The endless conflation of a world religion with a modern political movement continues unabated, notes Cameron Panting
The cross-party parliamentary report on antisemitism should have put an end to any idea that there is a particular problem with antisemitism in Labour. It found that there is: ‘no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour party than any other political party’. It also found that some 75% of antisemitic incidents in Britain are the responsibility of the far right.
This from a committee that has demonstrated consistent bias by spotlighting the Labour party in particular, and one that is stacked with MPs from all parties who bitterly oppose Corbyn.
Despite the findings of the report, the headlines told a completely different story: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has helped create “safe space” for antisemites in Britain, damning MPs' report finds’ declared the Telegraph. This kind of reporting prevailed across both the right-wing and liberal press, and the line has also been coming from prominent left-wing voices within the movement, declaring themselves ‘critical friends’. It’s perfectly reasonable to be critical of Corbyn when necessary, but on this issue, he must be defended against false accusations.
It is a topsy-turvy world. The left around Corbyn probably has the best record of any political group in countering all forms of racism – including antisemitism. Which is not to say that there is no antisemitism in the Labour Party or the movement, or that we don't need to continue to be vigilant on the question.
But we must take on the accusation that there is a special problem, or we risk confirming it by our silence. If we don’t defend the left's record, we dig ourselves into a hole.
Jeremy Corbyn’s team’s response has been good – calling out the bias of the report, and its disproportionate focus on Labour. They also rightly complained about the way in which the whole debate has politicised antisemitism, which of course the allegations originally set out to do. This is part of the war of attrition. The point is not just to knock out Corbyn, but to weary his supporters and turn them against each other.
The issue also has implications beyond Corbyn’s leadership; it is an attack on the left, the history of our movement, and on its future. Corbyn’s ascent vindicates many of the arguments we have been making over many years, from solidarity with Palestine, to anti-war positions, and anti-Trident, to the anti-austerity ideas that are now commonplace across much of society.
The fact that the story of Labour’s antisemitism is still running, despite the report’s findings, as well as the lack of focus on right-wing groups or parties, confirms this politicisation and show that the whole controversy is at least partly about something other than a genuine concern about antisemitic or racist attitudes.
Step back and the double standards in contemporary politics makes this more obvious. The Tory leadership seems to have no great issue with Boris Johnson’s series of racial slurs, nor was Zac Goldsmith investigated over his widely condemned conduct during this year’s London mayoral campaign. Why the focus on Labour when the Tory party has a proven history of antisemitism?
One of the aims here is to convince people that the positions taken by the left and the movement over the years on Palestine, against foreign wars and Islamophobia contain within them the seeds of antisemitism. As we continue to lead the fight against all forms of racism, we as a movement must be proud and clear about our history and record.
Cameron Panting is National Organiser for Counterfire and is a member of the editorial board. He is active within the People's Assembly and is a member of Stop The War.
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