The left does have an anti-semitism problem – trust me, I’m left wing and Jewish

Who’s better at dismissing anti-semitism, the Labour Party or NUS?


I’m young, I’m left wing and I’ve always described myself as Jew-“ish”. I was born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, though I’m not devoutly religious myself. I spent many of my (slightly boring) Sunday mornings as a child at church, rather than at synagogue, and I do, for my sins, eat bacon. In spite of this, I have always held my Jewish heritage dear, identified strongly with the culture and always enjoyed celebrating Hanukkah and Pesach with my family. The last few weeks has seen two organisations I hold dear, the NUS and the Labour Party engulfed in various Anti-Semitism scandals, and oddly enough, this has made me feel more Jewish than ever.

For any Jew who is both a vocal critic of the state of Israel and vehemently opposed to anti-Semitism, the left can sometimes be an uncomfortable place. This has particularly been true within the NUS in recent weeks. Given my political persuasion and my involvement within student politics across the last few years, I should have been punching the air when Malia Bouattia was elected NUS President last week, as many of my friends were. I still believe that Malia was far and away the best candidate, an inspiring campaigner with a track record of representing her constituents and advocating for practical change.

In spite of this, I didn’t feel elation upon her election, I felt somewhat numb, and this was due to a spate of allegations of anti-Semitism levelled at Malia in the run up to the election. Malia has forcefully denied all charges of anti-Semitism, though she has pledged to ensure that there is “no room for confusion” in her future discourse. I was left wondering if my friends would have supported a candidate who had left room for confusion in their language relating to discriminating against another race… I suspect that they would not.

Malia Bouattia, NUS President

Malia Bouattia, NUS President

It is worth pointing out though, that since being elected the first black Muslim woman to lead NUS, Malia has been subject to a series of media attacks and social media abuse, in what appears to be an unprecedented level of concern over the politics of an NUS President-elect. It seems that many within the media and political elite are uncomfortable  with the national union being led by a young Muslim woman unafraid to articulate her opinions. I hope that Malia will continue to meet with Jewish students going forward and begin to allay mine, and many Jewish students’ legitimate concerns.

A Jewish friend of mine recently mused: “I feel like I could write a 3,000 word essay on ‘Who’s better at dismissing and ignoring left-wing anti-Semitism, the Labour Party or NUS?” Personally, I’m giving it to the Labour Party, Mazel Tov! The recent charges levelled at the party include allegations against members, councillors, Oxford University Labour club, Naz Shah MP and the icing on the non-kosher cake- Ken Livingstone. Livingstone’s comments were actually less icing on the cake and more nail in the coffin to any semblance of trust I had in the party to apologise for and pro-actively move on from yet another instance of anti-Semitism. On top of claiming to have never heard a case of anti-Semitism within the last 47 years, (there have been several in the last week alone and you’re one of them, Ken), he also claimed that Hitler only “went mad” over seven years AFTER writing Mein Kampf. Livingstone has form, having ignorantly revived racist tropes about perceived Jewish wealth in 2014 to explain why he believes that Jews vote Tory.

Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone

I have come to expect this sort of thing from Ken Livingstone. What I was actually more disappointed by, was the appearance of an unreleased draft of Naz Shah’s apology for her particular anti-Semitic episode. Dependent on who you believe, the more fulsome draft apology was either edited down by Shah’s office, or by Labour HQ. Either way, the full draft reads as a genuine apology, including the (later removed) admission: “I helped promote anti-semitic tropes. This was totally wrong.” This was an unfortunate omission, as I have learned in the last month that some of the left are not fully aware of the damage of flirting with the use of age-old stereotypes about Jewish people. The apology also removed acknowledgement that the left has a problem with “toxic conspiracy theories, group-blame and stereotyping”. In spite of the circumstances, I would have appreciated this kind of honesty.

A kind of honesty that appears to have escaped many on my social media timelines over the last few days. I have been appalled, though no longer shocked, by scrolling down my Facebook feed and finding more people condemning John Mann than criticising Livingstone for his abhorrent comments. I will admit that the sight of John Mann chasing Ken up the stairs whilst shouting him down is probably not the best example of the new politics we should all be striving for. Though I can’t have been the only Jew to have found some satisfaction in seeing Ken called out so publicly after he claimed that Hitler really had Jews best interests at heart in 1932…

This ability of the left to neatly sweep anti-Semitism under the carpet would be impressive if it were not so damaging to the Jewish community. I firmly believe that Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite, but the party’s handling of the scandals does leave a lot be desired. Corbyn was interviewed (relatively aggressively I might add) by John Pienaar for the BBC yesterday. Corbyn managed to stick to the “we will not tolerate anti-Semitism” line for all of about two minutes, before conceding: “I suspect much of this criticism comes from those who are nervous of the party at local level”. Now this may or may not been true, and I have found the politicisation of anti-Semitism by those who use it only for political gain to be frustrating. In spite of this, by reiterating statements like this, Corbyn contributes to the strongly held belief amongst some of his supporters, that claims of anti-Semitism are not valid and are simply a political stick to beat the party leader with. Jeremy, acknowledge that the party has an issue with anti-Semitism, address it quickly, directly and forcefully, implement the Jewish Labour Movement’s suggested rule changes and for god’s sake stop making statements that suggest that anti-Semitism allegations are one big conspiracy.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Leader

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Leader

In the light of recent events, I have found that I have felt obliged to preface my explanations to political allies about what constitutes anti-Semitism with an assurance that I am not a defender of the state of Israel’s actions. I believe that it should be emphasised that when Jews call out anti-Semitism, their concerns should not be dismissed simply because they do not belong to the same political faction as you. Amongst the left, we (rightly) have a policy of believing victims of racism unless and until they are proved wrong, why are Jews the only group for which this unwritten rule does not apply? Shah’s original draft apology pledged to ensure that: “anti-Semitism is not dismissed out of hand or ignored”, I hope that she, and the left as a whole begin to do so.

Finally, I’d like to add that it is a sad state of affairs when David Cameron is able to gleefully gloat across the despatch box about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. I must have missed the moment when Dodgy Dave became a bastion for anti-racism and anti-fascism, though I presume it was sometime after his trade trip to apartheid South Africa in 1989. The Conservative Party had the perfect opportunity to exercise their newfound compassion and missed it spectacularly by refusing entry to Britain for 3,000 child refugees, showing contempt for Lord Dubs- a Jewish refugee from Nazism. I, as a Labour Party member, am just as disappointed as anyone else that scandals such as this a week before crucial local elections will result in less Labour councillors being returned up and down the country. In spite of this, I implore all who consider themselves left wing to cast aside their factional politics and please do not dismiss Jews’ concerns over anti-Semitism.

People choose to vote Labour or not, Jews cannot choose not to be Jewish. Anti-Semitism does not belong in our party, let’s kick it out together.