I learned my politics from Jewish socialists and campaigners. Most of them had lost family in the holocaust. Some were survivors themselves. Most were critical of Israel. Many saw it as a racist state. Some thought it should change its policies. All of them felt driven to speak out against injustices, to speak up even when the consequences might include vilification abuse or violence directed against them.
Like many young Germans I felt (and still feel) a passionate shame about what my country did, and a compulsion to oppose injustice, lest it grow so powerful that everyone fears to oppose it. Even as a white, technically middle-class man this has sometimes cost me. Like others, I have had my home targeted, excrement and razor blades put through my door, graffiti painted against me outside my home and on my estate, myself and my young child threatened, by British nazis. The kind of people who celebrated or denied the holocaust, desecrated Jewish burial grounds, left offal outside synagogues, stalked and harassed Jewish public figures, and attacked individuals physically where they could get away with it.
My sufferings and danger were token, but I state them because today I see people like me, in the Labour Party, being attacked and misrepresented in a true witch-hunt of the left. A witch-hunt which would have apalled those old Jewish campaigners, and which makes fighting real anti-semitism harder.
I was a member of the Labour Party years ago, and have worked politically alongside LP members most of my life. Most of this activity was in inner London, between 1980 and 2005, but I can say that exhibitions of anti-semitism – hatred or hostility towards Jewish people as Jews – were not something I saw within the movement at that time. That my Jewish comrades experienced anti-semitism in their lives I don’t doubt. But the commonest manifestation of anti-semitism in society came from brushes with those who had a more elitist view. The golf club brigade, the old boy network etc.
There is no doubt that this has changed and real anti-semitism is out there and more virulent than it has been. This is frightening and depressing and should be a call to arms for us to unite in action against it. And for that action to be effective, to have a serious and honest understanding of why this is happening now. Polarisation in the face of crisis, hardening of attitudes and policies in the middle east, conspiracy theories infecting millions not vaccinated by a progressive way of looking at the world, all amplified by the internet, would be just some of the reasons to look at.
Instead it looks as thought the term “anti-semitism” has been hijacked by a section of the political and media establishment as a way of attacking a progressive social-democratic left around Jeremy Corbyn, which these people see as a threat in various ways. The reason I am prepared for the inevitable attacks and accusations on me is because I cannot stand by silently and see good socialists who have devoted their lives to fighting bigotry, being put in the stocks like this.
And if the people who are attacking the left like this were not on such a spree they would see how this misuse of the term to include both socialist opponents of Israel’s policies, and anyone who tries to call out these show trials (like Chris Williamson) makes it so much harder to attack the real anti-semitism. The horrific abuse received by Luciana Berger, the unseen, under-reported attacks on cemeteries and synagogues, the virulent anti-semitic conspiracy theories on the web filling the vacuum in young minds. The stuff that we should be out there opposing, together. Abusing the term is shameful and trivialises the real suffering and danger that it signifies.