Stephen Daisley

Labour and the banality of anti-Semitism

Labour and the banality of anti-Semitism
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Is there a name for the moment something objectionable becomes so mainstream that those responsible can solemnly lament it as a fact of life? I propose that we call it the Formby Point. This week, Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby reportedly told a parliamentary party meeting that it was ‘impossible to eradicate anti-Semitism and it would be dishonest to claim to be able to do so’. Note the sly wording, the subtle distancing; you can almost hear the affected sigh of resignation. The woman who runs an institutionally racist party that refuses to challenge its institutional racism can, with a straight face, regret the inevitability of racism. 

As a matter of fact, it is possible to eradicate anti-Semitism from a membership-based organisation. You just revoke the membership of all the anti-Semites. Of course, Formby can’t do this because it would mean sacrificing a tidy sum in monthly subs and having to find a new leader. In a broader sense, no, you can’t eliminate Jew-hatred from the general population but nor can you fully be rid of inequality or poverty or unemployment. That doesn’t mean you don’t try. There used to be an entire political party dedicated to just this proposition. 

The Formby Point allows Labour to abdicate responsibility for its own anti-Semitism and for its role in replenishing the reserves of anti-Semitism in the world at large. Here too we have arrived at a tipping point. Anti-Semitism was kept at bay in the decades after the Holocaust. As a result it was channeled through anti-Zionism (the denial of Jewish national rights) and anti-Israelism (the political stigmatisation of the Jewish state). This has been the uneasy truce for the last few decades, tolerated even as a steady growth in anti-Semitism was recorded because it was most loudly expressed as hatred of Israel. (Israel enjoys a unique position as both the dark heart of the international Zionist conspiracy and imposter state that has nothing to do with Jews. It’s the only country you can despise without ever being accused of xenophobia.)

This tawdry peace was only going to hold so long and the outbreak of populism occasioned by the 2008 recession allowed the pretences to be done away with. Refined campus anti-Semitism — Jew-hatred with an Edward Said quote up top — and street-level ‘We are all Hezbollah’ Islamism were limited because they required of their adherents a level of commitment and effort. Popular anti-Semitism is so much more powerful because it is not discrete to a particular sub-group or knowledge base. It is unfiltered, unpretentious contempt for Jews, all the old political, religious and racial canards set free from the constraints of code and metaphor.

A decade ago, when I first began researching and writing about anti-Semitism, the talk was of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ but what confronts us today is anything but new. It is the blood libel and the Protocols, the poisoned well and the puppet strings — updated, repurposed, made shareable but recognisable still as tropes from the time of Christ and before. There is more awareness now than ten years ago — the volume and outlandishness of anti-Semitism make it impossible to avoid — but while there is concern and even indignation our response is muted by the sheer banality of this ever-restive evil. Anti-Semitism has lost its visceral punch, its power to appall. It has become pedestrian, mundane. Like the frog in the simmering pot, we feel the temperature rising but cannot conceive of boiling point. This is how bias makes its way into the mainstream and anti-Semitism, to our boundless shame, is once again an idea of the mainstream. It is ceasing to be a prejudice and becoming a point of view.

Too alarmist for your tastes? Five per cent of Britons believe the Holocaust never happened, eight per cent that it has been exaggerated, and one in five that fewer than two million Jews were murdered. Anti-Semitism accounts for 58 per cent of religiously-motivated hate crimes in the United States. Anti-Semitic acts increased by 69 per cent in France last year, in Australia by 60 per cent, and were at record levels in Canada. One in three Europeans believe Jews have too much power; a third of Germans say commemorating the Holocaust is a distraction from other atrocities; 50 per cent of Poles think Jews exploit the Holocaust for their own advancement. The leader of the French left, Jean-Luc Melenchon, and the leader of the French far-right, Marine Le Pen, both openly deny France’s complicity in the Holocaust. The prime minister of Malaysia claims ‘Jews rule the world by proxy’ and urges Muslims ‘to plan, to strategise and then to counterattack... The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million’. Jeremy Corbyn, a serial antagoniser of Jews, could well be Britain’s next prime minister.

The Labour Party, one of the largest left-wing movements in the world today, is owed a great debt of blame here. Evidence that it has allowed anti-Semitism to spill over into the mainstream left is abundant. Former MP Jim Sheridan has been readmitted to Labour following suspension for announcing he had lost his ‘respect and empathy for the Jewish community’ because of ‘what they and their Blairite plotters are doing to my party’. Upon his reinstatement, he said the complainants had ‘overreacted’ to ‘criticism of those intent on undermining our leadership’. Consider the actions of the University and College Union branch that organised a Holocaust Memorial Day event in Newcastle at which Yvonne Ridley was a guest speakerFormer Respect candidate Ridley once declared that, while other parties were ‘riddled with Zionists’, hers was ‘Zionist-free’ and any Zionists would be ‘hunted down and kicked out’. She asserts that ‘invoking the Holocaust’ is ‘a favourite trick of the Zionist state’ and says ‘the Zionists have tentacles everywhere’. She has called David Miliband ‘a gutless, little weasel who lost more than his foreskin when he was circumcised’. Labour MP Liz Twist, who shared a platform with Ridley at the event, later apologised. 

MPs who condemn institutional anti-Semitism while remaining in a party that refuses to address it have convinced themselves, their local members, even some in the Jewish community. The voters, though? They’re not party to the frustrated group chats; they never hear about that motion you passed at your CLP last week. They spot their local MP, who once went to a rally outside Parliament about something to do with Jews, down the precinct every Saturday with a red rosette. They see Labour MPs staying and assume Labour is a party worth staying in. As the campaigning lawyer Mark Lewis writes of Jeremy Corbyn: ‘He has moved the rock and the anti-Semites have crawled out. They are not going back.’

Corbyn did not shift that rock alone and neither did the left. Consider how the Tories suck up to Viktor Orban, who has waged a vendetta against George Soros, complete with billboards depicting the Jewish philanthropist as a puppet master. Or how Republican congresscrank Steve King endorsed a far-right mayoral candidate best known for appearing on a neo-Nazi podcast.

What about a little closer to home? Taki Theodoracopulos is the star columnist — and a gifted one at that — on a magazine known for being firmly Zionist and even philo-Semitic. Yet a root around The Spectator’s archives throws up reams of self-indictment. He has called New York ‘Tel Aviv-by-the-Hudson’, claimed Jews ‘control Hollywood’ and declares ‘Jews are not the types to let bygones be bygones’. He has lambasted ‘rich American Jews who encourage unacceptable and brutal behaviour against innocents’, averred that ‘the Jewish lobby in America has stifled debate’, and has pronounced that ‘almost all the people who have made billions through insider trading, greenmailing, leveraged buyouts and junk bonds are Jews’.”

Whenever Corbynistas complain that The Spectator doesn’t publish any columnists to their way of thinking, I recommend they subscribe just for Taki. 

The old politics of the centre was decried for excluding those further left or right, which it did and built up resentment and alienation. The new politics excludes nobody and views and actions that would once have been cordoned off have polluted the mainstream. Stray far enough in either direction and politics becomes a series of conspiracy theories about who has what, who runs what and who hides what. The left says the world is run by a capitalist cabal, the right says it’s run by a globalist cabal, but both believe unwaveringly in the existence of a cabal. Anti-Semitism is a conspiracy theory of Jewish power and perfidy ideally suited to times of paranoia and instability. It may be impossible to eradicate fully but we are barely even trying. We are, left and right, making it safe for anti-Semites to come out from behind their various guises and hate Jews in the open once more.