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Transatlantic Blog

Labour pains: The far-Left’s anti-Semitism problem

This week, a UK government office launched an investigation into the Labour Party over charges the party “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed, or victimised people because they are Jewish.” Allegations of anti-Semitism are nothing new against the Labour Party (which, ironically, founded the investigating body, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a dozen years ago), but the charges – and their lack of resolution – reveal two important truths about socialism.

Reports of harassment of Jewish members peaked under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who was once considered too radical to lead a party that Tony Blair rebranded as center-Left. The concerns are both personal and institutional.

Some tie Labour's spike in anti-Semitism to its takeover by Corbyn and Momentum. Corbyn has a history of associating with extremist or terrorist organizations:

  • Corbyn participated in a 2014 wreath-laying ceremony honoring the terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics;
  • In 2009, he invited “our friends from Hezbollah” and “our friends from Hamas” to an event inside Parliament. Although he later expressed “regret” over his word choice, he did not apologize for describing the two organizations as dedicated to “bringing about peace and social justice” in the Middle Last
  • Corbyn hosted an event at the House of Commons, on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2010 titled, “The Misuse of the Holocaust for Political Purposes,” at which speaker Hajo Meyer likened Israelis to Nazis;
  • Corbyn opposed the removal of a mural featuring classical anti-Semitic imagery of rapacious Jewish bankers consuming the globe. Corbyn personally messaged graffiti “artist” Mear One: “You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin”;
  • He made numerous paid appearances on Iran’s state-run Press TV, which is now banned from broadcasting in the UK; and
  • He led the Labour Party in refusing to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's guidelines on anti-Semitism, for fear they would stifle criticism of Israel’s founding or current policies. The guidelines the party adopted would allow members to accuse Jews of dual loyalty to Israel. Former Labour MP Luciana Berger said she is regularly accused of “having two masters,” of being “Tel Aviv’s servant” and “a paid-up Israeli operative.”

Last July three Jewish newspapers ran the same editorial as their lead story, warning of “the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.” 

The content of anti-Semitic and anti-capitalist conspiracies overlaps.

A 2016 party-led investigation found an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” of anti-Semitism in its ranks. That aroma, in part, led nine Labour MPs to quit the party this winter and found a new party, Change UK (which floundered during its first test at the polls last Thursday).

Those who have stayed have also faced backlash. Louise Ellman, a Labour MP who is Jewish, said she has received anti-Semitic attacks from Corbyn’s most hardcore supporters since his ascension to power. “There are some individuals engaging in traditional anti-Semitism, such as making references to Jews financing slavery, and others who are anti-Zionist to the degree that they become associated with people who denigrate Jews as a whole,” she said. (You can read an in-depth account of Labour's anti-Semitism under Corbyn here.)

However, others point out that allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party long ante-date Corbyn’s tenure as leader. Instead, they say, the problem is embedded deeply in the ideology of the Left. “It’s an institutional thing,” said Harry Fletcher, who once advised Corbyn. “It’s mixed up with the Left of the party, which has complete antipathy to State of Israel and many would say that it shouldn’t exist.”

Anti-Semitism can be found in people of any political, or religious persuasion, and none. However, it has seen a resurgence on the Left. There are two lessons to draw from this row.

First, the content of anti-Semitic and anti-capitalist conspiracies overlaps. Both hold that the world is ruled by a hereditary caste that hordes ill-gotten wealth. This hermetically sealed elite exploits the masses for profit and, literally or figuratively, lives off their blood. It has “rigged the system” through its monopoly of industry (especially financial speculation) and its financial control of politicians and the media. It is so entrenched that citizens can only disgorge this alien class through concerted state power.

The gears forged to grind down one scapegoat can as easily be used on another.

Anti-capitalism and anti-Semitism agree on methods and results; they merely disagree on the actors. Yet to the untrained viewer, their worldviews have enough overlay to blur into one amorphous entity. Corbyn has denounced “property speculators” and warned that the EU would establish “a bankers’ Europe.” While no one believes Corbyn holds anti-Semitic views, those who do hold such views will find his words resonate. Add in the Left’s Chomskyite view of Israel as a colonialist outpost, and the large influx of new voters who hold the anti-Semitic views prevalent in the lands of their birth, and the resultant powder keg awaits only a spark.

Second, concentrated state power allows the selective enforcement of justice. Consolidated power allows politicians to divide the world into secular angels and demons – and to legislate accordingly. Labour MP Jess Phillips has noted that Corbyn expelled former party press secretary Alastair Campbell within 24 hours of admitting he voted for the Liberal Democrats in last week’s European elections, yet it took months to suspend a member who shared articles denying the Holocaust.

That dichotomy is the key to understanding statism. Campbell’s actions cost the party votes, while some seem to believe that tolerating anti-Semites gains the party votes. So, one is rigidly punished, while the other is delayed for months, or years on end. In this universe, the arc of history bends, not toward justice, but toward expediency.

Consolidating power in the hands of the state allows for these two sides of the same coin: prejudice and favoritism, envy and vengeance. Anti-Semitic prejudice targets the Jewish people; socialist envy targets the successful. The gears forged to grind down one scapegoat can as easily be used on another.

(Photo credit: Bablu Miah. This photo has been cropped and modified. CC BY 2.0.)


Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.