Why the Rise of Political Antisemitism Is so Dangerous
The stakes have never been higher for the Jewish community in the UK. British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s relentless obsession with Israel has created a dangerous climate of apathy towards antisemitism in the country. The problem is serious enough that nearly 40 percent of British Jews would “seriously consider” emigrating if he ever became prime minister.
Corbyn, the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, has given rise to a discourse that fails to distinguish between antisemitism and legitimate criticism of Israel. All lines have been blurred.
The Corbyn effect has shaken British Jewry to its core, with an impact felt far beyond the borders of Britain. The rhetoric deployed by Corbyn and his supporters is remarkably similar to language used by groups and individuals that disseminate antisemitic narratives to isolate and demonize Israel in the global arena.
Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000 and the Durban Conference of 2001, organized movements around the world have promoted the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The boycotters openly advocate for a full Palestinian right of return — from the river to the sea — which is code for a one-state solution that does not include Jews.
“The Holocaust has been employed shamelessly by Israel. The extermination of European Jewry is the principal argument that is used to justify the creation of the State of Israel,” former Labour activist Tony Greenstein wrote in an article for a website that supports the BDS campaign against Israel.
This mindset resonates in Corbyn’s circles. Mark Serwotka, a senior union boss and close ally of the Labour leader, last week charged that Israel created the antisemitism issue — “a story that does not exist” — in order to distract attention from its “atrocities” against Palestinians.
And then there is Corbyn’s own flirtation with antisemitism. At a 2013 event hosted by the Palestinian Return Centre, he compared Israel to the Nazis, and a year later, he participated in a controversial wreath-laying ceremony in Tunisia at the grave of a terrorist behind the massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich.
The Labour leader also claimed that British-born Jews are not fully English. Zionists, Corbyn said, “clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.” Additionally, activist Ewa Jasiewicz, who desecrated the walls of the Warsaw ghetto with “Free Gaza and Palestine” graffiti, was described by Corbyn as “a very good friend.”
The Corbyn effect has pushed extreme anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments from the obscure fringes of the political spectrum into the mainstream. Unfortunately, it’s also a phenomenon not unique to Britain.
The virus has already reached the shores of the United States.
The BDS campaign has taken American institutions of higher education by storm. Earlier this month, it emerged that professor John Cheney-Lippold of the American Culture Department at the University of Michigan refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student because she would be studying abroad in Israel.
As a life-long Democrat, I am alarmed that antisemitism appears to be no longer a marginal phenomenon on the Left, and that candidates espousing such views are climbing the ranks within a party that, historically, has been the natural political home of Jews.
Take, for example, Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian activist and famed leader of the Women’s March, who asked Muslims not to “humanize” Israelis, and charged that there’s no room in the feminist movement for those who support Israel’s right to exist. Imagine if Sarsour had made those comments about any other minority. The Left would be up in arms.
But because Jews are increasingly seen as persona non grata among America’s Left, Sarsour is celebrated as a heroine of the progressive movement, while her fellow Women’s March leader, Tamika Mallory, shamelessly embraces the antisemitic leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. That’s not progressive; that’s fascist.
There was a similar incident last year, when organizers of the Chicago Dyke March excluded Jewish participants for no other reason than they were carrying a Pride flag emblazoned with a Jewish Star, which the organizers claimed “made people feel unsafe.”
The Jeremy Corbyns of Britain and Linda Sarsours of America are intellectual soulmates, who — with the help of the global boycott movement — advocate for the isolation and, in my view, ultimately the total annihilation of the Jewish state. That’s where Labour’s antisemitism scandal comes full circle.
What’s happening in Britain should be heeded as a warning of what is yet to come. It allows us to study, reject, and counter these views and their holders — a process that hopefully results in their marginalization to the extreme fringes where they belong.
Joshua S. Block is CEO and President of The Israel Project. He is a former Clinton administration official and spokesman at the State Department’s USAID.