Smoke without fire: the myth of a ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’


December 7, 2019
Judith Cravitz

Jewish groups protesting against the Labour Party over alleged anti-Semitism, London, March-2018.

Jamie Stern-Weiner and Alan Maddison write in Mondoweiss:

It has been prominently and persistently asserted that there is a “crisis” of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The charge-sheet comprises three main allegations: that antisemitism in Labour is widespread, that it has become institutionalized, and that elected party leader Jeremy Corbyn is himself an antisemite.

This last claim—a recent invention even in the context of the “Labour antisemitism” campaign—is the most tenuous, flying as it does in the face of Corbyn’s entire documented political career. From April 1977, when he helped organize the defense of Jewish-populated Wood Green from a National Front rally; to the 1980s, when he headed Anti-Fascist Action and was arrested protesting apartheid in South Africa; to June 2015, when he worked with antifascists to prevent a neo-Nazi march on Golders Green; to his first day as Labour Party leader, when he spoke at a demonstration in support of refugees—throughout his political life, Jeremy Corbyn has been a dedicated and principled anti-racist campaigner.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group recalls that it has “worked alongside Jeremy Corbyn in campaigns against all forms of racism and bigotry, including antisemitism, for many years.” From the other end of the political spectrum, distinguished British Jewish historian Geoffrey Alderman observes that, “[a]s a matter of fact, Jeremy Corbyn has an impressive demonstrable record of supporting Jewish communal initiatives.”[6] John Bercow, the Jewish former Conservative MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, testifies that, having known Corbyn over two decades, he has “never detected a whiff of antisemitism” about him. Joseph Finlay, one-time Deputy Editor of the Jewish Quarterly and founder of several grassroots Jewish organizations, noted in 2018:

“Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences. […] Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983—a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him. As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. […] Whenever there has been a protest against racism, the two people you can always guarantee will be there are Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. […] The idea that Britain’s leading anti-racist politician is the key problem the Jewish community faces is an absurdity, a distraction, and a massive error.”

Prima facie, the allegation that Corbyn is an antisemite is a libel that may be dispensed with.

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