Anti-Semitism: A key disruptive device
For the Labour Party, witnessing Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, from the Democratic Party in the United States, face unforgiving allegations of anti-Semitism must ignite a feeling of déjà vu.
The congressional representative was elected in the 2018 mid-term elections, and has since received the same sort of adverse coverage that has encircled the Labour Party and become habitual.
Indeed, the opposition party in the United Kingdom and particularly its party leader Jeremy Corbyn have been on the receiving end of unrelenting denunciation and the two words most associated with him since his election to the helm of the party via a landslide victory in 2015, are ‘anti-Semitism’.
At a time when racism is prevalent on a global scale and right wing xenophobic strongmen are amassing significant support via the pernicious rhetoric they disseminate, it seems critically perplexing that it is mainly two individuals in the political arena who are scrutinized scrupulously for their alleged anti-Semitic sentiments.
That is not to say anti-Semitism does not exist. It is a problem that requires urgent attention wherever it takes place. That is why the reports that the Metropolitan police have made arrests in an investigation is welcome news for all those associated.
Rooting out anti-Semitism and all forms of racism is vital, and contrary to suggestions, is the approach the Labour Party have adopted, as emphasised by shadow chancellor John McDonnell when he stipulated ‘I do not want one anti-Semite in our party’. In fact, Naz Shah, former MP for Labour, in a Facebook post in 2014, shared a graphic showing an image of Israel’s outline superimposed on a map of the US under the headline ‘Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict – relocate Israel into United States’, with the comment ‘problem solved’.
She also likened Israel’s policies to Adolf Hitler’s in a separate post. Then the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone attempted to defend Ms Shah’s sentiments and Corbyn and his party deemed these acts anti-Semitic, and ergo they took the necessary action and suspended the pair. More recently, Labour suspended veteran activist Jackie Walker following a two and a half year investigation, after it was found her conduct was anti-Semitic on countless occasions.
However, this did not receive the same coverage as when Corbyn came under fire in August 2018 over his presence at a ceremony in Tunisia in 2014, which is said to have honoured the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich incident, during which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed. This is despite Corbyn’s insistence that he attended the event as part of a wider event concerning the search for peace.
Hence, the notion that Corbyn views Jews as fundamentally alien and he heads a party that is ‘institutionally racist’ have persisted. In the summer of 2018, the chief event prompting anti-Semitism accusations was Labour’s reluctance to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in full. Yet even when they did, the assertions continued.
Likewise, when Corbyn sought to end the row by delivering a major anti-Semitism speech at the Jewish Museum London, a plethora of members of the Jewish community responded by proclaiming they will never set foot in the Museum again should Corbyn enter it.
Suggestions are that there is a determination and a boldness in Britain when it comes to addressing and eradicating racism. Yet the handling of the situation signals otherwise. The British media, establishment and political class have provided meticulous coverage and focussed a lot of their energy on Corbyn and Labour’s apparent anti-Semitism problem, and yet robustly dismissed other flagrant incidents of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.
For example, Suella Braverman, a Conservative MP, at an emergency meeting concerning Brexit, recently professed ‘We are engaged in a war against cultural Marxism’. The theory of cultural Marxism is blatantly anti-Semitic, because it draws on the idea of Jews as a fifth column bringing down western civilisation from within, a racist trope that has a longer history than Marxism. In fact, Adolf Hitler employed the concept abundantly in Nazi Germany. To make matters worse, it was a key theory for white supremacist and mass murderer Anders Breivik.
Therefore, it is astonishing that a Member of Parliament, who is supposed to be representing the general population, is using the same references as a far right terrorist who mercilessly murdered 77 people.
However, it should not be. Because holding such inflammatory and prejudiced viewpoints is commonplace in the Conservative Party. Prominent Tory MP, and former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who has Prime Ministerial ambitions, likened Muslim women who wear the burka to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’. Likewise, Conservative MP Bob Blackman retweeted an anti-Muslim post from the far right figure Tommy Robinson, and concurrently unapologetically hosted a Hindu anti-Muslim nationalist in Parliament.
Captivatingly, even when a host of Conservative councillors were suspended for posting Islamophobic or racist content online with some describing Saudi’s as ‘sand peasants’, their memberships were quietly reinstated.
Bizarrely, despite the heaping compelling evidence, there is no hysteria and unceasing accusations of the Conservative Party as being one that is institutionally racist, as Labour were accused of.
The Conservative Party is evidently one overladen with not just anti-Semitic sentiments, but general racist and hostile attitudes, and yet the silence on the matter is deafening. By contrast, the figures exhibit that Labour’s anti-Semitic problem, especially concerning the membership, equate to just 0.1% of the membership.
Yet there has been a stark difference in the coverage of one party and its leader, in comparison to the rest, when it comes to alleged anti-Semitic and racist inclinations.
Verily, regarding the undisguised anti-Semitic remarks by Ms Braverman, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main representative body of British Jews, declared Ms Braverman is ‘in no way anti-Semitic’ and ‘is clearly a good friend of the Jewish community’.
By contrast, at The Jewish Labour Movement’s annual conference in early April, a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism was passed ‘overwhelmingly’, as the scrutiny intensified.
Thus, indications are accusations of anti-Semitism are more sinister than sincere attempts at rooting out racism in British politics.
The predicament in the US surrounding some Democrats illustrates that, with a profound example being the close inspection Ilhan Omar has come under. Her introduction to the American political arena as the first Somali-American as well as the first Muslim female member to serve in congress is notable.
But the outset of her political career has been shaky. Like Corbyn, she has been overwhelmed with anti-Semitic imputations. An abundance of her old tweets were dug up following her appointment, some of which castigated Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, which has exacerbated significantly in recent times.
