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Questioning the left’s claim to moral monopoly: what the current Anti-Semitism row tells us

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Shami Chakrabarti, a Labour peer who produced a report on anti-Semitism within the party which was widely described as a "whitewash".

It is, perhaps, a fitting description of our times when I relate the incidents when, unironically, I have been told, by people who have barely asked me for my actual economic or social views - but know that I am a ‘Tory’, that I ‘hate the poor’. Never mind that when I say ‘Tory’, I am talking about a broad-church which I favour over our political systems other choices. As a small ‘c’-conservative, dedicated to a platform of Social Conservatism and an awareness of the great benefits of Capitalism - which Karl Marx himself was very happy to admit, even if he had qualms about what he believed was the exploitative underpinning of such an economic system - one quickly gets brandished with a moral, and sadly often self-righteous too, brush. I am right-wing because I believe that such values promote what Aristotle called ‘eudaimonia’, or human-flourishing, and hope through political exchange and the liberal free institutions which European civilization has cultivated to be able to discuss, learn, and, I hope if it does not show too much temerity, inform my opponents of my own perspectives and potential insights. I am not, as people often suppose when I am called a ‘Tory’, a supporter of the particular form of free-market economics which the Party currently pursues - in fact, I am as those against me often fail to recognise, an opponent of the current Austerity platform which finds it genesis in the minds of thinkers such as George Osborne who, to my mind, crudely compared the nation’s finances to ‘maxing out the credit card’. But such is lost when a certain kind of militancy grips people, when it becomes easier to tar someone with a simple moral brush and to cry ‘anathema’ at them, than to actually share a forum and recognise that others also have a perspective which regardless if right or wrong ought to be subject to rational discourse and hard fact.

It’s about time, that we all face the facts; both the left and the right can be nasty and brutish. The anti-Semitism row within the Labour Party has shown the very deep moral problems which permeate the Left and the ways in which a crude presentation of class warfare can lend to excusing clear anti-Semitism as well as the hastiness which can be shown by those who are quick to condemn but not quick to self-scrutinise.

This article from the Spectator details the extent of cases (choosing fifty - though the latest Times investigation has found 2000 public cases within 20 pro-Corbyn Facebook Groups), which cover everything from student and local political Labour groups through to the national, and the extent to which the Labour party has faced a problem of widespread anti-semitism. Some of these cases are well-known, such as Ken Livingstone who was reported to have said that a “Jewish journalist was ‘just like a concentration camp guard’, that Jews vote Tory because they are rich and that Hitler supported Zionism”. Others, are less well-known, including Councillor Miqdad Al-Nuami of Newport, who tweeted “#Israel regime and army are increasingly assuming the arrogance and genocidal character of the #Nazis” and that “ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi dies in Israeli hospital…If confirmed, the #Israeli connection is very interesting”. After being suspended, Mr. Al-Nuami was reinstated as a councillor once again and claimed to the BBC that the “lifting of the suspension has vindicated my stand” and that “In politics, we sometimes have to say things which other people may not like”. I will allow the reader to judge for himself Mr. Al-Nuami’s stance and the claims which he made in these tweets, as well as the absence of any contrition for the blatantly anti-Semitic tone they took. It would be tedious to repeat all of the cases cited by the Spectator article but I do recommend the reader has their own look at the article, as well as the Times investigation. The leniency which the Labour Party, and in particular the hard-Left so-called ‘Corbynistas’, have shown towards Anti-Semitism, as for example in the Ken Livingstone case where 100 Labour MPs protested the decision, has only allowed this problem to fester and develop.

In fact, we have seen attempts to re-construe this whole affair as primarily - or in large part - some problem which the Right is actively encouraging or in, some sense, obscuring. In the Canary (a pro-Corbyn news website), there is a recent article titled ‘The right-wing press can f**k off with its cynical manipulation of antisemitism for its own agenda’. The militant and confrontational tone of this article is emblematic of the broader problem, when you believe that there is some sort-of ‘conspiracy’ against you (note the same reasoning was used by Stalinist apologists in the West that ‘show trials’ and such were being cynically used by the right-wing to jettison the new Soviet experiment) then you are only contributing to the problem. As for the article itself, for it may seem as though I am not drawing from its own content: Emily Apple (the author of this article) claims that Corbyn is unfairly being called anti-Semitic because “yep … wait for it … he celebrated Seder with Jewish people”. This is a massive misconstrual of the affair when one looks at who Corbyn celebrated Passover Seder with; it was not the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM - the moderate, largest Jewish group within the Labour Party founded in 1902 and committed to Democratic Socialism), nor even the Board of Deputies of British Jews or the Jewish Leadership Council (the two largest Jewish groups in the UK), nor even any regular synagogue of any persuasion (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, etc) but Jewdas. Jewdas is a radical left-wing group which is explicitly anti-Zionist (I am not going to discuss here whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, and for the present article I am working off the assumption that it is not), anti-Capitalist and most importantly claims that this whole row has been fabricated by the “cynical manipulations by people whose express loyalty is to the Conservative Party and the right wing of the Labour Party”. This decision by Corbyn was more than just another oversight: for Corbyn to associate with a group which believes that ‘cynical manipulations’ lie at the heart of this anti-Semitic row is both false and at best a commitment of the genetic fallacy (even if this was highlighted by the right-wing, even though many Labour members have also acknowledged this as a serious problem, that has no bearing on whether the allegations are true and that Corbyn’s actions have continuously undermined efforts to end this anti-Semitism row).

The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (as I mention the two main Jewish bodies in the UK) have also concurred with this, accusing Corbyn rightly of “repeated institutional failure” and detailing how “again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with Anti-Semites rather than Jews”. The Jewish Labour Movement has also, rightly, pointed out that celebrating Passover Seder with Jewdas was the summation of “the worst week on record of awful relations between the Labour Party and the Jewish Community”. Haaretz, the Israeli News Outlet, has reported - supported by The Times report mentioned above: “just about every case of anti-Semitism that has emerged among Labour members during the last two and a half years has involved fervent supporters of Corbyn, including some long-standing allies of his” and even though this by itself is insufficient to accuse Corbyn, his own carelessness towards this issue has failed to fix this row.

This stands in contrast to the healthy and thriving Conservative Friends of Israel, which claims 80% of MPs as members, and a long history of Conservative relations (no doubt not perfect) from the leadership of Disraeli (1868-1881) through to the Balfour Declaration (1915) which called for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. And yet this is a line which is often not paraded, as so often happens when we look at right-wing politics - instead, it is always easier to look at things in a Manichean way of ‘fairness’ on one side and ‘survival of the fittest’ on the other, needless to say a

What this row shows is that it is easy to play the moral game against one’s opponents in order to shut down further discussion, and that the Left is far from innocent if such a game is to be played. In fact, the anti-Semitism row is far more well-documented than vacuous claims that we small ‘c’-conservatives who find our home within the Conservative Party or our American counterparts in the Republican Party, and hold a whole host of economic positions, ‘hate the poor’, support institutional racism, and other similar charges which are often either demonstrably disprovable or in other cases hopelessly vague and intentionally unfalsifiable. So, perhaps, next time if we point the moral finger - if we even do - we do so in a spirit of benevolence, to promote the best expression of others views rather than as a way as simply, and in many cases disingenuously, shutting down a debate.

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