Back in 2014, a Labour politician closed his speech by quoting the fable. “By their company shall you know them”, he finished, attacking my own former party after providing a list of examples of people who had made unsavoury comments. It was easy to respond: we kicked them out. We did not tolerate such behaviour; we didn’t stand for such company. Sadly, my former party changed: it now courts the types it used to expel; sadly, I had no choice but to go Independent. Recently, his words have become poignant and keep coming back to mind.
Last week, I had occasion to participate in an event at a Jewish community centre in London. The security levels: bag searches, metal-detecting wands, counting people in and out of the building – is this what our society has become? Is this how concerned our Jewish communities have had to become about their future? Hatred of the Jewish people has been a hallmark of far-Left and far-Right for generations. That of the Nazis is well-known; that of the Communists, less so. Jewish people were persecuted under the Bolsheviks and then under Stalin. The Soviets denounced anti-Semitism publicly, then used the term ‘anti-Zionist’ as cover for anti-Semitic activities and persecution of Jews. The so-called ‘Doctors’ plot’, where Stalin ordered the arrest and torture of Jewish doctors on false charges of conspiracy to kill high-ranking Soviet officials, was planned as cover for the mass deportation of Jews to forced-labour camps in Siberia. Soviets and Nazis both believed in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jewish agents secretly control Western governments.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we see ‘Israel’ and ‘Zionism’ used as proxies for anti-Semitism. This is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism is so important. It catches those anti-Semites who use a ‘bait-and-switch’ approach. It delineates reasonable democratic debate about the policies of Israel’s government from anti-Semitism. When Jeremy Corbyn refuses to adopt that definition, I worry.
When Jeremy Corbyn was present at a wreath-laying event for the Munich terrorists, even accepting his claim that he did not personally lay a wreath, the company he keeps is cause for concern. When Jeremy Corbyn travelled to Qatar in 2012 for a conference with a convicted terrorist, Husam Badran, alarm bells ring. When Jeremy Corbyn praised the release of Hamas terrorists on Iranian State TV, should we not be worried? When he is pictured next to Maher Al-Taher, a senior figure in a proscribed terror group (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) are we supposed to not bat an eyelid? When he writes in the Morning Star (originally set up by the Communist Party of Great Britain) of a ‘long meeting’ and takeaway dinner with Holocaust-denier leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, what then? Then, a video emerged of him saying “This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said. They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony.” Endorsements from Nick Griffin (ex-leader of the BNP) and David Duke (ex-leader of the Ku Klux Klan) don’t help him much either.
Left-wingers often (and not always unfairly) accuse Donald Trump of two things: firstly, of engaging in whataboutery – diverting attention from one issue by asking ‘what about’ a different, often unrelated one. Secondly, they claim there’s so much material that the public become desensitized to the latest gaffe. Such criticisms apply equally to Corbyn. When asked to condemn, for example, IRA violence, Corbyn’s choice of words is telling: he condemns ‘all violence’ – refusing to single out the terrorist activity. When he responds to questions about anti-Israel terrorism by diverting attention to Israel, it’s classic whataboutery.
A few Labour politicians, like Anna Turley, have dared to brave the abuse and speak out on anti-Semitism within Labour. I may disagree with them profoundly on other political issues but they have done a great service to their Party and country. From personal experience, I know there comes a time when a party can move so far away from what it used to believe that you can no longer remain in it. Until that time, please continue to speak up – loud and clear. What must not happen, is for this to be swept under the carpet yet again. By their company shall you know them.