How the British Labor Party Denied Jews Their Place in Politics

October 30, 2020 | David Hirsh
About the author:

From 2015 until April of this year, the hard-left parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn—a man who called Hamas and Hizballah his friends, was possessed by an obsessive hatred of Israel, and who more than once veered into expressions of undisguised contempt for Jews—led the UK’s Labor party. Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) yesterday released its long-awaited, and damning, report on the party’s anti-Semitism, which flourished in the rank-and-file under Corbyn’s watch. Corbyn naturally dismissed the report by downplaying the issue, and blamed those who complained of anti-Semitism as the true problem. For this reaction, the current Labor leadership promptly suspended him.

David Hirsh analyzes these developments in light of what he terms “the Livingstone formulation,” after the former London mayor Ken Livingstone, one of the most egregious members of the Corbynite left:

I first named the Livingstone formulation in 2006 after Livingstone’s bizarre spat with a Jewish journalist, whom he accused of being like a Nazi. Instead of apologizing, Livingstone came back with the aggressive counteraccusation against those who said his late-night ranting had been anti-Semitic: “For far too long, the accusation of anti-Semitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the politics of the Israeli government, as I have been.”

The Livingstone principle [thus] says: if Jews complain about anti-Semitism on the left, then you should begin by assuming that they are making it up to silence criticism of Israel or to smear the left. It is an anti-Semitic conspiratorial fantasy because it doesn’t just say that Jews sometimes get it wrong, but that they know full well they’re wrong and they say it anyway to increase their power. The Livingstone formulation is the key mode of anti-Semitic bullying mobilized against Jews on the left. It treats Jews as alien to the left and treasonous.

Huge responsibility for Labor anti-Semitism must be borne by those who did not share the crank politics but who nevertheless allowed them to take the leadership of the party. There are the layers of activists, politicians, and intellectuals who think that anti-Semitic politics was radical Communist chic; then those who think it was really all about Palestine; and those who though [Labor members] should rally around the leadership; and those who thought the Zionists were just as bad [as anti-Semites]; and those who thought we should all get along; those who were afraid to get into the fight; those who wanted to keep their jobs and their influence; . . . and those who don’t really think Corbyn was anti-Semitic but now believe that Labor won’t have a chance if it doesn’t keep the Jews happy.

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