In all the furor around the antisemitism plaguing the British Labour Party, I’ve noticed two distinct forms of defense of both the party and its far-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The first defense, favored by those for whom Corbyn is a Socialist equivalent of L. Ron Hubbard, is to dismiss any and all accusations of antisemitism as a “hoax” or “smear” aimed solely at destroying their leader’s prospects of becoming Britain’s next prime minister. The second, which may be wrong-headed but is at least grounded in intellectual sincerity, is that there is indeed a problem inside the Labour Party, but that including anti-Zionism among the examples of contemporary antisemitism only makes the problem worse.
Numerous examples of both of these defenses have appeared in the last week. To take an instance of the first, according to veteran pro-Palestinian commentator David Hearst in Middle East Eye, the definition of antisemitism drawn up by International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) — the source of the current Labour row — is actually a “weapon” intended to “terrify all politicians … from having any contact with Palestinian organizations.” Because Corbyn has shown principled resistance to the depiction of anti-Zionism as a mutation of antisemitism, Hearst argued, the hostile reaction of the British press leaves only the question of “how much dirtier the campaign to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party is going to get.”
Instances of the more nuanced approach appeared, ironically enough, on the Qatari government-backed Al Jazeera website. “[T]o be honest I assumed that the issue of antisemitism was something that was exclusively associated with the far-right,” confessed Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham. He continued: “What has surprised me is the alacrity with which supporters of Jeremy Corbyn — and sometimes very close and prominent supporters of Jeremy Corbyn — have been guilty of, at best, indulging in unconsciously anti-Semitic tropes.”