The Corbyn crisis that was, remains a warning to world Jewry
By Fionn Grunspan
In less than 5 years (2015-2020), Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour Party leader had come close to driving Jews from the UK. Corbyn’s remoulding of the Labour Party energised antisemitism, that echoed the attempted march of the Black-Shirts (British-Nazis) through Jewish area of London (The Battle of Cable Street, 1936). Labour would later be found guilty of illegally harassing British-Jews by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) more specifically, “serious failings in the Labour party leadership in addressing antisemitism and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints”. While disaster for Jews was averted, the fight against Labour’s antisemitism, left deep scars among British Jews.
So who was this unsettling menace to British Jewry who could so easily have been Britain’s Prime Minister?
Known for his antisemitic extremism since his introduction into political life, Phillip Kleinman, in his 1982 ‘Tearing the heart from a Labour man’ reveals Corbyn proudly asserted his support for the destruction of Israel. When it comes to the perception of Jews, the aspiring British PM could just as easily have shared the proverbial stage with the likes of the National Front. As Corbyn over time gained in popularity among the far-left, he was also gaining attention for his wide-ranging support for terror groups.
Corbyn had no problem describing Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends” during a Parliamentary meeting in 2009 and was later described by former British Prime Minster David Cameron in 2015 as “security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising and Britain-hating.”
Corbyn championed for the release of two Palestinian terrorists who in 1994, had carried out car bombings against the London Israeli Embassy and the United Jewish Appeal Charity in Finchley. The terrorists were linked to the terror-group Hezbollah and had injured 20 in the attack. Corbyn would not only support their cases for appeal but raise their appeals during debates in the British Parliament. He frequently denounced Zionism – the belief in the right of Israel to exist – over his political career.
Corbyn caused a stir when it was revealed that he had in a 2013 speech – caught on video – claiming that Zionists in Britain “don’t understand English irony”.
He appeared to be portraying Jews as an alien culture.
Following Jeremy Corbyn emerging as Leader of the Labour Party in 2015, the antisemitism within the Labour Party that had been largely confined to the fringes, suddenly came to the fore. The militant political organisation ‘Momentum’, founded to campaign for Corbyn to become Labour Leader, would become one of the most successful organisations within British Politics. It could rally and deploy thousands of activists at great speed, sending activists to campaign in marginal political areas.
A catastrophe had befallen British-Jewry with the question being asked:
“Was the political-battle for Labour lost?”
Love’s Labour’s Lost
With Labour under Corbyn, Jewish activists within the party, soon began to experience antisemitism. They would be manoeuvred out of the party as they came under repeated threats and attacks. The situation worsened with the approach of the 2017 national election, causing concern bordering on panic among British Jewry with repeated condemnation from Jewish leaders.
This was exacerbated when the 2017 General Election resulted in a hung Parliament, with no party winning an overall majority but Labour gaining seats. Panic in British-Jewry turned into deep fear of a serious existential threat.
Labour would experience a significant further radicalism and militancy, as Jews within the party received death threats. Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP, would receive threats against her life and would have to attend the 2018 Labour Party Conference with police protection!
Apart from Luciana Berger, Jewish politicians that came under most of the intense harassment were prominent female Jewish politicians such as Ruth Smeeth, Margaret Hodge, and Louise Ellman. As Jews were forced to leave the Labour Party under threats and harassment, walkouts and condemnation began from Jewish allies.
Fear sets In
When the 2019 election was called in October 2019 for the 12th of December, a deep sense of foreboding was felt within British Jewry. In September 2019,polling showed that 47% of Jews were seriously considering leaving the UK, if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minster. High-profile Jewish personalities spoke of fleeing the UK, such as celebrity doctor, Dr. Ellie Cannon on social media.
The Jewish Chronicle on the 8th of November 2019, published an appeal on its front page not addressed to its usual readership of Jews but “To all our fellow British citizens” to vote against Labour’s antisemitism.
On the 8th of December 2019, a rally in Parliament Square against Labour antisemitism led by British-Jewish actress Tracy-Ann Oberman, produced an unexpected result. Among the speakers was Satish Sharma, of the National Council of Hindu Temples, who condemned Labour’s antisemitism. Only 12 days earlier, the Hindu Council of Britain had quietly condemned antisemitism and Hindu-phobia within Labour.
The British-Hindu community broke the political boycott imposed on British Jews to stand in solidarity against Labour’s antisemitism. Described as a political ‘blow’ for Labour, the British Hindu community of over one million, turned its back on Labour and stood with the Jewish community. When the results came out on Friday the 13th of December 2019, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour suffered one of its worst general election defeats in living memory with dozens of seats that the party had held on to for decades falling to the Conservatives.
Fiends & Friends
While Jeremy Corbyn’s War against British Jewry had failed, concerns over antisemitism nevertheless remained. The antipathies towards Jews were deeply imbedded. The tragedy was that a party that had once prided itself on its numerically strong Jewish membership, had forced their ‘expulsion’. The disturbing legacy of Corbyn was its revelation and warning how AGAIN anti-Semites can grab control of power. This is even more concerning as antisemitism continues to find increasing traction across Europe.
During our recent dark days, we learned who are our friends and who will stand with us against hatred. British Jews found an unknown ally in the Hindu community who had likely saved British Jews from feeling forced to leave the UK had Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minster.
It was a close save!
About the writer:
Fionn Grunspan is a sign language translator previously working for a number of charities. Since being a community teacher and activist within his Jewish community from his mid-twenties, Grunspan today, through his “Clubhouse Page”, promotes news and information about the Jewish world, focusing on Israel. For reasons of personal safety and security, the writer declined to have his photograph appear.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).