By Jake Wilde
Owen Jones has today written a largely commendable article on what he correctly describes as the “menace” of antisemitism. As a prominent writer on the left he is also right to focus on what ‘the left’ should be doing about it. His condemnation of antisemitism, and those who espouse it, or tolerate it, is to be welcomed.
I had a mild row with Owen recently over his use of the word “but”. The thread can be found here. I say that up front as, having just praised Owen, I am about to use the word “but”.
There can be no doubt that Owen has two things in his mind at the moment. Firstly his utter horror at a genuinely left wing Labour Party being consumed by daily discussions around the deplorable behaviour and attitudes of its members, rather than talking about policies. Secondly that these behaviours and attitudes are threatening to engulf a leadership that Owen has personally endorsed and committed to. His column today is then both necessary and brave.
But (there it is) I have a number of problems with what Owen has written.
Firstly it is simply not true to say “The issue of antisemitism arises because of revelations centred on a Labour Party activist named Vicki Kirby.” To assert this is about as disingenuous as it’s possible to be. The charge of antisemitism, or at best the tolerance of it, has dogged the Corbyn leadership from day one. Indeed Corbyn’s relationships with known antisemites was the subject of regular discussion during the leadership election. The Vicki Kirby case is simply the latest in a long and regular stream of antisemitism scandals afflicting the Labour Party, and especially so since Corbyn’s election. If you think otherwise then there’s probably little point in reading on.
It is this false premise that allows Owen to excuse Corbyn from any involvement in the Vicki Kirby case:
“For those making it all about Jeremy Corbyn, it should be noted that both the suspension and its lifting took place under the old regime.”
Fine, Jeremy Corbyn was certainly a long way from having personal involvement in the “old regime”. Yet this attempt to place the blame onto Ed Miliband and ‘the moderates’ ignores the role of the NEC and our old friend Ken Livingstone, amongst others, in the “old regime”. Let’s not pretend that Ken is in blissful ignorance of the Vicki Kirby case and let’s not pretend that somehow Ken has no role in the ‘new regime’.
Nobody is making it all about Jeremy Corbyn as an individual. What people are making it about is Jeremy Corbyn as a leader of the ‘new regime’ and what message Corbyn, John McDonnell and Livingstone have sent, over many decades, to those members of society looking for a left wing home for their antisemitism.
The second problem I have is the equivalence that Owen chooses to give to the problem of antisemitism and what he calls “Islamophobia”. “Both forms of bigotry…exist within progressive circles and within the Labour Party.” There is no evidence at all that members of the Labour Party are expressing anti-Jewish views and anti-Muslim views in similar numbers. However there is clear evidence of sexism within the Muslim community with male Muslim Labour Party members intimidating and bullying female Muslim Labour Party members, forcing them to give up being activists and candidates. That, however, is not “Islamophobia” – that is sexism. An enquiry into sexism in the Labour Party would yield interesting results, with the starting point being the Shadow Cabinet. And that is before you get to the misogynistic abuse that the likes of Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy, Caroline Flint and Gloria Del Piero regularly receive from Labour Party members and their “affiliated supporters”. Yes, you know who I mean.
Finally I am always disappointed when I read phrases like this:
“It is possible to passionately oppose antisemitism one the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Israel’s government and support Palestinian national self-determination.”
That disappointment is not because of what is said (though a writer of Owen’s skill should surely be able to come up with a new way to say it) but what is omitted. Since Owen brought up the issue of Islamophobia it is surely not beyond his imagination to also say this:
“It is possible to passionately oppose Islamophobia on the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Hamas and support Israel’s right to existence.”
Just for once I would like to see a socialist make the argument for Israel’s right to national self-determination in the same breath as Palestine’s. Only then might we start to see some progress in forcing the antisemites out of the Labour Party and back under their stones where they belong.