Saturday 24 September 2016

Labour does not care about antisemitism anymore

It's official. As of 24th September 2016, 62% of those eligible to vote in the Labour Party's leadership election do not care about antisemitism. Approximately 50% of those will read that sentence and, ironically, accuse me of a smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn. They will not ask me why I feel this way. Instead, they will tell me Jeremy Corbyn is a thoroughly decent man. They will probably tell me that he is just pro-Palestinian, even though I have not mentioned Israel. And finally, they will tell me that there is no antisemitism problem in Labour. Because, apparently, I am just an embittered Blairite or a right-wing conspiracy theorist out to cause trouble and lie about Corbyn.

Supporting Jeremy Corbyn does not automatically make one an antisemite. Dismissing his supporters as such is unhelpful and wrong. It is to misunderstand his considerable appeal completely. I have friends, ones that I know for a fact are not antisemitic, that support Corbyn and I think it is easy to see why. They, like me, have left university with thousands of pounds worth of debt they see saddled on them by this Tory government. They, like me, care about the environment. They, like me, think that spending billions on a nuclear deterrent that we will never use is madness when we have record numbers at food-banks. They, like me, are tired of the same old politics and politicians. Rightly or wrongly, Jeremy Corbyn is seen as the answer to many of the issues they care about. He is seen as the opposite of your normal politician. Principled and decent. Nevermind this is all nonsense. That's another article for another time. I get his appeal. Truly I do. But I could never support him or a Labour Party under his leadership.

Because I, unlike them, care about antisemitism. They can't care about antisemitism, because if they did, they'd be appalled by Jeremy Corbyn. They'd be appalled by Diane Abbott and John McDonnell. They'd be appalled by Ken Livingstone and the fact he remains in the party. They'd be appalled by the Chakrabarti report and her peerage. They'd be appalled by the video Corbyn released where his supporters make it clear they think anti-Semitism is not a problem and do not care even if it were because it was the Tories who were really anti-Semitic 70 years ago. They'd be appalled by any claims (from, for example, Len McCluksey and Diane Abbott) that antisemitism accusations are a slur against Labour. They'd be appalled that Corbyn himself dismisses the allegations, demonstrating a remarkable arrogance and an ignorance and apathy towards antisemitism. They'd be appalled that instead of rooting out and expelling members who express antisemitic views, Corbyn and McDonnell appear alongside them and endorse them. They'd be appalled by Corbyn's association with Holocaust deniers. They'd be appalled by the fact Jewish MPs now require protection. They'd be appalled by the abuse directed at Jewish MPs in Corbyn's name. They'd be appalled that Ruth Smeeth left the event launching the antisemitism report in tears, rather than dismissing her as a CIA agent.

But they aren't. Because they do not care about antisemitism. If that upsets you as a Corbyn supporter, then it should. You should be deeply upset that you have chosen to ignore the vast majority of the Jewish population in this country and tell us that you care about all forms of discrimination apart from discrimination against us. You should be deeply upset that you have decided to either ignore the crisis of antisemitism in Labour or, worse, dismiss it as a smear against the dear leader. You should be deeply upset that you have not asked Jews like me (and the 92% of the Jewish Labour Movement that endorsed Owen Smith) why we feel there is a problem in the Labour Party and with Jeremy Corbyn (see above and here). You should be deeply upset that the Labour Party Conference 2016 has been riddled with antisemitism. You should be deeply upset that Momentum calls for the expulsion of the Jewish Labour Movement, an affiliate since 1920. You should be deeply upset that instead, you have simply dismissed our concerns. And you should be deeply upset that your response to this article won't be to consider for the briefest of moments that you might be wrong. That maybe, just maybe, glorious, infallible Jeremy Corbyn might have a glaring, despicable flaw that you missed despite the thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish voices trying to point it out.

And personally, I do not know what upsets me more. The antisemitism in Labour or the fact so many people, both friends and people I do not know, care so little about antisemitism. But it's fine, you can just dismiss me as a member of the worldwide Zionist conspiracy. After all, the allegations are just invented. That's a lot easier than facing up to the fact that you, the self-confessed anti-racist and self-appointed moral authority, do not care about antisemitism. You do not care even a little bit.

