Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Failing to act, again and again

Failure of those at the top to properly deal with antisemitism on the left for fear of what others may think sends a very clear message to the bigots, writes Adrian McMenamin

This week a member of my branch resigned her membership at least in part because of what she saw as antisemitism in Labour.

The Labour party is not overrun with antisemites and antisemitic incidents at party events are rare: in over 35 years of membership I can only think of a handful of examples of openly expressed antisemitism at a Labour meeting.

To me it seems only obvious that the current crisis over antisemites in the Labour party has been manufactured by the indolence, inaction and wilful ignorance of the current leadership. They have missed every opportunity to show they are determined to act against antisemites and instead have either pretended the problem is not serious, have hoped to brush it away by claiming to act when actually doing nothing or, very worst of all, have taken to claiming Jews have made it all up in an effort to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

Instead of supporting party staff who enforce the rules against racists many Momentum supporters have endorsed the idea that there is a conspiracy to use antisemitism as a weapon against Corbyn. It would be comical if it were not disgraceful.

The problem is not there are a large number of antisemites in British society: it is that so many of their tiny number have been attracted to the Labour party under Corbyn’s leadership.

This is not because Corbyn has expressed or endorsed antisemitic ideas and attitudes, but because he has failed to consistently, explicitly, and unequivocally condemn those who have and demand that they are expelled from the Labour party.

Worse, he has in past played footsie with those who are undeniably antisemites and seems unable to understand why that causes justifiable concern and requires him to make a special effort to end any doubt about his personal outlook. But Corbyn seems unable to speak. Instead he has hesitated and through that communicated a deep unwillingness to act.

His supporters have made it worse by implying that either antisemitism is entirely absent in the Labour party or that reports of it are made up or ‘weaponised’ to score points. If Corbyn wants to be taken seriously he needs to condemn these remarks too and make it clear that any repetition will be severely dealt with.

I tried to write this without mentioning Israel: because nothing that happens there justifies any racism here. But to leave out Israel would be to let the racists off the hook.

The antisemites hide behind claims of a Zionist conspiracy against Corbyn or claims of Israeli influence. Both are only aspects of the old, old antisemitic lie, but the fear that, in some way, denouncing them as such is the equivalent of endorsing Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories appears to be what holds some people back from taking the racists on.

But that is a mistake. There is no conspiracy. Those who say there is should be facing the threat of expulsion too.

And, no, to be an anti-Zionist is not to automatically be an antisemite. But if that is your claim and you want to be credible, you really need to tell us which other states you are proposing should be made to disappear.

It is not just Corbyn who has to draw the line. Earlier this year Len McCluskey alleged that concerns about antisemitism in the Labour movement were simply ‘mood music’.

McCluskey is well placed to make this judgement. One anonymous, but apparently well-connected, supporter of his campaign to be re-elected as Unite’s general secretary stated that his opponent, Gerard Coyne, was supported by a ‘Jewish mafia’. That was the mood music some of his backers wanted to hear.

I am not for an instant suggesting McCluskey himself was behind this or supported it, but, like Corbyn, his failure to swat the antisemites that buzz around him sends a very clear, and deeply concerning message, whether he wants to face up to that or not.

–––––––

Adrian McMenamin is the former chief press and broadcasting officer for the Labour party. He tweets at @adrianmcmenamin

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Adrian McMenamin

2 comments

  • What exactly do you want Corbyn to do? The left has traditionally been against Zionism. It is poisonous and destructive and poses the largest threat to peace in the middle east. It needs constant restatement that antizionism is not anti-Semitism. You and the remainder of the Blairite wing have failed significantly to stop the rise of Corbyn and what he has tapped into (and it is not anti-Semitism). It is a false flag that you are using to try and undermine him. It is one of very few tactics you have left as your ideology becomes more and more redundant. It is made far worse by the fact that it is one of the arguments used by the Tories and their supporters in the media, including the BBC. Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you.

    • Thank you for both proving all my points. On a conspiracist bingo card you’d score highly.

      Is there any other form of racism where you shout “shame on you” at those who raise concerns about it?

      Nor do you know anything about the history of the Labour left, it seems.

Sign up to our daily roundup email