As Britain’s Brexit agony erupted this week into a full-blown constitutional crisis with a ruling against the prime minister by the Supreme Court, the Labour Party was also tearing itself apart over Brexit at its annual conference. This was small comfort to British Jews.
For the Brexit chaos, in which parliament has set itself against the people and the judiciary has now further undermined Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to deliver Brexit by its Oct. 31 deadline, has increased the possibility of Labour—under its far-left and anti-Semitism-enabling leader Jeremy Corbyn—coming to power.
And at the conference, any faint hope that the party might start to address the Jew-hatred that has been convulsing it now for more than two years was brutally crushed in what turned into an ugly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate-fest.
Vile anti-Semitic and unhinged anti-Israel material was on widespread display. One pamphlet compared Israel to the Nazis. Flyers were distributed by a group calling itself “Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism,” accusing the Jewish Labour Movement of defending the “racist apartheid State of Israel.”
The conference also passed a number of anti-Israel policies. Amidst shouts of “Free Palestine” and a sea of Palestinian flags, delegates overwhelmingly backed a boycott of Israeli settlement goods for the first time and pledged to reject trade agreements with Israel that “fail to recognize the rights of the Palestinians.”
What about China’s persecution of the Muslim Uighurs, or the Christians being slaughtered in Africa, or the British women being held hostage in Iranian jails? Why don’t these get lanyards, too?
Some of the Israel-bashing was almost certainly an act of defiance against the claim that the party has become institutionally anti-Semitic. For despite overwhelming evidence of rampant bigotry against Israel and the Jewish people, many from Corbyn down refuse to accept that this is indeed a mutation of the oldest hatred.
They use anti-Zionist Jewish members as human shields to enable them to claim that they have no bad feelings towards Jews.
A member of the hard-left Jewish Voice for Labour group received a standing ovation when she told delegates she was “one of thousands of Jews in this party who have never experienced any anti-Semitism,” and that Corbyn was “the most anti-racist leader this party has ever had.”
An opinion poll taken on the eve of the conference found that two-thirds of Labour members don’t believe the party has a “serious” anti-Semitism problem, while a majority either blame the accusation on Corbyn’s political opponents or the mainstream media.
Much of this denial is due to the fact that these noxious attitudes are usually Israel-related. And bashing Israel is considered in such circles an entirely moral position. That’s why the party describes this in Orwellian style as an example of its “ethical foreign policy.”
So Labour people tell themselves this cannot possibly be anti-Semitic. How could it be since they define themselves above all else as anti-racist?
It follows that those who say it is anti-Semitism do so in order to “sanitize the crimes of Israel.” And it follows from that in turn that the accusation is somehow being cooked up by Israel itself.
And so, Labour people end up claiming absurdly that the false charge of Jewish conspiracy theory has been fabricated by a conspiracy headed by the State of Israel.
That was why a cartoon banner—so vile that it was removed by the police from display at the conference—depicted a fighter plane marked “Israel lobby” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the pilot shrieking “anti-Semite” and firing a missile labeled “defamation “ at Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour is split between two tribes: the metropolitan liberal intelligentsia and blue-collar workers.
Of course, this anti-Israel obsession is indeed anti-Semitic because it shares the unique characteristics of Jew-hatred down through the centuries. It displays, for example, the same signature trope of double standards, obsessing over Israel while ignoring countries that really are oppressive, dictatorial and racist.
It was simply bizarre, for example, that conference delegates were handed Palestine Solidarity Committee lanyards to wear round their necks. What about China’s persecution of the Muslim Uighurs, or the Christians being slaughtered in Africa, or the British women being held hostage in Iranian jails? Why don’t these get lanyards, too?
What makes all this so frightening is that because this fixation has gone behind the looking-glass into a universe that inverts truth and lies, there’s simply no way of making a dent in it.
So what are the chances of this deeply disturbing and extreme Labour Party actually coming to power at the next election? Its fortunes, like those of the rest of Britain’s political establishment, are now inextricably bound up with the Brexit crisis.
Labour is split between two tribes: the metropolitan liberal intelligentsia and blue-collar workers. While the latter know little and care less about Israel or the Jews, the anti-Israel and Jew-bashing element is concentrated largely among those who are better-educated.
This is because they are more likely to be attracted to idealistic causes far away from home. They are liberal universalists for whom the Jewish nation state is anathema, and they have been exposed at the universities to wall-to-wall pro-Palestinian, anti-West and anti-Israel propaganda.
In the Brexit crisis, these people support Remain. Although many are hard- left in wanting to bring down capitalism, they are largely young and “woke” and subscribe to liberal universalist ideologies, such as the trans-nationalism with which they associate the European Union.
By contrast, blue-collar workers overwhelmingly support Brexit. The Labour leadership has tried to straddle both its Remainer and Brexit constituencies.
As result, its position is incoherent, and so it has infuriated both sides.
Among the 17.4 million who voted Brexit, the rage at a Remainer establishment seen as thwarting the democratically expressed will of the people to leave the E.U. cannot be exaggerated. If Brexit is not delivered, these voters will be intent on punishing Remainer politicians at the next general election.
Both Labour and Conservative parties face as a result being split, with Remainers deserting both of them for the fanatically pro-E.U. Liberal Democrats, while the pro-Brexit vote risks hemorrhaging from both Labour and Conservatives to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
So all the old political certainties have been destroyed. As a consequence, all bets are off when the election eventually happens.
If Boris Johnson were to deliver Brexit and the United Kingdom finally escaped E.U. control, he would be treated as a hero and win a crushing majority that would wipe out Labour. Similarly, in an election in which he would be seen as fighting to defend democracy by honoring the Brexit vote against an establishment pulling every trick in the book to reverse it, he might similarly win a smashing victory.
But in this chaos, anything could happen. It is far from improbable that, if the Conservative vote is split, a similarly decimated Labour Party could still cobble together some kind of left-wing coalition with Liberal Democrats, Scottish nationalists and Greens, making Corbyn prime minister.
This would be a nightmare scenario for Britain’s Jews. And even if Corbyn were to be replaced, the rise of a millennial class composed of “woke” universalists for whom “Palestine” is their cause of causes would remain a potent source of anti-Jewish bigotry.
Whatever happens in the next election, the Labour conference that took place this week will stand as a distressing milestone in the moral collapse of a once-great party and the slide of a once-great country towards a civilizational abyss.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” in 2018. Her work can be found at: www.melaniephillips.com.
Be a part of our community
JNS serves as the central hub for a thriving community of readers who appreciate the invaluable context our coverage offers on Israel and their Jewish world.
Please join our community and help support our unique brand of Jewish journalism that makes sense.