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The (UK) Labour party has had a lot of anti-semitism issues in the news recently, including an mural which included caricatures of two Jewish bankers, two separate council candidates posting holocaust denial content, and a former London mayor making repeated revisionist statements about Nazi Germany (though he doesn't deny that the holocaust happened).

Excuses include: For Corbyn, he hadn't seen the mural before opposing its erasure, Christine Shawcroft's is likewise that she didn't see the holocaust denial post before defending the person who made the post, for Alan Bull, he was only sharing it rather than endorsing it, and he's dyslexic, for Ken Livingstone that he was only stating historical facts, none yet for Roy Smart apart from a case of mistaken identity.

I can't recall hearing about things like this a decade or so ago. I don't know if this is because of an increase in incidents, or because such incidents are more likely to attract attention nowadays.

Has the level of scrutiny / opposition research, either by those within the Labour party, people in other political parties, those in the media, or those in social media, increased? Also, is it easier to do opposition research when it involves content on social media?

If attitudes towards anti-semitism have changed, why have they changed? While some, such as @LeaveEUOfficial, have blamed it on Labour wanting to get the Muslim vote, as far as I can tell, none of these politicians are Muslim, and at least some of these politicians don't have much of a Muslim constituency. Allan Bull's attempted ward of Stanground South has only 76 Muslims out of 8000, and Sugar's attempted ward of St James is only 2% Muslim - there's only three times more Muslims than Jedi Knights.

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Has the Labour party always had this level of problems with anti-semitism?

No. The current problems are a direct result of the changes brought about by Jeremy Corbyn. This is not, however, to suggest that Mr Corbyn is anti-Jewish.

The reason for this assertion is as follows. From the late 1960's onwards, the Middle East was a central proxy for the Cold War. Israel and Saudi Arabia were seen as representing American/capitalist interests while Egypt, Syria and Palestine were seen as part of the Russian/socialist sphere.

As such, strong anti-Israeli/pro-Palestinian sentiment was (and still is) prevalent amongst the ideological left in the UK. Now, although it is true that being anti-Israeli is not the same as being anti-Jewish, it is also true that political groups that have a strong anti-Israeli bent are more likely to attract a minority of anti-Jewish adherents. And this has been the case with the ideological left.

For the last 30-odd years, the ideological left has not held much sway in the Labour party. Although there have remained pockets during that period, candidates with more centrist views were deliberately selected across the organisation. As such, the strongly anti-Israeli groups were not well represented and, therefore, the minority in those groups who were anti-Jewish were negligible to non-existent.

With Mr Corbyn's ascendancy, that has changed. There are a much larger number of candidates from the ideological left, and this has been encouraged by the party leadership. As they are now selecting much more widely from strongly anti-Israeli groups, unless there is very strict vetting, it is inevitable that some with anti-Jewish sentiment will come to the fore. And this has occurred.

Does this mean that the Labour leadership is anti-Jewish? Not at all. It does, however, mean that they are directly responsible for an increase in anti-Jewish sentiment in the Labour Party and, in my opinion, it is incumbent upon them to rectify it.

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TL;DR: defining when criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitism

First things first, please do note that generalizations are that, generalizations. The point that I am going to disagree with the idea that attitudes towards anti-Semitism have changed does not mean that there cannot be cases of genuine anti-Semites in the Labour party (or in any other group of people big enough).

Vox has an interesting article on the issue.

On the basis on that:

  1. Anti-Semitism has a - justified - very negative perception, making it useful for appeals to emotion. It is very useful to claim that your opponent is anti-Semite as an ad hominem which has a profound impact. Your opponent says four words, you have to carefully explain what your position is1.

  2. The left is usually against the occupation of Palestine by Israeli forces and asks for an end of the military occupation of Palestine territories, mostly on the basis of a two state solution, based in borders similar to those of 1949, dismantling of colonies, shared Jerusalen, etc.

    • Regardless of its merits, it gives people2 a line of attack: "support of the Palestines or criticism of the Israel government is just disguised anti-Semitism"3. Even if the criticism comes from Jewish leftists, because "they do not know what true anti-Semitism is".

    • This also has put the same people in the left sharing arguments with true anti-Semite groups who just oppose anything Israel does. Which leads to guilt by association4 in some cases and in other cases to actual, serious mistakes.

    • And of course, when someone realy loses it (e.g. Ken Livingston and his refusal to apologize for his comments) it just becomes the "example" that justifies calling all/most of the Left anti-Semite. The fact that his comments have been answered by suspension from the Labour Party seems not to be taken into consideration.

  3. Regarding the UK, the issue seems to have become more relevant since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. Mr. Corbyn has been more left-leaning than a significant part of his party, and has been openly criticized by a section of it5.

    He does have some well deserved polemics:

    • So far the more damning would be a report that he called representatives from Hamas and Hizbulla "friends". He publicly regretted that, but I think it is still a grave mistake.

    • Another one would be the mural that is alluded by the OP, and that he claims he was defending -without having noticed its anti-Semitic content- on the grounds of freedom of speech.

Things that do have changed:

  • Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party. And, regardless if you agree with it or not, criticism of him is always going to have a bigger impact that the same criticism if he were just a base member of the Party, or even a MP. It goes with the position.

  • Social media. It is not new. But the first line politicians that appear today did use social media before being first line politicians. Even if Gordon Brown or David Cameron did get to use, say, Twitter, they would have used it while being conscient of his public position and would have avoided inflamatory statements. But first line politicians of today probably did use social media before getting their positions. That makes it easier to analyze everything they have posted in search of anything that could be polemic.


