Headlines in 2019 that read “British Jews are worried about Corbyn and the Labour Party” and “Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism problem” have found new light within American polity. The existential threat that former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn posed to his country’s Jewish population should have served as a warning to Jews across the West. Evolving progressive “think” does not make room for the Jewish plight.
Once the political home for many British Jews, the Labour Party took on a new form after the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. Corbyn’s rise to leadership was accompanied by a plethora of anti-Semitic controversies. In 2009, he referred to Hamas and Hezbollah, designated terror organizations by the United States and the European Union, as “our friends.” Two years later, Corbyn blamed the “Zionist lobby” for encouraging the deportation efforts of Sheikh Raed Salah from the United Kingdom. Salah is well-known for his Jew-hatred, perpetuating the age-old blood libel canard in a sermon and alleging that the Israeli secret service was behind the 9/11 attacks. A few months later, Corbyn publically supported a mural depicting a group of Jewish bankers with elongated noses playing a game of monopoly atop the back of naked workers.
In addition to these public controversies, Corbyn fueled a rising tolerance of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. By 2020, a prominent British human-rights group, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), completed a thorough investigation into the party and disclosed their findings. In a nutshell, their analysis “pointed to a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.”
Corbyn’s Labour Party systematically condoned Jew-hatred by refusing to adapt the working definition of anti-Semitism created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The IHRA definition has been implemented by 31 member states of the organization, including the United States. In 2018, the Labour Party established a new anti-Semitism code that excluded a myriad of examples of anti-Semitism. Under the Labour Party’s guidelines, Jews were not protected from being accused of having “dual loyalties,” a common trope used to undermine a Jewish person’s loyalty to their country. The party eventually adopted the full working definition after severe pushback, but not with Corbyn’s help. The former party leader initially proposed including a longer statement that would have enabled critics to refer to “the foundation of the State of Israel as a racist endeavor,” but was shot down by the Labour Party’s executive.
Fortunately, Labour was largely defeated in the 2019 general election. However, the anti-Semitic legacy of his leadership persists in politics across the West. The recent Israeli conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent rise in anti-Semitic language used by politicians in the United States demonstrate how “Corbynism,” or institutionalized anti-Semitism, has seeped into the mainstream dialogue. When Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined eight of their colleagues on the House floor on May 13 to condemn America’s Israel policy, they referred to it as an “apartheid state” and accused it of carrying out “ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians.
All three Democratic congresswomen have been criticized for perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in the past. However, their recent remarks came amid an ongoing violent conflict in the Middle East that began when Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror group, launched hundreds of rockets targeting Israeli cities.
The Middle East conflict led to an explosion of anti-Semitism in America, ranging from physical attacks targeting Jews to the vandalizing of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the conflict resulted in a sharp uptick in incidents across the United States. In response to the growing number of assaults against Jews, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a staunch critic of Israel and ally of “The Squad,” suggested progressives should “tone down” calling Israel an apartheid state.
In 2019, British Jews feared the growing tolerance of anti-Semitism within their country’s political sphere under Corbyn. Today, Jews in the United States are witnessing some progressive circles embrace a compliance with anti-Semitic rhetoric. It should not be radical or controversial to defend Jews or the existence of a Jewish state, and those who spew anti-Semitic rhetoric and age-old tropes should be constrained from contributing to the dialogue.
Maya Carlin is an analyst at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. She is also an M.A. candidate in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security at IDC Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government in Israel.
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