However, it was in February where the criticism hurled at her heightened. She asserted that U.S. lawmakers back Israel because of campaign donations from Jewish donors. On Twitter, she stated ‘It’s all about the Benjamins baby,’ a reference to $100 bills. Then in March she proclaimed ‘I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country’, in reference to the influence of the Israel Lobby in American politics.
Ironically, in 2005, Steven Rosen, then a senior official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, sat down for dinner with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, then of the New Yorker. ‘You see this napkin?’ Rosen asked Goldberg. ‘In twenty-four hours, [AIPAC] could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.’
Ilhan Omar implied AIPAC, among other lobby groups had substantial influence in the US political arena, yet the validity of the testimony was underscored and legitimised by a respected figure at a prominent lobby group, thus emphasising the very point she was making.
Nevertheless, the fallout because of her statements was fierce: The entire House Democratic leadership denounced Omar, forcing her to apologise, and both the president and vice president piled on, skewering the congresswoman for her remarks. In fact, president Trump has endlessly attacked Omar in recent weeks, the latest incidents being a Twitter video which accuses her of downplaying the September 11 attacks, before branding her as ‘out of control’.
Resultantly, she has earned herself the label of serial anti-Semite, and the concept has been weaponised and used as a stick to beat her and other Democrats, especially those newly elected.
However, other individuals have made remarks of the same mould, if not worse, but their sentiments have gone under the radar. Not least, Mr Trump, who in his presidential campaign in 2016, was the author of an extremely controversial tweet. It featured a picture of Hillary Clinton set against a background of U.S. currency, with the headline, ‘History Made’, followed by the inclusion of a red, six-pointed star, an exact replica of the Star of David, with the proclamation, ‘Most corrupt candidate ever!’
The use of a six-pointed star to slam Clinton — particularly when combined with piles of money — amounted to the use of anti-Semitic imagery and age-old stereotypes.
The President had engaged in incendiary anti-Semitic stereotypes, yet 3 years later was chastising a congresswomen for such conduct – such are the double standards of the anti-Semitic condemnations.
In fact, it is under Donald Trump that racism, and especially anti-Semitism has worsened. In October 2018, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was on the receiving end of a cold-blooded shooting, which killed 11 Jews, in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the US.
Another synagogue was targeted recently in California, US, when a 19-year-old man ruthlessly went on a shooting spree, killing one and injuring three.
Indeed, Both the Rabbinical Assembly and the Anti-Defamation League, two prominent representative bodies for Jews in the US, asserted that anti-Semitism in all forms has increased drastically and is reaching ‘unprecedented rates’ under President Trump.
However, thus far, the rigorous perusal that Ilhan Omar and Jeremy Corbyn receive is absent when it comes to other political figures. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu unequivocally condemned both Omar and Corbyn on countless occasions, and yet has said nothing of the hostile atmosphere created in the US under Trump’s rule.
Likewise, he has strengthened ties with European leaders with robust anti-Semitic stances. Viktor Orban of Hungary being a pertinent example. The leader of the Fidesz party and the Hungarian Prime Minister has created a belligerent atmosphere for Jews residing in Hungary. Nine out of ten Hungarian Jews feel that anti-Semitism is strong in their country, according to an academic paper that points to a startling revival of anti-Jewish sentiment over the past decade.
Additionally, Andras Kovacs, professor of Jewish studies at the Central European University in Budapest, found the proportion of Hungarians who wanted Jews to leave their country had doubled from 12 per cent in 2006 to 24 per cent in 2017.
Yet strangely, of Orban, Netanyahu, leader of the only Jewish state in the world, and who perpetually claims to look out for the security and safety of Jews, both in Israel and the diaspora, welcomed him as ‘true friend of Israel’.
Similarly, Netanyahu in Israel warmly received Brazil’s new right wing president, Jair Bolsanaro recently, again labelling him as a ‘good friend of Israel’. And when the Latin-American leader made controversial comments asserting the holocaust was forgivable? The silence from Netanyahu spoke volumes, and illustrated that Netanyahu excuses anti-Semitic rhetoric disseminated by right wing authoritarian leaders if the cosying up to them is in Israel’s interests.
Hence, it is discernible, not just in the US, or Britain, but on a global scale, that anti-Semitic accusations are not consistent and a deep rooted and fundamental issue is instead being cynically exploited to malign political figures.
For what reason?
The Labour Party in the UK and on a smaller scale, the Democratic Party in the US, represent the new unapologetic guard of liberal progressivism, pushing for ideas and tactics that have hitherto been considered out of the mainstream. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are central to this new wave of Democrats and are all continuing the working class politics energized in the US by Bernie Sanders in 2016. Advocating for a Green New Deal, including Medicare-for-All, guarantee of jobs and a tuition free education.
This echoes Corbyn and his much transformed parties social democratic ambitions concerning the welfare state, National Health Service, nationalising key industries, progressive income tax policy, and minimum wage and equality legislation.
Importantly, both factions also robustly oppose the occupation of the Palestinians and favour the emergence of a Palestinian state. Indeed, no policy illustrates their commitment to tackling matters that have been neglected more so than this one. Resultantly, in both the US and Britain, conversations are taking place in relation to Israel and their conduct, and in the process, they are deviating from the traditional narrative regarding Israel and ending the taboo.
Thus, there is a progressive ideology rooted in social justice that is shared by both countries and their left-wing parties, which threatens to bring to the surface ideas that have long been ignored and dismissed. Therefore, claims of anti-Semitism hurled at liberal progressives are more than just attempts to dislodge racism; they are about maintaining the status quo and preventing change.