAbour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn joins a protest by campaigners calling for an inquiry into a confrontation between police and miners in 1984, London, September 13, 2016.
Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Britain’s Labour Party will announce the winner of its leadership election on Saturday and, unless the unexpected happens, it will be a landslide victory for incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn.

It will be the same Corbyn and very much the same dysfunctional Labour Party — unelectable, on the verge of splitting between its warring wings and incapable of dealing with its inherent contradictions.

The new leadership election was forced on Corbyn after a no-confidence vote by over 80 percent of the party’s lawmakers, less than a year after he was first elected. But anyone who thought that it would help the party air its differences and perhaps gain some closure only had to watch a YouTube clip posted on Corbyn’s Facebook page this week. It showed his supporters responding to five questions they are “tired” of being asked.

The questions are some of the main criticisms voiced against Corbyn’s leadership and his supporters, who have been likened by many observers to exhibiting “cultish” behavior. The answers were supposed to dispel these notions, but succeeded only in achieving the exact opposite by being entirely devoid of political logic.

The first question, on a piece of paper seemingly plucked at random from a goldfish bowl, was, “Is Jeremy Corbyn unelectable?” This, of course, is a reasonable question to ask of any political leader — especially one like Corbyn who, over the past 12 months, has received the worst polling figures of any opposition leader since such polling began. One poll this week actually indicated that 20 percent of Labour’s voters in last year’s general election (which the party lost) would not vote for the party now under Corbyn’s leadership. However, the question is met with peals of laughter in the video.

But it’s the answers from Corbyn’s supporters that are really funny. One of them explained that since Corbyn has won his own seat in London’s Islington borough eight times running, it means he is also electable as prime minister of all Britain. As if one inner-city London constituency, which Labour has safely held for nearly 70 years, could be representative of the other 649 seats in the House of Commons.

Another supporter says that since none of Corbyn’s rivals in the party succeeded in winning last year’s leadership election, they were unelectable as well. This is, of course, evading the main criticism of Corbyn’s chances of success: that the party’s membership is in no way comparable to the general voting public.

The most ridiculous answer, though, came from the Corbyn fan who dismissed the question by saying, “You can’t predict what’s going to happen in four years” in the same way “no one predicted Leicester City would win the premiership.” It’s true that the breathtaking victory of lowly Leicester, who last season became the first soccer club outside the top-five rich teams to win the English Premier League in 20 years, was a freak occurrence that could not be foreseen. But to apply the odds of the sports field to the logic of electoral politics takes a special level of credulity.

Out of context, all of this may sound funny, but the fifth question was no laughing matter. “Do you promote anti-Semitism?” was the last one out of the bowl. Corbyn’s supporters are tired of being asked why so many of their camp seem to be prone to tweeting or posting anti-Jewish feelings. But the answers were even more tired.

One “Corbynista” went back to the 1930s, when he said the rival Conservative Party was against letting Jewish refugees arrive from Germany and Austria. Nothing about Labour 2016.

Another of his mates explained that the accusations of anti-Semitism were simply coming from people who are “losing the political argument,” and this is all they have “to fight back with.”

It ended with one of them contemptuously throwing the note with the question on the floor. “So that’s gone as well,” says the questioner.

The video clip caused uproar among Jews and non-Jews alike, who accused Corbyn of treating anti-Semitism as a nonissue in a way he would never do regarding any other form of racism.

Corbyn — or more likely his campaign managers — quickly yanked the video from YouTube. But it is a symptom of a much broader issue. No one is seriously accusing Corbyn, who last Sunday held an election hustings at the JW3 Jewish community center in north London, of being anti-Semitic. Neither is there any reason to assume that the majority of his supporters are. The problem is their blind spot toward the minority in their camp who feel comfortable spouting such views, and their inability to realize that irrational hatred of Jews is impossible within the political left, which prides itself on being “antiracist.”

More than this attitude actually threatens Britain’s Jews, it is a metaphor for the systematic failing at the heart of Corbyn’s Labour. It is dogmatic and therefore incapable of introspection, self-criticism and the flexibility necessary for a functioning political party with a chance of ever being in government.

Corbyn and his supporters cannot understand why the overwhelming majority of the British public will never want them in power. That an uncosted financial plan based on renationalizing most of the British economy, or a foreign policy with no commitment to the cornerstones of Britain’s security and prosperity since the end of World War II, will ever win the approval of more than a small proportion of like-minded ideologues.

Even if Corbyn does work hard after his victory to reunify the party (although some of his closest allies are threatening to deselect the rebellious MPs), and even if the rebels try to overcome their misgivings and support him, Labour will never be whole again. It is irrevocably split between an ideological, unyielding hard core — which may be the majority among the party membership, but will never succeed in winning over the wider public — and the rest of the party, which understands that.

In the extremely unlikely event that the challenger, Owen Smith, wins, the Corbyn camp will not accept the defeat: They will, quite rightly, accuse the party establishment of having used technical reasons to bar many of their supporters from voting. And also because, having attained power, they cannot conceive of any reason why they should relinquish it.

The inability of Labour to form a credible and united alternative to the Conservative Party means the left will not be back in power in Britain for another decade, at least. But it also denies the British people a functioning opposition when it needs one most. As the most important decisions of a lifetime are being made on the future of Britain, as it prepares to leave the European Union and redefines its relationship both to the outside world and itself, no one will be holding the Conservatives making these decisions to account.