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Jeremy Corbyn is a leader who will not accept his own role in the mess

Antisemitism in the Labour Party is the product of an antisemitic political culture that Corbyn seems no closer to recognising or confronting

    Jeremy Corbyn at a rally - he remains a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
    Jeremy Corbyn at a rally - he remains a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

    One step forward, two steps back.

    Tuesday began with what looked like a heartfelt apology from Jeremy Corbyn for the antisemitism in his party and a commitment to take the necessary steps to drive it out.

    It ended with yet more disappointment as, again, fine words failed to materialise into solid action.

    Labour seems to think that some education and hiring more lawyers to process complaints quicker will fix things, rather than taking up the more fundamental actions requested by the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council.

    However, Labour’s problem goes much deeper than just bad processes. Antisemitism in the Labour Party is the product of an antisemitic political culture that Corbyn seems no closer to recognising or confronting, even though he now accepts that antisemitism exists in his party and seems contrite about the failure to deal with it previously.

    Writing in the Evening Standard, Corbyn vowed that anyone who indulges in “Holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel” and who believes that “Hitler had been misunderstood” has “no place in the Labour Party.”

    This looks like a welcome promise to expel anybody who holds such views. We will see, in time, whether this promise is fulfilled.

    Yet Jeremy Corbyn himself has associated with Holocaust denial promulgators Paul Eisen and Dyab Abou Jahjah; supported 9/11 conspiracy theorist Stephen Sizer and blood libel cleric Raed Salah; expressed support for a mural with crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers; and Ken Livingstone still has not been thrown out of the party despite his claims about Hitler and Zionism.

    Corbyn blames antisemitism on “individuals on the fringes of the movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people”, but never seems to ask why he personally has been so close to people with these views, or if there is anything intrinsic to his own political culture that attracts antisemites. 

    This is still, for Corbyn, a problem of other people, not about him and his closest allies.

    Meanwhile the promise of education is undermined by Labour’s apparent refusal to adopt the full IHRA definition of antisemitism because it cites examples of antisemitism directed at Israel.

    Left-wing antisemitism is typified by the way "Zionist" has become a term of abuse. Zionism, the movement designed to free Jews from antisemitism, is denigrated daily in far left circles.

    Corbyn himself has previously said that: "We are opposed to Zionism and what Israel is doing towards the Palestinian people... They can't live if you’ve got Zionism dominating it all.”

    It is impossible to fully oppose antisemitism without recognising this anti-Zionist part of the picture, but in his Evening Standard article Corbyn's only reference to Zionism was to write that "Anti-Zionism is not in itself antisemitic and many Jews themselves are not Zionists."

    This may be true, but it is also completely irrelevant to the task at hand.

    It’s important to welcome progress when it comes, and Corbyn’s words and tone have definitely changed. But every time he insists he has always opposed antisemitism, despite all the evidence to the contrary, it feels like the most important piece of the jigsaw is still missing.

    Jeremy Corbyn may genuinely want to lead the Labour Party out of this mess; it is unlikely he will ever acknowledge his own role in creating the mess in the first place.

    Dr Dave Rich is Head of Policy at the Community Security Trust and author of 'The Left's Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism' (Biteback, 2016)

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