(See important update at the bottom of this post.)
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s address last night on his government’s plan to combat extremism included an argument which those who fight antisemitism would likely find quite compelling. Cameron, in speaking out against racist notions which incite some Britons to adopt radical Islamist ideologies, specifically called out the antisemitic narrative that “Jews exercise malevolent power” as an idea which creates a climate in which extremism can flourish.
Enter Jeremy Corbyn MP, the candidate for Labour Party leadership who followers of this blog would know has an extremely troubling record of expressing sympathy towards antisemitic extremist organizations.
CST, in an important post about the questions Corbyn must answer about his radical affiliations, argued that “the problem is not that Corbyn is an antisemite or a Holocaust denier – he is neither”. The problem, CST wrote, “is that he seems to gravitate towards people who are, if they come with an anti-Israel sticker on them”.
However, comments made by Corbyn at a Labour Party hustings last night at JW3 at the very least raise troubling questions about his own views about Jews. The question, posed event moderator Jonathan Freedland, concerned the upcoming 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration – a statement of support made by the British Government for the establishment of a national home for Jews in Mandate Palestine.
However, neither Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary for whom the declaration was named, nor the prime minister he served under, led by David Lloyd George, was Jewish. Further, the only Jewish member of George’s cabinet, Edwin Montagu, was an anti-Zionist Jew who actually opposed the Balfour Declaration!
Of course, even if there were in fact Zionist Jews in the government, the argument putatively advanced by Corbyn buys into the very same narratives about malevolent Jewish power cited by Cameron as among those toxic ideas which give rise to extremism.
Especially in the context of record levels of antisemitism recorded in the UK last year, anti-racists within the Labour Party need to hold Corbyn accountable for such an odious and historically inaccurate claim.
(According to a subsequent report in The Jewish Chronicle, Corbyn meant to say “opposed”, not “imposed”.)