Jeremy Corbyn, who led Britain’s opposition Labour Party until earlier this year, was suspended from the party last week. He was a leader with a blind spot for his own dislike of Jews and the anti-Semitism he helped foster in his party. The suspension was another sign that the Labour Party is trying to move beyond a strange interlude in which it shunned the country’s moderate center-left voters and embraced heavy-handed nationalization, old-fashioned British anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and friendship with Hamas, whose ideology calls for Israel’s destruction.
Corbyn was suspended because he dismissed a report on anti-Semitism in his party as “dramatically overstated,” a reaction that reinforces the observations of Corbyn’s critics that he has a blind spot when it comes to anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately, Corbyn wasn’t the only Labourite to embrace anti-Semitism. Indeed, according to a British parliamentary committee of inquiry in 2016, the party became a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.” But, according to columnist Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian, much of the blame lies with Corbyn, since “it was Corbyn [as party leader] who made British Jews feel an anxiety they had not known for the best part of a century. It was he who acted as a magnet, drawing in assorted cranks and bigots to join a party whose great name they soiled by their very presence.”
In its report last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the British government’s watchdog on racism, found that Labour under Corbyn “failed to address and resolve anti-Semitic behavior in its ranks. And the commission directed that Labour “must live up to its commitment to be a political party with zero tolerance of anti-Semitism” and provide anti-racism training to its staff and members.
The legally binding directive from the commission is significant, even if its findings are nothing new. We have commented before on the poison of Corbyn’s Labour reign. His hateful behavior so alienated an otherwise deferential Jewish community that largely supported the Labour Party that Britain’s three highly competitive Jewish newspapers in 2018 published a joint front-page editorial warning of the “existential” threat to British Jewry that a government led by Corbyn would pose.
Corbyn and Labour lost that election. That made way for the Conservative Party to take over, and to its fumbling of Brexit and mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. But even with Corbyn suspended, his disturbing inclinations remain active in the Labour Party, as does the struggle between the far left and moderates within the party.
The Labour Party has a lot more work to do to revitalize itself, and to address the continuing festering anti-Semitism in its ranks. How it responds will determine Labour’s status as a mainstream party in a largely two-party democracy, and whether Britain’s Jewish community can learn to trust the party that had been its home for decades. JN