This is a guest post by Paul M
The wellspring of left-antisemitism is the far left’s unhinged and reckless anti-Zionism. This is not a controversial statement. At least, it will be controversial to only two groups: people who defend Corbyn at any cost and people hell-bent on preserving their right to demonise Israel. Unfortunately for Corbyn, Labour and the rest of us, those are mostly not two groups but one.
Outside the mostly-rational territory of Harry’s Place, the opening sentence of this piece would likely be met with a torrent of abuse and denial, all pivoting on accusations that the charge of antisemitism is being mobilised to silence criticism of Israel. It would be taken as proof that this really is all about Zionists smearing “Jeremy” to bring him down.
The people who have been so quick to hide behind the twin defences of “Anti-Zionism isn’t antisemitism” and “all claims of antisemitism on the left are manipulative smears” haven’t yet realised that those threadbare lies have just worn completely through. The antisemite’s magic incantations have lost their power to protect. It may be some time until they do realise it, but they are doomed, I hope, by the revelations of the last few weeks. What those of us who have been paying attention have known for a long time is now well out in the public domain: Talk of ZioNazis and Rothschilds, organ-harvesting and Holocaust denial are not “criticism of Israel.” They are antisemitism, plain and simple, and they have been the small talk of groups with names like “Palestine Live,” “History of Palestine” and the “Palestine Solidarity Campaign” for years. Throwing this stuff around marks you as an antisemite. To listen to it for months or years on end and say nothing makes you at a minimum a helper of antisemites.
As I said, Corbyn’s adoring fans and the anti-Zionist antisemites tend to be the same people. He may be a “different kind of politician”, but he’s standard-issue enough to want to cling to his job as leader, unlooked-for windfall though it was, and his support base is where the problem is. Not only that, he himself is one of the ones who believes any calumny of Israel is justified, because he is driven by a simplistic ideology learned in the Soviet-influenced far left of his Cold War childhood and makes little reference to observable reality. He is different enough, though, from most career politicians to hold doggedly on to ideological positions come what may—he hasn’t changed his politics in forty years; he’s not going to do it now. But if he isn’t pragmatic enough to see for himself that Labour has reached a watershed and that antisemitism-as-usual is no longer tenable, the people gathered around him are. He has been forced to declare that he agrees, and he has made a promise to deal with it. Even he will understand that he is now being watched for results. So he’s got a problem: He can’t let things go on as they are, but he’s not capable of rethinking his own beliefs. What will he do?
He will do this: He will crack down on the left-antisemitism that looks just the same as traditional, far-right antisemitism. Talk of Rothschilds and Nazis will get you thrown out of the party. So will Holocaust denial and perhaps even organ-theft slurs. Those kinds of attacks have never been his style anyway, though he hasn’t hitherto been troubled by other people making them. But that’s as far as he will go, and it will be a failure. Perhaps Ken Livingstone will be made an example of—it is the last useful service he can still provide his party anyway. A few of the unusually slow-to-learn will find themselves out. The rest will adapt quickly enough, because what will remain will be all the other lies: “genocide,” “apartheid,” “child-murder,” “colonialism,” “white supremacy.” All of this is provably untrue and demonstrably in a different category to the way any other conflict involving any other country is discussed. Because it is both false and uniquely applied to the one Jewish state it, too, is antisemitism, but this part he won’t touch, because this part he believes.
There is no way to ring-fence this one kind of antisemitism. Labour can’t be a little bit antisemitic any more than one can be a little bit pregnant, and the taint will seep right back into the party. It will keep seeping back in so long as the controlling strain of political thought permits itself the luxury of an unlimited, unreasoning hate of Israel and Zionists.
For Labour, change will be delayed until the party is no longer owned by people who see Israel through a red mist. Until then it will be antisemitic—not a little bit, not in pockets, but in its bones.