The media have turned a blind eye to the Conservatives’ antisemitism problem for far too long. The fact that too many politicians are allowed to shine the torch of antiracism only at their political opponents has undermined our collective ability to eradicate it.
Just yesterday, it was revealed that a Tory candidate claimed events in the Holocaust have been “fabricated” and “exaggerated”. Although he’s been suspended, he will appear on the ballot paper as a Conservative candidate on December 12, which Holocaust survivor Lord Alf Dubs has described as “sickening”.
Another Conservative candidate who described British Jews as “brainwashed extremists” was suspended today.
But they’re just the tip of the iceberg. In 2014 the Conservative party’s inquiry into their MP who threw a Nazi-themed party and wore a Nazi uniform concluded that his behaviour was not antisemitic. The same year another Conservative MP was forced to quit over referring to someone as a “bloody Jew.” A few years earlier a Conservative student society reportedly sang pro-Holocaust songs on multiple occasions. In a 2017 survey, two in five Conservative supporters polled endorsed at least one antisemitic statement, more than any other mainstream party.
These problems go right to the top of the current Conservative leadership. This year the Conservative Party whipped its European Parliamentary group to vote against a motion of censure in Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has spent years waging a vicious antisemitic campaign against George Soros while stripping Jewish organisations of their official status and allowing state-appointed historians to indulge in Holocaust revisionism.
This followed their appointment of Roger Scruton, a peddler of the same theories about a ‘Soros Empire’, as a senior government adviser.
Boris Johnson has questions to answer about his personal conduct. As editor of the Spectator, he chose to publish an article in which the author boasts about being antisemite. He approved that as an acceptable message for publication. He has never apologised. In recent years, he met with Steve Bannon, the far-right American commentator whose website routinely publishes antisemitic filth. And this year he appointed a senior adviser who describes the far-right Tommy Robinson as a “hero”.
These incidents mirror the Conservatives’ deep and festering Islamophobia and racism against black, Asian and ethnic minorities, and Boris Johnson’s own racist rhetoric about black people and Muslim women which contributed to a spike in hate crime.
Black observers who have urged us not to be fooled by the “diversity” of Johnson’s cabinet are vindicated when BAME Cabinet ministers leave Sayeeda Warsi to fight alone against Islamophobia and other racism in their party.
And let’s not forget the Lib Dems. Just this afternoon it was revealed that a Lib Dem candidate posted an extremely antisemitic image of a hook-nose Jew and blamed Jewish people for the Israeli government’s crimes in Gaza.
The Lib Dems initially stood by him until the backlash was so great that they were forced to suspend. In the last few weeks they defended one of their candidates who called for Israeli political leaders to be sent to “an isolated place” and it emerged that another candidate compared Israel to the Nazis.
Before someone accuses me of "whataboutery" for daring, as Jewish man, to speak about antisemitism and racism in other political parties, let me remind you that I have consistently called out and campaigned against antisemitism within my party too.
The fact that I’m ever accused of this demonstrates the completely warped picture of racism in politics that voters are being presented with.
Focusing only on Labour whitewashes the antisemitism and racism that infects the Conservative Party from top to bottom and problems within the Lib Dems too. The reality is that these prejudices are pervasive in our society, so of course no political party is immune from them. But other parties have taken no steps to confront this within their ranks. The Conservatives refused to sack Scruton when his comments first came to light, keeping him in post for five more months, and they continue to stand by their alliance with Orban.
Whereas Labour have acted to tackle antisemitism, from doubling resources and Jeremy’s processes for rapid expulsions, to an education programme for members on antisemitism. There is more to do and Labour’s procedures have been revolutionised for that very purpose. They are more robust and more independent than any other party’s procedures and the leadership is determined that those new and improved procedures be used to root this out.
I know that a Labour government will do everything necessary to protect Jewish communities, to ensure our safety and wellbeing, and to continue to tackle antisemitism in our party and across society.
But if we want to eliminate racism and other forms of hatred in our politics, we would do better by working together to educate where we can and exclude where we can’t rather than exploiting racism for competitive advantage.
Jon Lansman is the founder of Momentum, the pro-Jeremy Corbyn campaign group within Labour