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  Opinion   Oped  31 Mar 2018  Anti-Semitism plagues UK Labour

Anti-Semitism plagues UK Labour

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Mar 31, 2018, 12:29 am IST
Updated : Mar 31, 2018, 6:09 am IST

The immediate issue which the Jewish organisations and commentators seized upon was not so immediate.

Jeremy Corbyn
 Jeremy Corbyn

“The flood of truth
Breaks through the dam of lies
But truth doesn’t come in floods
It comes in drops, in tears, in sighs
The dams rise up and irrigate
All human discourse
It’s too late..
My brothers,  sisters it’s too late...”

From Hey Bhagwan, What About Hindustan? By Bachchoo

I don’t think sub-continentals understand anti-Semitism. Every other form of discrimination, from caste, class and colour, is known to us and rife. Jews are not numerous enough to be against.

Last week, several Jewish organisations and non-Jewish commentators accused Britain’s Labour Party of being seriously, even fatally, anti-Semitic.

The Jewish newspapers and Jewish Labour Movement members protested against what they said was a trend and tolerance within the party. They highlighted the role and stance of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The national media, which took up the issue, pointed to Mr Corbyn’s support for anti-Jewish organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah throughout his political career. Mr Corbyn can’t backtrack from his publicly proclaimed support for these organisations but his defence for supporting them and, in the past, calling them “my friends”, is the standard Leftist protest that his statements and support were anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, but not anti-Jewish.

The immediate issue which the Jewish organisations and commentators seized upon was not so immediate. In 2012, a mural in the East End depicted six supposed bankers or capitalists playing monopoly on a board which was placed on the backs of prostrate brown workers bent forward with their hands on their knees, bearing the burden of the board and the oppressor’s game. The mural has a very Bangladeshi-looking woman’s agonised face and a brownish figure with a raised revolutionary fist. The background contains cogwheels presumably to symbolise international capital’s dark satanic mills.

At that time, Jeremy Corbyn had expressed his approval of the mural as a work of agitprop art. Jewish commentators have now denounced the mural and Mr Corbyn’s approving remarks about it as anti-Semitic, claiming the features of the bankers or capitalists in the painting are clearly intended to portray Jews. Mr Corbyn, probably acting on advice, has apologised for his earlier approval of the mural and says he hadn’t looked at it carefully enough.

I’ve been looking at pictures of the mural now and though I don’t think I can distinguish any specifically Jewish features (a couple of the gentlemen with big noses could easily be Parsi), the American artist who painted it, Mear One, acknowledges that the figures are “Jewish and Anglo”. I must brush up on my ethno-recognition skills.

Mear One, probably not the name given to him at birth (but one never knows with American and Bengali parents), picked on Hanbury Street in Brick Lane which is a specific majority Bangladeshi Muslim area.

The East End of London, in which it is situated, has a few decades of politics into which Islamic identity and fundamentalist ideology and attitudes have been dragged. This borough of Tower Hamlets has more mosques per square mile than Mecca. It has had majority Bangladeshi municipal councilors, reflecting the composition of the electorate. The rebel politician George Galloway who was expelled from the Labour Party when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, stood as its parliamentary candidate and won against Labour candidate Oona King. The campaign wasn’t clean. Galloway stood virtually on the contention that he supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and opposed the Blair-Bush war. Fair enough, but there were certainly undertones of anti-Semitism in the campaign against Ms King, who is Jewish by birth.

Mr Corbyn’s tentative 2012 approval of the mural has been the pivot of the latest protests against Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism under his leadership. The protesters quote other incidents and this onslaught has prompted Mr Corbyn and the leadership of the Labour Party to denounce anti-Semitism and distance themselves from any of it in very strong terms. Mr Corbyn has now publicly acknowledged that there are “pockets of anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party and they would be diligently rooted out.              

There are two sources of anti-Semitism in a party, which in its 112 years of existence,  has been the champion of minorities and the enemy of race prejudice. There have been lapses — the party, under PM Jim Callaghan, wasn’t particularly fair to Kenyan Asians with British passports who fled persecution in Africa. Nevertheless, the party’s constant concern for the plight of Palestinians has emerged in “pockets” of the party as anti-Zionism and as anti-Israel. The left factions of the party have been vociferous in their denunciation of Israeli policy and this has been very often interpreted as crossing the line, however thick it is, into anti-Jewishness. The second factor is that the Labour Party has electorally captured the inner city constituencies of England with a decisive population of Muslim immigrant communities. All of these communities are now three generations old but their allegiances are demonstrably influenced by Saudi money and preachers infiltrating their mosques and institutions, by differing degrees of sympathy for Islamist aims if not terrorism and by blatant anti-Jewish sentiments.

The Labour Party has 12 Muslim MPs in Parliament. Two of them have been disciplined for anti-Semitic remarks and it is very likely that Jeremy Corbyn included these communities but obviously not the MPs they’ve elected, in his calculation of “pockets of anti-Semitism”.

I began the column, gentle reader, by noting that in my experience there was no anti-Semitism in India. Come to think of it, in my childhood in Pune, there was a red brick synagogue at the end of our street in Pune Cantonment which we natives called Lal Deval. It was the temple for the fair-skinned Baghdadi Jews of the town. I was, as a teenager, aware that the brown-skinned Bene-Israeli Jews had their own synagogue in Pune City. Within Pune’s Judaism a tacit apartheid prevailed.

I later heard that several of the brown Jews from our city had attempted to emigrate to Israel, experienced racist treatment and returned to hospitable Pune.

Tags: jeremy corbyn, tony blair, labour party