The left prides itself on listening to people. We’re quick to notice men telling women that their experiences aren’t what they say they are. We’re attuned to the Islamophobic conflations that crop up in the media. We’re the first to concede that history often elides the testimonies of witnesses who fall outside the mainstream discourse. We’ve got a vocabulary of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, gaslighting to employ when we see rhetoric and privilege being used to elide people’s experiences.
We pride ourselves on hearing when someone is trying to tell us something.
Except when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn.
When an embattled minority tell us (on the whole) that they feel threatened not only by the people he associates with, but that they fear his leadership might pose an actual threat to their safety, we’re pretty quick to issue a “Calm down, dear,” and move on.
Why? And let’s whisper this: Might it be… Because they’re Jews?
Not all Jews, of course, (that’s usually our first defensive fallback) but we have to ask how comfortable are avoiding clear concern by pointing at Miriam Margolyes and Michael Rosen and saying “See? See?”
When 67% of Jews are worried about something, it’s no better an argument to point to the 13% who are unconcerned by it than it would be to dismiss the concerns of women fearful of being attacked by pointing out that some women aren’t afraid of it.
And yet we do.
We dismiss the experiences of decent, thoughtful, sensitive people, people we like and respect because they’re Jews. And the left is the champion of the underdog. And Jews no longer fit the underdog narrative.
(It seems redundant to point out here that, of course, Jews never have. That’s how antisemitism works. The basis of antisemitism as far back as we can follow it is always that the Jews are more affluent than others, that they’re disproportionately represented in the media, or in banking, and that you should envy their position. The attack on Jews is always that they’re too powerful…)
At the base of this is a suspicion that antisemitism isn’t a reality in Britain today, or, if it is, it is one so vanishingly small as to make it irrelevant.
So let’s look at some facts:
- Antisemitic hate crimes more than doubled in number in London in 2014.
- For the first time, the number of (recorded) antisemitic attacks in the UK passed 1,000 in 2014.
- Children at Jewish primary schools are having to be protected by security guards.
- There were 66 antisemitic attacks last year aimed at Jewish schools or schoolchildren.
It’s at this point that someone will point out that there are more Islamophobic hate crimes than there are antisemitic ones (as if that were relevant, as if we only have the mental space to deal with one hatred at a time). That’s true, of course, because the Muslim population is much larger than the Jewish population. Looked at per head, the situation is very different.
Per capita, Jews are the most attacked minority in the country. Underdog enough for you, now?
Be aware of what you’re doing every time your response to having antisemitism pointed out to you is to point out that other kinds of attacks happen, too. You’re the guy arguing against shelters for battered women because there aren’t any shelters for battered men.
That’s the context of people’s worries about Jeremy Corbyn. That’s the context of their fears, and it won’t do to brush them aside.
In fact, let’s concede that the fear that a Corbyn leadership would bring a rise in antisemitism might be something we didn’t notice, even if it were true. Because we’re not noticing it now.
At the same time, let’s ask ourselves how antennae so attuned to picking up dog whistles about Islam are failing so utterly to notice the antisemitism that is growing around us.
It breaks my heart that to find good sources about the incidents above I’ve had to link to The Daily Mail and Breitbart. When the “Hurrah For The Blackshirts,” “stateless Jews pouring in from every port,” Hitler-congratulating Daily Mail is doing better at covering antisemitic attacks prominently and ferociously than other parts of the media, we have to change the way we behave. And quickly.
There are two issues: that of Corbyn’s past associations and what they signify, and that of whether his election will promote antisemitism. I disagree with the ‘concerned’ Jewish community about both of those things. But explaining why is for a different article, one that isn’t about listening to people: Gentilesplaining Corbynmania.
Here’s the thing. If I’m wrong (and they’re right), I won’t be the one who suffers. They will. It’s something I can afford to take a punt on because I’m playing with the house’s money, and shouldering no risk myself.
That’s why it’s incumbent on me, and everyone else who has supported Jeremy Corbyn, to show that antisemitism does concern us, that we are listening, and that we will do whatever we can to combat it.
Yes, it shouldn’t need saying. But it does.
Yes, we shouldn’t have to say it. But primary school children shouldn’t have to go to swastika-daubed schools under armed protection where they will learn to hide under their desks in case of gunfire, at risk simply because of their faith.
We have to say that this cannot be right, that this cannot be the 21st-century, that this cannot be Britain.
We have to write about it, shout about it, and challenge it wherever we see it, and leave no one in any doubt that antisemitism will no more pass unchallenged than racism or sexism or homohpobia.
Oh, and should tell the world, proudly, that we are Zionists.
Bear with me, lefties.
The term ‘Zionism’ has become conflated with expansionist, authoritarian Likudnik policies. This lazy alteration of the meaning of the word has been accepted by the right because it lets them lay claim to a whole movement, and by the left because it burnishes its anti-imperialist credentials.
It’s also become a word in which antisemitism lurks.
We’ve all seen it. We’ve all seen the way that criticism of Israel can drift into unacknowledged antisemitism, usually blanketed by the word ‘Zionist’.
When we let a word which means “the belief that the Jews have a right to a homeland, and that homeland is in Israel” become something else, something vague, we give away the conceptual space inside it, only to find it inhabited now by extremists of all stripes.
We on the left use “anti-Zionist” as an amorphous badge to signify anti-imperialism, a broad critique of Western intervention in the Middle East, support for the human rights of Palestinians or any number of other things depending on what day it is. As such a broad, hazy, umbrella term, it’s unsurprising that such a vague term also includes people who are just “anti-Jew.”
Let’s examine, for a second, what actually being an “anti-Zionist” might mean. It means you don’t accept that the Jewish population of Israel have a right to a state.
In fact it means you’re against their having a state, and you’re against their being in Israel (or whatever you’re intending to call it when Israel isn’t there). The problem with that position, of course, is that Israel is there, and if your future solutions involve it not being there, the implications of that are pretty horrific.
It means you’re aiming to displace 6 million people, almost half of the world’s Jews. Charitably. The other option is that you’re aiming for them to be dead.
If you have no qualms about destroying the lives of 6 million Jews you may not be as un-antisemitic as you’d like to think.
No matter what your opinions on the history of Israel, to be an anti-Zionist now is call for (or, at the very least, express ambivalence to) its non-existence now. That’s what you’re saying about yourself when you adopt the term “anti-Zionist”, and I say this not so much to berate others as clarify thinking I’ve had to do to clarify years of muddiness.
If you support Jeremy Corbyn it’s time to stand up and say you’re a Zionist. Even if you hadn’t realised it.
Zionism, of course, has many strands. It encompasses peace-makers and warmongers, liberals and conservatives, the religious and the secular, Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky.
It may have become a loaded term, but all of us who wouldn’t countenance a peace process based on Israel’s not existing are Zionists.
Not until we’ve said it can we stand side by side with the Liberal Zionists (who, incidentally, want an end to the settlements, the occupation and a free and sovereign Palestine) as they campaign against discriminatory laws within Israel and work to prevent displaced people being dispossessed of their land.
Not until we’ve said it can we sponge off the stain of years of lazily sharing a term with people devoted to corrupting its meaning.
Not until we’ve said it can we properly understand the range of opinions and experiences and lives that there are in Israel and begin to come to some understanding of what a nuanced, complicated, almost-certainly-unsatisfactory-but-workable peace process would look like.
Not until we’ve said it can we look our friends in the eye, hold their hands and say: “If I’m wrong about this, I’m sorry, and I’ll be right here with you, fighting.”
So I’m a Zionist.
It just took Jeremy Corbyn to make me realise it.