Sunday, 8 April 2018

Thoughts on today's anti-semitism protest

Today, I know quite a few people who are attending the protest outside the Labour Party's headquarters in London. The protest is about inaction on anti-semitism within the Labour Party. Among the people protesting are those who feel politically homeless because anti-semitic abuse has been tolerated and not properly dealt with by the Labour Party. 

These people are routinely slagged off as "Red Tory scum" by certain elements of the Labour Party even though they support a such principles as a strong NHS, the welfare state, ending austerity, and a taxation system that does not favour the wealthy at the expense of the working class. These people are not natural conservatives, they have spoken out against Conservative Party policy, in many cases for decades. Some of these people are now voting for other parties, some now spoil their ballots, some have stopped voting, sometimes for the first time in their politically active lives.

Absolutely disgusting things have been said to Jewish people within the Labour Party, including threats, the dragging up of vile stereotypes that would not be out of place in the appalling propaganda of Nazi Germany, and calling Jewish female MPs, such as the eloquent Louise Ellman, "sluts" and "bitches" for daring to speak out. Ruth Smeeth MP has received 25,000 abusive messages and is now under police protection. It has to stop if the Labour Party is at all serious about being in government. 

When these people say they have been subjected to ugly anti-semitic abuse, I believe them. I have seen the awful evidence. I am not Jewish so I am not going to presume to tell Jewish people that their anti-semitic experiences within the Labour Party are invalid or not serious or do not warrant serious investigation and disciplinary action. The people who are responsible for the abuse would probably, quite rightly, not minimise reports of abuse towards Muslim people so why are they incapable of respecting Jewish people in the same way or taking their concerns equally seriously?

I suspect that a lot of anti-semitic abuse is excused as criticism of wealth and greed, of the Rothschilds as shorthand for all Jews, even though that is clearly wrong and ridiculous. Just as Muslims are tired of telling people that they are not terrorists, and black people are tired of telling people they are not in violent gangs, and women are tired of having to explain pretty much every life choice we make to someone, Jewish people are pretty damn sick of this stupid, offensive stereotype being perpetuated, complete with the horrendous rich-Jews-with-big-noses trope in the hideous mural Jeremy Corbyn claimed he didn't look at properly before defending it. 

Indeed, the motion which has been put forward by the Bristol West Labour Party in opposition to their MP, Thangam Debbonaire, attending last month's Enough Is Enough rally against anti-semitism doesn't so much contain a racist dog whistle as a honking great bullhorn - the motion actually said that "when people see inequality, ecological disaster and war alongside the accumulation of unprecedented wealth, in the private hands of a few, it is reasonable that they seek out explanations". If you can't see the problem with that, I can't help you. If those calling for Ms Debbonaire's deselection succeed, I hope they are proud of themselves for cutting down a talented female MP from an ethnic minority because she spoke out in support of people who are experiencing intolerance. This is an intelligent, compassionate woman who called to allow MPs to vote remotely in special circumstances after she juggled her parliamentary duties with breast cancer treatment. If that is the kind of person you want to remove from parliament, you really need to ask yourself who the real racists and haters are.

But the wealthy are an obvious target for the left and if Jewish people get scooped up in the criticism, that just seems to be viewed by many as mere collateral damage. It is possible to be critical of the morality of many wealthy people and big business without detouring down anti-semitic rabbit holes. I also suspect that criticism of Jews is seen as criticism not just of the wealthy and privileged but also of white people and that somehow makes it OK for many, even though it is racism on top of racism. Never mind that this is completely ignorant and flies in the face of the diversity of Jewish people who live in every continent. 

One of the defences has been "But there are anti-semitic Tories too!". Yes, this is true. And it should all be called out. Jacob Rees-Mogg should be held to account for rubbing shoulders with the dreadful Gregory Lauder-Frost just as the Labour Party was held to account for allowing holocaust denier Alan Bull to be a council candidate. But the argument that there are anti-semites in the Conservative Party as well is not really an argument at all - it just drags both parties into an awful race to the bottom where all forms of racism and intolerance become OK because the other lot are at it too. 

Jeremy Corbyn, the ball is in your court. Try not to hit it into the hands of those who are responsible for abusing Jewish people.

Photography of the Kindertransport statue by UggBoy♥UggGirl/Flickr

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