After it was reported that UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had laid a wreath at the graves of Palestinian terrorists, the chairman of Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council said, “This man is not fit to be a Member of Parliament, let alone a national leader.” The President of the British Board of Jewish Deputies tweeted, “We are sick and tired of this.” Yet another demonstration was called against antisemitism in the Labour Party under the slogan, “Enough is enough!”
Had anyone predicted four years ago, before Corbyn’s rise, that the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition would be dogged by associations with Palestinian terrorists and that the Labour Party would be fighting to protect the right of its members to compare Israel to the Nazis, they would have been ridiculed. Yet, here we are.
British Jews were rightly proud that an all-party parliamentary group on combating antisemitism had for many years been an international leader on the topic, and both Labour and Conservative governments had implemented their recommendations. Then a rule change led to a doubling of voters in Labour’s leadership contest, and far-left activists surged in and elected Corbyn.
Today, British Jews are reacting in unprecedented horror. The country’s three Jewish newspapers, avid business competitors, agreed to publish a common front page text, “United We Stand,” and a common editorial against the “Corbynite contempt for Jews and Israel.” Sixty-eight British rabbis from across the religious spectrum signed a joint letter declaring that Labour has “chosen to ignore the Jewish community” in deciding what constitutes antisemitism, and “the Labour party’s leadership have chosen to act in the most insulting and arrogant way.”
Corbyn’s wreath-laying at a memorial to the leaders of Black September, the Palestinian terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, adds to his record of inviting Hezbollah and Hamas representatives to speak at the British Parliament. He described Hamas as an organization dedicated to “long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region.” Hamas’ vision of peace and justice, of course, is the destruction of Israel. Corbyn also said the British government’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization was “a big, big historical mistake.”
Corbyn’s long-standing opposition to the existence of Israel is well-documented in Dave Rich’s excellent 2016 book The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism. Corbyn has produced so much new material that Rich, who works at the Community Security Trust, the ADL’s British analogue, is coming out with an expanded version next month. Commenting on the Black September story, Rich tweeted, “The reason stories like this are coming out every day is because Corbyn has spent his entire life doing this kind of thing.”
But Jeremy Corbyn is one individual. More worrying is Labour’s insistence on allowing its members to be able to compare Israel with the Nazis without sanction.
The Nazi analogy is baseless, demonizing, and antisemitic. The 31 member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), including the UK, developed a definition of antisemitism that includes the Nazi analogy, and the British government and law enforcement were among the first to adopt the IHRA definition domestically. Yet, Labour’s new guidelines on antisemitism merely warn that comparing Israel to Nazi Germany “carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is likely the reason why. He doesn’t want to deny his fellow Israel-haters their favorite rhetorical device. Critics of Israel who focus on occupation could use imperfect analogies with the Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine and Georgia or the Armenian occupation of part of Azerbaijan, but they don’t. They prefer to use the demonizing and unsupportable Nazi analogy, and today the Labour Party says that is acceptable.
The British Labour Party has a distinguished past, and it could have a distinguished future if it abandons tolerance of antisemitism, hatred for Israel, and association with terrorists. If not, the joint editorial of the Jewish newspapers warned of “the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.”
ADL opinion polls show that the British public has low levels of antisemitic attitudes. We at the ADL will stand with the British Jewish community, as we have with other European Jewish communities, to reject any mainstreaming of antisemitism. The British people deserve better.