A supposed problem
According to much of the British media, Labour has had an ‘anti-Semitism problem’ since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015. The more impartial headlines call it a controversy or a set of claims. Corbyn critics speak of a crisis while his supporters complain of a witch-hunt.
As with any claim of anti-Semitism, the accusers refer to one or both of two things: that the party is racist towards some or all Jews, or that it is critical of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, in ways that it would not be of any other country.
Why use that term?
For Labour to be racist toward Jews would be strange. One would think that such a tendency would alienate the Jews deeply embedded and strongly over-represented within Corbyn’s Labour. Three of the four founders of the Corbyn-backing Momentum organisation — John Lansmann (no stranger to denouncing people for racism), Adam Klug and James Schneider — are Jewish, as are prominent Corbynist activists like Max Shanly. Several organisations supporting Labour, especially since Corbyn became leader, are Jewish, such as Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas. None of these, nor any of the many signatories to public letters supporting Corbyn against his critics, seem to have found any troubling signs that they are in fact supporting a party that quietly despises them and all their kind, whether defined by faith, ancestry or anything else. Several Jewish leftists, not unconcerned with racism against their own group, have examined the claims in good faith and at great length and found no particular problem in Labour . Soon after the controversy first ‘erupted’ (though we can fairly doubt its spontaneity) following a re-tweet by Labour MP Naz Shah in 2016, Jamie Stern-Weiner wrote an article exhaustively demonstrating the alacrity with which the party excluded those who showed actual racial antipathy .
Nor is Labour’s opposition to Israel based on the country’s Jewishness. In a book claiming to explain ‘The Left’s Jewish Problem’ but actually almost entirely concerned with leftist opposition to the Israeli state, Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust showed clearly enough why leftists like Corbyn oppose Israel — because they see it as an outpost of Western imperialism and capitalism which oppresses, displaces and kills Palestinian Arabs who, until the last century, had dominated the region for centuries. The leftist position is consistent with their worldview, and that worldview is not founded on racial hatred.
If they were only referring to racism against Jews, opponents of anti-Semitism would use a more rational term like Judeophobia or anti-Jewishness. But those who defend Israel know that they are defending actions which they would reject if carried out by other, genuinely Western states and thus find it politically useful to use one term, ‘anti-Semitism’, which enables them to conflate criticism of the state with attacks on the people it claims to represent.  Read more