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Labour Party legislator’s resignation increases unease for Britain’s Jews

Veteran British politician Frank Field has resigned. Photo courtesy of UK Parliament/Creative Commons

LONDON (RNS) — For generations of Jews, Britain has been a safe place to live: a country that made them welcome and that, during the Second World War, had been at the forefront of the fight against Nazism. But now many Jews are feeling a deep unease about new evidence of anti-Semitism in the country and especially about its existence within the left-wing Labour Party.

The row about anti-Semitism and the views of Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been brewing for months. But they reached a head this week when two of the most respected public figures in Britain – the former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, and veteran Labour MP and former government minister Frank Field – denounced Corbyn and what is happening to Labour under his watch.

First, Sacks, in an online article for the New Statesman magazine, called Corbyn “an anti-Semite” who “defiles our politics and demeans the country we love.”

On Thursday (Aug. 30), Field resigned the party whip — meaning that he no longer is committed to voting with the Labour Party in the House of Commons — and he accused the party of becoming “a force for anti-Semitism.”

In his letter of resignation, Field warned: “Britain fought the Second World War to banish these views from our politics but that superhuman effort and success is under huge and sustained internal attack.”

The tipping point for both men was recently revealed footage from 2013 in which Corbyn said that British Zionists had two problems: “One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony.”

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks before an EU summit in Brussels on Oct. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

A Labour Party spokesperson said in a statement, “Jeremy Corbyn is determined to tackle anti-Semitism both within the Labour Party and in wider society and the Labour Party is committed to rebuilding trust with the Jewish community.”

The clash, however, was just the latest in a series of incidents that have led some to brand Corbyn as antagonistic toward Jews. Over the summer, photos have surfaced of Corbyn attending rallies with anti-Israel organizations, and in July two MPs with Jewish connections were disciplined for criticizing Corbyn. Jewish Labour MPs have complained of being targeted by Corbyn’s supporters on Twitter.

Since July, too, the Labour Party has refused to embrace an internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism.

The new accusations of racism also come at a time when incidents of anti-Semitism, ranging from insults to violence, have risen sharply.

According to the Community Security Trust, a charitable organization concerned with the safety of Jews in the U.K., there were 727 anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2018. Mark Gardner, its director of communications, said there has been a steady increase in incidents since April 2016 in the run-up to the Brexit vote.

At the time, one of Corbyn’s key political allies, the former London mayor and Labour MP Ken Livingstone, suggested in a radio interview that Hitler was a Zionist – a claim thought to refer to the 1933 Haavara Agreement, which led to the migration of 60,000 German Jews to Palestine.

Mark Gardner. Video screengrab from BBC

“Brexit has lifted the lid on racism,” said Gardner, “and anti-Semites can be emboldened when they hear what is happening in the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn is normalizing that behavior.”

The Community Security Trust and another group, the Jewish Leadership Council, put out a statement this week saying that Corbyn – who, as leader of the opposition, would become the prime minister were Labour to win the next British election — needed to publicly apologize for the hurt that Labour has caused the Jewish community. “Labour needs to undergo deep cultural change,” said Gardner.

The issue isn’t about to go away: Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, will meet Tuesday (Sept. 4) to discuss whether to fully adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, as governments and other official bodies around the globe have.

In July, the party rejected the IHRA’s recommendation that “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” be considered an example of anti-Semitism. Rather, Labour’s code only says, “Members should resist using Hitler or Nazi metaphors.”

Corbyn has also been reluctant to adopt the part of the IHRA code that offers as an example of anti-Semitism “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Much of the concern about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, in fact, revolves around its leader’s antipathy to the state of Israel and his support for the Palestinians. Among the revelations of recent weeks was the emergence of a photograph taken in 2014 of Corbyn holding a wreath in Tunis, Tunisia, at a memorial to the bombers of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Eleven Israeli athletes died in that terror attack. Other memorials in the cemetery dedicated to Palestinian martyrs include one to Atef Bseiso, the PLO’s head of intelligence, who was allegedly killed by the Israeli secret service in revenge for the 1972 attack.

