Back in 2012, when I was undertaking an MPhil at Wolfson College, Cambridge, a woman called Jane Chapman could be seen around college. Professor Chapman made no secret of her pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel allegiances. I eventually found out that she had once been married to a loonie leftie MP called Jeremy Corbyn – someone who on brief examination also seemed very keen indeed on the anti-Israel cause. They certainly had that in common.
Little did I know that three years later we’d be peering down the surprisingly long, very dark barrel of a Corbyn Labour leadership, and inevitably, in time, find the country’s finger on the button of the figurative nuke of a Corbyn premiership.
Right from the moment Corbyn became Labour leader I became deeply uneasy about his track record on Israel and therefore (yes: therefore) with Jews. We were primed for an anti-Conservative, anti-Austerity, and worst of all, an “anti-imperialist” reaction to Blair, Brown, Cameron and Osborne, so I worried Corbyn would stick and he has. I also feared with good reason that it would take a long time for people to notice his true colours. As a researcher, I’d been studying the segment of the left out of which Corbyn emerged and knew that since the 1970s it had fostered an obsessive, anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. And so, along with everyone else who recognised the danger to Jews and society more widely of the loonie left entering the mainstream, I braced myself.
Those of us who braced back in 2015 have been horrified but not been surprised as anti-Semitism has poured from Labour since Corbyn came to power, from the East London mural of the hook-nosed, money-grubbing Jewish caricatures that Corbyn initially defended as art, to the hounding and trolling of Jewish Labour MPs, to the maniacal resistance to adopting the International Holocaust Remembrace Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism because it includes the clause: “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
An April 2018 investigation illuminated the sheer extent of the Nazi-style atmosphere in Corbynite social media (a place where the star of David on the Israeli flag has been replaced by a swastika). Jewish Labour MPs, including Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman, have resigned over anti-Semitic trolling from members. Around 350 Labour members have resigned after being investigated for anti-Jewish activity. In May 2019, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission finally had no choice but to launch a major investigation of anti-Semitism into the party.
As the threat of a Corbyn premiership looms close, at last, it becomes ever-clearer that Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism lies not just in the abundance of incidents, but also in the way these incidents are interpreted by the party. Allegations of racism against any other minority would be met with the utmost seriousness from the start. But allegations of anti-semitism are not only dismissed, they are also thrown back in our face, and I have watched with grim wonder as Jews – yes, Jews – are blamed for them.
The resignation letter last Wednesday of Chris Williamson MP crystallised this with ghastly clarity. Williamson, a beacon of anti-Israel vim, was suspended last year after complaining that the party had been “too apologetic” over allegations of anti-Semitism. He has been banned from standing for Labour in the 12 December election.
Writing to Jeremy Corbyn of his resignation from the party, Williamson, who will stand as an Independent in Derby North, wasted no time in frothing at the mouth with anti-Jewish conspiracy theory. After a brief opening line, he wrote that he believed he was the victim of a “witch-hunt against hundreds of socialists loyal to Jeremy Corbyn,” noting that “many of the victims of this witch hunt have been Jewish socialists, whose anti-Zionism is anathema to the apartheid apologists apparently influencing Labour foreign and domestic policy’. Williamson went on to write of his belief that “Labour Party officials have capitulated to the Jewish Labour Movement”, itself in the pay of Israel, and responsible for driving an agenda to “normalise Zionism” in the party.
A Jewish movement plotting to bring down socialist Labour; shady coalitions between British Jews and Israeli operators; the normalisation of Zionism? This is textbook, near-Nazi grade stuff. My (non-Jewish) friend Rob, who maintains Blair-era sensibleness, described this screed well. Williamson, and those who back him, are “blaming a Jewish conspiracy for his ejection for blaming a Jewish conspiracy for targeting people who believed in a Jewish conspiracy.” Quite.
And yet this sort of thinking has become par for the course under Corbs. I had a mind-boggling conversation on a date recently with an arch-pro Corbyn man, who told me that allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour were an insult to ‘real’ anti-Semitism and clearly just about besmirching Corbyn. ‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘Is it only ‘real’ anti-Semitism when Jews are gunned down into ditches?’ It wasn’t a love match in the end, but at least I made my point.
Many people, including my date, think Jews like me are unhinged in seeing Corbynism as an existential insult. Last week Charlotte Nichols, who converted to Judaism, wrote in the Jewish Chronicle that her support for Corbyn has led other Jews to fly off the handle at her, with some suggesting that she is not a ‘real’ Jew.
Rudeness and aggression are always regrettable. But the Jews raging at Ms Nichols are, I suspect, less bothered about whether she is a ‘real’ Jew than about whether she is a good Jew; indeed a decent person. As Corbyn’s supporters in Momentum and beyond have made clear, signing up to a Corbyn leadership carries major questions about morality that have a particularly sharp edge where Jews are concerned. No wonder we mind a great deal. Everyone should.