Hugo Rifkind Hugo Rifkind

Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite but he is reaping what he sowed

People keep asking me if I think Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic. I don’t. Or at least I think it’s vanishingly unlikely. Why would he be? For all his political unorthodoxy in various directions, his antipathy towards bigotry seems wholly genuine. Indeed, it seems the whole point. I don’t see how it could have such a big blind spot.

If the question gets asked, however, and angrily, I don’t think he’s blameless. My own political awakening came with the pending Iraq war in 2003. I was against it, noisily. I remember quite clearly the first anti-war march I attended, probably in late 2002. Everybody had the same placard, handed out by the organisers. ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’, it said. And then underneath: ‘Justice For Palestine.’

I didn’t understand why. I still don’t. It’s not that I’m against justice for Palestine, but that wasn’t what I’d gone to march about. The connection between Israel and the Iraq war was so tenuous as to be nonexistent, but a strong streak of the Stop the War movement always wished it was stronger. When issues weren’t about Israel — and believe it or not, many aren’t — they always transparently wished they were.

This, for two decades, has been Jeremy Corbyn’s political hinterland. From it sprang all the strange associations he is now accused of having, with all those strange people who think such troublesome things. He could have called it out 20 years ago, had he wished. He didn’t wish. This is what you get.

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