Jeremy Corbyn Scares Britain's JewsYonoson Rosenblum
His hostility to Israel is long-standing and fervent
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
n July, three general circulation Jewish newspapers in the United Kingdom took the unprecedented step of publishing a joint editorial pronouncing a government led by Labour's Jeremy Corbyn an "existential threat" to British Jewry. "The stain and shame of anti-Semitism has coursed through Her Majesty's Opposition since Corbyn became leader in 2015," charged the editorial. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis joined in accusing Labour of treating the UK's Jewish population with "utter contempt."
The joint editorial was prompted by the results of a Labour Party effort to define anti-Semitism, in response to earlier criticisms of the party and its leader for their attitudes toward Jews. Labour's efforts only made matters worse. The new definition of anti-Semitism omitted key elements from that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). And for good reason: Corbyn has himself run repeatedly run afoul of the IHRA standards.
Under the new Labour definition, describing Israel's policies as reminiscent of the Third Reich or the state of Israel as a racist enterprise from its inception would not be considered anti-Semitic. Nor would suggesting that many Jewish citizens are more loyal to Israel than to Britain.
Corbyn is perfectly comfortable consorting with anti-Semites and trafficking in traditional anti-Semitic tropes, as Jonathan Foreman details in a long article in the current Commentary. He has attended annual gatherings with and contributed to a charity for Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. He has participated in at least three Facebook groups where Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are commonplace. In 2012, he opposed the removal of a street mural portraying Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on a table supported by the backs of brown-skinned people.
He and his supporters are prone to traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. He suggested on Iranian TV in 2011 that the murder of Egyptians by Islamic jihadists served Israel's interests and expressed his suspicions of the "hand of Israel in this whole process of destabilization." His brother has tweeted that the "Jewish conspiracy will force Trump into war just like they did to Hitler," and his youngest son's Facebook page includes a Nazi cartoon. His supporters have been quick to attribute the uproar about anti-Semitism in the ranks of Labour to the Mossad.
Corbyn's hostility to Israel is long-standing and fervent. He chaired the 1984 conference of the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine, which declared its support for "the Palestinian people in their struggle for a democratic and secular state in the whole of Palestine." He criticized the BBC in 2011 — again, on an Iranian-funded channel — for its tendency to say things like, "Israel is a democracy in the Middle East, Israel has the right to exist, Israel has its security concerns."
A Corbyn attempt at placating the Jewish community consisted of attending a Seder sponsored by a group called Jewdas that describes Israel as "a steaming pile of sewage that needs to be rapidly disposed of."
Seamus Milne, Corbyn's director of communication and strategy, is considered the person closest to him. As a Guardian columnist, Milne used 9/11 to condemn Americans for their lack of a "glimmer of recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities." America, he wrote, had reaped the harvest it had itself sown, most particularly through its support for Israel's illegal military occupation. In 2014, Milne explicitly denied that Israel had any right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Gaza.
STILL, WHEN THE JOINT EDITORIAL APPEARED, I thought to myself that the new educational requirements Ofsted bureaucrats seek to apply to religious schools — which, if enforced, would make it impossible to provide a Torah education — constitute a much greater threat to the ability of British Jews to live in England.
True, a Corbyn government would pursue an aggressively anti-Israel foreign policy, and almost certainly recognize a Palestinian state. But I am not convinced that it could thereby do great damage to Israel, even given Britain's permanent membership on the UN Security Council.
At the domestic level, I reasoned that Corbyn's far-left policy prescriptions would be a disaster for Britain, returning it to the pre-Thatcher days, when powerful labor unions held the country in thrall, but not worse for Jews than for other citizens. And Corbyn would still operate within political constraints. However sympathetic he has shown himself to various Islamic terrorists, he could not allow them to run riot in Britain without being tossed from office.
Those suppositions, however, changed last week when I read a Times of Israel headline that Corbyn's popularity has even risen a bit, and Labour has crept slightly ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, despite news reports and photos last week of his having laid a wreath in 2014 at the graves in Tunis of Black September terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in 1972.
Once upon a time, creditable claims of anti-Semitism, including two public accusations of outright anti-Semitism by MPs in his own Labour Party, would have sunk any major British political leader. No longer. Corbyn has not only weathered the storm, despite his weak and constantly shifting explanations of his behavior, but gained in popularity. If elections were held today, with the Conservative Party in complete disarray, Corbyn could well be elected prime minister.
Corbyn's rise and his Teflon-like ability to repel all charges against him suggest that an anti-Semitic genie has been released in Great Britain, and British Jews are right to take note. Something more than taking note, however, is needed to cork the genie.
Almost a decade ago, when Jeremy Corbyn was still an obscure backbencher considered something of a loon in his own party, Robert Wistrich, the British-educated scholar of anti-Semitism, told me he could not understand how any self-respecting Jew could remain in Britain, given the opprobrium directed at Israel and Jews. The rise of Corbyn has strengthened the question, but hardly raised it for the first time.
Anti-Semitism: Who Cares?
While there is not yet any parallel in the United States to the Corbyn phenomenon, there are nonetheless worrying harbingers. When presidential aspirant Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D–NY) delivers the keynote address at a convention featuring numerous prominent BDS supporters, and another would-be presidential candidate, Senator Cory Booker (D–NJ), feels comfortable being photographed with BDS champions, it is time to worry about the leftward drift of the Democratic Party.
But of greatest concern is a growing phenomenon on university campuses — efforts to physically intimidate, threaten, and ostracize Jewish students who support, or are suspected of supporting, Israel. In 2015, for instance, there were organized campaigns at both UCLA and Stanford to prevent Jewish students from participating in student government on the grounds that they were indelibly tainted by their association with Israel.
So-called "micro-aggressions," such as saying America is a land of opportunity, are treated more seriously by college administrators than actions that cause Jewish students to feel physically unsafe. Attacks on Jewish students routinely arouse no campus outrage from administrators or fellow students.
Syracuse University political scientist Miriam Elman summarizes the findings of a recently published study by the AMCHA Initiative for protecting Jewish students: "BDS activists hostile toward Jewish students, not just Israel."
The AMCHA study sought to distinguish between familiar anti-Semitic expressions (which still remain the most common) — e.g., a swastika scratched on the wall of a bathroom stall — and those directly relating to anti-Israel activity on campus. It found a robust correspondence between BDS campus activism and acts of anti-Jewish hostility with an intent to harm — bullying, suppression of speech, destruction of property, and physical threats.
A specific intent to harm Jewish students was present in 94 percent of "incidents" involving anti-Israel activism. Incidents of peer-to-peer harassment are increasingly perpetrated by groups of students, often associated with larger off-campus organizations, such as Students for Justice in Palestine. And since 2015, there has been a dramatic rise in calls for the expulsion from campus or ostracism of Jewish or pro-Israel groups, by other student groups or coalitions of student groups.
And yet it is precisely this threatening behavior, in the guise of anti-Israelism, which is least likely to be addressed by campus administrators on the grounds that it is protected political expression, according to the AMCHA study.
Is an American Jeremy Corbyn being produced on campus right now