Asked whether he laid a wreath for the Munich terrorists, Corbyn said: “I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it.” He added: “I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere, because we have to end it. You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence. The only way you pursue peace is by a cycle of dialogue.”

One of Corbyn’s own MPs, Luciana Berger, who is Jewish, said he needed to apologize.

While Corbyn’s support for the Palestinian cause and his alleged anti-Semitism are likely to dominate the Labour Party conference – its annual convention starting on Sept. 23 – the issue is also affecting many Jewish people’s lives.

One group of Jewish Londoners who met this week to discuss the situation told Religion News Service that the Labour upheaval had heightened anxiety for Jewish people. One who wished not to be named out of fear of reprisal said, “I did not think about anti-Semitism until now but ever since this row in Labour started I think about it every day.”

Edward Kessler in London on Oct. 20, 2016. Photo courtesy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Creative Commons

Edward Kessler, a Jewish author and founding director of Cambridge’s Woolf Institute, which studies relations between religion and society, said Jews in Britain were taken aback by recent expressions of anti-Semitism and a few people had even considered leaving the country.

“Right across the Jewish community, people of all ages, practicing Jews and nonpracticing, have been shocked by what has emerged,” he said.

“Much of this originates in the hard left in Britain and their anti-Semitism is tied up with support for the Palestinian cause,” Kessler said. “But what tips this over for me into something else were the remarks Jeremy Corbyn made about Jews lacking English irony. It says we are the other; it’s a legitimization of racism.”

Kessler said that this was a moment for Jewish people to stand up and be heard. He was disappointed that while some Muslim organizations such as Tell Mama and Faith Matters had criticized Corbyn’s comments, there had been a lack of outspoken support from Christian churches.

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Catherine Pepinster

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  • When lefties embrace Islam or appear to be sympathetic to Islamic positions in their rhetoric, lefties make a mess which puts all other leftie causes in jeopardy. Regardless of how “correct” they think they are, they can lose elections to stuff like Trumpism. This is not the only issue which tips elections, of course, but it is one of them. Yes, Israeli national behavior is sometimes questionable. But, yes, the universe of supporters of Palestinians (ie., the entire Muslim community) is also questionable because it embraces one of the least liberal or leftie world views on earth. We appear to be reading here a case of this kinda sorta resulting in unnecessary political backfire in Britain. How is that good? What else gets lost?

  • The elites have blown this story out of all proportion to try to crush Corbyn and the economic left much like Bernie Sanders was crushed in the US. Why? The elites want a 2 party system where both parties work in their interests. They managed to warp the system in the UK and US so that both parties became neoliberal keeping any differences in their economic policies within a tight neoliberal framework. To make it look like democracy, differences in social issues were accentuated. Elites are happy that people argue about things like immigration (and abortion/gay marriage in the US), distracted from the ongoing distribution of national wealth from poor to rich.

    Corbyn would move one party (Labour) away from the elites and they can’t stand it. So they use the things they control to attack him – the Conservatives, UKIP, most of the media and the neoliberal wing of the Labour party.

  • As the left in both the UK and the USA become stauncher opponents of Israel, this sort of thing is going to become more common.

  • Jews have a way of wearing out their welcome. https://www.biblebelievers.org.au/expelled.htm
    It was the jews who wrecked Germany during the Weimar years. And it was the jews who first declared war on Germany. The NSDAP was a reaction to this perfidy. So, again, we see the jews being expelled from yet another nation. NO gas chambers folks. Just Work and Transit Camps. You can thank the Allies for bombing the railroad supply lines thus starving the inmates at the end of the war and halting medical supplies to control the Typhus epidemic.

  • That would be okay, but most likely not effective either because the religion of people in the Palestinian territories is primarily Islam. You cannot win anything by pretending to protect a minority of Christians from Israelis. It cannot be sold to any faction really.

