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The Labour Party’s Moral Dilemma

This is the story of how the institutions of British Jewry went to war with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. Corbyn is another feather in the wind of populism and a fragmentation of the old consensus and politesse. He was elected to the leadership by the party membership in 2015, and no one was more surprised than he. Between 1997 and 2010, Corbyn voted against his own party 428 times. He existed as an ideal, a rebuke to the Blairite leadership, and the only wise man on a ship of fools. His schtick is that of a weary, kindly, socialist Father Christmas, dragged from his vegetable patch to create a utopia almost against his will. But in 2015 the ideal became, reluctantly, flesh. Satirists mock him as Jesus Christ, and this is apt. But only just. He courts sainthood, and if you are very cynical you might say that, like Christ, he shows Jews what they should be. He once sat on the floor of a crowded train, though he was offered a first-class seat, possibly as a private act of penance to those who had, at one time or another, had no seat on a train.

A protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in Parliament Square, London, March 26, 2018 © Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images

A protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in Parliament Square, London, March 26, 2018 © Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images

When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, the British media, who are used to punching socialists, crawled over his record and found much to alarm the tiny Jewish community of 260,000. Corbyn called Hez­bollah “friends” and said Hamas, also his “friends,” were devoted “to long-term peace and social justice.” (He later said he regretted using that language.) He invited the Islamist leader Raed Salah, who has accused Jews of killing Christian children to drink their blood, to Parliament, and opposed his extradition. Corbyn is also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a former chair of Stop the War, at whose rallies they chant, “From the river to the sea / Palestine will be free.” (There is no rhyme for what will happen to the Jewish population in this paradise.) He was an early supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its global campaign to delegitimize Israel and, through the right of return for Palestinians, end its existence as a Jewish state. (His office now maintains that he does not support BDS. The official Labour Party position is for a two-state solution.) In the most recent general election, only 13 percent of British Jews intended to vote Labour.

Corbyn freed something. The scandals bloomed, swiftly. In 2016 Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, was suspended from the party for sharing a Facebook post that suggested Israel be relocated to the United States. She apologized publicly, was reinstated, and is now a shadow women and equalities minister. Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a political supporter of Corbyn, appeared on the radio to defend Shah and said, “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” For this comment, Livingstone was suspended from the party.

Jackie Walker, the former vice-chair of Momentum, a pressure group founded to support Corbyn, was also suspended from Labour, for writing on her Facebook page,

Millions more Africans were killed in the African Holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews . . . and many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade.

She was reinstated, then suspended again for asking, at a training session about anti-Semitism, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?” I paused on the “wonderful.”

Walker made this comment in September 2016. That was when I first saw public anti-Semitism with my own eyes. I was forty-two, and I had lived my whole life in Britain, but I had never seen it until Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. Now I hear it every day, but I am told I hear only my own racism, my own desire for special treatment, and my devotion to a creed of victimhood that is more essential to Judaism than God.

That September I went to Liverpool for a Momentum conference called “The World Transformed.” Founded by a Jew named Jon Lansman, Momentum exists to protect Jeremy Corbyn from his enemies in the Labour Party. I was there because I wanted to believe in the promise of a socialist utopia, since Britain is wilting under austerity. Who doesn’t want to believe in that? The World Transformed was my introduction to the truth that much of Labour—not all, not yet—is hostile to Jews if they are also Zionists, and that if I attempted to stay in Labour they would make me choose between the two. If you say you are not a Zionist—if you atone—you are acceptable. But you must offer your atonement. I went to a meeting called “Does the Labour Party Have a Problem with Anti-Semitism?” There were two Zionists and two anti-Zionists on the panel. The consensus was that the anti-Semitism crisis is a cynical political attack on Jeremy Corbyn because he supports the Palestinian cause. The rest is anecdotal. Then Jackie Walker of Momentum said, “Anti-Semitism is no more special than any other form of racism.” There was an ovation. I think it was the line they had been waiting for.

