Jeremy Corbyn has made his party safer for antisemites than for Jews

Rachel Cunliffe
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Corbyn “neutrally” chose the side of a speaker comparing Israel to the Third Reich

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

That was Jeremy Corbyn’s take on Twitter in January 2017, when Theresa May refused to condemn Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

It’s a tweet that has come back to haunt him recently.

Read more: Labour MPs split over anti-Semitism hearing

Last month, the Labour leader exercised his neutrality as his party redrafted the official description of antisemitism in its code of conduct, removing key examples from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition.

When this was criticised, he remained neutral while listening to his old friend Peter Willsman, a Momentum activist and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, ranting about how the party’s antisemitism problem was down to smears from “Jewish Trump fanatics”.

And, it emerged on Wednesday, he was neutral during an event he himself hosted in parliament on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2010, at which a speaker – Corbyn’s guest – compared Israel to the Nazis.

Corbyn’s response to the revelations about the 2010 event is just 77 words long, yet resembles a minefield of weasel words.

“Views were expressed at the meeting which I do not accept or condone,” he says passively, which is quite a linguistic step away from “I denounce the views expressed at the meeting”.

“I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject,” he continues, which neither explicitly condemns the view in question (that Israel is comparable to Nazism), nor mentions that he has rarely spoken alongside holders of other views with which he disagrees. He has in the past refused on the grounds of principle to share platforms with such unsavory characters as Tony Blair and David Cameron.

“I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused,” he finishes, which is not the same as apologising for lending legitimacy to such a perspective, on Holocaust Memorial Day of all days, and does little to explain why he did not feel the need to apologise at any time over the past eight years.

Of course, in the world of Corbynista doublethink, none of this counts. Antisemitism is simultaneously a damaging enough accusation that it must be part of a “smear campaign” against Corbyn, and also not actually “injustice” at all, because prejudice against Jews isn’t the same as prejudice against any other marginalised group.

In its own way, this is correct. No other culture of prejudice would go unexamined, unaddressed, and unapologised for by a party leader for so long.

Attempt to document the rising tide of antisemitism within the Labour party, and the task quickly becomes too Herculean to complete comprehensively. Even tracking the scandals since Corbyn became leader is a gargantuan effort.

There’s Ken Livingstone’s repetitions ad nauseum that Hitler was a Zionist. There’s Shami Chakrabarti’s 2016 whitewash report which found that there was no systemic problem even as Jewish Labour MPs received death threats and abuse.

There are the frequent revelations of Labour members, activists, and even councillors sharing grotesque and inflammatory antisemitic content on social media – not pro-Palestinian advocacy, but savage, hateful bigotry that perpetuates the most vicious tropes about Jews controlling the world and drinking the blood of Christian children.

There’s Corbyn’s own membership of Facebook groups that publish the same. There’s the London mural he defended in 2012 that showed a group of obviously Jewish figures playing monopoly on a table resting on human bodies.

There are reports of past events where he socialised with Holocaust deniers, argued away by the veil of solidarity for oppressed Palestinians.

There’s the standard excuse that the Labour party condemns “antisemitism-and-other-forms-of-racism”, spoken in one breath, as if anti-racist credentials in other situations cancel out wilful blindness to this one.

What about the two Labour MPs currently facing disciplinary action for daring to speak out against the antisemitism crisis, while Willsman himself gets away with the promise to attend equalities training?

The Corbynista columnist Owen Jones, who has been in propaganda mode all week, was quick to list the left-wing activists who have called for Willsman to stand down from his post. He failed to mention that Corbyn himself has stayed silent.

If you’re finding it hard to keep track, it’s because it is hard – overwhelming, disheartening, and at times almost impossible to believe.

Labour has proudly flown the flag for diversity, tolerance, and anti-racism, a voice for oppressed groups ignored or even demonised by other parties. For decades, it was a natural home for Jews. It is difficult now to reconcile that with a party that nurtures antisemitic voices, as long as they claim to be pro-Palestinian rather than anti-Jew.

But this is where we are. And as long as Corbyn remains leader, it isn’t going to change.

If the ongoing scandals since Livingston, since Chakrabati, since the mural incident tell us anything, it is that Corbyn as leader thinks the same way as the 2010 backbencher who “neutrally” chose the side of a speaker comparing Israel to the Third Reich. Labour, we must accept, is currently spearheaded by a man who would rather create a safe space for conspiracy-obsessed antisemites than for the many Jews who once called his party their home.

Read more: Corbyn to meet Jewish leaders as group warns against "witch hunt"

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