On the surface, Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to attend a Passover Seder dinner on Monday night hosted by a Jewish community group in his North London constituency seems like sound political reasoning. This follows a tumultuous week whereby the Labour leadership has come under intense criticism for failing to extinguish ‘widespread’ anti-Semitism within its ranks.
However, when the group in question have expressed vehement opposition to mainstream Jewish organisations, described Israel as a ‘steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of’ and promulgated suggestions that claims of anti-Semitism represent cynical political schemes (a ‘bout of faux-outrage greased with hypocrisy and opportunism’ to be precise) aimed at discrediting the party, the Labour leader’s judgement will rightfully face scrutiny.
First, it is useful to outline the events of the ‘worst week on record of awful relations between the Labour party and the Jewish community’.
On Monday, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews organised an unprecedented demonstration in Parliament Square in protest over the ‘scourge of anti-Semitism’ within the party. This followed the resurfacing of a post on Facebook by Corbyn questioning the removal of a mural featuring anti-Semitic tropes in East London in 2012, which received widespread condemnation.
On Saturday, Christine Shawcroft, chair of Labour’s ‘disputes panel’, stood down following her decision to ‘resolve’ a dispute over Alan Bull and his posting of an article which denied the Holocaust – the ‘resolution’ being his reinstatement as a Labour councillor.
And finally, on Sunday, a report resulting from a two-month investigation by the Sunday Times into the 20 biggest pro-Corbyn Facebook groups uncovered details of anti-Semitic groups boasting 400,000 members, including 20 of Corbyn and John McDonnell’s staff, with posts praising Hitler and calling Jewish MP Luciana Berger an ‘absolute parasite’.
Indeed, it is the amalgamation of all these events that makes Corbyn’s decision all the more puzzling. Whilst issuing half-hearted apologies including for the ‘pain and hurt to Jewish members of our party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain’ and unconvincing statements asserting that Labour must ‘do better’ to lead the fight against anti-Semitism, his decision will only exacerbate feelings within the Jewish community that he does not take their concerns seriously.
Of course, there will broadly be two interpretations of Corbyn’s decision. First, that Corbyn is deliberately baiting the mainstream Jewish community and this represents yet another example of Corbyn’s uncomfortable relationships with unpalatable ‘friends’. Second, that Corbyn is simply engaging with one section of a diverse Jewish community who share his anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist ideology, and this represents another example of a Blairite, neoliberal plot to undermine the Labour leader and halt the inevitable ascent of a socialist government.
However, both interpretations are wrong. In reality this story is not, or rather should not, be about motivation. This is about Corbyn’s political judgement and the (un)wisdom of meeting such an organisation at such a critical moment for the party generally, and his leadership specifically.
In reality, this saga is characteristic of a leader who has been unable to learn from their mistakes, exhibits an inability to adapt to uncomfortable situations, leads only on the issues he is comfortable with and engages only with individuals who already agree with him.
This is Corbyn’s third year as Labour leader, yet it seems he has been unable to complete the transition from backbencher to prospective Prime Minister. Whether this saga impacts labour’s performance in the upcoming local elections remains uncertain, but make no mistake, Corbyn’s inco犀利士
mpetency is both undermining Labour’s relationship with majority Jewish opinion and weakening his political and moral authority.