What did I hear in that small sentence? Perhaps I am oversensitive. My mother is a historian of the Holocaust. She has traveled around Europe since the Eighties, teaching people how to teach the Holocaust in the countries where it took place. I can tell you, without recourse to any reference book, that there isn’t a favorable mention of Jews in European literature until Gotthold Lessing’s The Jews, in 1749. I can tell you that when Edward I expelled the Jews from En­gland in 1290, a ship captain, having taken their money for passage, dumped some on a sandbank, and left them to die. I did not hear a passing remark. I heard a deep rebuke from Walker that spoke of general, and eternal, Jewish immorality: that Jewish concern for Jewish safety and for the memory of Jewish dead is something tainted. A black woman then asked about the “police genocide” of black people. I know black people die in police custody, and that is repulsive, but why should that minimize anti-Semitism? Does that mean the Labour Party does not have a problem with anti-Semitism? I wanted to ask whether, if I were to call for Jewish memorialization at a Black Lives Matter event, I would be considered a reasonable person or a racist. But I was too frightened.

A call for Ken Livingstone to be reinstated in the Labour Party—a call for being allowed, however obliquely, to call Nazis Zionists, and then, of course, sequentially, Zionists Nazis—was met with applause. I apologize for reading these calls by ovation, but ovation, all comics know, is how you read a room. I do not know why calling Jews Nazis is so irresistible when there are so many other words you could use for Israel’s self-defense, or genocidal tendencies; which phrase you use will be determined by the level of the Zionist infection (I joke) in your blood. The writer Howard Jacobson believes it is a subconscious response to the guilt that non-Jews carry for the Holocaust, which provides a tidy and retrospective absolution—if they did it to themselves, what is there to feel sorry for?—and this feels true to me. It is an unruly penance, and it is circular. European Jew hatred was born with the deicide myth on the rock of Golgotha in Jerusalem; that leftists now embrace the idea of the demonic Jew, if subconsciously, and it commits its crimes quite near to the rock of Golgotha still, is one of the great jokes of the age.

A demonstration for the Campaign Against Antisemitism outside the headquarters of the British Labour Party, London, April 8, 2018 © Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

A demonstration for the Campaign Against Antisemitism outside the headquarters of the British Labour Party, London, April 8, 2018 © Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016 the Labour leadership knew they had a problem, but they thought it was a political, not a moral, problem. They think that still. The anti-Semitism row was beginning to take attention away from plans for the socialist utopia. They asked Shami Chakrabarti, formerly the director of the human rights advocacy group Liberty, to conduct an inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. She concluded that the party is not overrun with anti-Semitism but found an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” (you could say that about most family dinners) and “too much clear evidence (going back some years) of minority hateful or ignorant attitudes” (the same). She suggested that comparisons between Zionists and Nazis not be used. She had no position on whether calls for an end to the Jewish state, however oblique, were anti-Semitic, and so her report was, essentially, worthless. But not for her. A few months later, she was, at Corbyn’s request, admitted to the House of Lords, and she is now the shadow attorney general, and one of the most powerful women in Labour.

The launch of the Chakrabarti report was like a scene from a Joseph Heller novel. If it didn’t summon the archetype of the lying, self-interested Jew, I would have laughed; no, that is why I did laugh. Marc Wadsworth, an anti-racist activist—they are all anti-racist activists and they all oppose anti-Semitism in all its forms—reportedly handed out a statement in support of Jeremy Corbyn:

We applaud the courage, resilience and determination shown by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the face of the orchestrated coup and character assassination launched against him by “Bitterite” MPs and others opposed to his socialist, internationalist and anti-war politics.

Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, was handed a copy of the statement by a reporter, allegedly because Wadsworth had refused to give one to her. Then he addressed the room and said, “I saw that the Telegraph handed a copy of a press release to Ruth Smeeth, MP, so you can see who’s working hand in hand.” (The Telegraph is a Conservative-supporting newspaper.) “The question is this: If you look around this room, how many African, Caribbean, and Asian people are there? We really need to get our house in order, don’t we?” It was the same low hum as I heard at the Momentum conference: Jewish anxiety is self-serving—look to your unfortunate comrades—and anti-Semitism is like deep space. Everyone believes in it, no one has ever seen it, except anecdotally or on the far right. My own fear is that the left will provide the judgment, and the far right the punishment.

