If overseas readers will excuse the omphaloskepsis, I intend to return to the carryings on within the UK Labour Party. One of the ironies in my recent post on the splits within the Labour Party was that the quote at the beginning was of course from one of a (fictional) band of Jewish zealots, and those same overseas readers referenced above may be excused for believing from the title of this post that the starting point relates to prejudice against Jewish people, zealots or otherwise. Instead it all actually stems from that old hobby horse of mine: democracy with the party. Antisemitism, to the extent it exists at all, is merely tangential.
I think it was Woody Guthrie who said that one can only write what one can see, and the reason that I haven't before covered this subject is that I have never witnessed any antisemitism within the party. As it happens my own MP, Alex Sobel, is both Labour and Jewish and when asked a few weeks ago he said that he had never experienced any antisemitic abuse, contrasting that with that he received from extreme right-wingers following speeches he made in parliament about the holocaust and the new Polish anti-defamation law. In mathematics there is a concept known as reductio ad absurdam, which basically means that something is disproved if in order for it to be true something patently ridiculous would also have be true. For me we reached that point a fortnight or so when a Labour councillor defected to the Tories citing antisemitic abuse she had received as the cause despite not actually being Jewish in the first place. It turned out that what had actually happened is that she hadn't been re-selected to stand in the forthcoming elections and, her enjoyment of being on the council being stronger than her political principles she had transferred to the opposition on the promise that she would be allowed to stand for them. All that seems to suggest to me is that the comrades made the right call at the selection meeting.
I see four drivers behind all the current furore:
Firstly, and notwithstanding what I have written above, there clearly is abuse going on. I am not going to rehash arguments that you all know about the pernicious effect social media has on discourse of all sorts not just political. And I have myself on previous occasions lamented the lack of historical perspective and intellectual hinterland of our leading politicians; it is obviously not going to be any better amongst their acolytes. The world is full of ignorant bastards and some of them are inevitably going to be found in the Labour Party; when they are identified as such they should be thrown out.
Secondly, there are people who are actively seeking to widen the definition of antisemitism to include any criticism of Israel. Many of the complaints actually relate to such criticism, and if we value free speech these must be rejected. This is an important point of principle which should be defended, Voltaire like, even by supporters of that state.
Thirdly, it is a convenient stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn. In this case I think that he, and those who support him will just have to suck it up. If it wasn't antisemitism it would be something else; it it wasn't Jeremy Corbyn it would be someone else. Cast your mind back to the vitriol thrown at the previous leader of the party by the Tories and the right-wing press: he couldn't eat a bacon sandwich properly (if the overseas readers are still with me, as bizarre as it sounds that is absolutely true), he somehow stabbed his brother in the back by standing against him (whilst mysteriously the opposite wasn't the case), and he couldn't be trusted with national security because his father was a foreign (i.e. Jewish, which you have to admit is quite funny in the circumstances) refugee.
Fourthly, it is a lever to try to remove democratic control from the hands of party members who have only recently seized it. Margaret Hodge wants to close down branches that dare to comment on the situation, whilst her and her friends appear daily in the press with their sob stories and crocodile tears. Tom Watson has called for the deselection process for MPs to be 'suspended', thereby rather giving the game away about his real concern. These people see politics as a nice little game for a select coterie - of whom they are of course members for life - while the rest of us are foot soldiers and cannon fodder. This affair is one further (possibly the last?) attempt to turn back the tide; Canute without the self-knowledge. But, as on that occasion, it won't work.