On ITV’s This Morning, 3 December, Jeremy Corbyn finally apologised for antisemitism in the Labour Party, after a week in which he had resisted calls to do so following Orthodox chief rabbi’s Ephraim Mirvis’s statements.
Politically, the delay signals uncertainty at best.
Worse, in the 26 November interview with Andrew Neil where he first refused to apologise, Corbyn was asked repeatedly whether the phrase “Rothschild Zionists run Israel and world governments”, tweeted by a Labour council candidate in Liverpool, is antisemitic. (Apparently the tweeter remains a candidate, for now, after his branch unanimously backed him.)
These days Corbyn sometimes sounds hesitating and equivocal in interviews even on issues like the NHS or cuts. But this was in a different league:
AN: Let me ask you this. Is it antisemitic to say Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world governments?
JC: In the Chakrabarti report we asked that people did not use comparisons about conspiracies, not use…
AN: Is that antisemitic?
JC: …because in the belief of Shami [Chakrabarti], and I support her on this in that report, that can be constructed as being an antisemitic statement and therefore – and therefore should not be...
AN: Right, but let’s just get it clear. I asked you – I gave you a specific quote. Are the words “Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world government”. Is that antisemitic?
JC: It should not be used and it is.
AN: But you can’t say it’s antisemitic?
JC: Look, I just said that it should not be used.
Eventually Corbyn said the quoted words were an “antisemitic trope”. Though from a generally right-wing and anti-Labour angle, David Aaronovitch was on point:
“The Zionist world conspiracy is not an ‘antisemitic trope’… It’s the full Monty. Until pretty recently it was the more or less undisputed province of neo-Nazi groups, and would generally appear amidst links to Holocaust denial literature and admiring biographies of the Fuhrer. These same sites would also feature material on the biological inferiority of non-whites and the dangers of miscegenation.”
It is a sign of regression that we have such things in the labour movement; and that sections of the left, including evidently the Labour Party’s left leadership, signal such perplexity about it.
The Labour Party and labour movement need antiracist debate and education of many kinds. But it should be increasingly clear that an important and distinct part of that must be about antisemitism, including its relationship to reactionary anticapitalism and to the politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict.