Antisemitism is not a sidebar. It is a cornerstone of Labour's public stance

Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt reacts after Sir Richard Evans, the lead witness in her defence against David Irving, said he would vote for Jeremy Corbyn's party

November 27, 2019 13:39

A recently published book, How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, makes the compelling and, upon reflection, obvious argument that there is no neutral ground when it comes racism. If one thinks racism is evil, one must be an anti-racist. There no is such thing as a non-racist. One must be an anti-racist. In the face of racism there is no room for neutrality.

In the current imbroglio over Labour’s antisemitic record, some have argued that one has to make political compromises. That’s a truism. Rarely have I found a candidate or party with whom I am in total agreement. There are certain things, however, with which I or, for that matter, any person of integrity cannot compromise.

Antisemitism is one of them. Antisemitism is a prejudice. Consider the etymology of the word, pre-judge, or “don’t confuse me with the facts.” Antisemitism has been the cause of profound evil. There is no way to support someone who tolerates this prejudice.

Some Labour supporters have told me that the candidate in their constituency is unlike Corbyn and his acolytes. They insist that she or he hates antisemitism. My question to them is: how then can those candidates be in political fellowship with a party that refuses to take antisemitism seriously?

Moreover, how can they be in fellowship with a party that turns Jews’ claims of being subjected to antisemitism against them? Labour canvassers have been instructed: “If you are dealing with people who try to use antisemitism allegations to bury Labour and Corbyn give them no quarter. Go on to the offensive.”  Note the terminology: “who try to use antisemitism.” In other words, their charges are not legitimate. They are not victims. They are enemies of Labour and are cynically “using” antisemitism as a political weapon.

Sir Richard Evans’ decision to support Labour is so wrong. He acknowledges his anger about the antisemitism in his tweet. “I'm voting Labour. Great manifesto, pity about the leader, shame about Labour's support for Brexit, though at least they promise another referendum. The failure to deal with antisemitism in the party makes me very angry. But in my constituency only Labour can beat the Tory.”

The problem is that he sees it as a sidebar, an ancillary item. It is not. It is a cornerstone of Labour’s public stance, and something – just like racism – which cannot be tolerated.

The second half of the Ten Commandments is comprised of simple didactic instructions, “Do Not…” or, in Hebrew, “Lo.” There are no amendments. There are no exceptions. You shall not murder. You shall not steal. Period. End of conversation.

So too, thou shall not and cannot compromise or make common cause with a party and its leaders who engage in antisemitism and attack those who are the victims of it. Look what they have done to people such as Luciana Berger, someone who now must take special precautions for her safety.

Having said all this, I want to reiterate something I have posted on social media in recent days. Sir Richard Evans, however wrong he may be on this issue, was a crucial figure in our defeat of Holocaust denier David Irving who had sued me for libel. When I received a draft of his 800-page expert report, I sequestered myself in the university library to study it. When I emerged many hours later, a colleague asked me what was in the big red binder I was carrying. I responded: “The defeat of David Irving.” 

If today, Irving has no credibility and is seen, in the words of the court, as a “pro-Nazi polemicist” who “perverts” history and engages in “racist” and “antisemitic” discourse, it is in great measure thanks to the work of Richard Evans. 

However wrong and misguided I think he is on this issue, that does not diminish by one iota the debt I, together with anyone who cares about  historical truths, owe him.

November 27, 2019 13:39

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