Are you a non-British Jew confused by what is happening in Britain with regard to growing anti-Semitism right now?

Join the club.

There’s been a debate in Parliament, protests in London, a tweetstorm by J.K. Rowling, and a deluge of outrage surrounding the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. (For those who don’t know, the Labour party is a center-left political party that has been led by Jeremy Corbyn since 2015.)

As Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Haartez in March 2018, “The Jewish community in a modern Western democracy is accusing one of the country’s largest mainstream political parties and its leader, who may well be the country’s next prime minister, of tolerating and enabling anti-Semitism. More remarkable is that it is happening in Britain, where the leaders of the Jewish establishment are notoriously timid and routinely shy away from any hint of controversy. And to the Labour Party, which historically fought against any racism or discrimination against minorities, and which only three years ago was lead by the Jewish Ed Miliband.”

Important to note: The left is not the only side perpetrating anti-Semitism in Britain. The right has its own anti-Semitism issues, but we’re going to focus in on the Labour party due to the recent controversies.

Let’s break it down…

What started the current crisis

David Collier, a researcher, revealed in early March 2018 that Jeremy Corbyn (aforementioned leader of the Labour party) was a member of a Facebook group called “Palestine Live.” In a 290-page document, Collier breaks down how this hate-filled Facebook group was frequented by Jeremy Corbyn. To preface his report, Collier writes, “Since 1990, I have been researching the conflicts involving Israel and fighting the delegitimisation campaign since 2000. For several years I have also been combatting rising antisemitism both on the far-right and far-left.”

The posts on the “Palestine Live” facebook group included Holocaust denial, conspiracy theories that Israel did 9/11, and general conspiracies about the Rothschild family and Jews controlling the banks. Corbyn left the group in 2015, when he was elected leader of the Labour party. Corbyn, of course, denies he ever saw the anti-Semitism in the group: “Had I seen it, of course, I would have challenged it straight away, but I actually don’t spend all my time reading social media… I have never trawled through the whole group. I have never read all the messages on it. I have removed myself from it.”

After this “dossier” was released, more and more examples were unearthed. Here’s a thread, compiled by Jack Mendel, of numerous examples of Labour and Corbyn’s history of anti-Semitism, including a Labour party candidate who called the Holocaust a hoax, the former mayor of London saying Hitler was a Zionist, and so on:

What started the protests?

In 2012, Kalen Ockerman, an American graffiti artist, painted a mural in Brick Lane, London’s East End. Brick Lane — previously home to a large Jewish population — is now a “hipster” area with lots of street art.

Mural
Mural by MEAR ONE (image via @mearone on Twitter)

Ockerman’s mural “Freedom for Humanity” is widely considered anti-Semitic. (Ignore the “HAGANAH” spray-painted over it.) It shows six elderly white men with stereotypical Jewish features playing Monopoly on the backs of black men. On the left, a man holds a sign saying, “The New World Order Is the Enemy of Humanity.” Following many complaints, the mural was painted over. Ockerman (who goes by MEAR ONE) took to Facebook to complain, and guess who commented sympathizing with him!?

If you guessed Corbyn, you’re right. He said: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.” As Haaretz points out, “Corbyn was referring to the 1934 incident, in which a work commissioned from Mexican artist Diego Rivera was removed from Rockefeller Center in New York for being “anti-capitalist.” Corbyn didn’t seem to mind that many Jews and non-Jews had felt that Okerman’s opus was anti-Semitic.

The Jewish Chronicle uncovered this comment by Corbyn back in 2015, but in light of the accusations, Labour MP Luciana Berger (she’ll come back into the story a little later) recently tweeted about it:

Unlike the Collier report/dossier/whatever you want to call it, this shows Corbyn commenting on a post. Corbyn’s response (a classic non-apology apology) was unconvincing, with the first response saying “free speech” and the second response saying he didn’t “look… closely at the image” he was commenting on. Similarly, Ockerman said in an e-mail to Bloomberg that the mural wasn’t anti-Semitic, and “though historically several of the characters may be of Jewish decent or ideology, my intention was to illustrate the privileged elite upper-ruling class.”

As Sophie Levin writes in HuffPost, “I rolled my eyes, not because the mural, which could have been the book cover for the Elders of Zion, was so blindingly anti-Semitic; but because a man and a movement that could be minutes away from 10 Downing Street, had failed to notice. Again.”

But it’s not new

In 2015, when Corbyn emerged as a front-runner for the Labour leader, the Jewish Chronicle published seven questions for Corbyn to answer, including:

Why did you write to the Church of England authorities to defend Rev Stephen Sizer, a vicar banned from social media because of his habit of posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, telling them that Rev Sizer was “under attack” because he had “dared to speak out over Zionism”?

Why do you associate with Hamas and Hezbollah and refer to them as your “friends”?

Why did you describe Raead Salah, a man convicted of the blood libel, as an ‘honoured citizen’?

As they concluded, “It is difficult not to see a pattern in Mr. Corbyn’s associations, and his refusal at any point to answer the fears of the Jewish community raised by these associations.” Yet, Corbyn was elected by a landslide in September 2015.

That spring, accusations of anti-Semitism arose again, so Corbyn established the Chakrabarti Inquiry, an investigation into anti-Semitism and racism in the Labour party. From this investigation, Naz Shah (a parliament member) and Ken Livingstone (former mayor of London) were suspended.

