Nick Cohen

Left antisemitism will always be sent packing by voters

It’s understandable but wrong to conclude from the appalling scenes on our streets that no one cares about dead Jews — voters showed in 2019 just what they thought of Corbyn et al


TOPSHOT - People holding placards and flags of Palestine take part in a 'March For Palestine', part of a pro-Palestinian national demonstration, in London on October 14, 2023, organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Stop the War Coalition, Muslim Association of Britain, Palestinian Forum in Britain and CND. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on Israel Friday to take "every possible precaution to protect civilians" in its response to last weekend's deadly attack by Hamas. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

October 19, 2023 15:52

What did #bekind activists think “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” meant? That they were chanting for the creation of a multicultural democracy? And what did the post-colonial academics who praised the Palestinian “armed struggle” think that struggle consisted of? Romantic heroes in the Che Guevara mould, their keffiyehs streaming like banners in the wind, battling occupying forces?

Now they have the answers, and that knowledge will transform left-wing politics.
A new generation of activists is learning what their predecessors discovered: they must either accept that “From the river to the sea” means Hamas murdering every Jew it can find between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, or get out.

They must excuse an “armed struggle” that necessitates executing teenagers at music festivals, abducting grandmas, and murdering babies, or face the scorn of their contemporaries.

I understand the fears of JC readers, whose children’s schools have closed and whose synagogues are under guard. I share their contempt for supposed liberals who avert their eyes from the demonstrable fact that Hamas is an Islamo-fascist movement.

Thus primed, I almost found myself nodding along with my JC colleague Hadley Freeman, when she wrote in the Sunday Times that the reason why “no one in this country seems to think it strange that Jewish schools and synagogues require extra security to keep them safe” is because the public believes that “Jews deserve it”.

Then I shook myself and realised that isn’t true. The Labour Party has just given us a practical demonstration of how racism against Jews or anyone else does not work as a political strategy in the UK.

I don’t believe that even now the radical left understands that the failure to confront antisemitism in its ranks was a disaster for the movement. It destroyed its chance of power under Jeremy Corbyn and gave the left’s enemies a gift that kept on giving.

That failure goes back to a cynical calculation from the 1990s, which rebounded in the most brutal fashion imaginable.

British Marxists thought they could co-opt Islamism’s rage. If they pretended to embrace an ultra-reactionary religious movement they could sneakily convert “some of the young people who support it to a very different, independent, revolutionary socialist perspective,” as the Socialist Workers Party of the day explained.

The exact reverse happened. Far from turning radical Islamists into communists, the far left became Islamified. Look back at the defeats of the Stop the War coalition, George Galloway’s Respect party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, and you see that leftists kept failing to make the smart political move and ban antisemites from their ranks.

Instead, they insisted on engaging with the worst movements in the Muslim world, even though, and to state the obvious, no one is happier to see Western leftists allying themselves with the génocidaires of Hamas than Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli far-right is only too pleased to use the Western left to divert attention from the security catastrophe it allowed on its watch and from its own crimes in Gaza.

Alliances with antisemites make a nonsense of left-wing claims to be anti-racist. Come to that, they make a nonsense of left-wing claims to be left-wing when from Iran to the Gaza Strip they befriend clerics inspired by Nazi-era tales of Jewish plots.

In these circumstances, the Islamified far left couldn’t oppose antisemitism. Given its allies in the Muslim world, given that white antisemites were now as likely to be found in the far-left’s ranks as in the far-right, a politically necessary purge was unthinkable. A genuinely anti-racist far-left would have purged itself out of existence.

I think Hadley Freeman and others are underestimating the importance of the determination of the best of the Labour Party to take on that peculiar mixture of far-left and far-right extremism.

I know from private conversations that many Labour politicians were appalled by the racism of the members who flooded in during the Corbyn years. But, personal morality to one side, they were also professional politicians, who wanted to win. They understood that the electorate would punish a party that refused to take racism seriously and got too close to men who hated and threatened this country. And they were right.

Post-election polling showed that Labour went down to its worst defeat in 80 years in 2019, in part because voters saw Corbyn’s failure to deal with antisemitism as evidence that Labour was weak and lacking in patriotism.

Labour politicians have been on a hell of a journey since the early 2010s, when they thought they could dismiss leftists with a strange affection for Hamas, Iran, Putin and the conspiracy theories of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as insignificant cranks.

They learned to take antisemitism seriously. They understood what “from the river to the sea” meant and progressed. A counterfactual makes that point for me. Can you imagine the communal fears today if Keir Starmer had not cleaned up his party?

I accept that this week of all weeks, it’s hard to say that the UK isn’t such a terrible place, or that Britain won’t abandon its Jewish citizens. But for all that, it isn’t; and for all that, it won’t.

October 19, 2023 15:52

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