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The weaponising of antisemitism

The smears against Corbyn and the left are part of a concerted effort to undermine a potential left government and must be opposed

by Alex Snowdon

Part 1

There is currently another round of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party on the basis of alleged antisemitism - or failures to deal with it effectively. This is a long-running saga. The charges against the Labour leadership have become progressively harsher: we are now routinely being told that Labour is an ‘institutionally antisemitic’ party.

While there have indeed been instances of antisemitism from some Labour members, the evidence shows overwhelmingly that it is not a widespread problem in the party, it has increasingly been addressed in a serious way, and the notion that Corbyn personally is complicit is absurd.

In the US, meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of vitriol directed at Ilhan Omar, a newly-elected congress member, for critical comments of Israel that have been tendentiously spun as antisemitic. In January, Omar became one of the first two Muslim women members of the US Congress in history, alongside Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib. Together with another new left-wing Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib have rapidly developed a high profile for challenging the conservative status quo in Washington politics. They have been faced with the inevitable backlash.

In both cases – Corbyn here, Omar in the US – antisemitism is being weaponised. It is wrongly treated as a smear tactic, cynically deployed to attack the left. This is motivated, above all, by the fear of the kind of politics represented by a new left.

In the UK there is real anxiety among the political establishment, and in the British state and ruling class, that a socialist could become prime minister. In the US the threat is less serious, but the trio of refreshing new voices in Congress – together with Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination – represents a growing rejection of the old order, and a burgeoning interest in broadly socialist ideas.

These campaigns around antisemitism are therefore a misuse of a real form of racism, geared towards political ends: weakening, stigmatising and dividing the left. They involve ignoring or downplaying the more serious instances of antisemitism on the far right and, by weakening the Left, threaten to damage the political forces that can actually confront the growing far right and its racism. There is also a massive downplaying of other forms of racism, notably Islamophobia – which is a form of ‘respectable racism’ firmly in the political mainstream.

There was recently a triple whammy of insulting comments by senior Tory ministers in the space of just 48 hours that illustrated the point. Amber Rudd referred to shadow home secretary Diane Abbott as ‘coloured’. Andrea Leadsom responded to a request – from a Muslim Labour MP – for a debate on Islamophobia by saying it was a Foreign Office matter. Karen Bradley, meanwhile, caused great offence to Northern Irish Catholics by suggesting that killings by British security forces in Northern Ireland had not been crimes.

These ‘gaffes’ were swiftly followed by the news of the death of Shamima Begum’s baby in a refugee camp, exposing the callousness of Sajid Javid, home secretary, who had made Begum stateless. Yet, in this context, it is Labour – not the Tory Party - that receives the lion’s share of media denunciation and whipped-up controversy.

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