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Weighing the evidence: Corbyn, anti-semitism and the Christian response

After a summer of controversy surrounding the leader of the Labour Party and anti-semitism, a Christian lawyer and political commentator looks at the story so far, and suggests a way forward 

Despite his long career in parliament, and association with the anti-War movement, very little was known about Jeremy Corbyn before he stood for the leadership of the Labour Party in the summer of 2015.

Over the course of that contest there was a drip-feed of stories that indicated that Mr Corbyn had shared a number of platforms with, and made various comments in support of, a rather distasteful set of characters.

This included his 2011 invitation of Raed Salah to have tea on the terrace of the UK parliament. Salah is a hate preacher who was at one point proscribed from entering the UK as a result of him inciting terrorism and promulgating the blood libel. There was also Mr Corbyn’s long (and lucrative) association with Press TV, the propaganda arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where Mr Corbyn had hosted a television show despite the channel being a platform for Holocaust deniers and advocates for suicide bombings, including the one against the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires which killed 85. Sadly, Mr Corbyn had also supported Reverend Stephen Sizer who was banned from social media by his bishop after posting a link to an article claiming Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks.

Despite these association gaining some attention, they were generally seen within the context of Mr Corbyn’s slightly odd and alternative campaigning history and not as indicative of his fundamental beliefs.

More recently, such a position has been harder to justify. There have been a series of revelations about Mr Corbyn’s use of Facebook, including his active membership in groups focused on the Middle East conflict where participants engaged in vitriolic, near-dystopian blood-libel of Israelis and Jews and shared anti-semitic conspiracy theories. In addition, Mr Corbyn was found to have defended a mural by Mear One, a street artist, when that mural was removed as it depicted the domination of the workers by rich Jewish bankers. Classic anti-semitism of the highest order.

Such a prolific attendee of fringe and unpleasant events is Mr Corbyn that further videos continue to be unearthed.

In 2013, Mr Corbyn was caught claiming that Zionists – including those who had lived in the UK all of their lives – do not understand English irony. The use of Zionist in the context was widely considered a euphemism for Jew (something the Chakrabarti Report that Mr Corbyn himself commissioned specifically cautioned against), with Mr Corbyn apparently suggesting that British Jews were somehow deficient in their reflection of national characteristics.

Pictures and videos emerged of Mr Corbyn attending a ceremony in Tunisia in 2014 where he helped to lay a wreath at a memorial for some of those who organised the 1972 terrorist attack on the Olympic village, which resulted in the cold-blooded murder of 11 of the Israeli team. Regrettably, Mr Corbyn engaged in dissembling and outright dishonesty when it came to his explanation, saying that he had been “present but not involved”, despite photographs showing the opposite, and his own contemporary writings showing that he knew exactly who was being honoured.

This extensive – but by no means exhaustive – list of Mr Corbyn’s controversial statements has led many to conclude that Margaret Hodge’s description of Mr Corbyn as “an anti-semite and a racist” had some justification. Ms Hodge, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, herself briefly faced disciplinary action by the Labour leadership for having pointed this out.

At the very least, Mr Corbyn can be described as utterly blind to the line between criticism of Israel and demonic misrepresentation that constitutes anti-semitism. In addition, some of Mr Corbyn’s most recent comments show a willingness to engage in coded attacks of the Jewish community’s integration in British life. Many would go so far as to say they show conclusively that Mr Corbyn is an anti-semite.

Is the media to blame?

Many supporters of Mr Corbyn see him as the first hope for an upending of British politics for a very long time. This leads them to believe that “the establishment” – which includes much of the press and media – wants to bring Mr Corbyn down. Notwithstanding that such theories often stray into anti-semitism themselves (particularly when they target Jewish journalists as part of some sort of conspiracy), they are demonstrably false.

Mr Corbyn has received critical coverage on the issue of anti-semitism from every broadsheet and tabloid other than the Stalinist Morning Star. If anti-semitism was some right-wing conspiracy, why would The Guardian, The Independent and The Mirror (all, incidentally, vicious critics of Israel) cover it so thoroughly and undertake their own critical investigations of Mr Corbyn?

The reality is Mr Corbyn is being condemned by his own words and associations. To believe that they are smears would be to disbelieve Mr Corbyn himself, who seems to mainly argue that such events are being misunderstood, not that they did not happen. The blame for this crisis of anti-semitism lies with Mr Corbyn, not the media.

What next?

Anti-semitism in the Labour Party is not limited to the views of any single member. The hundreds of examples of councillors, activists and prospective parliamentary candidates who have expressed antisemitic views is enough to conclude that Labour has a real problem. That this should happen in an avowedly anti-racist party is all the more depressing.

Considerable controversy has been attached to whether or not Labour should take on in-full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism with all of the examples. The IHRA has attempted to standardise an understanding of anti-semitism that is thorough, nuanced and fit for purpose in light of modern developments in this form of racism. The recent adoption this week of the IHRA by Labour is a small step in the right direction, but unless it is coupled with an aggressive disciplinary process and training in this area for Labour activists it will be a pyrrhic victory. The news that Mr Corbyn attempted to have Labour adopt a contradictory statement along with the IHRA only fuels the feeling that his instincts and beliefs in this area run contrary to morality.

Even then, there are many who believe that until Labour confronts the ideological antipathy towards Israel that many of its members hold, it is unlikely that most of the members will take seriously the issue of anti-semitism and the need to make sure criticisms of Israel are based on facts and balance, and not hatred and demonization.

The stakes could hardly be higher. Moral leaders who cross community boundaries in appeal such as former Chief Rabbi Sacks have already warned of the lasting damage to the Jewish community that this ongoing issue is having. A recent poll by the Jewish Chronicle found that 40% of British Jews would consider emigrating if Mr Corbyn was elected. It is notable that leaders of the Church have been far slower to react and condemn Mr Corbyn than they were Boris Johnson’s comments regarding the wearing of the burqa.

Christians are called to promote a moral and righteous society, and to stand with those of faith against persecution. In particular, considering the complicity of too many Christians in the Holocaust, it is an articulation of faith to stand with the Jewish community and say that we will not tolerate attacks on it. Though it may feel trite to read, the persecution that begins with Jews never ends with Jews, and it is essential that Christians take a zero-tolerance approach to racism. This ancient community, that has given the world the Abrahamic religions and the fundamental values of our society, must have a special place in the heart of every Christian.

If anti-semites continue to be emboldened, the risk of the atmosphere worsening and even violence being legitimised increases. The risk to the Jewish community – and the United Kingdom’s moral character – is impossible to exaggerate.

Anthony Chloros is a Christian lawyer and political commentator

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