Is Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite? I began researching the answer to this question well before Danny Finkelstein’s recent revelation in the Times that eight years ago Corbyn had written a glowing foreword to a new edition of Imperialism: A Study, written by the radical economist John Atkinson Hobson, first published in 1902.
Context is paramount. That’s why I feel obliged to censure Finkelstein’s exposé. We all know what Hobson thought of Jews and capitalism. But to conclude – as Finkelstein does – that in writing the foreword Corbyn had praised a ‘deeply anti-Semitic book’ is to give a totally false impression of what this influential study is actually about. In a text running to almost 400 pages there are merely a dozen or so lines which we would call anti-Semitic. There was absolutely no need for Corbyn to have drawn attention to them in his foreword.
It’s quite true that the Labour Party that Corbyn leads has been dogged in recent years with incidents in which a significant number of its members, after being publicly pilloried as anti-Semites, have been expelled from the party. Worse than that, earlier this year a group of MPs resigned from the party, citing rampant anti-Semitism and a failure to deal with it as one of the reasons for their departure.
The group included the Jewish MP Luciana Berger, and also the non-Jewish MP Joan Ryan, formerly chair of Labour Friends of Israel. In her resignation speech, Ryan suggested that the ‘huge shame’ of anti-Semitism did not exist until Corbyn became party leader. Criticising Corbyn for ‘presiding over a culture of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel,’ Ryan insisted that ‘Over the past three years… the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn has become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism.