Katy Balls

How damaging will the latest anti-Semitism row be for Jeremy Corbyn?

How damaging will the latest anti-Semitism row be for Jeremy Corbyn?
Text settings

Will the latest anti-Semitism row damage Jeremy Corbyn? The row over the Munich memorial rumbles on for another day following the Labour leader's refusal to apologise for attending a wreath-laying ceremony for members of the terrorist organisation behind the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. Although there are photos of Corbyn holding a wreath near those gravestones – and he previously said that he laid a wreath at the ceremony – he says there were multiple wreaths and multiple people moving wreaths. His wreath was for the victims of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation base in 1985. Not helping matters is the fact that Corbyn appears to have changed his story a number of times.

However, Corbyn's main supporters have been keen to show that they are standing by their man. At a campaign event in Stoke, around 400 activists showed up – and many told reporters at the scene that Corbyn was a victim of a smear campaign. Another two activists present told Sky News that Corbyn couldn't be an anti-Semite because he has won the Nobel peace prize (spoiler: he hasn't). Writing for the Guardian, Owen Jones has also come to the Labour leader's defence. He says that there is no wreath-gate scandal – instead it's a lesson in hypocrisy. The argument goes that Jack Straw didn't get this much aggro when he laid a wreath at the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Arafat led the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Munich terrorists worked in an off shoot of that. The two people buried where Corbyn is accused of wreath-laying were junior officers to Arafat. He pivots the topic back to Israel and Palestine by concluding that ultimately showing solidarity with Palestinians results in condemnation whereas complicity with Israeli occupation is acceptable.

This goes back to a point several people have made about the effect the Israeli Prime Minister's call for condemnation of Corbyn has had. It allowed Corbyn and his supporters to reframe the debate about Israel and Palestine rather than specific questions about whether Corbyn had laid a wreath down to honour individuals who played a key role in masterminding the Munich massacre which saw 11 Israeli athletes killed and tortured.

So, will the allegations harm him in the long term? A Sky data poll last month found that more than a third of people think Jeremy Corbyn tolerates anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Meanwhile 26 per cent of voters said he does not tolerate anti-Semitism. In a way, the allegations are not new – such claims were around at the time of the snap election. It's also the case that Labour's anti-Semitism problem has been rumbling on through the London mayoral election, local elections and the general election – yet it didn't really seem to affect the party's standing generally. In areas with a higher Jewish population – such as Barnet – the party appears to have been punished but outside of this, not so much.

There's another factor to consider in all this. Is anti-Semitism regarded as high a form of racism as others by the general public? This may seem an odd thing to ask but it's worth bearing in mind a point Alastair Thomas made in The Spectator earlier this year. He said his generation was becoming indifferent to anti-Semitism. For many young Labour supporters, Zionism was a synonym for western colonialism and white supremacy. The politics of the situation between Palestine and Israel means that the point at which something goes from a legitimate criticism to anti-Semitism can be viewed as grey. Thomas's argument chimes with a warning Primo Levi – an Auschwitz survivor – made some years ago. He said he worried that the young could forget the horrors of the Holocaust as the event drew further away and the survivors passed. It still remains to be seen whether his nightmare becomes a reality.