All forms of hatred and injustice must be tackled
The resumption of race and identity politics as a politically explosive issue is a feature of political life from the US to Europe and indeed the Middle East. How political leaderships handle this is vital, the danger being that either they pander to this hatred or try to brush it under one large carpet.
Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are two prime examples of this renaissance in hatred, something that perhaps always existed but has lain partially dormant until recently. Britain provides two stellar examples of this latter trend.
Jeremy Corbyn has attached his neck to a large albatross called anti-Semitism ever since he was elected leader of the Labour Party in 2016. Even before being elected, he was attacked for referring to “friends” from Hamas and Hezbollah. He has been a long-term campaigner for Palestinian rights, and has fought on many anti-racism campaigns.
It has now been revealed that Corbyn hosted an event in 2010 on Holocaust Memorial Day where a speaker, Hajo Meyer — a Jewish Holocaust survivor — compared Israel to Nazis. So at the moment when Britain most needs a strong, effective opposition, Labour is engulfed in a major crisis largely of the leadership’s making.
With Brexit looking more and more as if it will lead to a no-deal scenario, holding the government to account is beyond vital, but this issue has defanged Labour of any ability to do so. On the issue of Labour members accused of anti-Semitism, Corbyn has become on most occasions Trappist. At best he speaks out only after massive pressure, and then often insufficiently.
He and many of his fellow travelers in the far left have been accused of downplaying the issue. Occasionally he has a point, when accusations of anti-Semitism have been used to shut down legitimate criticism of illegal Israeli actions.
Jeremy Corbyn has attached his neck to a large albatross called anti-Semitism ever since he was elected leader of the Labour Party in 2016.
But more often than not, it is a failure to understand that he has to show with actions, not just words, that anti-Semitism can never be tolerated and is never acceptable. Many of the examples are classically anti-Semitic, including Holocaust denial and propagating conspiracy theories about Jewish power and money.
Anti-Semites who piggyback legitimate Palestinian rights movements do massive harm to the Palestinian cause, as do anti-Muslim bigots pretending they care about anti-Semitism purely to find a way to bash Muslims. Add to that Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who turn a blind eye to anti-Semites and Islamophobes merely because they slam Palestinians.
To most, all this is overtly anti-Semitic, and is so under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. It certainly is hugely insensitive. Corbyn did apologize, but only for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused — the classic non-apology.
One problem is that the Labour leadership has accepted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism but steadfastly refused to endorse the attached examples, one of which is comparing Israeli actions to those of the Nazis.
It is a reasonable but not perfect definition, with some of the examples in need of tightening to ensure legitimate freedom to criticize Israeli actions. The trouble is, Labour is too compromised on this issue now to do this. Many Jews feel shocked and betrayed by a party that used to stand up for their rights.
Fears of being labelled anti-Semitic are no excuse not to hold Israel to account for its crimes. Sadly, this happens. But all this raises questions about how anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are being dealt with, not least as research shows that both are on the rise. At least the Labour leadership is being hauled over the coals for anti-Semitism. Corbyn is being widely panned.
Is this the case with Britain’s Conservative Party, widely accused of Islamophobia, even by its former Chairman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi? Plenty of examples exist, but as yet the party has refused to hold an inquiry into it, and it has yet to damage its leadership.
Across Europe, rather than racism being politically suicidal, increasingly it is being used as a vote-winner in a way that is only starting to happen in Britain. The far right, from where most anti-Semitic incidents arise — including in Britain — is weaponizing racism with great success. The Italian interior minister is even channeling the fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
Opinion polls show that Jews have a less negative image in northern Europe than other groups, including Muslims and blacks. Whilst most Jewish groups can coalesce around a definition of anti-Semitism, governments have not yet worked to agree on a general definition of Islamophobia or anti-Arab racism. This must be addressed.
All too often, the mainstream right battles against anti-Semitism and the left plays it down, whilst the left tackles Islamophobia but is weak on anti-Semitism. Others get involved in debates on which is worse. Is it really that tough to fight against all forms of racism and injustice? Regrettably, too many see this as a part-time cherry-picking exercise as opposed to a universal continuous struggle.
- Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first-class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic studies at Exeter University. He has organized and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Twitter: @Doylech