OPINION: With Jeremy Corbyn off the hook, Labour is again a hostile environment for Jews

‘You kick your left-wing leader out, you let your left-wing leader in . . . ” It’s been another action-packed week of Labour hokey-cokey as the party veers inextricably towards civil war over what to do with Jeremy Corbyn.

The latest sucker punches in this internecine struggle began landing on Tuesday when, after five years of stubborn refusal, the party finally agreed to fast-track an antisemitism disciplinary case. The only problem was the subject of this particular case was one Jeremy Corbyn.

The former leader had been kicked out the party only three weeks earlier for denigrating the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report that found Corbynite Labour guilty of discriminating against Jewish people. With all the grace and timing of a Jacqui Smith samba routine, Corbyn called the EHRC’s findings an “overstated political smear”. It was a show of peerless chutzpah, making it sound for all the world as if he was the true victim of Labour antisemitism.

Faster than Ken Livingstone could say “Hitler supported Zionism” (and that’s pretty fast), Corbyn was suspended by Keir Starmer, who launched his leadership back in April on a platform of “removing the stain of antisemitism” inherited from his predecessor. Corbyn, he said, was “part of the problem”.

Before this week it seemed Labour was finally getting its house in order, with Corbyn suspended until the party had an EHRC-approved disciplinary process in place — one free from political manipulation.

The latest sucker punches in this internecine struggle began landing on Tuesday when, after five years of stubborn refusal, the party finally agreed to fast-track an antisemitism disciplinary case. The only problem was the subject of this particular case was one Jeremy Corbyn.

The former leader had been kicked out the party only three weeks earlier for denigrating the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report that found Corbynite Labour guilty of discriminating against Jewish people. With all the grace and timing of a Jacqui Smith samba routine, Corbyn called the EHRC’s findings an “overstated political smear”. It was a show of peerless chutzpah, making it sound for all the world as if he was the true victim of Labour antisemitism.

Faster than Ken Livingstone could say “Hitler supported Zionism” (and that’s pretty fast), Corbyn was suspended by Keir Starmer, who launched his leadership back in April on a platform of “removing the stain of antisemitism” inherited from his predecessor. Corbyn, he said, was “part of the problem”.

Before this week it seemed Labour was finally getting its house in order, with Corbyn suspended until the party had an EHRC-approved disciplinary process in place — one free from political manipulation.

The trouble is, when it comes to the inner workings of the Labour Party there’s often a world of difference between how things seem and how they really are beneath the surface. That’s why on Tuesday morning Corbyn, a man as incapable of a backwards step as a donkey on a tightrope, issued a statement to “clarify” that he didn’t think the EHRC’s findings were a “political smear” after all. He’s apparently now firmly of the opinion that antisemitism under his leadership had been “neither exaggerated nor overstated”. It was a choreographed and deeply cynical move.

The purpose of this non-apology apology soon became clear when the left-leaning National Executive Committee (NEC) announced Corbyn’s suspension had been lifted — a mere 19 days after it was imposed. For the sake of appearance the NEC waited until eight hours after Corbyn’s sorry-not-sorry to deliver its verdict — plenty of time for the adjudication panel to bash out a perfunctory press release, pop the kettle on and binge watch The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix.

Corbyn had hitched a ride on the last chopper out of Saigon, reinstated by the same rotten system declared dysfunctional by the EHRC. The same rotten system that for five years took great delight in waiting months, even years, to settle open-and-shut cases. It’s been a year-and-a-half since the former NEC member Pete Willsman, who said Israel invents claims of antisemitism, was suspended. His case is yet to be heard, along with at least 130 others.

Why was such a high-profile case allowed to be expedited before the party’s processes had been revamped? And what must the EHRC make of all this? It must wonder if its microphone was on mute during its Zoom call with Labour HQ last month.

Yesterday Starmer launched stage one of yet another damage limitation exercise by refusing to restore the Labour whip to Corbyn. Next weekend will be stage two — a speech to a Jewish Labour Movement — which was expected to be another smooth step on the road to rebuilding trust with the Jewish community. Now Corbyn is back, whipless but crucially off the hook, Starmer’s route to making Labour a welcoming environment for Jews once more is not so clear cut.

First published by The Times.



Categories: Opinion

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