This article was updated on 25th September 2016 to reflect the antisemitism that has occurred at the Labour Party Conference 2016. 

This article was further updated on 19th September 2017 to correct the spelling of antisemitism and antisemitic.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

The Refugee Problem

Douglas Adams once said, "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experiences of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

And how right he was. A little over 70 years ago, the Nazis took it upon themselves to rid the world of Jews (this is Ken Livingstone's working definition of the word 'Zionist'). They nearly succeeded in part because the rest of the world turned a blind eye to what was going on, more concerned with bogus fears over national security than stopping the world's greatest crime from happening. Anne Frank, perhaps the most famous victim of the Holocaust, was just 15 years old when she died. Had her asylum application to the United States not been denied she may very well be still alive, 87 years young. Who knows what she, and many others, could, would have achieved, but for irrational fear, selfishness and apathy.

We are faced with a situation not too dissimilar today. Instead of learning from our mistakes, the world is becoming increasingly hostile and isolationist. Instead of embracing those who need our support the most, we are turning our backs, sticking our fingers in our ears and saying it is not our problem. Others, such as MP David Davies, have said we should force refugees to undergo dental checks. Heaven forbid we save a 19-year-old posing as a 17-year-old. The son of the GOP's presidential candidate has compared deciding whether to help the most vulnerable to deciding whether we would eat a handful of skittles. The correct answer, by the way, is that we never eat skittles because skittles are vile but we do help refugees because we can; because they are human beings; because humanity, if it means anything at all, must mean helping the helpless, protecting the vulnerable and supporting the weak.

The Jewish story is inextricably linked with fleeing persecution and hatred and attempting to make a life in a new and scary country. It is also inextricably linked with succeeding in those countries. Israel, a country with a huge refugee population succeeds primarily because of its diversity and demographic. To turn our back on refugees now is to refuse to learn the lessons of history. Just as we look back at the Holocaust and wonder how it was allowed to happen (yes allowed to happen) on our watch; how the world sat back and let the Nazis murder 6 million Jews for being Jews, so too will future generations look back at our failures to respond effectively to this refugee crisis with shock and disbelief.

Anne Frank and so many other Jews might yet be alive today with we displayed just a smidge of humanity. Surely we cannot make the same mistakes again. As she once said, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

This article has been updated once on 28th October 2016 to include comments made by MP David Davies

Sunday 4 September 2016

An Inconvenient Truth

You would not know it if you looked at me. Or my sister. You would not know it if you looked at my Mother. Or any of her siblings. Unless I told you, you would have absolutely no inkling that I am the grandson of refugees, driven out of a country where they had lived peacefully for decades, centuries perhaps, over 60 years ago now. Neither of my Mum's parents are alive today, but she has an elder brother, who was maybe six years old at the time, himself a refugee, who fled Iraq all those years ago. You wouldn't know that either.

And why should you? We, my family, have done well for ourselves. New citizens of a country barely four years old, my grandparents set about creating a life for themselves through a building company, my Mum tells me. My Uncle, shortly after, opened a bakery that is still there, still serving the world's best bagels. My Mum, a basketball player and spokeswomen for the Environment Minister in the Israeli Knesset, left for England, first to study Law, then design, where eventually she met my Dad, himself the grandchild of Jews that left their home country to pastures new. They started a life together, a business, a family. The opticians, David Paul Opticians, uses my Dad's middle name because Levy was too obviously Jewish for a town with, at the time, prevalent anti-Semitism is still there, over 20 years later. A small shop. Walk past too briskly and you'd probably miss it if it weren't for the striking window that my Mum keeps updated, as she does for a number of other opticians.

So no, you would not have any idea that I am the grandson of refugees on one side, the great-grandson of Jews who, though not refugees, still arrived in a new country without all that much. A large majority of Jews have this story. Families that fled war and anti-Semitism, whether it be in Europe or further afield but found sanctuary and relative safety, often in the UK, the US and, of course Israel. Families that now have very few, if any, obvious signs of that troubled past. And this is exactly what leads to modern anti-Semitism.

