On religious holidays it’s customary for politicians and parties to send out well-wishing notes to the celebrating group. An ‘Eid Mubarak’ to Muslims, a ‘Merry Christmas’ to Christians. The practice has become so assumed that to not do so is often viewed as a slight or offence.
Yesterday, on the first day of the Jewish festival of Passover, the official Labour Twitter account sent out a message of support. As we all know, accusations of the party's institutional anti-Semitism has been a contentions debate for the last three years under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. You would expect Labour then to be making every effort to prove this label unfit and unfair. However, the group’s Passover message, while captioned with pleasant greetings wishing Jewish people a ‘Chag Sameach’, included a graphic of the Star of David, (fine), a glass of wine (appropriate) and a loaf of bread (not OK).
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If you don’t know much about Passover you may not be aware that one of the cardinal rules of the period is not eating leavened bread; it’s pretty integral to the whole period. Instead Jews eat things like Matzo crackers in remembrance of the Israelites who, when escaping Egypt and slavery, didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise. This weekend I was up in Manchester to celebrate Passover with my boyfriend’s family. When the tweet came out everyone was shocked yet unsurprised. Initially we assumed it was a product of Photoshop. ‘It’s like celebrating Ramadan with bottles of wine’ my boyfriend's brother tells me, or ‘Chanukah with a bacon sandwich,’ his mother ads. So, is it intentionally anti-Semitic? Some people seem to think so. David Hirsh, author of the 2017 book 'Contemporary Left Antisemitism' wrote on Facebook: “The Labour Party is trolling the Jewish community now”. Others suspected that stupidity was to blame; Sophie Wilkinson, a journalist, asked: which is thicker “the Labour party staffer” responsible for the tweet or “the bread itself” (which resembles a cracker).
The image used was most likely a simple mistake, a clipart, cut and paste from another Jewish hallmark card, and not a calculated statement of hate. However, it seems ludicrous that, when surrounded with so much scrutiny, there was not a morsel of research done before sending the message. You may not have known about the bread, but it takes one quick Google to find out – and it’s one that should be done when sending a note “to everyone in the Jewish community”. While the mistake may be small, it shows a cavalier attitude – the same attitude recurrently given in response to anti- Semitic accusations.
The saddest thing about the error is that any Jew would immediately notice it, and yet there was no one around to point it out. This is somewhat reminiscent of Gucci, who got in trouble earlier this year for clothes resembling black face. While the item itself wasn’t meant as a racial statement, the fact no one spotted the glaring issues highlighted a lack of diversity within the company. The Jewish Chronicle once wrote “Jews have no better friends in this country than the Labour Party,” but recurring mistakes are a telling indication that this relationship has drastically changed.
Instead of apologising or acknowledging the error, the Twitter account quickly removed the image and replaced it with a more tenable one, (over cautiously removing the wine with the bread, when in fact three additional glasses would be more fitting). On its own this is a minor, humorous, mistake, but it highlights bigger issues within the party. And if the group doesn’t start to take its relationship with the Jewish community more seriously, Jews are going to continue to leave the party with such speed the bread won't have time to rise.