‘The Labour Party welcomes everyone* irrespective of race, creed, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation. (except, it seems, Jews)’.
So says an unprecedented advert in the Guardian today, which is signed by more than 60 Labour peers. It could hardly be more damning. Yet while the advert is shocking, it stops short of pointing out the only way that Labour can solve its anti-Semitism crisis for good: by getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour peers who backed the statement aren’t the only ones to fail to state the obvious. Deputy leader Tom Watson, who says he favours the introduction of an independent complaints procedure, has also fallen short. So, too, has shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer in his suggestion that the party work with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which is already investigating the party. Starmer says Labour should ‘throw open the books and say you have got access to anything’ – as if there is an alternative. While pro-Corbyn Labour MP Clive Lewis has the novel suggestion of educating members about what racism against Jews actually is.
But what nobody seems willing to say is that Labour cannot rid itself of anti-Semitism until the man at the top is gone. This is obvious to anyone outside of Labour. It is also probably clear to the likes of Tom Watson and the signatories of today’s Guardian letter. So why won’t they say so?
It is true, of course, that left-wing anti-Semitism didn’t start with Jeremy Corbyn. Nor will it disappear when he does eventually depart. The leftist strain of anti-Zionism, which all too often morphs into anti-Semitism, became a feature of left-wing politics before Corbyn took over as Labour leader; it was undoubtedly a problem under his predecessor, Ed Miliband.
But the self-righteousness of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters is what is different. Corbynites might claim that their dear leader can do no wrong. And left-wing support for Palestinians is all too often used to justify Corbyn’s moral crusade. Yet in putting Corbyn beyond reproach, it has allowed anti-Semitism to fester.
What’s more, Corbyn’s apparent resistance to tackling anti-Semitism also makes it clear that the problem cannot be dealt with while he is at the helm. Labour did eventually back down in deciding to adopt the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, but the way in which the party was essentially forced to do so meant that this was simply too little, too late.
And what of Corbyn’s own checkered record on anti-Semitism? Take his defence of the infamous mural in the East End showing hook-nosed Jewish bankers dining on top of the poor and oppressed. Or the time, in 2012, when he mused that an attack on Egyptian police forces by Islamist terrorists was, he suspected, down to the ‘hand of Israel’. Or his decision on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2010 to host an event at the Commons called ‘The Misuse of the Holocaust for Political Purposes.’ Or the event, in 2013, when Corbyn suggested Palestinians in the West Bank live, ‘under occupation of the very sort that would be recognised by many people in Europe who suffered occupation during the Second World War.’
If Corbyn comes from a section of the Labour party where anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are openly propagated, so does the team around him. Just this week it emerged that Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray, who linked 9/11 to ‘Zionist colonialism’, sat on a panel with former Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Kamal el-Helbawy as he proclaimed that Israeli Jews, ‘are not Jews’.
The Labour leadership’s lack of contrition means they have emboldened anti-Semites. After all, why should these people change their ways when Corbyn’s Labour seems so keen to avoid taking action against those who make anti-Semitic comments?
What then can Labour do to rid itself of anti-Semitism? The answer isn’t another inquiry or a re-education programme. Nor is it a continuation of the current approach, which is to go after those who call out the party’s prejudice. Only today, a spokesman for Corbyn responded to the advert in the Guardian by saying:
‘A number of those people who signed the advert and a number of those who provided material to the Panorama programme had a public record of opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s politics and leadership of the Labour party’.
So instead of this approach, which will eventually lead to electoral oblivion for Labour, the solution is obvious. Ditching Corbyn won’t solve all of these issues. But it is the only way to start the process of healing with Britain’s Jewish community and bring back Jewish Labour supporters who are terrified by the turn of direction the party has taken under its current leader.
Today’s criticism of Corbyn in the Guardian is unprecedented. But it simply isn’t enough: Corbyn’s critics must finally pluck up the courage – and call for Corbyn to go.