Brendan O’Neill

Corbyn’s blindness to anti-Semitism is typical on the left

Corbyn's blindness to anti-Semitism is typical on the left
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I don’t believe Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite. I think most Corbynistas aren’t anti-Semitic. But here’s one thing I can say with utter certainty: if any other politician in the land had commented favourably on an explicitly racist mural, on a vile, caricatured depiction of a certain section of society as evil and dangerous, he would be finished. He would be hounded out of public life. He would be told in no uncertain terms that there is no place for apologists for racial hatred in the political sphere. And you know who would tell him this? Who would do this to him? Who would be at the forefront of demanding he be cast out? Corbynistas. The very people now failing to say these things, notably failing to say them, about Corbyn and his Facebook comment on a foul anti-Semitic mural a few years ago.

As it happens, I don’t think Corbyn should be expelled from polite society or politics over something he said on Facebook six years ago. God knows there is far too much denunciation and expulsion in public life today. Corbyn is currently explaining himself and it’s for the Labour Party, a democratic organisation, to decide how to deal with all this. But I have a question for those who do believe in hounding ‘bad people’ out of public life. For Corbynism’s virtual army, a frequently intolerant mob which has previously demanded the expulsion from decent society of Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris over her use of the phrase ‘nigger in the woodpile’, and which chased Toby Young out of politics over old tweets about women’s breasts and things he said about disability, and which relentlessly hounded Tim Farron over his views on homosexuality. The question is this: why aren’t you doing the same now, to Corbyn, whose record on hanging out with horribly prejudiced people is far worse than any of those individual’s?

The easy answer is that he’s their leader, their Dear Leader in fact, and they brook no criticism of him. And there’s much truth in that. Alarmingly, Corbynistas yesterday got the hashtag #PredictTheNextCorbynSmear trending on Twitter. To these people, every criticism of Corbyn is a smear. Every media attack is part of a sinister capitalist plot to undermine him: see their bizarre, conspiratorial Truthism over Newsnight and Corbyn’s hat. Even raising the issue of his dalliances with anti-Semites is just a slur, apparently. Their evangelism is such that they think criticism of Corbyn is tantamount to thoughtcrime.

But there’s another, bigger, more worrying reason why these virtue-signallers who normally love nothing more than ridding public life of ‘racists’ have stood down in relation to Corbyn. It’s because they don’t take anti-Semitism as seriously as they do other forms of prejudice. They think hatred of Jews is less bad than hatred of other groups.

The most revealing part of Corbyn’s statement on the mural affair was when he said he regrets that he ‘did not look more closely’ at the mural before commenting on it. In short, he didn’t notice it was anti-Semitic. His deputy Tom Watson parroted this line on TV yesterday and it is being repeated by Corbynistas across the internet. They fail to realise just how revealing, how disturbingly revealing, this line of defence is. Corbyn is in essence saying: ‘Ah, I didn’t notice the anti-Semitism.’ And that is precisely the problem. This section of the left never notices anti-Semitism. It always seems to pass them by. Or worse, they acquiesce to it in the belief that objecting to it might lose them support among some of their key bases, in particular the old left and young Muslims. I didn’t see it, they say, not realising that their failure to see anti-Semitism is the crux of the problem. It is a wilful blindness to hatred that they would treat as unforgivable in relation to any other racial or religious group.

We live in an era of extreme sensitivity to racial slight. Our society has become over-sensitive to it, in my view, so that now everything from criticism of the Koran to wondering about the wisdom of mass immigration can be casually denounced as racism. And yet even in this hyper racially aware climate, this climate in which the accusation of ‘Racist!’ is too keenly wielded, people fail to see anti-Semitism. They fail to ‘look more closely’. And those of us who have been raising concerns about anti-Semitism on the left for years now have been ridiculed. So it was that, a few years ago, Guardian columnist Owen Jones ridiculed Douglas Murray and I for ‘suggesting the left was becom[ing] anti-Semitic’ and then instructed us to look at ‘genuine anti-Semitism’, such as that practised by Golden Dawn in Greece. For too long, many leftists have treated discussion of anti-Semitism on the left as cynical opportunism: you must have an ulterior motive.

The truth is that anti-Semitism doesn’t concern some leftists as much as other forms of racial hatred do. If it did, they would notice it when it was right in front of their faces, whether on a mural featuring big-nosed greedy Jews or on a massive anti-Israel march a few years ago that featured a protester wearing a ‘Jew mask’ and pretending to eat dead babies: it was alarming to me that the only people who seemed to challenge this racist were me and a Jewish friend (we were observing the march, not attending it). Maybe everyone else on the march just didn’t ‘look closely enough’. They zone out anti-Semitism, again and again, because they accept the idea that it is really anti-Zionism and therefore political, or they are worried about alienating young radical Muslims who have anti-Semitic views, or they buy into an increasingly conspiratorial view of capitalism as a cabal of bankers, the super-rich, and You Know Who. They have made a decision: they have decided that hatred of the Jews is sometimes a small price to pay for continuing to win support from certain constituencies. Horrific.

And now, too late, they call for a fightback against anti-Semitism. We don’t buy it, guys. To many of us, both your failure to see anti-Semitism in the past and your insistence that you’re really, really against it now look like products of the same thing: of your low calculations about how to shore up your own political reputations and support bases. And even now you suggest it’s a smear or an exaggeration to raise the problem of anti-Semitism. You are a barrier to the struggle against this vile old prejudice. Go away, please.