Labour in the UK is under attack in an unprecedented fashion around the issue of anti-Semitism — and until last weekend they were being buffeted by it. Now? The issue may have reversed on those using it as a stalking horse for yet another attempt to topple leader Jeremy Corbyn. In the ensuing chaos, the uglier manifestations of the right have been drawn out in ways they should have imagined, but didn’t.
This latest round of accusations began with a mural, or a removed one – a piece by the LA artist Mear One. It’s political junk, showing a group of white men from the early 20th century sitting round a Monopoly board, which is placed on the backs of bowed black people. Behind this, the eye-pyramid of the Illuminati stares over them.
It’s the pathetic “new world order” conspiratorialism of a certain type of unmoored US radicalism (often coming out of identity politics), and the figures around the board include the Rothschilds and other Jewish figures from the early 20th century, as well as a number of white gentiles. It certainly draws on visual cliches of anti-Semitism, but avoids the hook noses, etc, crap of Die Stuermer (or, occasionally, News Corp for that matter).
It’s dumb, rather than offensive. But it would have been wise for Corbyn not to protest when the thing was ordered painted over by Tower Hamlets borough mayor Luther Rachman. Free speech doesn’t entitle you to stick your idiot views into everyone’s eyeline.
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Equally, it would have been wise for Corbyn to make specific criticisms of the anti-Semitism of Hezbollah and Hamas when he met with them at parliament (galling as it is to have this double-standard; Israel helped establish Hamas, to undermine Fatah, and has worked with Hezbollah when it suits).
The mural was used as the opening salvo, but the core of the new accusations against Corbyn was a Sunday Times report which established that there were 2000 anti-Semitic messages on pro-Corbyn Facebook groups, and that 12 Labour staffers were signed on to such groups.
The smear was, in other words, a product of the late mainstream/social media transition era — when you can still present autonomous pro-Corbyn Facebook groups as somehow directed by him, and comments on them as something more than an overheard conversation on a bus.
Predictable from the right, with the feral Daily Mail joining in. But it then became an excuse for elements of the Labour centre to join in, at the same time as Corbyn sacked pro-Remain MP (and former leadership challenger) Owen Smith from shadow cabinet for arguing that Labour should oppose Brexit.
When the storm continued, stoked by the right-wing Guido Fawkes website, team Corbyn turned the tables — kinda — by having a Pesach seder dinner with the Jewdas group, a bunch of lefty London Jews, who do edgy performance things like issuing the “Protocols of the Elders of Hackney”, and signing all their press releases “Geoffrey Cohen”. Corbyn bought beetroot from his garden allotment. One of the toasts was “f*** capitalism”.
They are, of course, anti-Zionist, and the right went ballistic against them and Corbyn for not “taking the issue seriously”. But that of course meant that they were attacking Jewdas for being “the wrong Jews” for Corbyn to dine with, as part of his commitment to reaffirming blah blah.
By this point, the left had managed to counter-attack on the UK right’s hideous record on racism, boorishness and yes, a fair bit of anti-Semitism: from Tory minister the late Alan Clark who named his dogs after leading Nazis and mused about the misunderstood Hitler, to the genteel (haha) anti-Semitism of Spectator columnist Taki, to young Tory MPs dressing as Nazis for parties, to the unending stream of Muslim-hatred and anti-black racism, key examples helpfully collected by the union Unite.
By this point the Guido Fawkes website, which had ramrodded many of the attacks had been hit by blowback. Comments strings to its articles were filled with the same conspiratorial anti-Semitism that had been condemned in the pro-Corbyn Facebook groups, and a left blogger, Tom Pride, retrieved a 1980s Guardian article about Guido Fawkes owner/editor Paul Staines, working with the wholly anti-Semitic British National Front in the ’80s, to disrupt left-wing meetings. The Guardian article had a record of party songs written by Staines, including this marvel for the Federation of Conservative Students (the FCS):
“Gas them all, gas them all, the Tribune group trendies and all. Crush Wedgwood Benn and make glue from his bones, burn the broad left in their middle class homes.
“Yes we’re saying goodbye to the Left, as safe in their graveyards they rest. ‘Cos they’ll get no further, we’ll stop with murder, the bootboys of FCS.”
By now, the issue appears to have been fought to a bitter draw. There are no doubt anti-Semites among Labour’s 250,000 members – there’s a mass party for you – and millions of supporters. But their numbers would be dwarfed by those of the casual racists in the Tories, as the Tories well know. The object was never to try to persuade the 8o% of British Jews who vote Labour to switch. It was to split Labour further. It would appear that this sacrifice on the altar — nah, better not do that one — has reversed on them badly.