Last week, Ed Miliband MP used his Facebook page to issue a personal warning against antisemitism. CST thanks the Leader of the Opposition for this, and especially for his continuing support of CST’s work, but recent media coverage of Jewish communal relations with the Labour Party risks worsening the problem. It highlights the difficulty of achieving Ed Miliband’s appeal:
We need a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism in the UK and to reaffirm our revulsion to it in all its forms.
For British Jews, the warning came as we reflected upon a very difficult summer that CST has described as the “pressure-cooker“: combining various factors, some obviously against Jews, others obviously against Israel, and many wide open to personal interpretation. It is entirely correct that Ed Miliband wants “zero-tolerance” and “revulsion to it [antisemitism] in all its forms”, but “all its forms” means very different things to different people. For example, polling shows that most British Jews accept criticism of Israel as not being antisemitic: but they regard Israel boycotts as the tipping point into antisemitism.
There is, of course, no argument of antisemitic intention, heritage or impact when it comes to neo-Nazism, such as the current campaign of appalling neo-Nazi abuse, via Twitter, against Luciana Berger MP. It is naked antisemitism, red in tooth and claw. Clearly there can only be zero-tolerance and criminal charges against such filth.
The pressures of the summer months (and the entire post 2000 period) are far more complex than Nazism; and are far harder to build understandings and alliances against. The hostile conflation of Jew with Israel is fundamental to this problem. Ed Miliband explicitly warned against it, as have many other senior public figures in recent months, but the depth of the problem is revealed by recent media coverage of Jews and the Labour Party, showing that these judicial constructs are so deeply ingrained as to be almost taken for granted.
Firstly, there was a largely unnoticed article in the Observer on 2 November. This discussed Jim Murphy MP’s suitability to become the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party, including:
…The left of the party has always been suspicious of him [Jim Murphy MP] though, owing to his devotion to the New Labour project and the manner in which he courts and sustains the crucial Jewish vote in his constituency. This, though, ought not to be held against him. Though small, Glasgow’s 5,000-strong Jewish community is a dynamic one that has contributed greatly to the city’s charm and success over many decades.
This literally states (no doubt correctly) that the left of the Scottish Labour Party has two main problems with Murphy. The first, an association with New Labour, is understandable: but why should his relationship with his Jewish constituents be the second major concern for “the left of the party”?
The article’s author Kevin McKenna does not explain the concern to Observer readers. On the contrary, he appears to assume that his intelligent left-leaning readers will understand such suspicions about Jewish electorates. There is no way of telling if the subsequent ‘these are actually 5,000 good Jews’ warning is meant to imply that it is unusual for a Jewish community to – shock, horror! – make a positive contribution to their host city: but it certainly risks implying that.
Such casual mentions of leftist attitudes help reveal the nature of contemporary hostile conflations of Jews with Zionists with Israel in ostensibly anti-racist spaces. Glasgow’s rapidly shrinking and ageing Jewish community faces significant religious, welfare and educational challenges. It needs close engagement with its MP, but there is no suggestion of this alarming “the left of the [Scottish Labour] party”. If this is what is assumed of Glaswegian Jews, then what is being thought of actual large and influential Jewish communities elsewhere? (See also the cartoon here of Jim Murphy MP as a Frankenstein monster, wearing an “I love Israel” badge.)
The answer is revealed by the Independent on Sunday’s front page article of 9 November, entitled “Jewish donors drop ‘toxic’ Ed Miliband“. This was not an explicitly or intentionally antisemitic piece, as indeed many Jewish Labour supporters (voters, party members and party donors) are deeply troubled by Ed Miliband’s role in Labour’s recent stance on Israel, but the BBC News newspaper review of 8 November pre-emptively revealed how it would be understood.
“Jewish donors” seamlessly became “the Jewish lobby“, and BBC guest Jo Phillips bemoaned, “when he’s [Ed Miliband] being brave and principled and standing up and saying, you know, ‘this time Israel has gone too far’, people take their money away, so he can’t win, can he?”.
The BBC host Tim Wilcox then went a bit further, suggesting that “a lot of these prominent Jewish faces will be very much against the mansion tax”. His two guests responded that non-Jews oppose the mansion tax also: but, as with the original article, the stench of toxic assumptions about Jews and money / influence for Israel was now out there.
There is no widespread revulsion at this, because such slurs are seldom directed at Jewish individuals, made at Jews qua Jews: simply for being Jewish. So, they lack the ugly obvious racism spewed by neo-Nazis at Luciana Berger MP. It is still, however, a very slippery slope, liberally oiled with deep seated antisemitic toxins about Jews acting in concert with other Jews: whether that is in Glasgow, Westminster or Washington.
Of course, individual Jews have long supported Labour, as voters, activists and donors because they believe in the Party: but when they are troubled by its policy towards Israel this immediately risks pushing antisemitic buttons. Instead of being genuine Labour supporters with a certain vision for UK society, they now risk being perceived as Jewish puppets of a Zionist lobby, definitively alleged to be subverting and corrupting the body politic.
The same problem lies in each of the parliamentary parties. (See for example, CST analysis of recent comments by the Conservative Party’s Alan Duncan MP.) Moving forward, this situation has significant potential to turn toxic for Jews who are active in politics, as politicians, donors, lobbyists or in any capacity.
None of this is antisemitic in the manner of the hatred directed against Luciana Berger MP, but is its allegation really so different to this antisemitic Nazi flyer from 1962?