Photo: Eric Lobbecke
It has received little coverage in Australia but Corbyn has been involved in recent months in one of the most damaging controversies of his at times bizarre leadership: the extreme anti-Semitism of his strand of the Labour Party, his own often warm endorsement of it, his deep reluctance to do anything about it and the sickening element of modern Labour this represents.
Corbyn has taken Labour further left than at any point in its history. He wants to renationalise a lot of industry and raise taxes, and he has a history of favouring unilateral nuclear disarmament, though that is not official party policy. Although a bearded old fuddy-duddy in manner, he embraces every twist of every far left identity issue and grievance mongering. He did so well last time partly through populism — promising to wipe out university debts and eliminate tuition fees, promising new public holidays, big pay rises for civil servants and much more. Part of his success came from low expectations. No one thought he had a chance when the campaign started and he received a very soft press.
One reason his personal history of extremism doesn’t count against him is that young people have no clue about the historical issues on which Corbyn routinely sided with the communists and the dictators. And his identity politics extremism is substantially forgiven by all but the right-wing media and, mostly shorn of meaningful context, regarded as vaguely hip or cool, or at least well intentioned, by young folk.
But the anti-Semitic words and actions of Corbyn’s supporters, and his own expressions of support for them, have been so gross and blatant recently that it has caused revulsion among many Labour faithful. Corbyn has long been closely associated with anti-Semites. Historically, he described the Gaza-based Hamas terrorists as “friends”, despite not only their gruesome terrorist murders but also the shocking and classic anti-Semitism of their charter.
Corbyn signed on to the defence of a mural by Mear One that contained hideous, grotesque anti-Semitic stereotypes. He later explained, with a kind of demented lameness, that he hadn’t looked at the mural closely and was defending it only on the basis of defending free speech, which is a bit rich given that he never defends the free speech of cartoonists murdered by Islamists.
As the left-wing New Statesman reports, Corbyn described one Raed Salah as “an honoured citizen” even though Salah promotes the traditional “blood libel” that Jews drink the blood of Gentile children in bestial ceremonies. And then, after all this, Corbyn chose to celebrate Passover with one of the most fringe Jewish groups in Britain that dismisses the whole anti-Semitism controversy as a beat-up.
The problem for Corbyn is that most voters, according to the polls, believe Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism. And almost 20,000 people have left the Labour Party in the past couple of months, partly as a result. So, with maximum reluctance and minimum conviction, Corbyn has eventually issued one of those hyper-attenuated semi-apologies and pledged himself a lifelong opponent of anti-Semitism.
It goes without saying that criticism of Israel, provided it is not distorted by hatred for or prejudice towards Jews, is not anti-Semitism. In all the cases mentioned above, what I am talking about is classical, racist anti-Jew hatred and prejudice. This is often conflated with a hatred of Israel but the sources of anti-Semitism, especially on the left, go far beyond modern Israel.
Anti-Semitism is a foul mistake of parts of the Western tradition. There are three significant strains of anti-Semitism today and the only one that sits inside the Western mainstream is the anti-Semitism of the left.
Arab and Islamist anti-Semitism is the most murderous version. It is in a minor way fuelled by the Western left — Noam Chomsky and the like — but it has its own roots and character. It is why Jews are disproportionately targeted in Islamist terrorism carried out in the West, such as the octogenarian French Holocaust survivor killed in her home recently by an Islamist neighbour shouting “Allahu akbar”.
Right-wing anti-Semitism is now a very minor force but it is still there. It was massively discredited by World War II and all over the West the mainstream right is now strongly supportive of Israel, so it is a very difficult position to sustain. But it certainly still has a presence. The same types of nut cases who worship Vladimir Putin tend often to believe loony conspiracy theories about Jews.
But the anti-Semitic tradition with the most grip and influence in the Western mainstream is that on the left. We have tended to see left-wing anti-Semitism as a modern aberration, brought about as much as anything by the far left’s characteristic hatred of America and the close association of Israel with the US.
In truth, left-wing anti-Semitism is a much more venerable tradition and much more closely associated with central left-wing views than anyone on the left should find comfortable. For a start, much of the old left-wing hostility to capitalism went far beyond capitalism’s failings and embraced a conspiracy theory of capitalism. In this the finance power of Jewish bankers, combined with dark alleged Jewish control of the media, was at the service of the capitalist class to keep workers in misery. Varieties of this old conspiracy theory of finance and capitalism remain alive and well in the far left.
In a brilliant column in London’s The Sunday Telegraph a Conservative member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, recalled some of the highlights of the left’s wretched and hateful obsession with Jews. Karl Marx wrote of Judaism: “What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general.”
Similarly, it is easy to forget Adolf Hitler was a socialist and Nazism — National Socialism — was a socialist movement. Hitler himself asked: “How can you be a socialist and not be an anti-Semite?” As Hannan points out, the term socialist was popularised in the 19th century by Frenchman Pierre Leroux, who wrote: “When we speak of the Jews, we mean the Jewish spirit, the spirit of profit, of lucre, of gain, of speculation; in a word, the banker’s spirit.”
Of course the Christian tradition has a lot to apologise for in the history of anti-Semitism. But the Christians have done exactly that. They have apologised for this dreadful mistake a minority of them made. So, by and large, has the right. Tragically, a crude anti-Semitism thrives in the Arab world. It also thrives in the sectarian left and in the orbit of the weirdest and most disturbing mainstream leader the Western world has seen in a long, long time.