Kenny MacAskill: Anti-semitism row is a bid to smear Corbyn

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may be many things, but anti-semitic isn't one of them, writes Kenny MacAskill
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA WireLabour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

I’m no great fan of Jeremy Corbyn and find adulation of him surprising to say the least. His positioning on Europe is lamentable, his understanding of Scotland derisory and he just doesn’t do it for me.

That said I’ve been in politics long enough to recognise a smear when I see one and the suggestions that Corbyn is anti-semitic are just that. He’s many things and may not have handled the issue particularly well, but he most certainly isn’t that.

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This has all the hallmarks of a virus inserted by those out to do him down, as indeed was done to him during the election. It’s the classic political dead cat flung on the table to shock and divert attention from what’s really happening. For as Britain bungles its way towards Brexit, as poverty and inequality rise and even as the number of murders in London exceeds that of New York, this is not an issue.

Yes, for sure anti-semitism is out there and must be tackled. Of course, it will be in the Labour Party as it’s in other parties but this is a smokescreen. It’s what I expect from right-wing websites and, sadly, now even fully expect it to be regurgitated almost unchallenged by the BBC, but the fact that Labour MPs seek to use it to destabilise him is truly shocking. They are simply trying to tear down the House of Corbyn, irrespective of the effect upon the wider party.

At its highest, it appears that anti-semitic comments have been placed on a Facebook site he uses or has operated for him. That in no way makes him any more liable than I or The Scotsman for comments that may follow this article. Maybe they should have been spotted or deleted but people went looking for dirt and it just so happens this was what they found. It could probably just have easily been some other foul or unacceptable comment.

Likewise, his attendance at a left-wing Jewish group was perfectly reasonable even if the timing was unhelpful and a comment attributed to them seems entirely distant from the general ethos of the organisation. Corbyn is many things but an anti-semite he is not.

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That, of course, doesn’t mean that there isn’t an issue with anti-semitism in either in the Labour Party or the wider country. It’s clear that there is and it has to be tackled and addressed. Indeed, the focus on Corbyn has simply moved the issue from tackling anti-semitism to berating him personally. It’s changed the target and diminished the focus. Anti-semitism is older, in many ways, than Islamophobia, but equally odious and it’s racism pure and simple and perpetrated on a people because of who they are. Nothing justifies that and the Jewish community in Scotland, as in the UK, is long-standing, and has contributed immensely to this country in business, politics and the arts. Small in numbers it may have been over the year but its contribution has been way beyond its numerical size through the hard work, talents and ingenuity of the community.

I have to confess that anti-semitism is something that I haven’t come across. Racism I’ve seen and heard but never towards the Jewish community. Though, I’ve some close friends who are Jewish I grew up and currently live in a community where their presence is limited, though their contribution has still been substantially greater than their numbers.

However, I’m not naive enough to believe that just because I don’t see it means it’s not happening. The Jewish community advised me of issues when I was in Ministerial office and the police also appraised me of incidents which shocked and concerned me. So, addressed it must be.

It will also be within political parties though I can truthfully say that I have never heard it expressed in Scotland by any member of the SNP or Labour Party for that matter either. But, again maybe it was out of my earshot or not in the circles that I ran in. For I do recall a friend advising me that she thought it had been prevalent in the Communist Party many years ago. Again, I have to confess that I never heard any communists I knew express disparaging or anti-semitic remarks but she was better connected than I and well placed to know.

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Moreover, with both institutional anti-semitism and hostility to Israel emanating from Moscow I can see where the roots might lie. Though I’ve never come across it in Scotland, it must have happened and will sadly still be occurring though it looks as if it’s a much bigger issue in London or on social media than here. It’s surprising in some ways, given the roots of the Labour Party in that city. I recall reading Clement Attlee’s biography and he worked in and then represented the east end of London. The political base that got him elected was within the Jewish and Irish communities in Limehouse. Of course, the membership will have changed as have the communities there and elsewhere but the memory of those who fought Mosley’s fascists in Cable Street and why they did so, should never be forgotten.

New members will have joined and some will sadly and equally wrongly equate the actions of the state of Israel with the Jewish community. I am appalled by the ongoing actions of Israel, which is beginning to mirror apartheid South Africa, but that’s their culpability not that of the Jewish community here or elsewhere. It’s understandable that many in the Jewish community will have an affinity with the Jewish state but again that doesn’t make them responsible for its actions. Indeed, one of the great tragedies of ongoing anti-semitism is that so many Jews have felt that only in Israel can they be secure. Tackling anti-semitism here is necessary to addressing the reprehensible actions of Israel there. So, let’s cease the smear of Corbyn and get back to tackling anti-semitism.