By Diva Sinha, MSc Environment, Politics and Development
On 17 November, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was reinstated to the Labour Party. Corbyn was suspended in October after he commented that the scale of antisemitism within the party had been ‘overstated.’ This came after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released a report that detailed ‘unlawful harassment, including using antisemitic tropes and suggesting that complaints of antisemitism were fake or smears’ in the party under Corbyn. After his suspension, some British Jews might have felt vindicated, but the victory was short-lived, as in less than three weeks Corbyn’s suspension was lifted.
The decision to reinstate Corbyn is controversial at best. While Corbyn has a long history of being a champion of human rights, he has repeatedly been embroiled in situations which some in the British Jewish community have found to be alarming and discriminatory.
From laying wreaths to Black September terrorists, to referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends, expressing support for the Freedom of Humanity mural, as well as aligning himself with fringe organisations who openly call for the destruction of Israel, it was his comments on the report that were the last straw for many in the center of the party.
Corbyn has acknowledged that antisemitism is a problem within the party and has issued statements and apologised. He said: ‘People who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand: you do not do it in my name. You are not my supporters and have no place in our movement.’
Appearing on ‘This Morning,’ he was asked to apologise to the British Jewish community. He said, ‘anti-Jewish racism is wrong and vile and Labour would not tolerate any form of racism in the future Labour government.’ He added that internal procedures for dealing with antisemitism were under review and his doors were open to rabbis and other leaders from different faiths to discuss such challenging issues.
However, in a different interview, while discussing the issues surrounding antisemitism and Labour, Corbyn declined to apologise to the Jewish community on four occasions. He said that society is safe for all faiths.
The controversy surrounding Corbyn did not end with his return. Current Labour Leader Keir Starmer made it clear that while Corbyn has been welcomed back into Labour, he has not been reinstated in the parliamentary Labour party.
He tweeted, ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle antisemitism. In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn.’ He added, ‘I will keep this situation under review.’
Nevertheless, this does not sit well for those who believe in Labour and its ethics. For a party that has always stood for the working class and seeks to remove racism and discrimination from society, the reinstatement of a man who has overseen a painful period for Jewish people in the Labour party paints an unwelcoming image for anyone affected by antisemitism.
‘Corbyn’s suspension and subsequent reinstatement seem at odds with what the EHRC report addressed in its findings.‘
Corbyn’s suspension and subsequent reinstatement seem at odds with what the EHRC addressed in its report. Corbyn’s comments on the findings of the EHRC report speak to his unwillingness to acknowledge that antisemitism was becoming institutionalised and normalised. Corbyn has the right to defend himself, but offering an apology and acknowledgement of the problem after the report was published could have resulted in a peaceful resolution.
Dismissing complaints of antisemitism, refusing to acknowledge the blurring lines between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and treating the complaints made by Jewish Labour members as weapons of a smear campaign are Labour party attributes Starmer is keen to be seen leaving behind. In time, Corbyn may prove to be too much of a ghost of the party’s past to keep around.
Photo Caption: The former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn (Credit: Garry Knight).