Britain’s Jews are mobilizing toward Parliament Square. A Jewish communications consultant who is active in the community spoke to me on his way to a unprecedented public outpouring of pent-up frustration with Jeremy Corbyn and the normalization of open anti-Semitism in Britain’s Labour party. There had, he told me, been “a lot of good mobilisation: Labour MP’s are re-tweeting details of the event and a lot of people previously undecided or who felt the problem was overblown have finally been convinced with ‘Mural-Gate.’”
The mural in question was painted on a wall in east London, and depicted a group of elderly hook-nosed, bearded men playing monopoly (with piles of cash on the table) on a board resting on hunched-over figures of the working classes. It was soon painted over and in a Facebook group Corbyn wrote: “Why? You are in good company. Rockefeller destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”
What was so instructive was less Corbyn’s reaction than my friend’s palpable anger. “Corbyn says anti-Semitism occurs in pockets of the Labour Party,” he told me. “It hasn’t occurred; it exists, and if it exists in pockets in the labour party the number one place it exists is in his pocket. And if anything is to be done to solve it, it is Corbyn and his ilk that has to change. This problem is one of the leadership’s making while the people around him describe it as a problem of some cranks on ‘the fringes.’ But this is false—it is wilfully delusional or more likely, it is worse, it is just cynical.”
Claudia Mendoza, the Director of Policy and Public Affairs for the JLC, spoke to me from on the ground at the event as it was just beginning. “I have literally just seen a mob of Labour MPs turn up in a big group. It’s not even 5:30 and it’s already swamped—there is a tiny counter-protest, but I cannot even seen them,” she said.
As a key figure in one of the groups that had organized the demonstration, she spoke to me of the exasperation behind it. “The slogan, ‘Enough is Enough,’ could not be more apt,” she continued. “It is important to understand that this was the last resort. We have voiced our concerns time and time again to no avail. The decision was almost made in the heat of the moment but it just felt so right. It is unprecedented and the fact that we felt we had to do it just shows how desperate times are.”
The rally slogan, from an open letter to the UK’s Labour Party, penned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), succinctly articulated the growing, festering frustration and anger felt by the overwhelming majority of Britain’s Jews to the seemingly endless anti-Semitism scandals that have plagued Labour since Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015. To list the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the party that have occurred since Corbyn took power would be both beyond the scope of this report and, frankly, too depressing. Some highlights include the former Mayor of London and high profile Labour member Ken Livingstone repeatedly claiming that Hitler was a Zionist (Livingstone has something of an obsession with Hitler, and cannot seem to stop talking about him), and various members being suspended (rarely are they ever actually expelled) for advancing the Rothschild, New World Order conspiracy theories increasingly beloved of the hard left.
When his comments on the mural were made public, Corbyn was forced to come out and grovel: “I sincerely regret,” he wrote, “that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic,” he said. “I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form.”
Yet as the Letter from the Board of Deputies noted: “Hizbollah commits terrorist atrocities against Jews, but Corbyn calls them his friends and attends pro-Hizbollah rallies in London. Exactly the same goes for Hamas. Raed Salah says Jews kill Christian children to drink their blood. Corbyn opposes his extradition and invites him for tea at the House of Commons. These are not the only cases. He is repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views, but claims never to hear or read them.”
A cynic might say that Corbyn is perfectly aware of these views. His political philosophy (such as it exists) can loosely be described as support for anything or anyone who opposes the West (especially the United States) in the name of “anti-imperialism.” As such, over a 30-year career in politics he did pretty much nothing except share platforms with extremists of various descriptions. Maybe he genuinely did never notice the vat of anti-Semitism he wallowed in for so many decades. As far as passing legislation or making a tangible difference: nothing.
Still, today, Corbyn seems genuinely spooked. “I recognise that anti-Semitism has surfaced within the Labour Party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples,” his latest statement reads. “This has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.” Critically, he conceded that “newer forms of anti-Semitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli governments.”
But a question naturally arises: Is a man incapable of looking at a blatantly anti-Semitic mural without detecting anti-Semitism really the best person to root out the nuances of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism?
As Parliament Square filled to bursting point, Mendoza acknowledged that Corbyn’s response was his most robust toward anti-Semitism yet, and that, importantly, he has asked for a meeting with both the JLC and the board of Deputies. Nonetheless, she remained cautious. “He has said the words, she concluded, “now we need to see the deeds.”
David Patrikarakos is the author ofWar in 140 Characters: How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century. His Twitter feed is @dpatrikarakos.