A new rule around combatting anti-Semitism has been adopted by the Labour Party at their conference in Brighton. Good, glad to hear it. Except that surrounding it was a heated battle that hasn’t abated within the party. On stage during the debate regarding the motion, several figures stood up any said the party was trying to police “thought crime” via the proposed rule change. This was after a fringe event on Israel earlier that day in which it was wondered whether or not Jews should be expelled from the party.
The attitude towards anti-Semitism the Left often adopts is mostly baffling in light of their sensitivities around any other form of racism or indeed, prejudice of virtually any other kind. Such a strict line is taken elsewhere that it makes the blind spot when it comes to Jews that much more inexplicable. People sharing gifs to express an emotion that feature people of colour are “digitally blackfacing”; any discussion around the role of Islam in terrorism perpetrated by Islamist terrorists is held up as Islamophobia; yet trying to clamp down on Holocaust deniers is “thought policing”.
I bring this up not to whack the Left with this as many others have and are continuing to do – I come in peace, just asking why they are so vigilant when it comes to other forms of racism, yet if it involves Jews the standards are completely relaxed. You must understand that to those outside of your bubble, it seems, well, kind of racist. For instance, imagine if at Labour fringe event, instead of someone saying we should let people question the Holocaust and how many numbers of Jews were or were not involved, someone said that the enslavement of black people was justified by the Old Testament and that as a result, it wasn’t all such a bad thing. You would all go completely mental – rightfully, I might add. So why is it okay to say terrible things about Jewish people? Why does it not provoke the same response?
If this is about Israel, fine let’s talk about Israel and some of the less than great things it sometimes does like grownups. But surely, given your sensitivities when it comes to other types of racial and religious sensitivities, you can see that throwing around words like “Zionist” and questioning aspects of the Holocaust aren’t really necessary and are in fact, detrimental to that discussion? You all have a bee in your bonnets about the Saudis (which is misdirected but on basic principle, I concur with) but if someone at a Labour fringe started critiquing the Saudis and the West’s relationship with them but then started to merge it into a general anti-Islam rant, saying all Muslims are terrorists and that because Saudi Arabia contains the holy city of Mecca, all Muslims are responsible for everything the Saudi government does, you wouldn’t stand for it for a moment. That person would be hounded out of the room within seconds. Again, rightfully so, but also again, why is the language around Jews that is similar in tone to such a thing allowed and even in some instances, cheered on?
In 2010, David Aaronovitch wrote a book called “Voodoo Histories”, which was all about conspiracy theories and how they always either start with anti-Semitism and come to include many others, or always include anti-Semitism eventually. At the time, although I could sympathise with much of what he said in the book, I thought he was overegging the pudding a little. Now, I see exactly what he meant and agree 100% with his thesis. For in the second decade of the 21st century, the British Left has enforced a political correctness around race that is applied with a rigour that is almost religious – except when it comes to Jews.
I’m not a Labour supporter, though I am broadly inclined in that direction. And I do think this is an important question that needs answering. I’m cheered, too, by the tone of your post and the inclusion of comment on Israel because there is a danger that Labour supporters who attack Israel are labelled as anti-Semitic (though some of them obviously are).
Having said all that, am I not right in saying that the actual amendment was about shifting away from being entitled to hold and express opinions provided no hate was incited or something, and towards saying opinions at odds with the party are fundamentally unacceptable? In which case, there is a valid discussion about thought crime (obviously that’s an exaggerated term, but you get the drift) which is nothing to do with (or doesn’t have to be anything to do with) who proposed the motion originally.
I don’t follow these things incredibly closely, and I may be completely wrong about this: it’s quite feasible that, as you imply, those objecting to the rule change are all, consciously or not, anti-Semitic; and it is really weird that the Left seems to struggle to untangle the threads of race from state in this one instance. But, if the goal is to understand why that is and how it can be stopped (and I’m not saying that should be your objective!), it doesn’t help to blur the lines in other ways.
Peter Hirst says
Are we in danger of confusing anti-racism with human rights? A consequence can be unintended as long as the intention is clear. Anti racism depends on those being targeted conforming with basic universal human rights.