Yes, Corbynism poses a threat — but not to Britain’s Jews

Smearing Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite has become a popular hobby among members of the British establishment — perhaps because what he stands for is a direct threat to their ideological and economic interests.

By Matan Kaminer

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. (Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0)
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. (Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0)

Last week, Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer accused UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of being both anti-Semitic and stupid. He is wrong on both counts. Against enormous odds and powerful political enemies, Corbyn has made a case for socialism that has enthused millions of people, a case that may well bring him to Downing Street soon. He has done so by building a multi-colored coalition that welcomes Jews as well as members of Britain’s many other minority groups.

Despite the boldness of his bottom line, Pfeffer admits that he has “never quite been able to work out whether Corbyn is an anti-Semite himself.” That Pfeffer’s evidence should be so weak is telling; as an expert on British politics — and no friend of Corbynism — he would certainly seize on any proof of this claim if such existed.

Pfeffer is not alone. Smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semite has become a popular hobby among the British establishment, including portions of the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives. And yet nothing has stuck. The most serious evidence used to substantiate the claim is Corbyn’s previous support for an artist whose mural was erased for containing anti-Semitic themes back in 2012. This support was apparently based on a superficial glance at a photo on Facebook; the mural was indeed anti-Semitic, and Corbyn, then a backbench member of Parliament, should have known better. He has acknowledged this and apologized.

The most recent edition of the smear campaign has blown up around the Labour Party’s adoption of the definition of anti-Semitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association. You read that right: the definition was adopted, not rejected. What Labour’s National Executive Council omitted from its Code of Conduct were some of the examples laid out in the IHRA document. As close Corbyn ally and British Jew Jon Lansman points out, three of the four types of anti-Semitic behavior covered by these examples – accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than their own countries, holding Israel to higher standards than other countries, and comparing it to the Nazi regime – are all covered by the code. The only example left out is one in which the State of Israel is called racist.

Given that Pfeffer lives in that very state, which just last week passed a law declaring it belongs exclusively to the Jewish people — to the obvious detriment of its non-Jewish citizens — this particular omission might have given him pause. Perhaps Pfeffer dreams of a different Israel, one in which such a law would be unthinkable? It is certainly possible to believe that such a dream is unlikely or even impossible without being an anti-Semite. And it is certainly relevant that numerous Jews have believed precisely this since the earliest days of the Zionist movement.

All this is not to say that Labour does not have “an anti-Semitism problem.” The entire Christian world has an anti-Semitism problem, which has laid dormant for decades and is now rearing its repugnant head. British society in general and Labour members in particular are not immune, though recent statistics show supporters of the left are actually slightly less prone than right-wingers to anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of racism.

But while leading figures of the British left are tackling anti-Semitism head on, right-wing British politicians, much like in Israel, are enabling the right-wing populism of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — who Pfeffer quite correctly diagnoses as an anti-Semite, and a cunning, dangerous one at that. Unbelievably, the right-wing leadership of the UK Jewish Board of Deputies, who jumped early on the anti-Corbyn bandwagon, have remained curiously silent on the danger that Orban’s campaign against Jewish Hungarian billionaire George Soros represents to Jews in Hungary and across the continent.

The real threat Corbyn and Corbynism pose is not to Jews, but rather to a system built on inequality. A victory for socialism in an important country like the UK might inspire similar victories across Europe, North America, and beyond. Such a red wave may threaten these countries’ neoliberal growth model, which is based on a grossly unfair distribution of national income, as well as their automatic support for Israel and other states that prop up an international order based on a similarly grossly unfair distribution.

And while it is surely too early to speak of the dawn of the brotherhood of nations of which Jews and non-Jews alike have dreamt of for ages. But surely, if anti-Semitism is the ersatz socialism of fools, it is neither anti-Semitic nor foolish to give the world a glimpse of what the real thing has to offer. Who knows, perhaps such a wave might even empower forces pushing for both socialism and peace in Israel itself.

Matan Kaminer is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Michigan, a member of the executive board of Academia for Equality, and a political activist and educator on the Israeli left.