Lots of news about antisemitism in the Labour Party lately. From historical comments made when some politicians were young and impulsive, to personal attacks on Twitter. Some of the concerns seem to be very real, but others perhaps inflated in their importance, and their meaning slightly skewed.
I was a member of the Labour Party for a long time. During that time, I never heard one antisemitic statement, or a single word against anyone Jewish, based on their religion. I also didn’t hear anything bad said about or against people who were black or Asian, religious or atheist. In many ways, it was a party where political correctness found an early voice, and women were as active in the party (and as welcome) as men too.
There were people we didn’t like of course. Far Right supporters, old-school Tories, (any Tories in fact) wishy-washy Liberals, and even some of the Labour stalwarts of the day, including Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. Most of us were opposed to the House of Lords, many of us were in favour of a republic, with no Royal Family, and we didn’t have much time for people like Margaret Thatcher later on, that’s for sure. But I never heard a word mentioned about Jews, or someone even being called ‘Jewish’, in an insulting sense.
Very few of us approved of Israel. That country was dominated by right-wing politicians, interfering in other countries like Lebanon, and being tough on its own Palestinian population. Bullish, belligerent, unacceptable, fascist, Zionist, controlling, uncompromising. I did hear those words used to describe Israel, and I used some of them myself. (And still do) But it was never about the main religion of that country, Judaism. It was about the politics of a small nation, propped up by America, supported by international financiers, and constantly citing The Holocaust as a ‘reasonable excuse’ to behave in a fashion that was unacceptable to many of us on the Left of politics.
Even then, valid criticism of Israel was attacked as antisemitic. It was, and still is, a very easy ‘get out’. If somebody criticises that country, they are immediately labelled as an anti-semite, or a racist, and face censure and disgrace, in some circles. It would appear that Israel is supposed to have a ‘get out of jail free’ card for life, and no matter what they do, or how their armed forces behave, woe betide anyone who protests those actions, for you must also be against their religion, obviously.
But that accusation could not be further from the truth. No different to someone being critical of Irish or Italian politics, with no mention of the main religion of Catholicism in those countries. If I write or say something against Saudi Arabia, does that mean I am an anti-Muslim racist? Of course not. Jewish people really do have to get over this idea of equating attacks against Israel with antisemitism. It just isn’t true, and it doesn’t convince anyone. (Anyone sensible, anyway)
For clarity, I should add that it is a long time since I was in the Labour Party, and hold no brief for that party, or any of its politicians or party members.