To respond to Orthodox chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ attack on Labour over antisemitism by pointing out that it is exaggerated only gets you so far.
The reality is that since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, Seamus Milne took over the Leader’s Office, and some thousands of “returners” from the 1980s became newly vocal, a culture of antisemitism has flourished on the margins of the party and, in somewhat less virulent forms, deeper inside it too.
A significant strand in Labour antisemitism is connected to a particular view of Israel and “Zionism”. While the party’s formal policy on Israel-Palestine, as stated in the manifesto, is good, the leadership does not really argue for it. “Absolute anti-Zionist” views, defining any continuation of Israel as evil, are widespread among the leadership’s supporters.
Corbyn is for “two states” and against boycotting Israel, but his own record on identifying and fighting “anti-Zionist” antisemitism is poor, and his leadership has been extremely hesitant about dealing with this problem. The solution is not just, or mainly, “more expulsions”, but the fact remains that many quite blatant antisemites continue in the party untroubled. Educational efforts have been perfunctory.
Literally as I write Labour is launching its “Race and faith manifesto”. Its main manifesto, unlike the 2017 one, says nothing about fighting antisemitism beyond a commitment to defend synagogues against physical attack.
More generally, the leadership and many of its supporters tend to dismiss complaints by talking as if violent far-right antisemitism is the only antisemitism, or the only significant antisemitism.
Mirvis is certainly right that a very large proportion, maybe a majority, of Britain’s Jewish-background people regard the possibility of a Labour election victory with alarm.
Obviously people can be mistaken, or persuaded by conservative or reactionary ideas. But that large swathes of a community facing bigotry and racism, including many who are not conservative or reactionary, regard the prospect of a Labour government in this way should be a matter of deep concern for socialists.
Solidarity will continue its fight against antisemitism, including on the left. Antisemitism will be defeated by a labour movement educated and organised to defeat it, and surely not by supporting the Tories or Lib-Dems against the movement.
Momentum leader Jon Lansman has cited detail of open antisemitism from Tory candidates and other representatives. “Before someone accuses me of ‘whataboutery’ for daring, as Jewish man, to speak about antisemitism and racism in other political parties, let me remind you that I have consistently called out and campaigned against antisemitism within my party too”. Lansman has done that, including in the pages of Solidarity.
But, as he says, “focusing only on Labour whitewashes the antisemitism and racism that infects the Conservative Party from top to bottom, and problems within the Lib Dems too”.
We face the threat of triumphant return of a right-wing nationalist government with a clear record of and commitment to accelerating a range of racist policies, led by a man whose record of casual but calculated racism is startling. There is detailed evidence of anti-Muslim prejudice in the Tory party.
And polling evidence from YouGov shows that Tory supporters are more likely to hold antisemitic views than Labour.
The Lib Dems too attack Labour over antisemitism, but they were in coalition with the Tories when all the ground was being laid for the right-wing and anti-migrant agenda which has blossomed since the Brexit referendum. The Labour Party contains antisemitism and softness on antisemitism.
It also contains many thousands of activists hostile to antisemitism who have gained some impact already, and who will be essential to defeating antisemitism in politics. Labour is the party of the labour movement, the only force which can halt and reverse the nationalist wave the Tories are now riding and augmenting. That wave may help create conditions for antisemitism on an even larger scale.
We need to get rid of the Tories, and at the same time redouble efforts in the Labour Party to combat antisemitism and to establish a rational, internationalist, left-wing position on Israel-Palestine.