A Jewish left-wing activist has been blocked from standing for a position on Labour’s National Executive Committee because – according to the Blairites – her involvement with Momentum taints her with anti-semitism. This is the latest episode in the cynical attempt by Labour’s right wing to use the issue of anti-semitism against the Left.
A Jewish left-wing activist has been blocked from standing for a position on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), apparently – according to the Blairites – because her involvement with Momentum taints her with anti-semitism. Rhea Wolfson, who was backed by, amongst other organisations, the Jewish Labour Movement, was not endorsed by her own constituency party, which might prevent her from standing. According to her account of events, after leaving the room so the vote could be taken, former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy denounced her, claiming left-wing faction Momentum, who supported Wolfson’s candidacy, had a ‘problem with anti-semitism’. This was apparently enough to swing the vote against Wolfson, given the large Jewish membership of the constituency.
Quite apart from Jim Murphy’s lamentable role in the collapse of Scottish Labour, where he led the party to its worst defeat in many decades, what stands out here is the complete undemocratic shambles of asking the candidate to leave the room, then allowing her to be attacked politically without the right to defend herself. Of course, it is no surprise that an arch-Blairite such as Jim Murphy, supporter of the rabidly-right-wing Henry Jackson Society, would stoop to such methods, but the whole sorry episode serves as a warning that, despite the overwhelming support within the Labour Party for Jeremy Corbyn and the Left, the right-wing are far better organised, and still control important parts of the Party machinery.
Wolfson’s rejection comes hot on the heels of a wave of suspensions and expulsions of (primarily left-wing) activists on the grounds of ‘anti-semitism’. Indeed, if the Labour right, David Cameron and the Tory press were to be believed, the Labour Party, and specifically the Left, are riddled with anti-semitism, and represent the primary threat faced by British Jews today. But does such a contention hold water? And are the aforementioned motivated by a sincere desire to defeat this most insidious of prejudices?
Anti-semitism: a problem on the Left?
To begin with, it is worth looking at the political leanings and motivations of the protagonists. Those of the Labour right need little explanation: they have been engaged in a one-sided war against Corbyn and his supporters ever since he was elected. A number of left-wing activists, including supporters of Socialist Appeal, have been expelled on completely spurious grounds completely unrelated to accusations of anti-semitism. Given this context, the attack on Wolfson begins to fit a pattern of victimising left-wing activists on whatever grounds the right can concoct. Similarly, Cameron’s hypocritical intervention, after one of his own MPs was caught dressing up as a Nazi, does not merit a serious reply.
It’s interesting to note that we heard not a squeak out of any of these characters when Ed Miliband, the (Jewish) former Labour leader was subjected to actual anti-semitic slurs by leading Tories during the last election, who resurrected the old ‘Dolchstoß’ slander in insinuating that Miliband would ‘stab the country in the back’. It is quite clear that the Blairites are abusing the issue of anti-semitism to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and prepare the ground for a coup against his leadership. Similarly, the Tories and their media allies are desperate to smear the opposition at a time when their increasingly-unpopular government is carrying out brutal cuts.
The Tory party and the Tory press are particularly hypocritical in this whole affair. Leading Tory figures regularly make racist comments, as do the right-wing media. One only has to look at the remarks and slurs made in the past few months by Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson in relation to Sadiq Khan and Barack Obama respectively to see clear examples of this. These representatives of the rich are not in the least worried about fighting prejudice; on the contrary, they foment and use prejudice to further the political aims of the ruling class. Their only motivation in accusing the Labour Party of anti-semitism is to undermine the Corbyn leadership.
And what of the suggestion that the ‘Left’ has a specific problem with anti-semitism? Sadly, anti-semitic prejudices do still exist within society. According to one study, over 50% of British people hold at least some anti-semitic views, whether consciously or not. In another study, 11% of people in Britain agreed with the statements that “Jews have too much power in the UK media and politics,” and “Jews have too much influence over the direction of UK foreign policy.” Where such prejudices manifest themselves on the fringes of the Left and the labour movement, as conspiracy theories and a twisted form of anti-capitalist discourse, they are simply a reflection of the fact that the Left is not completely immune from the prejudices existing within wider (capitalist, class) society.
However, whilst accurate data is hard to come by, there is nothing to suggest that anti-semitic attitudes are more prevalent in the Labour Party than elsewhere. In fact, a third study suggests that Labour voters are less likely to have such views than the general population, and indeed Tory voters.
Fortunately, the Labour membership can see right through the smear campaign that has being launched against Corbyn supporters, with only 5% of respondents to a recent YouGov poll stating that they believed the Labour Party to have any special anti-semitism problem. Importantly, 49% of members agreed with the statement that, “the Labour Party does not have a problem with anti-semitism and it has been created by the press and Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents to attack him”, whilst a further 35% believed that whilst there may be some anti-semitism in the party, this issue was nevertheless being cynically used by the media and the Blairites.
The hollowness of the accusations is shown by the fact that many of those accused of anti-semitism, such as Momentum activist Jackie Walker, have been reinstated. The Oxford University Labour Club, meanwhile, accused of institutional anti-semitism, was cleared by the Royall report.
Fight racism! Fight capitalism!
Violent anti-semitic attacks are on the rise in Europe. The Western-backed Ukrainian government includes far-right activists that praise Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. Jews feel increasingly unsafe across the continent as a result of the racist prejudices and bigotry whipped up by right-wing political parties and the press. The idea that the Jewish community’s primary nemesis in such a period is the Left and the Labour Party would be laughable if it were not so serious.
It is the duty of Marxists to fight against all forms of racism and bigotry, and to oppose prejudice wherever it rears its ugly head, as these ideas only serve to weaken the movement against capitalism. But we must also have a sense of proportion – far from there being a ‘new anti-semitism’ dominated by the Left, Jews face very old problems. Anti-semitism – along with all forms of racism, sexism, and LGBT discrimination – is, and always has been, primarily a weapon of the ruling class to turn the workers and poor against each other, whilst covering up the real criminals: the bankers, capitalists and bourgeois politicians who parasitically leach off the rest of us.
As for Rhea Wolfson, it is an absolute scandal that she has been blocked, and that the Blairites have stoked fears of anti-semitism to push their reactionary agenda. The latest development is the Rhea has transferred her Labour Party membership to her home constituency, where she will again seek the support the constituency for her NEC canditureship. Meanwhile, her previous constituency should hold another nominating meeting, giving her the opportunity to answer Murphy’s slanders.
We reject the abuse of the term anti-semitism in the right-wing crusade against Corbyn and his supporters, just as we decry and oppose genuine anti-semitism, which endanger not just Jews, but socialists and the labour movement as well. We stand for the creation of a socialist society, where at last the poison of racism will be drawn from its open wounds.