I wish someone had told me about the “Jewish war against Jeremy Corbyn”. I’d have brought bagels.
In case you missed it, this so-called war on Britain’s Labour leader has taken the form of the overwhelming majority of the UK’s tiny Jewish community voicing its real fear at the party’s apparent indifference to the anti-Semitism within its own ranks.
The community spoke out with an unusually united voice after the party leadership decided to amend and narrow the globally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition and guidelines on anti-Semitism. (You try getting 68 rabbis to agree on anything, including whether all 68 of them should be recognised as rabbis, and you will understand how remarkable this is.) But to allies of Mr Corbyn, especially those who, like him, have fetishised Israel over all other global issues, the fears of a historically persecuted minority are just a plot against him.
The Skwawkbox, a Corbynite blog, tweeted out a piece part-headlined: “The Jewish ‘War against Corbyn’”. The article, a supposedly friendly warning from a Jewish Corbyn supporter, observed: “If Corbyn loses by a narrow margin . . . how will the millions who voted for him see the Jewish community and its . . . campaign to brand him toxic?” Billy Bragg, the leftwing singer, added that British Jews had work to do “to build trust” with Mr Corbyn.
The row, appalling in itself, offers a broader lesson about the nature of Mr Corbyn’s party. After all, you have to admire the excruciating purity of the leader and his acolytes. Here we have a government imploding over Brexit. An early election is at least possible. And what does Mr Corbyn do? He embarks on a fresh dispute about anti-Semitism.
There was a cynical but politically astute way to handle this. Given the corrosive tensions with Britain’s Jews, the easy thing would have been to adopt the IHRA definition and guidelines in full and then fail to implement them (essentially what it has been doing for months). But oh no, not Mr Corbyn.
Nothing in the IHRA wording prevents campaigning for the Palestinian cause in anything other than the type of inflammatory language which incites anti-Semitism. But those extreme terms precluded by the IHRA guidelines are what the Labour leader seems most desperate to save. So instead of simply outlawing anti-Semitic activity, the party decided to redefine it and punish those who complained. Two Labour MPs, who lost family members in the Holocaust, now face disciplinary action for confronting the leadership, albeit fairly aggressively.
Rather than seek unity, the Corbynite approach has been to let his followers threaten and vilify a frightened minority into silence. The leadership has also promoted Jewish Voice for Labour, a tiny group of hard-left Jews founded last year to challenge the mainstream community leadership. The upshot is that the party is creating the conditions for the kind of split which poses the greatest threat to election victory — and all for an avoidable row over the definition of anti-Semitism. This tells us a lot about Mr Corbyn. His party is in touching distance of power, yet he is ready to risk it all for the purity of his ideals.
It ought to be clear that Mr Corbyn’s views should be taken literally. Voters should take at his word a man whose world view is underpinned by anti-Americanism, who wants to scrap the nuclear deterrent and leave Nato. They should assume that invaluable US intelligence-sharing arrangements will be scrapped, if not by him then by the US.
Mr Corbyn has described Nato as a “very dangerous Frankenstein” and a “danger to world peace”. In last year’s election he refused to disavow those views. Labour moderates and voters who think that in power Mr Corbyn and his acolytes will compromise their long-held views should look at the anti-Semitism row. Is this a man ready to water down positions he has held for decades for mere expediency?
The same will be true on domestic economic policy. When shadow chancellor John McDonnell raises the spectre of capital controls, we should take him seriously. When, after the Grenfell tower fire, Mr Corbyn talked of seizing privately owned homes to rehouse the survivors, people should assume this reflected his view. We should believe him when he said he would raise taxes, follow protectionist trade policies and sweep away laws banning secondary picketing.
For some voters this is an appealing agenda. But those hoping that political or financial realities will temper Mr Corbyn’s actions should look at the extent he is prepared to damage his party over the definition of anti-Semitism and recognise that what you see is likely to be what you get.
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