The Observer view on Labour’s antisemitism crisis? ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’

An official editorial in The Observer (sister site of the Guardian) on April 30th, titled ‘The Observer view on Labour’s antisemitism crisis’, was notable for one simple reason: it all but ignored the ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’.

After the first two introductory paragraphs about several ‘storms raging within the political arena’ of late, The Observer notes the most recent developments in Labour, including the suspension of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

Ken Livingstone, who provoked the storm when he launched a bewildering defence of a Labour MP – rightly suspended from the party for comments about Israel on Facebook – by suggesting that Hitler was a Zionist in the early 1930s. So, understandably, before key elections across the country, much time has been spent discussing Labour’s antisemitism problem on its left flank. The perception that it has been tolerated rather than tackled for too long is threatening to dominate the run-up to polling day.

What followed however did not pertain to the problem of antisemitism in the party or in British public life but, rather, the fact that the scandal threatens to “suck the oxygen” out of the debate over other issues – namely the nation’s housing crisis.

These toxic headwinds have a double effect: as well as revealing a nasty side to our politics they have sucked the oxygen out of debate about other serious issues facing the country. Housing must be near the top of that list: our poll this week reveals eight in 10 members of the public agree Britain is “in the throes of a housing crisis”.

The next nine paragraphs deal with the housing crisis.

After that, one paragraph is devoted to endorsing Sidiq Kahn for Mayor of London. 

The Observer editorial then concludes thusly:

How tragic it is that [Khan’s] appeal has been muffled by the rancorous row within his own party over its failure so far to quell the suspicion that it is harbouring a virulent strain of antisemitism.

In summary, out of fifteen total paragraphs in their editorial on ‘antisemitism in the Labour Party’, only one actually deals substantively with antisemitism in the Labour Party.  

Whilst other UK publications have admirably confronted the issue of anti-Jewish racism within Labour  head-on, it’s disappointing that The Observer decided instead to frame an editorial as a commentary on the issue while failing to actually address it in the text – effectively changing the subject instead of dealing with the implications of Livingstone’s comments and even more uncomfortable truths about the broader problem of antisemitism within the British left.


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