1 Consider how easy would be to call somebody supporting the Dalai Lama "anti-Sinicist". Yet it does not have the same strength, doesn't it?

2 Either because they support Israel government position, or because it is a way of attacking the left, or because the sincerely believe it is anti-Semitism.

3 Recently there was a manifestation in Paris against a recent anti-semitic crime. Of which Jean Luc Melenchon was expelled just because he supports a boycott of Israel due to the occupation of Palestine. Again, generalizations are unfair and there have been criticism of this by Jewish people, including the son of the woman who was murdered.

Do you imagine being prevented from condemning the murder of a Russian citizen because you support economic sanctions against Russian intervention in Ukraine?

UPDATE: Link in English to the news related in the above link. It has been harder to find that I thought, because most English online newspapers seem to have given more attention to the expulsion of Marine Le Pen; explaining Melenchon just for "claims of anti-Semites in his party". As a result, I do not know if the source is reliable, but it seems to be from Israel.

4 And in case you want to argue that guilt by association is guilt, let's remember USA's BFF in the Middle East. Or this other friend of dictators

5 Of course, criticism of a leader from his own party is always more newsworthy than criticism from other sources. Regardless of the basis or motive of the criticism, it shows that there is internal conflict in the party.

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    I found no English language link to it, are you better off with a Spanish one? (I do not know why Google does not let me just define the language instead of just offering me Spanish/Any). Yes, the National Front leader was expelled from the manifestation too, because the founder of the party was a supporter of the Vichy Regime. That criteria just does not apply to Melenchon. And I was not refering to any specific murdered Russian, it was just a thought experiment. – SJuan76 Apr 2 '18 at 11:15
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    @grovkin a return to the pre-1967 situation **or similar**. And of course, with the OP asking about Labour Party, the answer tends to be more UK/Euro-centric. Anyway, thank you for helping me improve my answer (pre-1967 is a bit missleading because at the time the Palestinian territories were occupied by Jordan and Egypt), and thank you for defining the moral stance of everybody in the USA. – SJuan76 Apr 3 '18 at 10:24
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    Do you have a source for the "mostly on the basis of a two state solution"? I don't know about Labour specifically, but as you were talking about "the left" in general: It has been my experience that those that oppose the "occupation" do not want a two state solution; they want a one state solution which consists of a Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel. – tim Apr 3 '18 at 11:10
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    @tim Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 Palestinian Statehood: Reaffirm the Labour party’s commitment to the recognition of a safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. Last October parliament made a historic decision to recognize the state of Palestine. As Labour Leader I would not only reaffirm that decision, I would seek to build on it [...]. This recognition is not only essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israeli and Palestinian [...] – SJuan76 Apr 3 '18 at 11:36
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    Criticism of Israel's government is clearly not anti-Semitic. But extreme antipathy toward Israel can lead some to antipathy toward it's residents, and that can lead some to anti-Semitism. And some of the most extreme anti-Israel groups provide a very comfortable environment for anti-Semites. And then there's the fact that there really are people who cloak their antipathy toward Jews in the guise pf legitimate criticism. This is something we see in many arenas, e.g. criticism of Obama for supposedly being ultra-liberal sometimes masked racism. – Obie 2.0 Apr 4 '18 at 19:50
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Alan Badiou, the French philosopher, has pointed out in some of his writings, in particular, anti-semitism, real & imagined that although anti-semitism was a huge problem in Europe it has more or less been mostly eliminated. That this is true can be seen how the National Front, led now by Marine Le Pen has made a point of targeting immigrants and Muslims rather than Jews where once they were known as an anti-Semitic party. It's the leadership of Marine Le Pen that moved the party away from anti-semitism because she realised that after the holocaust this trope would no longer have any traction in the wider European community and other scapegoats would have to be found.

This does not mean that anti-semitism is eliminated, Badiou admits that there is a residue of this still left in the body political. But it's political importance is much diminished:

It goes without saying that neither in its numbers, it's strength nor it's influence does this tendency have anything in common with the situation before WWII when it was practically dominant ... this anti-semitism was part of a broader ideological constellation.

The trope of Jewish bankers is historically rooted by the way. For example, in Hannah Arendts book Totalitarianism, she traces the historical roots of anti-semitism and she points many Jews took to finance as other routes of advancement were closed to them, and a footnote to Hayeks Road to serfdom, he says how the Jewish people made a success of this career are then are castigated for doing so.

I think it's important to take note that Corbyn is well-known to be pro-Palestine and it's quite possible that the media attacks are motivated by this more than by anti-semitism per se. Corbyn, for example, has already been pressurised to drop his commitment to BDS. The Jewish lobby after all, is very well organised, their communities having been rooted in the West for millenia. For example, twenty states in the USA have enacted anti-BDS laws even though this goes against the first amendment protection for political speech.

Also, Mearshiemer in his book, The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy published in 2007 points out that:

Europeans have been more willing than Americans to criticize Israeli policy in recent years, which some attribute to a resurgence of anti‐Semitism in Europe.   We are “getting to a point,” the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union said in early 2004, “where it is as bad as it was in the 1930s.”  Measuring anti‐Semitism is a complicated matter, but the weight of evidence points in the opposite direction. For example, in the spring of 2004, when accusations of European anti‐Semitism filled the air in America, separate surveys of European public opinion conducted by the Anti‐Defamation League and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that it was actually declining.

This tallies with Badious analysis, and this leads one to think that the current alleged resurgence is nothing of the kind; but part of a campaign to smear Corbyn and his policies with the charge of anti-semitism.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am Apr 5 '18 at 5:06

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