In remarks of 27 November, Trade Secretary Liz Truss described the well-evidenced plans to discuss selling the National Health Service to US health firms as a “conspiracy theory”, which she linked to antisemitism.
Her remarks harm the struggle against that bigotry, and show a callous disregard for the real threats faced by Jewish people, including from genuine antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Leaked government documents, which the government had tried to keep secret, confirm what Donald Trump and Woody Johnson said publicly in June – that the NHS and drug pricing are on the table in post-Brexit trade talks. Truss responded to these plain facts with the claim that anyone who believed the NHS and drug pricing would be on the table in trade negotiations was believing in a “conspiracy theory”, and was akin to an antisemite.
Conspiracy theories share narratives of powerful, shadowy elites manipulating world events. These elites are often said, or implied to be, Jews, or “Zionists”. Such narratives do exist in the Labour Party, where we continue to confront them. They have also been promoted by members of Truss’s own party, for example Jacob Rees-Mogg, who recently used a House of Commons speech to make a false claim about Jewish financier George Soros’s funding of the 2016 Remain campaign.
Rees-Mogg also referred to Oliver Letwin and John Bercow, both Jewish MPs, as “Illuminati”, explicitly referencing another prominent conspiracy theory about an all-powerful secret society pulling the strings of power.
Truss continued that Jeremy Corbyn “has caused huge offence by blaming an imaginary ‘Zionist lobby’ for society’s ills.” Whilst there is much to criticise in the Labour leadership’s handling of antisemitism within the party, and whilst Corbyn has made comments in the past with which we disagree, he has never blamed a “Zionist lobby” for society’s ills.
Evidence-based criticism of the Tories’ attitude to the NHS is not a “conspiracy theory”.
The struggle against antisemitism is not served by rank hypocrisy and blatant misdirection. Liz Truss should withdraw these damaging comments, and apologise for their role in undermining the fight against antisemitism.