Accusations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party have been rife ever since Corbyn became the leader, which threatens to overshadow their politics and alienate the public.
The first major controversy was highlighted by The Jewish Chronicle shortly before Corbyn was elected Labour’s leader. They questioned Corbyn’s connections to anti-Israel campaign group Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), which was founded by prominent Holocaust-denier Paul Eisen. The group was widely condemned due to their extreme beliefs, with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) cutting ties with them in 2o07. While Corbyn similarly appeared to as well, he was pictured at a DYR memorial event during 2013 that was organized by Eisen and fellow Holocaust-denier – and former Labour councilor – Gill Kaffish. In a 2017 interview with The Telegraph, Kaffish went as far as describing Corbyn as a ‘stalwart’ supporter of the DYR. Consequently, with the group’s notorious anti-Semitic identity, many questioned what exactly Corbyn was supporting.
His case wasn’t helped when, in August, the NEC (Labour’s governing body) decided not to fully adopt the widely used IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in related disciplinary procedures. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental organisation compiled of Jewish groups and leaders, worked together to produce a serviceable definition of anti-Semitism to help accurately assess accusations of this nature.
This is significant for two reasons. Firstly, how the NEC defines anti-Semitism impacts on the disciplining and expelling of members who are anti-Semitic. This means that the lack of IHRA definition, for some, contributed to the perceivably lax punishment and response to anti-Semitic accusations within the party. Secondly, according to an opinion article in Haaretz, the only other notable party in Europe to have rejected the IHRA definition at any point is the Fidesz Party in Hungary – a party widely accused of anti-Semitism. As such, it became increasingly questionable that Corbyn’s Labour would make a decision that would subsequently group them with one of the most anti-Semitic parties in politics.
The decision to do so led to a division within the party, with two MPs with Jewish roots hitting out at Corbyn. Margret Hodge, a Labour MP, had Jewish grandparents who were killed in the Holocaust. She publicly accused Corbyn of being a ‘racist and antisemite’ in Parliament and faced a swift disciplinary response with an immediate suspension. Similarly, MP Ian Austin – whose adoptive parents were Czech Jewish refugees – was told that he was being investigated for ‘abusive conduct’ following his claims that Corbyn was ‘a defender of anti-Semites’.
Comparatively, it is argued that Labour is too soft when it comes to disciplining members who have made anti-Semitic comments. For example, in 2016 Labour MP Naz Shah made and “liked” a series of anti-Semitic posts, including one where she seemed to endorse the idea that Israelis should be deported to the US. Although like Hodge, she was suspended, she was reinstated just three months later and given a formal warning. Although the investigations into Hodge have been dropped, as of mid-October The Jewish Chronicle was reporting that this was not the case for Austin.
In September, the party voted to adopt the IHRA definition in full, which has been seen as a positive step forward in how they will tackle anti-Semitism within their own party. Whilst Corbyn’s stance on the Jewish community is unclear, it is evident that his strong views on the Israel and Palestine crisis have contributed to his reluctance to back adopting IHRA and, potentially, clouded his judgment in general. However, he’s vehemently denied any accusations of anti-Semitism, so perhaps this policy change suggests that that he will start practicing what he preaches.