The Labour Party is being rocked by allegations of anti-Semitism from a number of sources. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has claimed that Jeremy Corbyn is leading Labour into a “dark place of ugly conspiracy theories”, while many Jewish supporters of the Labour Party are distressed at what they perceive as a growing anti-Semitic strain in a party that has traditionally had a strong appeal for Jewish voters.
But, as George Orwell pointed out in his 1945 essay on “Anti-Semitism in Britain”, there has always been prejudice against Jews, on the left as well as on the right. The working-class attitude to Jews was often hostile. He quoted “a very eminent figure in the Labour Party” who said to him, of Jewish immigrants: “We never asked these people to come to this country. If they choose to come here, let them take the consequences.”
These days, left-wing anti-semitism is fuelled by hostility to Israel and sympathy for Palestinians, but some is also old-style anti-Semitism in new livery.
Some left-wingers say that they can’t be anti-Jewish because they have always been against racism. But the roots of anti-Semitism make it different from other forms of racism.
When I was researching the life of William Joyce, “Lord Haw-Haw”, I came to see that while racism was often based on a sense of superiority and power – from white people who assumed that they were better than people of colour – anti-Semitism was often based on envy and jealousy. And also a feeling of inferiority towards Jewish people as high achievers and brainy successes. Even philosemites (those who are pro-Jewish) make that point: that so many geniuses have been Jewish, from Albert Einstein to Mark Zuckerberg.
Once the horrors of the Holocaust were fully grasped, there was a general decline in anti-Semitism, thankfully, and of course it should never be tolerated. But some members of the Labour Party believe that Jeremy Corbyn has allowed this noxious weed to appear once again. He rejects such claims, but they could bring about the end of his leadership.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection