Analysis |

Britain’s Labour Party Split on Corbyn and anti-Semitism

Faction now divided into traditional party of decent left-leaning British voters and cult of radicals who see every criticism of their leader as a plot against them.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attending an event in London concerning anti-Semitism within his own party, June 30, 2016.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attending an event in London concerning anti-Semitism within his own party, June 30, 2016.Credit: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

There could have been no better portrayal of the current state of Britain’s Labour Party than the publication Thursday morning of a report it commissioned over allegations of anti-Semitism by its members.

On stage was the report’s author, Shami Chakrabarti, a respected lawyer and civil-rights campaigner. While there are those on either side of the debate who have already expressed disappointment with the report – some feel Chakrabarti didn’t go far enough in apportioning blame or defining exactly what constitutes anti-Jewish statements; others disagree with her recommendations that members should have had the common sense not to use the slur “Zio” or make comparisons between Israelis and Nazis – it would be hard to say that the report, like its author, was not fair-minded and sensible.

And then there was the party’s embattled leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The publication of the report had been planned weeks ago, before the turmoil that has swept through British politics in the wake of last Thursday’s European Union referendum, which was won by the “leave” campaign.

Even so, Corbyn could still have been expected to treat the event with the proper respect. Instead, he and his supporters used the launch of the Chakrabarti report as a pep rally for his flailing leadership.

Corbyn was cheered, as if it was a soccer match, by an assembly of supporters. And he devoted most of his speech to attacking the Conservative Party, as if it was the subject of the report, not his own party.

One of Corbyn’s supporters used the opportunity to attack the assembled journalists for all being white, and to harangue a Jewish MP present for somehow conspiring against the leader, together with the right-wing press. Corbyn looked on in silence as the MP, Ruth Smeeth, left in tears, and then respectfully answered his supporter’s deranged complaints.

And then, of course, there was the Islamic State bit where he said, “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organizations.”

Whatever Corbyn meant, it seemed to enough of those present, and those reading these remarks elsewhere, as if he was comparing the State of Israel to Islamist terror groups like ISIS. At the very least, it suggests a peculiar tone deafness on Corbyn’s part, or of whoever prepared the speech.

But then, this is the same Corbyn who doesn’t understand why the great majority of Jews in Britain, and elsewhere, find it offensive that he invited Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” to meet him in parliament. He explained that he regards everyone as friends, and that he simply called them that because he thought it important to speak to all groups – although he couldn’t bring himself to share a platform with Prime Minister David Cameron during the referendum campaign.

The same Corbyn who shared platforms with known Jew-haters and Holocaust-deniers. The Corbyn whose closest ally and patron, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, feels the need to constantly make the ridiculous claim that “Hitler supported Zionists.” The Corbyn whose supporters spout conspiracy theories online about Jewish bankers and Zionist plots.

Corbyn lost a vote of confidence motion from his own MPs this week by an incredible 172-40. He hasn’t lost over 80 percent of his parliamentary party because of his tolerance for anti-Semitism, but for his total lack of suitability to lead a major political party in a Western democracy.

His MPs despaired of his shambling appearances during Prime Minister’s Questions; his indifference (more like barely concealed hostility) to national symbols such as the Queen and the armed forces; his neo-Marxist economic policies; the way a tight circle of ultra-leftists around him has been manipulating him; and, the final straw, his inability to convincingly campaign in recent weeks for Britain to remain in Europe.

Even some of the MPs who feel ideologically close to Corbyn have given up on him due to his sheer incompetence and the way he’s split the party in two.

But Corbyn is not doing the obvious, decent thing and resigning, because he claims to have a mandate from hundreds of thousands of new party members who have joined the party over the last year and who, 10 months ago, voted him in as leader in a landslide victory.

The fact that all polls suggest that the wider public – including broad swaths of traditional Labour voters – has no intention of voting for him, or that Labour MPs represent over nine million voters who turned out for them, seems to count for nothing for the Corbyn cult.

At the time of writing, there are conflicting reports over whether Corbyn is on the brink of resigning or resolutely hanging on. It doesn’t really matter at this stage. Whatever Corbyn does, Labour has no alternative leader who seems capable of reuniting the large section of the membership and chorus of far-left activists who believe that only they represent true ideals, and the overwhelming majority of the party’s MPs, who know that Corbyn, or a leader of his ilk, is incapable of connecting with working-class voters.

There are now two Labour parties: one is the traditional party of decent, left-leaning British voters; the other a cult of radicals who see every criticism of their leader and his bunch of fanatics as a plot against them.

Corbyn is ultimately going down because of his performance during the referendum campaign. It’s safe to say that even if he’d never had any “Jew issues,” his short tenure as Labour leader would still have been every bit the failure it has been. He is no leader, and his policies were discredited decades ago.

If he somehow hangs on, it will be as leader of a party of like-minded misfits that will get annihilated in the next general election. More likely, he will go down as a historical footnote to a bizarre period in British politics. But the way he and his followers have succeeded in insulting and abusing British Jews every step of the way is a reminder that anti-Semitism is always the sign of extreme and racist politics, whether on the right or the left.

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