  • British Jews be advised: Edict of expulsion still valid. Decree calling for expulsion of Jews from Britain, passed in 13th century, never formally revoked. British Foreign Ministry: No real need to do so. https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3302296,00.html

    The Edict of Expulsion, passed by King Edward I in 1290 and calling for all Jews to leave Britain, has never formally been revoked. In order to rescind it, Queen Elizabeth II must sign a contrasting decree. According to an article published by Israeli historian Ori Katzir on his blog, Aplaton, King Edward I decided in 1290 to evict all Jews from Britain. Katzir writes, “Although this sounds surprising – even unbelievable – the edict has not been cancelled and is still listed among British legal documents.

    Katzir atzir states that it is clear that the edict is a disregarded law, and that England does not behave in accordance to Medieval norms manifested in the decree. However, in theory, the British have the capacity to kick out Israeli Jews, for example, when they come to visit in England.

    “All that needs to be done is for the queen to sign a contradictory decree, and this has never been done. I wonder when the Israeli government will appeal to the UK to have Queen Elizabeth II sign such a decree and revoke the edict issued by one of her forefathers.”

    The British Foreign Ministry issued a response Sunday stating that the ministry’s legal advisor doesn’t agree that there is a need to revoke the edict.

  • How about actually protecting them instead of pretending to? The US has plenty of influence over Israel. It looks like it doesn’t use it to protect Palestinian Christians.

  • There’s a difference between being anti-Semitic and being critical of Israel. There’s a difference being anti-Semitic and opposing the slaughter of animals without stunning them first. There’s a difference between being anti-Semitic and opposing infant circumcision. In all these cases, those who defend Israel, kosher slaughter and ritual circumcision sometimes cry “anti-Semite.”

  • Roy, you have been fooled by anti-Semitic nonsense. Denying the Holocaust is denying history. It happened.

  • Absolutely, but I’m raising the point that many anti Muslim Christians forget that there is a Palestinian Christian community. Whether it’s through ignorance or racism I’m not sure.

  • No, the USA does not use its influence for any Palestinians at this time. The USA is now using its influence in that region for no purpose except to please AMERICAN “Evangelicals” who think Israel must rise so that “end times events” can unfold. This is because sensible people in the USA messed around and lost the most pivotal election of their (our) lives to wedding cake nonsense, bathroom bills and “lock her up”. I wish we hadn’t, but the shift is done for the time being. It may be permanent, depending solely on whether us lefties can actually assemble voting coalitions big enough to overcome this mess in 2018, 2020, or any other time.

  • No one is saying that criticism of Israel, or ritual animal slaughter or circumcision is always anti-Semitic. But it often turns into that, as the British experience, and some of the comments on this page, demonstrate.

  • “Corbyn has also been reluctant to adopt the part of the IHRA code that offers as an example of anti-Semitism ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.’”

    So essentially, Corbyn opposes the two-state solution in favor of the preference expressed by Hamas and the PLO — the ultimate destruction of Israel and its absorption into a Muslim-dominated state of Palestine.

  • NO…………….gas chambers. NO…………..systematic genocide.
    YES…………….transit camp and work camps.
    Lampshades made out of jew skin == admitted fabrication. aka – hoax
    Soap made out of jew fat = admitted fabrication. aka – hoax
    Shrunken jew heads = admitted fabrication. aka — hoax.
    What else is a HOAX.

  • It’s the reverse. Look up Cynthia McKinney.

    Also —

    The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy — Book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

    — Kevin McDonald — “The Culture of Critique””.

    “Every time we do something you tell me Americans will do this and will do that. I want to tell you something very clear, don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.” Ariel Sharon https://www.veteranstoday.com/2014/01/11/burying-sharon/

  • Sorry liar, but those claims were debunked a long time ago. Only scumbags, idiots and liars maintain holocaust denial. David Irving destroyed all you guys in his effort to keep up that fiction. Tough Luck.
    http://www.hdot.org

  • Which Palestinians?

    The Palestinians who were driven out of their homes, the Palestinians who were killed or injured in bombings, or discriminated against in so many ways.

    Just as European settlement of the Americas, Australia and South Africa was accompanied by terrible wrongs inflicted upon the original people of those lands, the same thing happened in Israel. Even some Jewish groups recognise this.

