Battling accusations of anti-Semitism

In 2016, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn commissioned an inquiry into all forms of racism within the party. It was meant to put a lid on the growing concerns of anti-Semitism. Two months later, the inquiry concluded that the party was “not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism” though it acknowledged “an occasionally toxic atmosphere” and made recommendations for change. However, the report was swiftly overshadowed by other events, as critics suggested that remarks made by Mr. Corbyn at its launch compared Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to “various self-styled Islamic states or organisations”.

More than two years on, as the Conservative Party struggles to thwart criticism that it tolerates Islamophobia within its ranks, accusations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party have only intensified.

Some Labour members have said that the accusations are aimed at stifling any criticism of the politics of Israel. Others have accused some Labour MPs of using the opportunity to tarnish Mr. Corbyn, whose radical politics they have long opposed.

In late July, Britain’s three main Jewish newspapers took the unusual step of publishing the same front page with the headline “United We Stand,” and the warning that a government led by Mr. Corbyn would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life”.

In addition to comments by individuals, there are concerns surrounding the party’s failure to completely adopt the definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ as given by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. According to the group, “anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”.

In a letter to The Independent newspaper earlier this year, a number of minority rights organisations expressed their concern that adopting all the examples would prevent public discussions around the treatment of Palestinians. “Today we can freely describe the racist policies experienced in the era of British and European colonialism in our countries of origin (indeed it is taught in British schools), but the colonial history of the Palestinians is continually erased,” they warned.

Corbyn’s comment on Zionism

Nevertheless, criticism of Mr. Corbyn has continued to burgeon after a video of him speaking at an event emerged where, following a speech by the Palestinian Ambassador to the U.K., he said that Zionists present at the meeting had two clear problems: “one is that they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either”.

Mr. Corbyn has firmly rejected calls for him to resign, insisting that he was referring to Zionism in the strictly political sense of the word but the controversy has continued, with Britain’s former chief rabbi comparing Mr. Corbyn’s remarks to Enoch Powell’s incendiary 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. That comparison has triggered a heated debate of its own, with Labour describing the comparison with “race-baiting” Powell as “absurd and offensive”.

With emotions high on both sides, the debate shows little sign of abating any time soon, as Parliament prepares to return from its recess next week.

Some Jeremy Corbyn supporters allege that the recent allegations are aimed at stifling any criticism of Israel’s policies. Others accuse some Labour MPs of using the opportunity to tarnish the leader