Earlier this week, Britain’s three Jewish newspapers took the unprecedented step of publishing the same editorial on their front page.
“We do so because of the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government,” the Jewish newspapers wrote, explaining their reasoning for the joint editorial. “We do so because the party that was, until recently, the natural home for our community has seen its values and integrity eroded by Corbynite contempt for Jews and Israel. The stain and shame of antisemitism has coursed through Her Majesty’s Opposition since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015.”
Billy Bragg, however, was unimpressed. The popular British singer—some years back, he was invited to write his own lyrics to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which he performed for the Queen, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic—took to Twitter to argue that the ones to blame for everything were, well, the Jews.
Britain’s Jewish community, Bragg argued, was just “pouring petrol on the fire” by mentioning all that inconvenient stuff about anti-Semitism. The Jews, he went on, had “work to do” to fix the situation.
Anti-Semitism, the singer admitted meekly, was a problem, but he did not fault Labour for failing to take it seriously. “In order to do that,” he tweeted, “we have to build trust between Labour and the Jewish community and [publishing the joint editorial] does not help to achieve that.”
“How,” Bragg continued, “are we supposed to conduct a reasoned debate about anti-semitism in such a febrile atmosphere?”
Sadly, it’s not exactly a rhetorical question. In September, Labour’s MPs will convene to vote on an emergency motion calling on the party to undo an earlier decision that significantly diluted the widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Labour adopted the IHRA’s framework, but omitted key clauses, including the ones stating that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and that “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” are both anti-Semitic acts.
“With the government in Brexit disarray,” the joint editorial concluded, “there is a clear and present danger that a man with a default blindness to the Jewish community’s fears, a man who has a problem seeing that hateful rhetoric aimed at Israel can easily step into antisemitism, could be our next prime minister. On 5 September, Labour MPs vote on an emergency motion, calling for the party to adopt the full IHRA definition into its rulebook. Following that, it will face a binary choice: implement IHRA in full or be seen by all decent people as an institutionally racist, antisemitic party. After three deeply painful years for our community, September is finally make or break.”