Paul Vallely: Anti-Semitism and the Labour Party

27 July 2018

Paul Vallely has worries about how the debate is being conducted

Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP

Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP

THERE is undoubtedly some very nasty anti-Semitism within the Labour Party — among the most vociferous supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, in particular. And it seems extraordinary double standards for the party machinery to drag its feet in disciplinary actions against members accused of anti-Semitism for months, if not years, and then to issue disciplinary proceedings within 12 hours against the veteran Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who is Jewish, when she accused Mr Corbyn of being an anti-Semite and a racist.

Mr Corbyn, of course, repeatedly denies this, and insists that he has been a lifelong campaigner against both racism and anti-Semitism. Yet it is hard not to have sympathy with Mrs Hodge’s insistence that he must be judged by his actions and not just his words. He has continued to associate in friendly ways with people who have been the subject of serious allegations of anti-Semitism.

That said, I have two serious worries about the way the debate on this whole issue is being narrowed, reduced, and impoverished.

The Labour Party has been criticised for refusing to embrace, without caveat, the definition of anti-Semitism advanced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. One of the four elements of that definition which Labour has declined to include in its own anti-Semitism policy states that it is anti-Semitic to say that the state of Israel is an inherently racist undertaking. Another suggests that it is anti-Semitic to draw comparisons between contemporary Israeli policy and that of the Nazis.

You do not have to agree with the assertion that the very Zionist basis of Israel is racist to express anxiety about an attempt to forbid a line of discussion. That fact has been underscored by the controversial law passed by the Israeli parliament last week, which declares that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people”. Palestinians claim that this makes them second-class citizens in a way that is overtly racist. Critics have dubbed it an “apartheid law”.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insists that the law merely consolidates what has been the position in Israel since 1948. That may be true, yet so may be the claim of the Palestinians; Mr Netanyahu’s response is essentially a non sequitur.

The disproportionate violence used by the Israeli army against Palestinian civilians is clearly not of the order of the Nazi so-called Final Solution, which would have been unimaginable had not the perverted brain of Adolf Hitler imagined it. But we have learned enough about the psychology of the cycle of abuse, in which the oppressed turns oppressor, and the abused abuser, to allow an exploration of parallels between the policies of governments, whether they be in Israel, South Africa, the Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany. Such allusions may be legitimate warnings that the start of a slippery slope has been detected.

There is an increasing tendency in modern politics to assume that individuals or groups should be allowed to define themselves. In identity politics, transgender women now insist that it is for them alone to define what a woman is. Empathy is vital in sensitive socio-political issues. But we must not succumb to a relativist post-modern insistence that there are no objective facts, only subjective ones.

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