Corbyn’s latest – and best – statement on antisemitism

It’s still not perfect, but Corbyn’s latest statement (in the London Evening Standard) is his clearest and strongest statement so far on antisemitism within the party:

The cover of today's London Evening Standard

By Jeremy Corbyn

Anti-semitism is a poison that must be challenged wherever it raises its head, across Europe and at home. Hatred and bigotry towards Jewish people has no place in our society, whether on the streets or online. And that of course goes for the Labour Party too.

Today I am meeting leaders of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council to discuss working together to tackle both old and new forms of anti-Semitism.

We have a particular duty to lead the fight against anti-Semitism in and around our party and movement. Jews have found a natural home in the Labour Party since its foundation, and been central to our movement.

The party has a long and proud record of standing against anti-Semitism. Jews belong in the Labour Party and we are utterly committed to making it a safe and welcoming place for them.

But we must also face the uncomfortable fact that a small number of our members and supporters hold anti-Semitic views and attitudes, which need to be confronted and dealt with more rapidly and effectively.

The evidence is clear enough. Labour staff have seen examples of Holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel, and even one member who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood.

So let me be clear. People holding those views have no place in the Labour Party. They may be few — the number of cases over the past three years represents less than 0.1 per cent of Labour’s membership of more than half a million — but one is too many.

We are taking action. In the past fortnight more than 20 individuals have been suspended from party membership, and more are being investigated. But we have not done enough to get to grips with the problem, and the Jewish community and our Jewish members deserve an apology. My party and I are sorry for the hurt and distress caused.

Protest: Labour MP Luciana Berger speaks out at the anti-Semitism demo last month (Getty Images)

We must strive to understand why anti-Semitism has surfaced in our party, which has always stood for equality for all and opposed racism and discrimination.

As I indicated in my letter last month to the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, there are two particular contemporary sources. First, individuals on the fringes of the movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people can stray into anti-Semitic views.

The struggle for justice for the Palestinian people and an end to their dispossession is a noble one — just as a genuine two-state solution is essential to lasting peace in the Middle East. But when criticism of or opposition to the Israeli government uses anti-Semitic ideas — attributing its injustices to Jewish identity, demanding that Jews in Britain or elsewhere answer for its conduct, or comparing Israel to the Nazis — then a line must be drawn.

Anti-Zionism is not in itself anti-Semitic and many Jews themselves are not Zionists. But there are also a very few who are drawn to the Palestinian question precisely because it affords an opportunity to express hostility to Jewish people in a “respectable” setting. Our movement must not be a home for such individuals.

Second, there are people who have come to see capitalism and imperialism as the product of conspiracy by a small shadowy elite rather than a political, economic, legal and social system. That is only a step from hoary myths about “Jewish bankers” and “sinister global forces”.

I have no truck with any attempt to divide the Jewish community into the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sort of Jews

These views do no service to the struggle for a just society. Instead, they reproduce the sort of scapegoating that we recognise when directed at ethnic or religious minorities.

Anti-Semitism was responsible for the worst crimes of the 20th century. According to a survey conducted last year by two leading Jewish community organisations, anti-Semitic views are held by a minority in Britain, and are more likely to be found on the right of politics. But we did not look closely enough at ourselves.

I also believe our party’s structures, built to service a far smaller membership than we have now, have been simply not fully fit for purpose when it has come to dealing with complaints about anti-Semitism.

The problem has been aggravated by social media, which is where most of the instances of abuse appear to take place. Some high-profile cases have also been delayed by legal proceedings, and the reforms proposed by Shami Chakrabarti two years ago to make our response more effective were not fully implemented.

That is why our new general secretary Jennie Formby has, on my instruction, made it her priority to get on top of this problem and ensure that all complaints are dealt with swiftly and fairly, with investigations resourced as necessary. She will be setting out her plans in the coming weeks, including the appointment of a new legal adviser, and we are already taking action in many cases.

We will also embark on a programme of political education to deepen Labour members’ understanding of what anti-Semitism is and how to counter it.

When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties we must recognise them as we would those of any other community. Their concerns are not “smears”.

I want to engage with the full range and diversity of Jewish organisations and have no truck with any attempt to divide the Jewish community into the “right” and “wrong” sort of Jews. Debate and pluralism are abiding characteristics of the Jewish community, and I celebrate them both within and without the Labour Party.

I hope that by taking the steps outlined, Labour will be reconnecting with our finest traditions of solidarity and equality. We stand with any community beleaguered or subject to hateful prejudice.

We cannot and will not fail our Jewish brothers and sisters now.

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3 thoughts on “Corbyn’s latest – and best – statement on antisemitism

  1. He should really be apologising for being so blind and deaf to anti-semitism himself that he’s an anti-semitism magnet. However he wouldn’t be capable of seeing that, nor of apologising, nor of taking any steps to rectify the situation.

    Anyway, it’s only a small minority, whereas a sizable amount of his actual fan club are obsessed with Israel and full of conspiracy theory muck, so why should he care?

    Inside story of his meeting with the JLC & BoD.

    “As a source put it: “Every time you ask him to do something he finds an excuse and relies on process.”

    Tellingly, Mark Gardner of the Community Security Trust raised Mr Corbyn’s friendliness towards Hamas and Hezbollah, pointing out that the reason Jewish buildings in the UK have long had to have such severe security measures is that in 1994 Hezbollah had blown up the AMIA centre in Argentina. “You have”, Mr Corbyn was told directly, “done nothing to deal with Muslim antisemitism.”

    In response, Mr Corbyn again simply “shrugged it off.”

    Finally, the issue of Chris Williamson was raised. The Labour MP is scheduled to appear on a platform with Jackie Walker, currently suspended by the Labour Party. When asked if he would order Mr Williamson not to go ahead, Mr Corbyn said he had no power to do so. “But you can simply tell him that he mustn’t do it”, he was told.

    This is the crux of it. Hiding behind procedural excuses gives the game away. If Mr Corbyn was serious about tackling antisemites he would tell Mr Williamson that if he goes ahead with the meeting with Ms Walker then Mr Corbyn will denounce him for it.

    But you and I both know he would never, ever do that.

    Which says everything.”

    https://www.thejc.com/comment/comment/corbyn-jlc-meeting-what-really-happened-1.463018

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    1. JC’s Evening Standard piece was good, but such is the level of distrust due to (a) his poor record on this and (b) the behaviour and comments of many of his supporters, it’s hardly supising that the Board of Deputies and the JLC expressed dissatisfaction after the meeting.

      There is a real problem for JC and Jenny F in balancing considerations of natural justice / “due process” with the need to be seen taking a pro-active, militant stance against antisemitism within the party: a genuine dilemma for them and I have no easy answer.

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