  • No, Roy. The hoax is the nonsense you have fallen for. The Holocaust happened. So did the Armenian Genocide, the Ruandan Genocide, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the slaughter of the Rohingyas in Myanmar and so many slaughters and massacres.

    The Holocaust was entirely consistent with the persecution of the Jews in Europe for over a thousand years. The only difference was that it was more efficient and more deadly.

  • Roy, you have fallen hook, line and sinker for the most amazing load of nonsense. You are making a fool of yourself in spouting it.

  • You make a good point by bringing up ‘other’ genocides. Although you left out the Holodomor.
    The Holodomor is estimated to have killed 40-60 million people. But yet hardly a man has heard of the Holodomor; and there are NO movies or Tv shows dedicated to this event. But yet every single year ((( Hollywood ))) roles out 2-3 Films depicting the evilness of the Germans.
    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm………………something stinks of Gefelti fish.

  • In college my roommate came home from a bar one Saturday night and he was badly beaten. He said a few guys at the bar attacked him for no good reason. I was very sad and sorry for him.
    The next weekend came and the same thing happened. In fact every weekend my roommate would come home beaten and battered and he always said “he did nothing wrong”.
    This happened over and over and over again.
    Should I believe my roommate — that he was attacked every single time for no good reason?

  • Does that include the Jewish and perhaps Palestinians that driven out of their homes, killed or injured in bombings, or “discriminated in so many ways”? Don’t forget that it was the Arabs that started the civil war in 1947, the Arabs the invaded in 1948, the Arabs that rejected the two-state solution and dedicated themselves to Israel’s destruction and tried to achieve that destruction around every ten years until Israel became a part of the US protectorate.

  • Of course, there have been atrocities on both sides, and examples of terrible bigotry, but this can be seen in a larger context.

    As large numbers of Jewish settlers came to Palestine there was resistance from the local people. That’s only natural. The same thing happened when the Spanish and Portuguese went to Latin America, the British and French went to North America, the Dutch and British went to South Africa and the British went to New Zealand and Australia.

    We have now come to accept that terrible wrongs have been inflicted on the native people in the Americas, South Africa and Australasia. It’s increasingly recognised that the same process happened with Palestine/Israel. Naturally, Israelis often find this hard to accept, but I think it’s a point of view that is increasingly accepted.

  • How would I know? I don’t know you and you could be pulling my leg. If it did happen, what did you do to support your roommate? If this did happen, why did you stand idly by while he was attacked? This story does not reflect well on you.

  • Yes, before WWII the number of Jews living in the British Mandate jumped considerably, because tens of thousands of Jews were moving there and BUYING land. Yes, the Jews often RESPONDED to Arab assaults and terrorism by responding in kind. Yes, there was a great deal of population shifting in both directions as a result of the war that the Arabs started the day after the UN voted to partition Palestine. The results were, in fact, a pale shadow of Europe after WWII, when tens of millions were expelled from their ancestral homelands, often with the implicit blessing of Allied authorities (you can read all about it in Keith Lowe’s book “Savage Continent”).

    So should we treat the survivors of those European ethnic cleansing campaigns AND their descendants the same way the Palestinians are demanding they be treated? It would be only fair, after all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the Palestinian Arabs have a Right of Return that’s passed down to their descendants, so too do those driven out of their ancestral homelands in Europe after WWII.

  • You know, many Scots were cleared off their ancestral lands by the Highland Clearances and some of them went to other lands and cleared the native people off their land. Some of those who were dispossessed became dispossessors.

    Australia, the United States, Canada and dozens of other countries were built on the dispossession of the original inhabitants. We might not be able to do much about it now, but at least we can acknowledge the fact of the dispossession

    Yes, the Holocaust was a terrible stain upon humanity, something that must never be forgotten or repeated. But this does not justify the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands by the dispossessed Jewish people who fled persecution and extermination in Europe. These egregious wrongs don’t make all the actions of Israel right.

    There is no easy answer to the problems caused by the wrongs of the past, but at least we should try to acknowledge the suffering of others.

  • You didn’t answer my question. Should the descendants of those Europeans driven from their homes and worse in the wake of WWII have the same Right of Return that those descended from dispossessed Palestinian Muslims are demanding?