The anti-Semitism that looks at me, ostensibly a white middle-class male and says there is no way you can suffer from discrimination. Except for the Kippah, which has meant that I have suffered from discrimination, you would be partly correct. Without it, I would not suffer from lived anti-Semitism directed at me. And where I have, or where anyone has, obviously that would be lamentable and terrible but, and this is where anti-Semitism begins, there is always a but. More on that later. For now, it is important to note that lived discrimination is not the only kind of discrimination. There is an anti-Semitism that might not be directed at me in the street and make me feel vulnerable. An anti-Semitism that perhaps does not corner me on a tube and hurl violent abuse at me for daring to be Muslim or, indeed, look Muslim. An anti-Semitism that probably never looks at me and feels scared because of my religion or assumed religion. An anti-Semitism, however, that tells me that I cannot suffer anti-Semitism. An anti-Semitism that tries to define anti-Semitism for me. An anti-Semitism tells me I have an unhelpful habit of shutting down debate on Israel by crying wolf about anti-Semitism, even when Israel was not even part of the discussion. An anti-Semitism that, for example, tells us that our views on Malia Bouattia are racist, rather than borne out of genuine concern, or that Labour does not have an anti-Semitism problem despite Jews across the political spectrum expressing concern that it does.

The truth is, Jews do not look like victims. In fact, we appear to be the exact opposite. And this, perhaps, is the greatest driver of the nuanced anti-Semitism that Jews face every single day. We are (pretty much) white. Often middle-class. Western and capitalist. Israel, a powerful, developed, Western democracy is the product and very much a part of a capitalist system that has left so many, usually more obvious 'Others' and an American Foreign Policy that many look at as having wrecked havoc across the world. Historically, discrimination against Jews has been because of the view we had too much power, influence, control and wealth. So no, Jews do not fit the stereotype of an ethnic minority that needs protection from discrimination.

Which means we do not get it. Those who normally call themselves fighters for equality and an end to racism are strangely quiet on anti-Semitism. They are normally those who shout loudest that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. They are normally those that are quickest to accuse us of silencing genuine debate on Israel by incorrectly labelling something as anti-Semitism. Their commitment to (some) human rights abuses can be doubted no more than their moral hypocrisy. It is never that anti-Semitism does not exist, to claim as much would be ridiculous even for them, but it is that either this, specifically is not anti-Semitism (despite Jews telling them that it is) or, where it must be conceded it is anti-Semitism, a but always follows. A but that would (and should) never follow a sentence like "I am not saying the women is to blame..." or "That racist act is not justified but..." In those cases it is clearly victim blaming. A rape victim is, obviously, a victim. A victim of racism is, obviously, a victim. A Jew, however, is not a victim. We do not look like victims. Israel definitely does not look like a victim. That is why sentences like: "Hamas is terrible but..." or "Hitler was not a Zionist but..." or "Anti-Semitism is terrible but..." are allowed. Imagine the equivalent: "Rape is terrible but..." Nothing good can follow that but. Jews are not afforded the same protection.

This is the greatest anti-Semitism. Sure our Synagogues remain targets and often require constant protection. Sure our graves are targeted. Sure abuse gets hurled at those who are more obviously Jewish. This is undeniable and a discrimination that far too many suffer, whether it be Jews or women or Muslims or black people. Only, however, in the Jewish case is it explained away or is there an excuse. And beyond that, beyond the obvious lived discrimination, Jews are unable to define anti-Semitism. Only in the Jewish case is there a debate over what counts as anti-Semitism to the point where it seems almost impossible for it to exist. It's the white-male Ken Livingstone assertion that anti-Semites don't just hate Jews in Israel but Jews in Golders Green as well that sets the bar for anti-Semitism so unbelievably high that whilst it may exist in theory, it simply does not in practice.

And ironically, in doing this, in setting impossible standards for anti-Semitism, you yourself are an anti-Semite, though you may not hate me or any other Jew, and you are part of the world's most inconvenient truth: anti-Semitism is not just alive and well, it is thriving, accepted and mostly ignored.