Is anti-Semitism a significant problem in Britain and America?

The first post I’ve done in a long time. I’m at the busiest time of my degree, so yet again I don’t know when I’ll be able to post next. Apologies. But this is a huge issue at the moment, so I felt the need to address it. 

Anti-Semitism is on the increase in both Britain and America. But the phenomenon has very different causes in each country.

In America, anti-Semitism is primarily a product of the extreme right. Jews are often associated with the ‘Deep State’, a conspiracy theory that liberal globalists are always in power, even when patriots like Trump are elected. Jews are seen as plotting to make America more socially liberal and ethnically diverse. Anti-Semites on the American Right point to the fact that most American Jews vote Democrat, and are more likely to sympathise with the plight of non-white minorities than other white Americans. In the US, there has been a notable increase in neo-Nazi and neo-Confederable demonstrations, both of which direct their ire against Jews for subverting their vision of an America dominated by white Protestants. Moreover, the American far right diverges from neoconservatism insofar as they view America’s relationship with Israel to be detrimental to American security; a close relationship with Israel contravenes the notion of ‘America first.’ America is similar to European countries like France, Poland and Hungary in its prevalence of right wing anti-Semitism. However, American anti-Semitism has virtually no clout in today’s Republican Party, which remains pro-Israel and somewhat neoconservative, despite an increase in paleoconservative nationalism and isolationism under Trump.

But in Britain, anti-Semitism is far more common on the far left. The British far right directs its anger at Muslims and EU migrants, but rarely exhibits anti-Semitic views nowadays. Neo-Nazism is less common in Britain than America or continental Europe. Left-wing anti-Semitism partly derives from the fact that unlike American Jews, most British Jews vote for the centre-right Conservative Party. Class hatred plays a role, with the stereotype of the Jewish banker exploiting the ordinary British worker. The British left is far more anti-Israel than the American left, whereas the British right is generally pro-Israel.

Recently, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been accused of anti-Semitism. He failed to denounce an overtly anti-Semitic mural in Tower Hamlets, instead praising it for critiquing capitalism. He has repeatedly met with Islamists, even describing Hezbollah and Hamas as his friends. He was a member of several Facebook groups where anti-Semitic views were publicised. Corbyn is also a long-standing ally of the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who was suspended from Labour for his view that Hitler was a Zionist.

Now I personally have no doubt Corbyn isn’t an anti-Semite. But that doesn’t been he’s innocent. He has repeatedly failed to denounce specific insensitive remarks made by other Labour Party members, instead offering general remarks on the evils of anti-Semitism. He hasn’t explained the ideological origins of left-wing anti-Semitism: class hatred, militant Palestinian nationalism, conspiratorial anti-elitism. In the past, he’s played down the extent to which it is a problem in the British left. He’s also shared platforms with known anti-Semites when he’s approved of their views vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Western foreign policy. He used to be a regular guest on Iranian state TV, despite anti-Semitic views being pretty prominent there.

Worse is the behaviour of Corbyn’s supporters. Many of whom have expressed the view that anti-Semitism has been exaggerated by the conservative press in order to discredit Corbyn. They remain relentlessly partisan, refusing to accept that there’s a problem. Jewish Labour MPs like Luciana Berger, who say they’ve received racist abuse online, are ignored or dismissed out of hand. They constantly try to divert attention away from issue, preferring to attack the Conservatives than address the issue head-on.

What Corbyn needs to do is reassure Jewish Labour members that anti-Semitism is a significant problem that will be taken very seriously from now on. He needs to make it plain that anti-Semites cannot ever share a platform with any Labour members, even if they hold left-wing views on all other issues. He needs to demonstrate that he understands the specific reasons why there is anti-Semitism on the left. He should also apologise for his past track record.

If he does all that, the current scandal need not be an impediment for Labour. The party has a good record of supporting equality and anti-discrimination legislation. It is perceived to be notably more socially liberal and welcoming of ethnic diversity than the Conservatives. Their liberalism, combined with the shortfall in local government funding, should result in a successful sweep for Labour in May’s local elections, where they could win Conservative London boroughs like Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster. The electorate have notoriously short memories, and most of them aren’t following the scandal closely anyway. More importantly, 99.6% of Britain’s population isn’t Jewish. Non-Jews may care about anti-Semitism. But they also care about public services, and I predict they will vote accordingly.

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