Does Labour have an anti-Semitism problem?

Britons speak out about the anti-Semitism storm that has engulfed the UK's main opposition Labour Party.

by
    The Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, has been battling accusations of anti-Semitism [Matt Dunham/AP]
    The Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, has been battling accusations of anti-Semitism [Matt Dunham/AP]

    Labour, under the leadership Jeremy Corbyn, a leftist, has spent more than two years at the centre of a dispute concerning the extent to which anti-Semitism exists in the party.

    Many Corbyn supporters see the attacks from within and outside the party as little more than attempts to smear the pro-Palestinian politician.

    Just this week, Corbyn was pilloried after pictures emerged of him at a ceremony in 2014 reportedly honouring those allegedly behind the 1972 Munich attack, in which 11 Israeli Olympic team members were killed by Palestinian fighters.

    This furore came as critics continued to target a new code of conduct the party adopted on anti-Semitism, asserting that it does not satisfy the guidelines issued by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

    The IHRA definition includes 11 anti-Semitism examples, including denying the Holocaust.

    But while this was largely endorsed, Labour's ruling body voted not to adopt some of the examples in their entirety. 

    One excluded example cautions against "claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour".

    In an August 3 article for The Guardian, Corbyn wrote that anti-Semitism had no place in the party, but added: "It is unfortunately the case that this particular example, dealing with Israel and racism, has sometimes been used by those wanting to restrict criticism of Israel that is not anti-Semitic".

    Al Jazeera gauged the views of five individuals in Britain on Labour's ongoing anti-Semitism storm.

    We have seen numerous, well-evidenced cases of anti-Semitism'

    Gideon Falter is chairman of the London-based Campaign Against Anti-Semitism group.

    "We have seen numerous, well-evidenced cases of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. Many Labour MPs have put their careers on the line to expose institutionalised anti-Semitism in their party.

    There is an overwhelming consensus about the [IHRA] definition with the Jewish community and it is not the Labour Party's place to rewrite it.

    Rejection of the definition by the Labour Party puts it at odds with every other mainstream political party, with the British government, with over 30 other governments, and with the Crown Prosecution Service and the College of Policing. 

    'We have seen numerous, well-evidenced cases of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party' [Courtesy: Campaign Against Antisemitism/Al Jazeera]

    It is becoming increasingly clear that the Labour Party had no intention of accepting the definition, as to do so would have been to admit that many of its members were in breach of much of it.

    For this to really be a smear campaign, it would require that every Jewish major institution in the Jewish community as well as the vast majority of Labour MPs to have conspired to attack the Labour Party, which is a party that the Jewish community played a huge role in building and which most Jews used to vote for."

    'Some of Corbyn's opponents don't want him to succeed'

    Prolific social media user Tom London tweets under a pseudonym. He is Jewish and has been a member of the Labour Party for 26 years

    "There is a problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, but I believe that Jeremy Corbyn is, in good faith, trying to deal with it. But, I think, some of his opponents don't want him to succeed - so they go on attacking him.

    The IHRA definition is not the Bible. It is accepted by some people internationally, but a lot of people - academics, lawyers and human rights people - have criticised it. And the basic criticism is this: they think it is worded in such a way that people who want to criticise the behaviour of Israel against the Palestinians will be classed as an anti-Semite.

    Ever since Corbyn [won the leadership of Labour in 2015] he has faced a string of lurid and bizarre allegations: that he was a Czech spy, that he is a Russian stooge and a terrorist sympathiser. Throughout history - and whenever you have anybody who threatens the ruling establishment - you get these kind of attacks."

    'Do I think it's the most important issue facing the country at this point in time? No'

    Paul Sweeney is a Labour MP representing a Glasgow constituency in Scotland. He is also Shadow Scotland Office Minister.

    "From a personal point of view, I've never encountered any experience of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. However, I do accept that there are cases of anti-Semitism which should be robustly taken in hand by the party's disciplinary procedures.

    I think the party could have been quicker to responding to the concerns raised by the Jewish community, but yes, I do believe that there are people, who, for political reasons, have been using it as a political weapon against Jeremy Corbyn. 

    'I think the party could have been quicker to responding to the concerns raised by the Jewish community.' [Courtesy: Paul Sweeney/Al Jazeera]

    There have been people who have been trying to emphasise this issue and make it a primary news story, when you have issues such as the former foreign secretary of the Conservative Party [Boris Johnson] meeting an actual fascist in the form of [former Donald Trump advisor] Steve Bannon.

    I think we should focus on addressing the concerns of the Jewish community - but do I think it's the most important issue facing the country at this point in time? No. It's a distraction from the mission of the Labour Party right now, which is to deliver social justice for people."

    'The party has had issues with racism in the 1960s and immigration, and obviously still does to an extent'

    Steven Fielding is an academic professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. He is writing a book on the history of the Labour Party.

    "The Labour Party is basically a party that is formally committed to equality and to challenging prejudice in all its different forms - and to be honest I assumed that the issue of anti-Semitism was something that was exclusively associated with the far-right.

    What has surprised me is the alacrity with which supporters of Jeremy Corbyn - and sometimes very close and prominent supporters of Jeremy Corbyn - have been guilty of, at best, indulging in unconsciously anti-Semitic tropes. But, at worst, being guilty of conspiracism. I've been more than slightly disturbed and discombobulated that this could happen from people who consider themselves to be on the left.

    I know the wider context for all of this, however, both within the Labour Party and without, who have used some of these examples to undermine Corbyn himself and his wider political strategy. 

    'I assumed that the issue of anti-Semitism was something that was exclusively associated with the far-right' [Courtesy: Steven Fielding/Al Jazeera]

    And I do know that various far-right forces in Israeli politics - and that currently includes the government of Israel - have not been shy of using any criticism of Israel as evidence of anti-Semitism in an outrageous way.

    The party has been divided over many, many issues in the past: basic economic policy, the [2003] Iraq War more recently.

    The party has had issues with racism in the 1960s and immigration, and obviously still does to an extent. It is a relatively small number of people [in the party] who may be guilty of [anti-Semitism] - but it's a relatively small thing which Jeremy Corbyn is unable to properly deal with."

    'Purely an attempt to oust Corbyn from power'

    Sarah Wilkinson is a pro-Palestinian activist and Labour Party member.

    "In my opinion the allegations made against Jeremy Corbyn are purely an attempt to oust him from power and nothing more than that.

    The Israel lobby, friends of Israel, however you want to refer to them, are terrified of anyone who could shatter the shield behind which Israel has been allowed to continue its war crimes against the Palestinian people - he's not attached to Israel's strings is he?

    He hasn't been installed and he can't be controlled - he's a puppet master's worst nightmare.

    'The allegations made against Jeremy Corbyn are purely an attempt to oust him from power.' [Courtesy: Sarah Wilkinson/Al Jazeera]

    Anyone who is a 'friend of Israel' is a 'friend' of some of the gravest crimes against humanity: forcible expulsion, apartheid, extrajudicial executions, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and I could go on, the list is long

    Israel's PR campaign is based on lies - it has to be, to make the slaughter of children look pretty, to falsely smear innocent victims into being deserving of their deaths - it's not just dirty tactics, it's a total disregard for humanity, and for truth."

    Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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