The year 2017 was when people began to arm themselves with words and Wikipedia wisdom. The term “Jewsplaining” appeared on social media, as did “ant Semitism,” much too often. I chaired an event at the Henley Literary Festival. Henley is a village by the Thames in Oxfordshire that is moneyed, attractive, and sleek. There is a famous regatta here each summer. From the platform I accused the Labour Party of harboring Jew haters. Afterward a pair of Labour supporters—also moneyed, attractive, and sleek—approached me. They did not ask me why I had accused the party, because anti-Semitism is the only racism that must not be defined by those who experience it. Instead they said: (a) They had never seen anti-Semitism in Labour, so who cares what a Jew says? (b) What about Islamophobia? and (c) What about Israel?

I went to the Labour Party conference in September 2017, in Brighton, on the south coast. It was filled with Palestine Solidarity Campaign lanyards, and accusations—and denials—of anti-Semitism. The atmosphere was so bad that the local Labour council leader said he would face questions about whether the conference should be allowed in Brighton again, but he was brushed aside as a Blairite, a traitor, and a liar, and he later resigned. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi spoke on the floor of the conference about her anger that as a Jew her right to live in Israel should be “privileged” over that of Palestinians. “Comrades,” she said, “I’m not an anti-Semite and, conference, this party does not have a problem with Jews.” What was interesting is not what she said—her Jewish identity is her own, and she must e­xpress it as she wishes—but the response to what she said. It was, again, a great ovation.

That week a small group of Jews launched Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) in a ballroom by the sea. They say they are not anti-Zionists, but I wonder if this is tactical; that they are not anti-Zionist, would, I feel, come as a great surprise to anyone who was at the meeting, at which Jew after Jew rose to atone for the crime of Israel and to denounce false claims of anti-Semitism. I asked if JVL was anti-Zionist, but I did not get a clear answer. Instead I heard about people being on a journey, but it was clear where that journey should end—in anti-Zionism. Of an endgame in Israel/Palestine I was told only of a vague desire for a “rainbow nation,” as if demonic can be a color in a rainbow.

The socialist filmmaker Ken Loach was also present at the launch of JVL. In 1987 he directed the late Jim Allen’s play Perdition, which Allen called “the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust.” I did not know it was a myth, but Allen went on: “Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist.”

Perdition is a monstrous libel. It is based on the Kastner Affair, in which Rudolf Kastner, a Hungarian Jew, made a bargain with the Nazis that saved 1,684 Jews in 1944. For some, this is considered definitive proof that Zionists never cared for Jews but were instead collaborators in their murders. (Loach, through his lawyer, said he does not agree with this characterization of Perdition and insisted that neither he nor the play is anti-Semitic.) As I researched this article I was told that Zionists opposed the Kindertransport, which brought children to safety in En­gland—a few merely said they would prefer the children to be resettled in Palestine—that Jews endorsed the Nuremberg Laws, and that this is proof of the Nazi character of Zionism; and that by breaking the boycott of Nazi Germany, Zionists paved the road to Auschwitz themselves. In his play, Allen wrote, “the Zionist knife in the Nazi fist”; Israel was “a nation built on the pillar of Western guilt and subsidized by American dollars”; “to save your hides, you [Jews] practically led them to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”

Loach was welcomed with cheers of joy.

In the spring of 2018 British Jews—or what I must, post-JVL, call the mainstream Jewish community—held a protest against Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament Square. Called by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, it was unprecedented. The trigger was paint. In 2012 Corbyn saw a photograph of a mural by the artist Mear One on Facebook. It showed a cabal of bankers, some of whom appeared to be Jewish because they looked like
medieval anti-Semitic woodcuts. When it was ordered to be removed from its wall in Brick Lane, Mear One was distraught. Corbyn condoled with him and wrote under the post: “You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.” Who cares for your spelling if your heart is pure?

Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP, tweeted the post and Corbyn’s comment and asked him to explain himself. His supporters thought this unfair. Why should a political leader take responsibility for something he wrote six whole years ago? Corbyn offered a partial apology—“I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of anti-Semitism,” he wrote—but the protest was held, and I went. It was rare, I thought, to see the very distinct tribes of British Jewry, which have tended until now to bicker in private, as if their disagreements were the first Mrs. Rochester shackled in her attic, gathered together. Our communion is internal, and often reluctant, and fraught with the pain of memory. There are the ultra-Orthodox in their eighteenth-century dress, pale and blinking in the twenty-first-century daylight, refusing to shake hands with women; bourgeois liberal and conservative Jews with anxious faces, in cashmere and silk; working-class Jews from Essex—the potentially still-salvageable proletariat, if you are a leftist. They were joined by Labour and Conservative MPs—some Jewish, some not—and a flurry of journalists, attracted by the multiple conflicts on display: left versus right, Jew versus non-Jew, Jew versus Jew. The media appeared so surprised by the existence of anti-Semitism, I wondered whether any of them had ever read Chaucer, Dickens, Trollope, or Shakespeare.

There was a fight with signage. A man holding a sign that said end israeli apartheid was surrounded and heckled; he seemed delighted with this piece of Jew baiting. He was answering the question that the rally had posed: Over here, Jews, learn your true nature! Another sign that said no to antisemitism was placed over his sign. The signs tussled, woodenly, in a proxy war, fought with signs. “Put your Yasir [Arafat] scarf on,” said one man. “His brain got pickled by left-wing politics,” said another. The man with the end israeli apartheid sign spoke: “They say you are the Chosen People of God? Is that right?” He had, either deliberately or mistakenly, bored right down to the original sin of the Jews, more original even than the murder of a god: separateness, and a desire for separateness. If you were terribly cynical, you would say that we invented racism, and that being heckled by signage is, among other things, our punishment. “No,” said another, in a loud, strained voice. “We were chosen to receive the law! Wrong answer! You’ve got no idea! Ignorance!” I thought the man speaking of receiving the law was actually a lawyer. He continued to say, again in the loud, strained voice, as if addressing people beyond his hearing, or even history, for this is not speech but testimony: “This man is causing alarm and distress. Will you arrest him under section four of the Public Order Act?” I do not know what desk he had left but he looked distraught, this functional man with his functional life, now believing himself in great peril in the cradle of a liberal democracy on a warm spring day. The veneer of civilization is thin, and it is getting thinner.

There was a formal counterdemonstration. It was called by JVL, who claimed that the rally was politically motivated and prompted by “cynical selective outrage.” They submitted, politely, to an interview. Graham Bash, a Jewish socialist and the partner of Jackie Walker, said: “There is more than one Jewish voice, and those who seek to claim a monopoly for the Jewish community do not speak the truth. There are hundreds here who represent thousands of Jewish socialists who don’t buy the lies that the Labour Party is anti-Semitic.” His figures are wrong. Anti-Zionist Jews are a fringe movement who will not publish their membership numbers, and 93 percent of British Jews say that Israel forms part of their Jewish identity.

An Orthodox Jewish man approached a woman holding a sign that read informed jews know that palestine is occupied. “Chag same’ach,” he said. It is the greeting for a Jewish festival, in this case Passover, which was a few days away. He repeated it, and said so confidingly, so gently, that I wondered whether he was Mossad, “Do you know what I am saying?” She replied in Yiddish: “Shame on you.”

A few days after the rally, Jeremy Corbyn went to the Jewdas Passover seder. Jewdas says it represents “radical voices for the alternative Jewish Diaspora.” They campaign against Israel with gnomic despair by providing a fact sheet that explains how to criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic. They recited this prayer at Passover in 2017: “Please, God, smash the state of Israel. Smash it in the abundance of your love.” Corbyn brought some maror he grew in his vegetable patch as a gift.

