An allegedly racist party protesting its innocence has many strategies open to it. The best is to admit its guilt and reform. Labour cannot because Labour’s leader and his supporters are so contaminated by racial prejudice they lack the moral capacity to change, or even admit to themselves the need to change.
Labour might try to meet specific Jewish fears and begin by accepting that they are genuine. It is not just that Jewish people and their allies would not like prime minister Corbyn to take power as a result, one assumes, of some tartan-Stalin pact between Labour and the SNP. Our biased electoral system ensures that most voters don’t like any and every administration. It has taken the modern Labour party to produce an emotion closer to dread than mere dislike.
How might Labour calm the fear? After the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush moved to reassure American Muslims that he would not tolerate their victimisation as the war against al-Qaeda began. ‘Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes,’ he said with a nobility you rarely see in the age of Trump and Corbyn. ‘In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.’
Nothing like this comes from the Labour party. No senior figure has made a speech saying that a Labour government will not treat Jewish civil servants, particularly in the foreign office, police and intelligence services, as if they had a dual loyalty to Israel.
Labour is not now sending out its politicians to assure Jews that public support for the security measures at synagogues and Jewish schools will remain in place – I am sure they do not want to think about why Jews need protection and from whom.
Nor are they promising to tone down the rhetoric. The Community Security Trust this year catalogued anti-Semitic incidents running at record levels. The threats had two triggers beyond standard racial prejudice: British Jews suffered collective punishments when Israel fought Hamas in 2018; and they were punished again when Corbyn and his supporters’ Jew baiting was in the news.
When the story broke of Corbyn defending a mural straight out of the fascist art tradition, with hooked-Jewish capitalists squatting on the backs of the poor, or when Corbyn’s supporters drove Luciana Berger out of the party with cries of ‘Jewish scum’, or when Labour refused to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic attacks seemingly spiked.
A Labour government would target Israel as its prime pariah state. It could now be reassuring Jews that it would be watching its language and would behave as Bush behaved and absolutely fight against and condemn attacks on an exposed ethnic minority.
Reassurance comes there none. In its place, Labour released its race and faith manifesto this morning. Buried in it was a commitment to ‘enhance the powers and functions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, making it truly independent’.
It sounded a sweet aspiration until you remembered that Labour is the first party since the neo-Nazi British National Party to be the subject of a formal investigation into institutional racism by the commission. The commission’s lawyers have reportedly received thousands of documents, some from disgusted former Labour staffers detailing how complaints about the party were dismissed or ignored. We know the commission’s lawyers spent hours ‘forensically examining the depressingly mountainous evidence of anti-Semitism within the Labour party’ before deciding that there is ‘an arguable case that Jewish people are being unlawfully discriminated against by Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.’
And the response from Corbyn and his clique is to descend into conspiracy theory and question the commission’s independence.
More than the thousands of examples of racist abuse from Labour supporters, more than Corbyn’s long, grim and gormless record of associating with every variety of Jew-hating creep, Labour’s reaction encapsulates the decadence of a once moral force in British public life.
Those who question its purity cannot have a case. They cannot be right or half-right or even a quarter-right. They must be completely tainted by malice. Their accusations against the Labour party cannot be based on an independent evaluation of the evidence. They have no independence. They are part of a conspiracy to do down Labour. And these days on the left, the question who might be behind such a conspiracy can elicit only one answer.
I do not approve of religious leaders intervening in politics. Frankly, as an atheist, I rarely approve of religious leaders in any circumstances.
But when the chief rabbi said this morning that ‘a new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root’ in Labour, and when he added that Labour’s response had been so ‘utterly inadequate’ it can no longer pretend to be ‘the party of equality and anti-racism’, and when he concluded that Corbyn’s claim to have dealt with anti-Semitism was no more than ‘a mendacious fiction’….
He was telling no more than the truth.