  • Good question. Here are some others of the same ilk.
    * Should the descendants of American Indians have a right of return to their ancestral lands?
    * What about the descendants of the Muslims and Jews who were driven out of Spain at the end of the Middle Ages?
    * How about redrawing the map of Europe to what it was before the First World War? Do you reckon that would be possible?
    * While we’re at it, how about reversing the partition of India in 1947. Reckon you could do that?

    Often there is no going back. However, that does not mean that we can simply ignore the problems of the present because they have roots in past conflicts. In fact, to deal with today’s problems we’ll have to understand the points of view of both sides of these conflicts.

  • Agreed, but in dealing with those problems we need to recognize them for what they are and are not. When it comes to the Palestinian Arabs, it is not a refugee problem but rather one of poverty and integration.

  • What is a ‘neo-nazi’? What would identify one as a neon.azi? Would this be the same as the great men and women of the NSDAP?

  • My father lost his entire retirement because of Bernie Madoff. Now my dad is broke. I hate Bernie Madoff for ripping my dad off. Does this make me ‘anti-semitic’?

  • The truth is that the allegation of “soap made out of jew fat” was a fabrication. But no apologies from kosher historical orthodoxy.
    What else was a Lie???

  • Roy is not ignorant. He knows he is telling fictions and does so purposefully and maliciously.

    There is no honest belief in Holocaust Denial. It has always been about lying for the purpose of furthering antisemitic agendas.
    For a breakdown of holocaust denial debunking see:
    http://www.hdot.org

  • “Would this be the same as the great men and women of the NSDAP”

    Just a pale imitation of those losers. A loser aping history’s losers. There were no great men and women of that historic group. They were all in service of evil in its plainest form.

    My grandfather’s regret as a member of the 8th Air Force flying in B-17’s was that not enough nazis were bombed into oblivion.

  • The 8th Air Force, unfortunately, bombed a lot civilians into oblivion.

    That’s a step up from the RAF which knowingly committed war crimes by targeting civilian population centers.

  • Doug, the establishment of the state of Israel did involve the dispossession of Palestinians and their land. There’s no getting round it, just as the establishment of US, Canada, Latin America, Australia and South Africa involved the dispossession of the original inhabitants. And, of course, this exacerbated the poverty and dislocation of the people.

  • No, the state of Israel was established on May 12, 1948, and involved no dispossessions that I am aware of. The dispossessions of both Jew and Muslims from their lands was the result of the first attempt by the surrounding Muslim states to annihilate Israel, launched the next day. If those Muslim nations had accepted the UN resolution of 1947 as Israel did, there would have been few if any dispossessions.

  • As far as I am aware, the mass dispossession of the Palestinians was one result of the war that followed the founding of the state of Israel. You have admitted as much in your previous comment.

  • My father lost his entire retirement at the hands of Bernie Madoff. I hate Bernie Madoff. Am I an anti-Semite for hating Bernie Madoff for stealing my father’s hard earned monies?

  • Roy,
    You have demonstrated your anti-Semitism more than once.
    * Making an anti-Semitic one-liner.
    * Comments about “Jew fat.”
    * Denying the holocaust.
    * Linking to anti-Semitic websites.
    I’m not the only one to call you out on this.

  • It’s also a trick, and a sick joke, to pass off your anti-Semitism as opposition to Israeli policies towards Palestinians.

  • Question for you Mglass — The Auschitz memorial plaque has been ‘changed’. The original plaque said 4 million jews died at Auschitz. The new plaque says only 1.5 million died.
    Question — why do the kosher historians insist on saying 6 million when they admit themselves that it was not 6 million. And they throw old ladies in jail for bringing this point up — See Ursula Haverbeck and Monica Shaeffer.
    http://www.jan27.org

  • Nice:

    Once again, you use the anti-Semitic epithet, “kosher historians”

    You link to a Holocaust denial website that gives a radically different picture than the Wikipedia article on Holocaust denial. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust_denial

    Has it occurred to you that the website that you link to could be wrong?

    I think it’s pointless for us to discuss this further.

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