Debate on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party pulls in British Muslims

The debate around anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is continuing unabated, with many of the nine MPs who have recently left the Labour party to form the Independent Party stating that how anti-Semitism is being dealt with by the leadership has contributed to their decision to leave.

A large part of the criticism surrounds Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and his approach to international politics, quite unlike previous labour leaders, since he has demonstrated a commitment to the Palestinian cause and is a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. He is being criticised for associations with groups who are accused of holding anti-Semitic sentiments. Corbyn has stated that his approach has always been to seek dialogue with all, in order to reach a resolution. Indeed, Corbyn’s defence has been similar when criticised for meeting with Irish Republican Army Sinn Fein.  Naturally, the debate has therefore lead to wider questions regarding legitimate criticisms of Israel, and the relationship and/or the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Another, related, part of the accusations of anti-Semitism, is the connection to British Muslims. Some commentators have directly linked the problem of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party as due to its association with politically active British Muslims. In the Bagehot column in the Economist, it states that “Another source of Labour’s anti-Semitism is British Muslims”, who the Left has allied with since the Stop the War movement against the invasion of Iraq. Another suggestion is that Corbyn is deliberately overlooking anti-Semitism as he courts support from British Muslims. According to Nick Cohen in the Guardian, “from Labour’s point of view, the toleration of anti-Semitism is in its interests”, because the loss of voting from the small population of British Jews will not negatively affect the Party like the support of British Muslims will increase it. This sentiment is echoed in the Council of Foreign Relations, where Elliot Abrams writes that “Corbyn thinks he has a winner in hatred of Jews and Israel. He thinks the anger and fear of British Jews is good for him because it may attract Muslim voters.”

Muslim commentators have appeared to condemn the anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, though urge a sense of perspective and nuance. Mehdi Hasan in Haaretz, writes that Corbyn has been “slow to take action against a handful of anti-Semites inside his party”, potentially overlooking “unconscious bias” within the left that does not take anti-Semitism seriously, and “definitely” could have been more forceful and proactive earlier. However, he criticises a claim made by a joint editorial on the front pages of Britain’s three Jewish newspapers which suggested that Jeremy Corbyn is an “existential threat” to “Jewish life” in the UK, calling it “hysterical and offensive”. James Ball in Newstatesman, praises the UK’s Muslim and Jewish groups “who have spoken out in defence of one another time and again”, referring to an open-letter from prominent British Muslims which  “spoke of the need to stand “against anti-Semitism no less than anti-Muslim hatred”, signed by the director of Tell Mama, which tracks hate crime against Muslims, and the chair of the Association of British Muslims, and many others.”

Hamid Dabashi, writing in, makes a comparison with Ilhan Omar, arguing that “Based on their public positions, neither Omar nor Corbyn is anti-Semitic. They are merely and mildly critical of the Israeli policies, and in the case of Omar of the inordinate and pernicious power of the Zionist lobbies in the US. That does not make them anti-Semites. That makes them critical of a colonial project and its active propaganda machinery,” illustrating a debate around anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism that is not localised to the UK, but global.

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