Jonathan Arkush is right. Jeremy Corbyn has anti-Semitic leanings and it will be disastrous for British Jews if he is ever voted into No 10. Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has met Corbyn and dealt with him. He is best positioned to know how he responds to anti-Semitism – by all accounts, not very well.
Corbyn has yet to answer Arkush’s legitimate question on why he has ‘nothing good to say on Israel’. If Corbyn was serious about tackling anti-Semitism he would have responded immediately and taken the opportunity to state his position on the Jewish state. His continuous silence on this point creates valid suspicions that he doesn’t believe in Israel’s right to exist. Corbyn certainly doesn’t have to like the Israeli government and is entitled to view its policies as counter-productive. This is a legitimate perspective (even if misguided) which can also be found within the diaspora and Israel.
But Corbyn has gone way beyond criticising the actions of the Israeli government. He is connected to and supportive of some of the most abhorrently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic organisations in the UK. He infamously called the genocidal terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah ‘friends’. He was chairman of Stop the War, a virulently anti-Israel and anti-West organisation. He remains a patron of the notorious Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), whose members have been guilty of some horrible displays of anti-Semitism. The blogger David Collier has a well-publicised report on this. Yet Corbyn is still an active member of the PSC, appearing at events and praised by its leadership.
It is getting on for 100 days since Labour moderates protested in Parliament Square and demanded that Corbyn take action against anti-Semitism. They wasted their time. Corbyn and his ilk were not listening. In fact Labour have carried on as if nothing has happened and added insult to injury by appointing Gordon Nardell QC, who has said he ‘absolutely’ shares Corbyn’s views on Israel and Palestine, as counsel to deal with their cases of anti-Semitism. Given that the majority of these stem from a chronic hatred of Israel and Zionism it is indeed curious how these will be judged fairly. Appointing Nardell to oversee anti-Semitic cases is like appointing one of Stalin’s henchmen to address complaints about the Ukrainian Holodomor – insulting, insensitive and senseless.
It is also unnerving that a day after Arkush’s comments Rhea Wolfson, a Jewish member of Labour’s governing body, wrote an impassioned defence of Corbyn, proclaiming that he is not an anti-Semite. What prompted her to write this is anyone’s guess. Why didn’t Corbyn himself rebuff the comments Arkush made? Despite Wolfson’s claim that Corbyn is ‘committed to tackling anti-Semitism’, all evidence points to the contrary. Wolfson is wrong to say Arkush has conflated criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism. Arkush didn’t use those words and neither did he imply it. He correctly pointed out that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. He justifiably condemned Corbyn for supporting organisations which call for the destruction of Israel and for being responsible for creating such a poisonous atmosphere for Jews that many are considering leaving the UK. If Wolfson’s polemic is Labour’s attempt to play down Corbyn’s deplorable inaction over anti-Semitism it is indeed laughable and amateurish.
Most Jews are wary of co-religionists who support an anti-Semitic political party. What will it take for Wolfson and her comrades to realise that the Labour leadership cares little for Jews and actively despises Israel? Arkush’s clarion call must be heeded by all in Labour.