Brian Wilson: Anti-semitism is vile '“ but so is smear against Labour

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, I wrote that his biggest problem would be the legacy of past associations.
There is no justification for saying Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)There is no justification for saying Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
There is no justification for saying Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

Jeremy had spent a carefree adult life amidst the alphabet soup of London politics – an icon for his Parliamentary indiscipline and espousal of myriad causes without a thought for future accountability.

Then, to his own entire surprise, he became leader of the Labour Party. It is perfectly legitimate for opponents, both internal and external, to play back his record and question his judgment – and that does not always make for happy reading.

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There is, however, a chasm between that inescapable history and the appalling campaign now being waged to portray him as an anti-semite and, by association, to portray the Labour Party as a haven of anti-semitism.

It is not true. Self-evidently, any political party which seeks to garner support from roughly half the country will attract some thoroughly bad eggs and it was predictable that opening the doors to fringes which were previously excluded would draw more of them in.

None of that remotely justifies the smears now being attached to Labour as a whole or Corbyn as an individual. There are plenty grounds for legitimate debate about Labour’s direction of travel and prospects for electoral success, but the current sustained attack merits deep suspicion.

I am scarcely a natural Corbynite but that does not prevent me finding it distasteful when individuals who have taken everything the Labour Party can offer seek to do as much damage as possible on their way to the exit, while presenting themselves as custodians of high principle.

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MP Frank Field resigns Labour whip saying party is "force for antisemitism"

Frank Field is a case in point. He has been an MP for 39 years. If this Parliament runs its course, he will be 80 at the time of the next General Election. Even for those anointed by the right-wing press as saints, there is surely a time to call it a day before mortality intervenes.

Like me and everyone else who has been an MP, we were not there because of our own genius or charisma – well, at least, not exclusively! Rather, our party put us there and, in Frank’s case, allowed him huge freedom to pursue an individualistic political agenda, most recently by voting with the Tories on Brexit.

In return for all that, he now brands the leadership “a force for anti-semitism in Britain” and claims Labour is “increasingly seen as a racist party”. This is self-serving nonsense which betrays all who work through Labour for a better society and to oppose prejudice in any form.

The current, collective charge of anti-semitism flows largely from a determined campaign to conflate that vile creed with criticism of Israel or support for the Palestinian cause. These lines can become blurred and are doubtless crossed by some who, themselves, may have little understanding of the profound distinctions. Others, who understand them all too well, seek to exploit the conflation.

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Labour has to deal with these challenges more robustly and stand up for its own history which includes implementing the state of Israel’s right to exist and consistently trying to seek accommodation between the legitimate claims of both Israelis and Palestinians.

None of that has, in the past, prevented leading figures on the left being highly critical of Israel, particularly when its government was in the hands of far-right elements as is currently the case. That is the space which is now being attacked behind the blanket charge of “anti-semitism”.

It is equally reasonable to expect the political credentials of Labour’s chief tormentors to be examined rather than concealed. For example, Lord Sacks, who led the news this week with a ridiculous analogy with Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, is a darling of the BBC and about to present a five-part Radio Four series on “morality”.

The former chief rabbi is also a very right-wing political figure with absolutely no sympathy for Labour, past, present or future. That is his democratic entitlement. But BBC viewers are entitled to know that there are political agendas at work here as well as moral ones.