I’m tired. I have started writing this piece a dozen times in different ways, but there’s no other way to say it. I’m just. So. Damn. Tired.
For the last three-and-a-bit years, Britain’s Jews have watched in horror as our left-wing Labour Party, the party which claims to defend minorities and champion equality, the self-professed party of anti-racism, has become seemingly, irrevocably infested with the world’s oldest hatred: anti-Semitism. We have looked on, exasperated, as the goalposts of acceptable discourse have moved and moved and moved again.
Once upon a time, the situation could be summarized into a neat-ish timeline — but these days, explaining Britain’s anti-Semitism crisis to someone who hasn’t been closely following events as they unfold feels like taking a dose of Ambien before wading through quicksand. By which I mean, nearly impossible.
Each new day brings a fresh shower of shit — the crisis is escalating at such a pace as to cause outrage fatigue. If people like me, for whom this is a specialist interest, struggle to keep up without feeling sluggish and defeated, what hope do we have of illustrating the scale of the problem to the wider public?
Nevertheless, I will try to explain what it has been like, particularly for left-leaning Jews like me, to watch people we considered to be allies, even friends, gradually dehumanize and abandon us.
First, a quick primer: It is important to note anti-Semitism on the fringes of the Labour Party is not a new issue. From collectively blaming Jews in the diaspora for the actions of Israel to sharing cartoons and memes which wouldn’t have been out of place in 1930s Germany, a lack of nuanced understanding about where legitimate criticism of a nation state ends and racism begins has long been a problem on the left.
For many years, these sentiments were mostly confined to the fringes of the party. Those expressing them were dismissed as cranks, but anecdotally quietly tolerated in the name of keeping the peace in a broad church. I experienced this first-hand back in 2008 as a literature student volunteering at a charity book sale at my local constituency Labour Party. After picking up a beautifully illustrated Shakespeare volume to buy for myself, I was approached by an elderly man who started ranting, unprompted, about how “Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice as a warning to the Jews to stop their greedy behavior.” When challenged, he responded, “It’s all true; why do you think the world’s in the state it’s in today?”
I vividly remember the feeling of the blood pumping in my ears as I calmly introduced myself as the president of the campus Jewish society. I was immediately called into an office by a Labour Party worker and asked not to make a big deal of the situation. I went home in tears, feeling like a troublemaker.
Despite this mishandling, which (again anecdotally) was not unusual, Labour’s anti-Semitism problem remained at an unpleasant simmer, a dormant disease bubbling below its center-left respectable surface. That was until 2015, when a new leader brought these fringe elements of the party into the mainstream: Jeremy Corbyn.
In a feat of incredible branding and perfect timing, combined with a new rule allowing non-members to register for just £3 to vote in the leadership election, Corbyn unexpectedly won the Labour leadership by an enormous landslide. Corbyn was presented as the face of a new youth movement. He instilled a fervor, hope, and political passion in his young supporters, a passion which, for some hardliners, quickly turned into an unquestioning devotion.
As stories began to emerge of Corbyn’s many problematic associations with controversial figures within the anti-Israel movement (most notably, referring to Hamas and Hezbollah, both deemed terrorist groups by many countries and organizations, including the EU, as “friends”), his base began to double down. The more Jews expressed their fears about Corbyn, a man who had shared platforms with and promoted a “who’s who” of anti-Semites, the more many of his supporters closed their hearts and their ears.
When I first started calling out some of the issues with Corbyn, I remember being shocked at the sheer level and volume of abuse I received in return. People I considered personal friends had already decided that all criticisms of Corbyn were “smears” and outright refused to read anything at all, even verbatim accounts of his own words, that might paint him in a negative light. Suddenly people who had known me for years, who had always respected my opinion even when they didn’t agree with it, doubted my intelligence and my intentions. Either I was a fool for being taken in “hook line and sinker” by the “anti-Corbyn narrative” or I was a part of the conspiracy against him. I stopped being their rational friend Sara, with whom they could debate the issue. Now I was just one of the bad Jews.
My views on Israel ceased to matter – I was obviously just trying to protect the Israeli state from criticism (regardless of my own personal criticisms). My views on welfare ceased to matter – I obviously didn’t care about our National Health Service, or those in poverty, or disabled people. My own financial situation ceased to matter – I was obviously just terrified Corbyn was going to take all the money I definitely have, you know, as Scrooge McJew. I tried to express my own perspectives, I insisted that my issues with Corbyn had nothing to do with any of those things, but now, as a non-cooperative Corbyn-critical Jew, none of those views could be seen as genuine. I must somehow be infiltrating the left wing or pretending to hold a plethora of progressive views in order to justify bashing their messiah.
The problem has since embedded itself on an institutional level. There is too much to address here — from an inquiry into anti-Semitism which was widely regarded by the community as a whitewash, to the emergence of deeply troubling events hosted and attended by Corbyn. We have been faced with a near-daily onslaught of news about horrific cases of Labour anti-Semitism which apparently didn’t merit suspension or expulsion, accusations of the leader’s own office intervening in anti-Semitism cases, and an army of online trolls claiming to act in Corbyn’s name, spending their time obsessively baiting, undermining, and abusing Jews, all the while demanding “evidence” of the problem they have created.
I have a reasonably large Twitter following and I talk about anti-Semitism a LOT. There is probably a whole library of abuse from people I’ve blocked and forgotten about, but here’s a little highlights reel (some of this has been directly from people claiming to support Jeremy Corbyn, for others the origins are unclear). Over the last three years, I have been told to “go back to Tel Aviv,” I’ve been called Blairite scum, I’ve been told I’m weaponizing my religion for money, I’ve had people demanding to know who’s funding me, I’ve been told people are sick of us Jews whining, I’ve been told the real victims of anti-Semitism are Palestinians, I’ve had people mock my “poor hurt feelings,” I’ve been told to “stop being a wimp,” I’ve been told I’m providing the distraction for the people who killed Jo Cox, I’ve been called a child killer, I’ve been told that people like me belong in work camps, I’ve had people laugh at my use of the word “gaslit” (“hahahahaha this Jew feels gaslit”). Oh, and the old classic: “EVIDENCE?”
I would need an entire book to cover the injustices, insults, and inhumanity we have faced over the last few years from members and officials of the party that claims to protect us, but I will just say this: Corbyn may have been the catalyst for the outpouring of anti-Semitic sentiment on the British left, but it will not end with him. What he has unleashed has changed the landscape of British politics. It has radicalized a new generation to be mistrustful of and hostile towards Jews. We are not just tired — we are genuinely afraid for our futures in this country.