Over the last few months, the British Labour party has been rocked by a widening anti-Semitism scandal. Low-lights include the party’s former mayor of London Ken Livingstone claiming Hitler was a Zionist, one of its MPs advocating the forcible relocation of Israel to America, and an array of other political officials disseminating conspiracy theories about Israel controlling ISIS and Jewish bankers controlling England.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn—who previously shared platforms with advocates of Holocaust denial and other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories—has come under increasing criticism for his failure to combat this cancer within his radical base. When confronted by reporters about Livingstone’s anti-Semitic outburst, for example, Corbyn initially dodged the journalists, and wavered over whether to suspend him.
While few have accused Corbyn himself of harboring anti-Semitic sentiments, he was criticized by many—including on the British left and in his own party—for being oblivious to such hatred and too reluctant to forthrightly condemn it. One such critic was Jonathan Freedland, a leftist columnist for The Guardian and one of Britain’s most prominent Jewish journalists.
In a reserved March 18 column cited by Corbyn, Freedland wrote:
Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn. No one accuses him of being an antisemite. But many Jews do worry that his past instinct, when faced with potential allies whom he deemed sound on Palestine, was to overlook whatever nastiness they might have uttered about Jews, even when that extended to Holocaust denial or the blood libel – the medieval calumny that Jews baked bread using the blood of gentile children. (To be specific: Corbyn was a long-time backer of a pro-Palestinian group founded by Paul Eisen, attending its 2013 event even after Eisen had outed himself as a Holocaust denier years earlier. Similarly, Corbyn praised Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Salah even though, as a British court confirmed, Salah had deployed the blood libel.)
Thanks to Corbyn, the Labour party is expanding, attracting many leftists who would previously have rejected it or been rejected by it. Among those are people with hostile views of Jews. Two of them have been kicked out, but only after they had first been readmitted and once their cases attracted unwelcome external scrutiny.
The question for Labour now is whether any of this matters. To those at the top, maybe it doesn’t. But it feels like a painful loss to a small community that once looked to Labour as its natural home—and which is fast reaching the glum conclusion that Labour has become a cold house for Jews.
This mildly critical column which did not actually accuse Corbyn of anti-Semitism was apparently too much for the Labour leader. In a phone conversation captured in Vice News‘s newly-released documentary on Corbyn, the party head is heard complaining about Freedland to his director of strategy Seamus Milne in terms that bring to mind Donald Trump’s personal attacks on journalists:
The big negative today is Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian… Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism under Corbyn. Utterly disgusting subliminal nastiness, you know. He’s not a good guy at all. He seems kind of obsessed with me, you know?
It turns out that while Corbyn has been unable to muster such pointed condemnation of the racists within his party, he suffers from no such handicap when it comes to attacking the journalists who expose them.
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