The Australian Left must learn from British Labour’s antisemitism scandal
British Labour may be in the throes of a crisis that could keep the party out of national government for a generation and threatens its claims to be a progressive political party committed to anti-racism and social justice.
The crisis is entirely of the party’s own making. Plastered across the social media pages of its councillors, activists, members of the House of Commons and even its esteemed party grandees has been unabashed racism directed squarely at the Jews.
Concerns about antisemitism in Britain’s far-left surfaced at the time of the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader in September 2015. While Corbyn himself has not been accused of antisemitism, he has maintained a disturbing proximity to a melange of violent Islamists, Holocaust-deniers and terrorist organisations openly orientated towards the annihilation of the Jews.
Corbyn’s judgement nurtured the suspicion that Labour’s long-suppressed Trotskyite elements – the kind that sees Jewish money and power lurking behind every inequity – was being ushered into Britain’s political mainstream.
Then on March 15, the vice-chair of Labour’s Woking branch, Vicky Kirby, was reluctantly suspended by the party after claiming that Jews have ‘big noses’, ‘slaughter the oppressed’, and that Hitler was a ‘Zionist God’.
Labour Councillor Aysegul Gurbuz was then forced to resign after the discovery of social media posts that praised Hitler as the ‘greatest man in history’. She also expressed the hope that Iran would use ‘nuclear weapons’ to ‘wipe Israel off the map’.
Then Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West who ousted George Galloway, himself no stranger to antisemitism, was found to have expressed support for the forcible deportation of Israel’s six million Jews to the United States.
Perhaps the most extraordinary turn came from Ken Livingstone, a former Mayor of London and an important figure in the Labour left, who in coming to Shah’s defence, made a series of remarks breathtaking in their ignorance. Unable to deny Shah’s antisemitism, for which she apologised, Livingstone asserted that it was ‘over the top’ to claim that ‘antisemitism and racism are exactly the same thing’, thereby reducing hatred of the Jews to an ostensibly lesser class of racism.
Livingstone also claimed that Hitler had been a ‘supporter of Zionism’. The historian Antony Beevor called Livingstone’s remarks ‘grotesque’. The Nazis considered forcibly expelling Europe’s Jews to places that included Madagascar and the British Mandate of Palestine, before pursuing their total annihilation. Ethnic cleansing was the Nazis sole motivation. The Jewish people’s right of self-determination, which is at the core of Zionism, never remotely entered into the Nazis’ thinking.
Livingstone then predictably claimed it was the ‘Israel lobby’ that had orchestrated the Labour troubles, shifting blame to an easy target and away from those who had wilfully professed deeply bigoted views.
The coup de grâce came when Livingstone, seemingly attempting to bury one outrageous statement under another, argued that a distinction should be made between ‘just hating the Jews in Israel’ and ‘hating their Jewish neighbour in Golders Green’ (a suburb of north London famous for having a high Jewish population), with only the latter being a problem.
This last statement is perhaps the clearest demonstration of the moral bankruptcy underpinning the increasingly tolerated ‘anti-Zionism’. At the heart of Livingstone’s theorem is a stripping of the Jews of their individuality and humanity and reduction to a binary – what he considers to be the ‘good Jew’ and the ‘bad Jew’. The Jews of Israel, all of them, are necessarily bad and wicked. Dehumanised, these people are made deserving of our hatred.
Livingstone’s remarks are a study in the far-left’s singular treatment of antisemitism, compared to every other form of racism and intolerance. This lesson is as applicable to Australia as it is to Britain. Aside from honourable exceptions, when forced to confront an incident of antisemitism, even when irrefutable, the far-left has sought to deny, invert and ultimately shift blame onto the victims themselves, always culminating in a gratuitous and predictable attack on the ‘Jewish lobby’, a form of conspiracy theory to appeal to the weak of mind. Could one imagine the far-left mounting such a response to an allegation of homophobia, sexism or Islamophobia?
As the experience of British Labour has shown, antisemitism is very real and there remain those who reserve a unique and unwavering hatred for the dominant symbols of Jewish self-identification – the Jewish community, the Jewish faith and the Jewish nation-state.
In 2014, the Socialist Alternative was deregistered as a club by Monash University following the harassment of Jewish students by its members. At Sydney University in 2015, students from the far-left shouted their support for Hizb ut-Tahrir to a predominantly Jewish audience while a senior academic, Jake Lynch, was filmed in the act of waving banknotes in the face of an elderly Jewish woman.
Incredibly, the actions of Lynch and the students were stridently defended by many on the left, including members of parliament and the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties. In 2013, NSW Upper House MP Shaoquett Moselmane railed against the ‘. . . blind[ing] power of a political lobby group that is cancerous and malicious’ in a piece of rhetoric that might have made the Iranian regime blush.
Amidst this scandal, British Labour is struggling to remain credible as an alternative government.
If a similar worldview took hold of the Australian left, it too would risk becoming un-backable, unelectable and irrelevant.