Abi Wilkinson explores the rise of anti-Semitism on the left of politics in the UK.
With MPs alleging that Luciana Berger was only listed as “hostile” to Jeremy Corbyn on a leaked party memo “because she is Jewish”, it’s time for Labour to confront the issue of anti-semitism head on.
It can be hard for people on the Left to admit that our movement has a problem with bigotry. Generally speaking, we’re used to being on the other side of these kind of conflicts. Historically, organised anti-fascism has always had close links with labour activism. Left-wing parties have consistently led the way in the push for all forms of equalities legislation.
More broadly, we’re used to thinking of ourselves as the good guys. Our politics is focused on fairness, redistribution and standing with the oppressed against the architects of their oppression.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t issues. The stereotype of the “brocialist” — who insists that only “class” matters and that feminism is splitting the Left — isn’t a fictional invention, though it’s sometimes used to caricature more complex views. Similarly, the labour movement is hardly a racism and homophobia free zone.
In most cases, though, it doesn’t seem that there’s something specific about the Left that allows these various forms of bigotry to flourish — Left-wing spaces simply aren’t immune from more widespread social problems. (Of course, attempting to understand the context of prejudice isn’t the same as arguing it should be tolerated.)
Looking at the spate of recent anti-Semitism rows involving the Labour Party, it’s tempting to argue that a similar logic applies. Political parties are large organisations and, at least to some extent, their members represent a cross-section of wider society.
The cases of Gerry Downing, Vicki Kirby, Oxford University Labour Club and, most recently, Kensington councillor Beinazir Lasharie might appear damning, but anti-Semitism is prevalent across the UK. It stands to reason it might be also be a problem within Labour. It’s impossible to closely monitor all activists so the party shouldn’t be held responsible for the bad behaviour of an unrepresentative minority.