Aside from the thankfully lifeless British National Party, there is little evidence of anti-Semitism on the British Right today. Contrast that state of affairs with the miserable condition of the British Left. Since its hijacking by Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes in the fall of 2015, the Labour Party has been engulfed in a series of anti-Semitism scandals. Ken Livingstone’s sick fixation on claiming Adolf Hitler was a Zionist (the ulterior motive of which is to slander Israel as the reincarnation of Nazi Germany) would be comical were the former London Mayor not such a popular figure within his party. Indeed, so voluminous have Labour’s anti-Semitic eruptions been that they led both the party and parliament’s Home Affairs committee to launch separate inquiries. The latter of these determined that “The failure of the Labour Party consistently and effectively to deal with anti-Semitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic.” As for Labour’s internal probe, it was a travesty, capped when Corbyn rewarded its author, the shameless Shami Chakrabarti, a peerage just two months after she produced a whitewash.
In advance of Thursday’s general election, Corbyn’s Labour is doing surprisingly well, shrinking a 15 percent Conservative Party lead to just 5 percent over the course of two weeks. Prime Minister Theresa May had called the snap election in hopes of securing what nearly everyone assumed would be a massive Tory majority, thus giving her a stronger position with respect to the European Union in negotiating Britain’s departure from the bloc. With the election framed as something of a quasi-second referendum on Brexit, the extremism of Corbyn and his supporters has been obscured.
The overripe anti-Semitic rot within Labour Party smells worse than ever thanks to Corbyn, who, in addition to being a sympathizer of the Irish Republican Army and practically every anti-Western political tendency, spent more than thirty years on the backbenches consorting with a wide variety of Jew-haters. There was his well-known reference to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”; his sharing a stage with Dyab Abou Jajah, the Lebanese man who called 9/11 “sweet revenge” and said Europe had made “the cult of the Holocaust and Jew-worshiping its alternative religion”; his inviting the Palestinian hate preacher Raed Salah to Parliament; and his donating money to the anti-Israel organization operated by a Holocaust denier. Just recently, too, it emerged that, less than a year before assuming the party leadership, Corbyn attended a ceremony in Tunisia where he laid a wreath on the grave of a PLO terrorist involved in the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes. It was only natural that once this man became leader of one of the UK’s two major political parties, the anti-Semitic dregs with which he had associated himself for decades would rise to the surface.
Leftwing anti-Semitism is hardly limited to the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats have long had to put up with Baronness Jenny Tonge, whose accusations of Israeli organ harvesting would make Julius Streicher blush, and David Ward, the now ex-MP with a predilection for accusing Jews of behaving like Nazis. Institutionally, British academics play a disproportionate role in the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the National Union of Students is a hot-bed of anti-Semitic incitement, and the Guardian remains the most anti-Israel newspaper in the English-speaking world, home to cartoonist Steve Bell, who once drew Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet master and has lately taken to defending Livingstone’s “Israel is Hitler” obsession. And no discussion of leftwing anti-Semitism in contemporary Britain would be complete without mention of George Galloway, the Ayatollah of Bradford West.
All this is necessary context for a recent survey that found 40 percent of Britons to be concerned about anti-Semitism on the right, but only 36 percent about anti-Semitism on the Left. When the former is negligible and the latter is rampant, what explains the disparity?
One possibility is that Britons are simply unaware of the facts just enumerated and default to an atavistic conception that automatically correlates anti-Semitism with the political Right. But this is hard to believe, considering the massive press coverage the various Labour anti-Semitism scandals have received in the less than two years that Jeremy Corbyn has been leader, and the absence of similar outrages on the Right.
A second explanation is that many people don’t consider Corbyn and company’s obsessive anti-Israel activism to be anti-Semitism at all, but rather see it as a perhaps eccentric form of anti-imperialism—the premise presumably being that Israel is part of some global imperialist cabal or is a micro-imperialist power with regard to the Palestinians. This applies a nefarious double standard to anti-Jewish prejudice. Put Corbyn’s associations and behavior in a rightwing framework and the contradiction becomes obvious: If Corbyn had spent thirty years sharing platforms with the BNP and Northern Irish Loyalist militants, would anyone at the Guardian or other fashionable precincts of the British Left hesitate to conclude he was a racist, fascist sectarian?
At the very least, Corbyn and those who support him are, if not themselves anti-Semites, extremely tolerant of others who are. You don’t consort with Holocaust deniers and call organizations constitutionally committed to the murder of Jews worldwide your “friends” unless you are extraordinarily indifferent to Jewish concerns.
If much of the British Left is oblivious to the rampant anti-Semitism in its ranks, British Jewry isn’t. According to a poll conducted by the Jewish Chronicle, a whopping 77 percent of the country’s Jews plan to vote Conservative next week, compared to just 13 percent who say they will support Labour. British Jews also see political anti-Semitism in a rather different light than their countrymen. On a scale of one to five, with one representing “low levels of antisemitism among the political party’s members and elected representatives” and 5 representing “high levels,” Jews rank Labour at 3.94 and the Tories at 1.96.
What the aforementioned poll reveals is a remarkable complacency about anti-Semitism in Britain, at least on the Left. One cannot help but draw a comparison to the supporters of Donald Trump. For just as Americans “knew that Trump was vulgar, ignorant, racist and misogynist” and voted for him anyway, so are Corbyn’s backers aware of his “support for terrorism and his tolerance for anti-Semitism,” writes David Hirsh, professor at Goldsmiths College and author of a forthcoming book on leftwing anti-Semitism. “It isn’t that the electorate doesn’t know; it isn’t even that it doesn’t care. Maybe the electorate is thrilled by it; and by his refusal to play the game.” Indeed, Hirsh writes, “the more people demonstrate Corbyn’s record of support for terrorism, of his support for any war against Britain, of his support for anti-Semitic movements, the more a kind of stubborn respect for him kicks in.” The utter indifference to, and in some cases, esteem for, Jeremy Corbyn’s long comradeship with a miserable assortment of terrorists, cranks, and anti-Semites is a disturbing portent. A once-great party has confused democratic socialism with the socialism of fools.