The overall finding of the Chakrabarti Inquiry was that, as the BBC reported, “the Labour party is not overrun by anti-Semitism or other forms of racism but there is an ‘occasionally toxic atmosphere.'” The recommendations included the fact that “Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.” Good call!

Yet, as Slate points out, “The inquiry Corbyn set up to investigate Labour’s anti-Semitism problem, led by the human rights advocate Shami Chakrabarti, was largely seen as a whitewash when she received a seat in the House of Lords shortly after her report was published.”

Around the time of this report, in June 2016, Corbyn drew an analogy between ISIS and Israel, saying, “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu Government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organizations.” While he was trying to make a point about not conflating Jews with Israel, he just ended up giving equal weight to ISIS and Israel. Not great.

Meanwhile, Corbyn’s supporters and Labour party members keep calling the accusations against Corbyn a “smear campaign.”

As two British Jewish leaders write in the Guardian, “These people claim to be ‘critical’ (not ‘obsessively hateful’) of Israel, but opposed to antisemitism. If that is the case, why are Jewish concerns not merely ignored but so passionately attacked?”

Public Protests

There have been two main campaigns that have focused against the anti-Semitism in the Labour Party: #EnoughIsEnough and #LabourAntisemitism.

#EnoughIsEnough, spearheaded by the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, have launched a campaign and organized protests. On March 25, soon after the mural controversy erupted, they published an open letter to Corbyn, writing:

Again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews. At best, this derives from the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel. At worst, it suggests a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity, a class enemy.

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, Jews expressed sincere and profound fears as to how such politics would impact upon their wellbeing. Our concerns were never taken seriously. Three years on, the party and British Jews are reaping the consequences.

The day after this letter was published, there was a large protest in Westminster. Around 2,000 people showed up with signs saying “#EnoughIsEnough,” “Dayenu,” and, “NO to Holocaust Denial.”

Embed from Getty Images

As David Patrikarakos explained in Tablet, “The rally slogan… succinctly articulated the growing, festering frustration and anger felt by the overwhelming majority of Britain’s Jews to the seemingly endless anti-Semitism scandals that have plagued Labour since Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015. ”

Corbyn’s response (read here) ended with the line, “In that spirit, I must make it clear that I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of anti-Semitism. In this fight, I am your ally and always will be.” Yet, he couldn’t condemn anti-Semitism without mentioning, “Israel’s continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people.” Corbyn, how is that relevant here?! 

This brings us to the main issue: conflating critique of Israel with anti-Semitism. Why should Jews in Britain have to answer for Israel’s actions? Why does an apology for institutional anti-Semitism bring up Israel?

A week later, during Passover, Corbyn attended a seder hosted by a far-left Jewish group called “Jewdas.” (Which led to a whole other controversy. Oy.)

Anti-Semitism Debate

In light of all of this, there’s a debate currently happening in the British Parliament called the “Antisemitism Debate.” Throughout the initial three-hour hearing, Corbyn sat and listened to lawmakers from his own party and others.

Labour MP Luciana Berger gave a moving speech on April 17 (very worth watching), where she told her story as an example of how “anti-Semitism can manifest itself in our country.” She goes onto explain, “I was 19 when I received my first piece of hate mail — it described me as a dirty Zionist pig — and so started my 18-year experience of contending with anti-Semitism.”

There was a campaign against her calling her a “#filthyjewbitch,” which resulted in her receiving over 2,500 violent, pornographic, and extremely anti-Semitic messages in just one day alone. Further, she says, “There are people who have accused me of having two masters. They have said that I am Tel Aviv’s servant, and called me a paid-up Israeli operative. Essentially, this is anti-Semitism of the worst kind, suggesting that I am a traitor to our country. They have called me Judas, a Zionazi, and an absolute parasite, and they have told me to get out of this country and go back to Israel.”

Berger belongs to the Labour party, which has been the root of the issue. As she explains, “Anti-Semitism is now more commonplace, more conspicuous, and more corrosive within the Labour party.” Corbyn left the chamber after Berger’s speech.

On the day of, there were billboards going around (á la Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) saying: “Holocaust Denier Harboured by Labour,” “Failure To Act on Antisemitism,” and, “Institutional Antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour.”

In reaction to the anti-Semitism debate and the increased public scrutiny, Corbyn told the Press Association “No anti-Semitic remarks are ever done in my name. I am totally opposed to it in any form whatsoever.” Which we know is not true; as author Dave Rich tweeted, “Yes it is, whether you like it or not. It is done in Facebook groups that bear your name, in tweets with hashtags supporting you, by people who joined the Labour Party because you are its leader.”

For example: In a closed Facebook group called “I’m backing Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister” (which has about 24,000 members), after the anti-Semitism debate, many commenters leaned right into anti-Semitism. See this Twitter thread with many, many examples, like this:

During this debate, J.K. Rowling (yes, renowned author of the Harry Potter series) amazingly took to Twitter to school her followers in how to identify anti-Semitism.

Next Steps

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council are meeting with Corbyn on April 24th. As Jewish News reported, “Corbyn has agreed to an agenda for talks set out by the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council, including their proposal that current and future disciplinary cases be concluded in a set period of time.”

We can only hope they work towards addressing the root causes of the rampant anti-Semitism in the Labour party and in Britain.

Emily Burack

Emily Burack is an editorial assistant at Alma.