Corbyn’s office said that the seder was in his constituency, that he was invited by a constituent, and that they did not even know he was going. Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! Never at the scene of the crime! Non-Jewish opponents of Jeremy Corbyn attacked his attendance at the seder as an insult to the Jewish community, and Jewish opponents of Jeremy Corbyn attacked Jewdas as an insult to the Jewish community.

Jewdas issued a statement about the 2018 rally:

It is the work of cynical manipulations by people whose express loyalty is to the Conservative Party and the right wing of the Labour Party. . . . This is about people of a certain age, class and political persuasion who have no idea how to function in a system where every political party isn’t pandering to their views exactly.

According to Jewdas, such people think

that only the Jews who agree with them are Jews. And, because only the Jews who agree with them are really Jews, the whole community is unanimously united behind the vomit-inducing “progressive Zionist consensus”? . . . . We refuse to follow the script that has been prepared for us. . . . Fuck you all.

They then auctioned the maror in aid of refugees.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Labour, during a campaign rally at London’s Union Chapel, June 7, 2017 © Leon Neal/Getty Images.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Labour, during a campaign rally at London’s Union Chapel, June 7, 2017 © Leon Neal/Getty Images.

Iam fascinated by Jackie Walker, the daughter of a Jamaican mother of Jewish descent and a Jewish-American father, and a committed anti-Zionist. I follow her on social media; I read her memoir, Pilgrim State; I went to her play, The Lynching, which describes her mother’s life—a shocking story of racism, which ended in isolation and early death—and her own, particularly since she was suspended from Labour. The combination of these tales, and the fact that Walker speaks often in her mother’s voice, leads me, consciously or not, to the insinuation that the Jews—or a similar evil—destroyed her mother. She says not. I asked her. The door to Walker’s psychology is closed to me, utterly.

Even so, we had long, agonized conversations about anti-Semitism and Israel. She told me, as she did the first time I met her, in 2016, that Israel is a racist state. I am keen to understand Walker. Perhaps it is because that even among a tribe of outsiders, her status is peculiarly isolated, and she is terribly abused by some Zionist Jews. Perhaps I cannot let her go, let her stop being Jewish, stop being my cousin; let her carry the burden, too! To me she is warm and emotional, and I came to like her very much, even if I felt that she couldn’t hear me: sometimes I wondered whether she is just another narcissistic and intractable Jewish female, like so many I have loved.

“Jews are not excluded from the Labour Party,” she told me. “They are extremely well represented at all levels of the party. It has some people who through ignorance or political sloppiness or racism say bigoted things at times. That is it.”

When I say that the prewar Jews of Berlin were rich but were still murdered, she says I could be reported to the Labour compliance unit for anti-Semitism for saying that: because I didn’t mention the Jewish proletariat who also lived in Berlin. My main point—that wealth has never prevented the persecution of Jews, since it is, for some, the root of Jewish evil—is forgotten.

Later she told me, “Presenting anti-­Semitism as the almost total focus of racism in this country in the last two years is feeding into antiblack racism and Islamophobia. Why aren’t you concerned about that?” What makes her think that I am not concerned? “What I perceive is that a minority with a lot more voice than blacks or Muslims have have taken up all the space.” So there is a limited space for justice in the world, and Jews took it all.

I told her that I thought the people in Parliament Square were frightened. She replied, “How do you think people of African descent feel? How do you think I as a black person feel when you say that to me? When I look at the Jewish community I see a community of relative privilege and power. How do you think that makes me feel? It makes me feel like shit.” She continued, “That [black] guy three weeks ago died in police custody. When did the last Jewish person die in police custody?” I don’t know. I have no corpse to present in evidence.

In an act of sublime political opportunism, Sajid Javid—now the home secretary—called a debate on anti-Semitism in Parliament and asked Corbyn to “explain why you defend the world’s oldest hatred.” If Javid were a progressive, he would know that the world’s oldest hatred is toward women.

