I do not normally deal with issues beyond the concerns of the immediate Liverpool city-region, but charges of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party have been bandied about locally. I refer specifically to “charges” because, as I have often said, I have never witnessed or heard of examples locally of anti-Semitism, either as a member of the party for fifty-five years; as an employee of it; or as an elected member, representing it in parliament.
This current controversy in itself should not be surprising, as these charges seem to have gained currency in parallel with intensive attacks on Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Generally, they have been amplified by alleged parliamentary colleagues who just happen to be his political enemies within the Labour Party. The party itself has been labelled “institutionally anti-Semitic”, whatever that may mean. Sadly, some of our local Members of Parliament have joined the chorus – along with the departing Police and Crime Commissioner – determined to decry a party with a proud record of anti-racism.
Let me say that no-one can justify anti-Semitism – a pernicious form of racism focussed on Jews. However, there has been deliberate confusion of that detestable bigotry with a quite different matter of criticism of the Israeli government and its policies. The conflation of the two has too often led to misleading accusations that legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government are anti-Semitic when they are not.
The misuse of the grave charge of anti-Semitism was brought home to me back in 2007 when two highly respected American academics – John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt – co-authored a book entitled: “The Israel Lobby and United States Foreign Policy”. It was a scholarly work which set out to chronicle the influence on the United States of highly organised and well-funded lobby groups like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC (the nearest equivalents which we have might be bodies like the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Labour Friends of Israel).
The reaction to the extremely well-researched and objective book was immediate and vitriolic, with the now all-too-familiar accusations of anti-Semitism directed at the authors. Perhaps this reaction was partly explained by the persistence of anti-Jewish myths propagated by hard –right hatemongers. Yet the publication was also a challenge to the pro-Israel lobby groups who, in common with other such lobbyists, are averse to the illuminating transparency to which right-minded democrats aspire.
This unedifying spat came to mind when I saw that the decidedly dodgy Israeli prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu (currently facing a range of criminal charges back home) appeared at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. To my surprise, I noted that another guest speaker at this jamboree was Joan Ryan, MP, only the second British politician (after one Tony Blair) ever invited to address this body. I have seen no accounts of this anywhere in the British media, other than in the Jewish press. Not only was she chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) but, according to LFI’s website will remain so, despite leaving the party and abusing it in extreme terms to her American audience!
Her speech was a vicious diatribe – a toxic attack on the party which by her own admission, had given her so much, and of which she claimed to have been a member for forty years until she walked out to join the Independents Group. She described a Labour Party which I – and, I suspect, the vast majority of Labour Party members – do not recognise, probably because it does not exist other than in her fevered imagination. I will not bore you with her ugly, distorted view of the party, except to say that her central charge was that the Labour Party “seeks to demonise and delegitimize Israel”. Great stuff for her audience, of course, and grist to the mill for the sub-text of attacking Jeremy Corbyn personally.
Now, I have said repeatedly that, had I still been in parliament at the time, I would not have nominated Jeremy, nor would I have voted for him. I have no axe to grind with him – he just would never have been my choice. He was, however, elected leader of the Labour Party – twice! In my book, he will remain leader, despite all the plots and conspiracies conjured up to undermine him, until he packs it in, or the party as a whole decides to replace him, not a cabal of self-seekers. One calumny is that Jeremy is anti-Semitic. He is not – this charge just will not wash. Those who wish to challenge those in power in the party, at any level, should do so on the basis of policy debate, never on the basis of personal attacks rooted in deceit.