Euan McColm: Corbyn’s words ring hollow on anti-Semitism

Jackie Walker had been suspended from the Labour Party once before over anti-Semitism. Picture: Matt Crossick/EMPICS Entertainment
Jackie Walker had been suspended from the Labour Party once before over anti-Semitism. Picture: Matt Crossick/EMPICS Entertainment
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An especially tricky thing about bad guys is that they don’t ever admit their flaws. A rotter will never tell you “I’m a wrong ’un, by the way”. In fact, he’s more likely to say precisely the opposite. The claims of those who don’t wear their virtue lightly are to be treated with a healthy degree of scepticism. Take men who make a point of saying “I love women,” for example. You will have met such a fellow, I’m sure. And you’ll know that he doesn’t “love” women.

This rule should be applied when listening to the Labour leader talking about his commitment to tackling anti-Semitism in his party. Jeremy Corbyn may say the right things about the appalling way Jewish people have been smeared by some of his “comrades”, but his lack of action – real action – tells a story of a man who doesn’t take this problem nearly seriously enough.

To those who have paid more than even the most cursory attention to Corbyn’s career, this should not be much of a surprise. The Labour leader has, after all, appeared at events organised by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, and defended vicar Stephen Sizer – banned from social media by the Church of England for posting anti-Semitic material online – on the issue of anti-Semitic behaviour by saying he was a victim of Zionists. He also praised Raed Salah, a preacher once banned from entering the UK after inciting hatred against Jews, as an “honoured citizen”.

These must, of course, have been blips. Corbyn repeatedly insists that he is firmly opposed to anti-Semitism (adding, always, that he is against all forms of racism).

Not only does Corbyn declare his opposition to the abuse of Jews, he has even sort of done something about it. He commissioned from the former director of human rights organisation Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, a report into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party which included recommendations on how this virus might be dealt with.

The independence of Chakrabarti’s report was rather undermined by the fact that, on beginning her task, she joined the Labour Party and subsequently accepted a peerage. She sits now in the Lords, considered by some to be Baroness Chakrabarti of Whitewash.

At last week’s Labour Party conference, the newly re-elected Corbyn delivered a keynote speech in which he restated his abhorrence of anti-Semitism. It would not be tolerated in his Labour Party.

Corbyn’s chum, Jackie Walker, has a different take on matters. Walker – the vice-chair of Momentum, the group established to campaign on behalf of the Corbyn leadership bid last year – has previously been suspended from the Labour Party for posting on social media the entirely bogus claim that Jews were the chief financiers of the slave trade.

Despite this appalling display of anti-Semitism, Walker was allowed to return to Labour, her membership reinstated and her role at the very top of Momentum secured.

Given her involvement in that scandal, you might think Walker would choose her words carefully, these days.

You’d be wrong.

At an event during the party conference, arranged to discuss how anti-Semitism might be challenged, Walker acted in the most unforgivable way. She stood up to tell organisers that she had not yet heard a definition of anti-Semitism she could “work with” and then, turning her attention to Holocaust Memorial Day, suggested it should not solely be concerned with the atrocities perpetrated upon Jews by the Nazis.

How dare those Jews want commemoration of those who died in the Holocaust all to themselves, eh?

Of course, Holocaust Memorial Day is promoted as an opportunity to remember not only those who died during the Second World War but also those who lost their lives in subsequent genocides. Walker’s complaint was based on ignorance.

But even if HMD was dedicated solely to the Jewish victims of the Nazi plan to exterminate each and every follower of Judaism from the face of the earth, Walker’s complaint would still have been disgusting. Shoah surely qualifies as an event of such horror that it requires particular attention.

A leaked video shows Walker making a series of interventions which are quite breathtaking in their insensitivity. Her dismissal of the need for security at Jewish schools, her criticism of Holocaust Memorial Day, and her disingenuous remarks about defining anti-Semitism were goading and cruel.

What a perfect opportunity this dreadful episode provided for Corbyn, who had just restated his determination to deal with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. He could – he should – have spoken out immediately to condemn Walker. He should have taken control of the situation and seen to it that her Labour Party membership card was put through the shredder. And then he should have apologised profusely on behalf of his party for this affront. Instead, we heard nothing from Corbyn.

Momentum quickly briefed that it would be taking steps to remove Walker from her vice-chairmanship of the organisation. This is expected to happen at a meeting tomorrow.

It seems it took that intervention to spur Corbyn into action. Walker – a crony of Corbyn’s for the past 12 years – was allowed to continue as a Labour member, without even a word of recognition from the leader that her behaviour was wrong until late on Friday evening when it emerged that, finally, she had been suspended.

But the problem is that, by then, Corbyn had already missed his opportunity to do the right thing. Action, when it finally came, was just too late. To the observer, it looked awfully like Corbyn had to be dragged into action.

Corbyn wishes us to believe that he takes anti-Semitism seriously, that he is committed to eradicating it from the Labour Party, but his failure of leadership over the Jackie Walker situation shows his words are hollow. When it comes to making the Labour Party a safe place for Jews, Jeremy Corbyn is not the man he says he is.