Corbyn did not speak, but he did attend part of the debate. I watched from the gallery. It was a massacre, and it was done by Jewish Labour women.

Luciana Berger, who is the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, told the House, “I make no apology for holding my own party to a higher standard. Anti-racism is one of our central values and there was a time not long ago when the left actively confronted anti-Semitism. . . . Yet, in 2018, within the Labour Party, anti-Semitism is now more commonplace, more conspicuous, and more corrosive. That is why I have no words for the people purporting to be both members and supporters of our party and using the hashtag JC4PM who have attacked me in recent weeks for my comments, for speaking at the rally against anti-Semitism, and for questioning the remarks of those endorsing the anti-Semitic mural. They say I should be deselected, and they have called it all a smear. . . . There are people who have accused me of having two masters. They have said that I am Tel Aviv’s servant and called me a paid-up Israeli operative. . . . They have called me Judas, a Zio­nazi, and an absolute parasite, and they have told me to get out of this country and go back to Israel.”

Corbyn didn’t turn to look at her, but he applauded reluctantly, like a man who was bored at a play. On the front bench they sat bundled into themselves, defensive, angry. Sometimes Corbyn nodded, methodically; but then I have never seen him excited, even when he is happy. The wind seems to blow through him. I think that is why he is loved. Sometimes he tapped his file. When Berger was finished speaking, he left the chamber.

Later Ruth Smeeth of Stoke-on-Trent North spoke: “I feel I must inform you that I am not a CIA spy. I am not a Mossad agent, nor am I an MI5 operative. . . . Let me also make clear—just in case I need to say it—that I am not, and nor have I ever been, a lizard, transdimensional or otherwise.” She wasn’t joking. She has been called all those things, sometimes in combination. Conspiracy theories are fashionable in these ponds. A Palestinian newspaper has reported that Zionists employed a dolphin to spy on Hamas.

“I have,” she said, “been the target of a campaign of abuse, attempted bullying, and intimidation from people who would dare to tell me that people like me have no place in the party of which I have been a member for over twenty years, and which I am proud to represent on these benches. My mum was a senior trade union official; my granddad was a blacklisted steelworker who became a miner. I was born into our movement as surely as I was born into my faith.”

She read aloud some of the messages she has received: “Ruth Smeeth is a Zionist—she has no shame—and trades on the murder of Jews by Hitler—whom the Zionists betrayed.” “Ruth Smeeth must surely be traveling first class to Tel Aviv with all that slush. After all, she’s complicit in trying to bring Corbyn down.” “Hashtag JC4PM Deselect Ruth Smeeth ­ASAP. Poke the pig—get all Zionist child-killer scum out of Labour.”

“Weaponizing anti-Semitism!” she said, in a flat and angry voice. “My family came to this country fleeing the pogroms in the nineteenth century. Of our relatives who stayed in Europe, none survived. We know what anti-Semitism is; we know where it leads. How dare these people suggest that we would trifle with something so dangerous, so toxic, and so formative to our lives and those of our families? How dare they seek to dismiss something so heinous and reduce it to the realm of political point scoring?” The media reported this debate as something new and shocking, something that should fell Corbyn. Perhaps it would have, once. But nothing is shocking these days.

In May 2018 there was a local election. Labour expected to turn London as red as its symbolic rose. It did not. In Barnet, a northern suburb with a 15 percent Jewish population, the council went Conservative. In one polling district with a high percentage of Jewish people, Golders Green, the turnout was above 70 percent. (In general, less than 40 percent vote in local elections.) Canvassers reported Jewish doors being shut in Labour faces.

Ken Livingstone was not expelled from Labour for obliquely blaming Jews for the Holocaust. He resigned after a two-year suspension, and Corbyn said that he was sad but that it was the right decision. Livingstone insists he “never said Hitler was a Zionist” and that he “never made crass Nazi comments,” and instead “merely referred to the agreement reached between the Nazi government and German Zionists in 1933.” He continues to campaign for Jeremy Corbyn.

