British Labour Leader Corbyn Stung by Former Aide Over ‘Inability to Understand’ Why He’s Viewed as Antisemitic
As the United Kingdom prepares for general elections in June, the embattled leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is once again facing damaging allegations about his personal attitude toward the antisemitism that has swelled in Labour’s ranks.
Writing in the Sunday Times this weekend, Harry Fletcher — who served as Corbyn’s aide during his first year as head of Labour — declared that Corbyn and his colleagues suffered from an “inability to understand why they’re perceived as anti-Semitic.”
Scandals involving antisemitism have plagued Labour ever since Corybn took the helm of the party in 2015. Earlier this month, British Jewish leaders, along with 42 Labour members of the British Parliament, slammed Corbyn’s decision not to expel his ally Ken Livingstone — a former mayor of London — from the party over his repeated claim that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was a supporter of Zionism.
In 2016, Labour launched an internal inquiry into antisemitism triggered by the remarks of both Livingstone and Naz Shah, a Labour MP who urged during the 2014 Gaza war that Israel be “relocated” to the United States. However, the inquiry was dismissed by many in the Jewish community as a whitewash for playing down the extent of antisemitic attitudes in the party, and for conceding only that “there is an occasionally toxic atmosphere.”
In his Sunday Times article, Fletcher revealed that he had frequently advised the Labour leader to speak out in support of the British Jewish community, but that Corbyn “just couldn’t see it at all.”
Corbyn, said Fletcher, would become angry when challenged on the issue. “Jeremy believes he is completely non-discriminatory,” Fletcher wrote. “He would never be hostile to someone in the street. But he is, if you like, anti-Semitic along the institutionalized lines of the Metropolitan police in the 1990s, when they messed up the Stephen Lawrence investigation.”
Lawrence was a black British teenager murdered by a white gang in South London in 1993 and a public inquiry into the handling of the investigation of the killing exposed the degree to which racist attitudes were embedded in London’s police. Fletcher and others believe there is a similar problem in the Labour Party now regarding Jews.
Fletcher flatly denied that the criticism of Corbyn was aimed at his hostility towards Israel. He wrote: “It was about discrimination. Jeremy did have an antipathy towards Israel. But the criticism he received was because of a pattern of behaviour that was perceived by the Jewish community as anti-Semitic.”
The account of Fletcher reflects similar reports from other party activists. Last September, Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth walked out of the launch of the report from Labour’s antisemitism inquiry after she was abused by Corbyn supporters. “I’ve never seen antisemitism in Labour on this scale,” Smeeth commented at the time. “Now the sheer volume has made it normal.”
Britain will hold parliamentary elections on June 7, with the campaign dominated by the country’s forthcoming “Brexit” from the European Union. Current polls show an overwhelming lead for incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party, which is forecast to win 48 percent of the vote against Labour’s 26 percent. Corbyn’s approval ratings are even more dismal, with just 18 percent of voters expressing confidence in his leadership, according to poll conducted by Opinium.