Grassroots antisemitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party

By | February 24, 2019

Jeremy Corbyn’s stated preference is that the media should pay more attention to those Jews who claim that there isn’t a serious problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party than to those who say the opposite:

The letter signed by 200 Jewish Labour Party members to which Corbyn referred in this Sky News interview, states:

We note the worrying growth of populist rightwing parties, encouraging racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism. In Britain the far right is whipping up these prejudices, a threat that requires a resolute and energetic response. But instead we have seen a disproportionate focus on antisemitism on the left, which is abhorrent but relatively rare.

The letter appeared two days after Luciana Berger explained her departure from Labour by saying:

I cannot remain in a party that I have come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally antisemitic.

The gap between “institutionally antisemitic” and antisemitism that is “relatively rare” is so wide that at least one of those assessments has to be false.

When The Observer went to Berger’s Liverpool constituency, Wavertree, this week, the evidence supporting her conclusions seemed easy enough to find:

At the Liverpool Cat Welfare shop, the owner, Jean Ellis, lamented the area’s decline, saying the high street had never recovered from the closure of its post office. She was sad about Berger because she liked her. “She’s very sincere. Very nice,” she said.

What did she think about the allegations of antisemitism? “I don’t know,” she said, looking bemused. “All the wars are about religion.”

Stephen Brown, who supplements his pension by selling sausages to the local pubs, also said he was sad Berger was gone. “She didn’t deserve to be treated that way,” he said, adding as an unthinking afterthought, “even though she is Jewish.”

Like most people I encountered, Brown is a diehard Labour supporter, but not one particularly aware of antisemitic issues, including his own. “I’ve got nothing against Jeremy Corbyn,” he said, “but he got into bed with the wrong Jews.” What did that mean? “The high rollers,” he explained.

Though sympathy for Berger was common, almost no one I spoke to had a good word to say about [the controversial former deputy leader of Liverpool council and Militant Tendency member, Derek] Hatton. Michael, a builder in a baseball cap, thought he was untrustworthy. He didn’t know about his tweet, but he said: “I work with Jews in the building business, and they’re lovely people. Then, when you’re in the pub with your friends, someone will talk about the Jews, the Rothschilds and all that.”

Not just in the pub. The chair of the Wavertree constituency Labour party (CLP) is Alex Scott-Samuel, a former academic at Liverpool University, who has appeared on a show broadcast by conspiracy theorist David Icke, claiming that: “The Rothschild family are behind a lot of the neoliberal influence in the UK and the US.”

The Rothschild trope is a conspiracy theory popular among antisemites. The fact that Wavertree’s chair was promoting it placed the CLP in the spotlight, causing its executive members to become tight-lipped around the media. But some days ago, the CLP defiantly broke its silence with a tweet detailing “what the press won’t tell you”.

Contrary to that claim, I can tell you that the tweet went on to say that Wavertree CLP had taken the following decisions: “1. To condemn the dictatorship in Sudan and the Tory links to it. 2. To support the campaign to get the UK to commit to take 10,000 refugees. 3. To oppose the US-led coup attempt in Venezuela.”

No call, then, to reopen the post office.

Clare McIntyre, one of Labour’s three councillors in Wavertree, told me that she dreaded going to party meetings because she had been subjected to a campaign of harassment. Though an avowed socialist who has twice voted for Corbyn, she says she has fallen foul of the Momentum group which, according to her, has a stranglehold on the CLP executive.

Her crime, she said, was to have supported Berger against antisemitic attacks – “I’ve seen up close the sheer level of abuse and racism she’s suffered” – and to question why Corbyn wasn’t doing more to tackle the issue. [Continue reading…]

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