As I finished this article, a friend reported that a Jewish woman in North London was told, by her neighbor, that Jews were colonizing North London as they colonized Palestine. All this, now, feels normal.

In July there was an ending of sorts. It was always essential that Labour define what it believes anti-Semitism is, and it did. It chose not to fully adopt the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance guidelines on anti-Semitism, instead diluting, or omitting, some of the examples. “To accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide than to the interests of their own nations” is now “wrong” rather than likely to be anti-Semitic. Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany—here called “historic misconduct,” and I paused on that too—is anti-Semitic if “evidence of anti-Semitic intent” can be found, when presumably saying, “I am a lifelong anti-racist” means it won’t be found. “Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is left out and replaced by a section acknowledging the Jewish right to self-determination but with the caveat that “discussion of the circumstances of the foundation of the Israeli state” are legitimate. “Requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is replaced by this: “It is not racist to assess the conduct of Israel—or indeed of any other particular state or government—against the requirements of international law or the standards of behaviour expected of democratic states.”

The Jewish Labour Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Jewish Leadership Council condemned the new guidelines, and the editor of the Jewish Chronicle called the Labour Party “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Sixty-eight rabbis wrote to the Guardian to complain about the guidelines, and Labour decided to consult with the Jewish community and to delay a final vote until the fall. Even so, the drama mounted. Margaret Hodge, a veteran Labour MP whose grandmother was killed in the Holocaust, and who fought off a threat from the British National Party in her own constituency in 2010, called Jeremy Corbyn “an anti-Semite and a racist” behind the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons. He said: “I’m sorry you feel like that.” Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! The Labour Party said it would bring disciplinary charges against Hodge, but dropped the charges after she excused herself in the Guardian:

A definition of sexual harassment agreed without the explicit endorsement of women would be unconscionable. A definition of Islamophobia that was rejected by the Muslim community would never be entertained. Yet a definition that rolls over the sensibilities of Jews who are the victims of this racism is somehow OK.

I asked Jewdas what they thought of all this, but they didn’t reply, presumably being too busy with their stall at the Edinburgh Anarchist Feminist Bookfair.

As this piece goes to press, there are developments almost daily. It was revealed, that, in 2010, on Holocaust Memorial Day, Corbyn hosted an event at parliament called “The Misuse of the Holocaust for Political Purposes.” Corbyn has since apologized. It was also revealed that, in 2011, Corbyn and John McDonnell tried to rename Holocaust Memorial Day as Genocide Memorial Day—Never Again for Anyone. The Labour Party now says, “It is not our policy to seek a name change for this important commemoration.”

A tape was leaked from a Labour Party meeting, in which Peter Willsman, an ally of Corbyn, said in angry tones, “They can falsify social media very easily, and some of these people in the Jewish community support Trump. They’re Trump fanatics. . . . So I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up daft information without any evidence or support. So I think we should ask the seventy rabbis [he meant sixty-eight, but it is true that seventy rabbis condemned Jesus], Where is your evidence of severe and widespread anti-Semitism in this party? Let me ask you a question: How many people in this room have seen anti-Semitism in the Labour Party? Put your hands up.” Willsman is a member of the disputes panel, and he will have seen evidence of anti-Semitism. He apologized and referred himself for equalities training. Meanwhile a Labour councillor in Scotland was suspended for suggesting that the whole crisis was orchestrated by Mossad, and it was reported that, at a Momentum meeting in Liverpool, the accusation that Zionist agents are subverting British democracy received a vast ovation.

It was also reported that a Conservative member of Barnet Council wants to confiscate Jeremy Corbyn’s vegetable patch.

It is impossible to say whether Jeremy Corbyn will survive the year. He wrote in the Guardian in August, “Driving anti-Semitism out of the party for good, and rebuilding trust, are our priorities.” But for me, Howard Jacobson’s circle has closed. How Leon Trotsky would have laughed!

‘s most recent article for Harper’s Magazine, “City of Gilt,” appeared in the March 2017 issue.

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