Anti-semitism and the Labour Party: how a moral crisis became an election issue too

By Samuel Carpenter

Criticism of the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader has often focused on his and the party’s widely alleged antisemitism. Following his election, some criticisms could be considered ideological and opportunistic. Their subjectivity was demonstrated by support for Corbyn’s election, as well as legitimate disagreement with his views. However, due to the volume and severity of incidents, it has since become abundantly clear that the Labour Party has an antisemitism crisis. The accounts of antisemitism within the party are a moral issue, yet they invoke a problem that is entirely political; how the party is perceived.

Antisemitism is obviously repugnant and whilst no more so than other forms of racism, history has showed us how pervasive it can be, particularly in Europe, as well as, how quickly it can develop disastrous consequences. Despite this, over the past four years, the Labour Party has been unable to effectively combat the prejudice within its ranks.

In fact, a BBC Panorama investigation and comments from party insiders demonstrated that a lack of willingness to confront this is undoubtedly a contributing factor as well. This is because there are still people who believe that the crisis doesn’t exist and that it is entirely political, and perhaps there are also people who just don’t care.

This comes to the crux of the matter, even if you don’t believe there is a crisis of antisemitism, effectively combatting the issues raised by complaints is still essential. Regardless of an individual’s beliefs, there is a growing perception that the Labour Party is antisemitic and this is clearly affecting their General Election chances. So much so; the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has opened an investigation into the party and its handling of antisemitism. Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP has left the party, partly due to concerns over antisemitism. The only way to overcome that perception is to combat its very basis. That is possible, even if you think the matter is entirely opportunistic, and the crisis imagined.

Ultimately, this is an interpretation that the crisis is a moral issue at heart but how it’s perceived is also highly important. This clarification is necessary because; it is perhaps one effective way of confronting the influence of those who are not prepared to combat the Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis. In electioneering terms you don’t give your opponents a hammer and not anticipate being hit.

Overall, the growing perception of the Labour Party as antisemitic is profoundly damaging but also depressing for a party which prides itself on a history of anti-racism. That alone should be a call to arms for its leadership to combat the issue, even at this late stage.

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