It took a protest of Jews in Westminster for Jeremy Corbyn to own up to the Labour party’s problem with anti-Semitism. It ‘has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain,’ he said — an admission that has been a very long time coming. But among Corbyn’s cultish young followers, the apology was met with a shrug. ‘Problem? What problem?’
This I know, because I’m (roughly) a Labour supporter and have lots of Corbyn–supporting friends. And for Corbynites of my age (early twenties), the whole issue remains just another attempt to delegitimise Corbyn’s bid to become prime minister. That’s why Twitter accounts were awash with the hashtag #PredictTheNextCorbynSmear, which mocked all accusations of anti–Semitism. It demonstrates the Corbyn faithful’s remarkable capacity for indifference.
Why is it that young left-wingers find it so hard to care about anti-Semitism? Why is that huge group of self-proclaimed anti-racists and anti-fascists so unwilling to expel anti-Semites from the party? They’ve all studied the second world war at school; they know how much Jews suffered and how dangerous discrimination is. Surely they must have a problem with that blatantly anti-Semitic mural that Corbyn himself had endorsed?
The answer is: not really. I constantly hear the same excuse from people my age when they find out that I have Jewish parentage. ‘Oh, I have no problem with Jews whatsoever,’ they assure me. ‘Just Zionism.’ But you have the feeling that for quite a few people, it’s a distinction without much of a difference. They find Israel, as a country, guilty of all kinds of crimes, and regard Jews, anywhere, as Zionist sympathisers. Within the far left, the de facto position is one of hostility and distrust, not just towards Zionists but towards Jewish communities wherever they are. This attitude infects the whole party, even my friends.
It is not a new problem either. Hannah Arendt, the political philosopher who fled Germany in 1933, wrote that in 19th–century Berlin a Jew could only be accepted into wider society if he rejected his own people’s values and beliefs. He ‘had to stand out — as an individual who could be congratulated on being an exception — from “the Jew” and thus from the people as a whole’.
Strange as it seems, I find the same attitude prevalent in the left today. Jews are expected to apologise for Israel’s wrong-doings, oppose any right to a homeland and condemn the capitalists who rose from Jewish communities. If you do this, then you get to be a ‘good Jew’. But this idea of the ‘good Jew’ is very dangerous. It legitimises and excuses general anti-Semitism. Only a ‘good Jew’ is deserving of protection against hate speech; the rest of us bad Jews can go hang.
Corbyn is often described as a nice guy, and I’m sure he is in person. But it’s no coincidence that the anti-Semitism epidemic within Labour really kicked off when he became leader. He appealed to the young, and it’s the young these days who refuse to see Jews as an authentic minority. For them, Zionism is now a synonym for white supremacy, neoliberalism and western colonialism. As the years pass, the historical association changed. So now, for my generation, Jews are not oppressed. They are the oppressors.
Part of the problem is that millennials — especially millennial socialists — find self-reflection very hard. We tweet and post constantly in response to our emotions. It’s almost painful for net-natives to pause for thought before doing so. It’s this inability to reflect that allows my Corbynite friends to ignore and even defend the most egregious of sins committed in the name of socialism. At university, I met a young Corbynite who wanted to rename the Socialist Society ‘-Jezbollah’. It never crossed his mind that this was hugely offensive.
Why would it? St Jeremy attends rallies that include Hezbollah flags and offers words of solidarity to anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. This his fans accept as reasonable behaviour. Nice guy or not, he has turned terrorists into freedom fighters in the eyes of the young and hate preachers into outspoken activists.
Corbyn’s apology spoke of the ‘pockets’ where anti-Semitism exists — but the problem is the party as a whole. Time and time again, Jewish Labour members are threatened and abused at local meetings, conferences or online, while the ‘anti-racists’ turn away in wilful ignorance. To them, Jews are simply not a minority worth caring about. And as Jewish protestors demonstrate in Parliament Square to declare ‘enough is enough’, it is likely that young Corbynites will continue to ask: ‘So what?’