During last night’s Labour leadership debate on BBC Newsnight, the contest’s weakest candidate Emily Thornberry claimed progressive frontrunner Rebecca Long-Bailey had failed to push for tougher action regarding allegations of antisemitism in the party. And this desperate attack highlighted a key obstacle that Long-Bailey needs to overcome if she’s going to defeat her opponents.
The antisemitism debate continues
For years, the opponents of outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn have pushed the highly misleading idea of an antisemitism ‘crisis’ within the Labour Party; and mainstream media outlets have put out “misleading”, ‘distorted’, and “inaccurate” coverage exaggerating the scale of allegations. The scourge of antisemitism exists throughout society (though particularly on the far right), and Labour insists that antisemitism and all forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable. Accordingly, the party has taken consistently firm action against such racism in recent years. Allegations of antisemitism in the party reportedly relate to around 0.06% of the party’s 500,000+ members. And antisemitism among Labour supporters may have actually fallen under Corbyn’s leadership. Corbyn himself is a peace–prize winner who has fought against antisemitism all his life.
Corbyn and his supporters have nonetheless faced constant right-wing smears which have weaponised and amplified antisemitism allegations to undermine his public popularity. This is a tactic that the pro-Israel right has been using heavily in recent years to attack Corbyn and other left-wing allies of the occupied Palestinian people. A number of prominent Jewish left-wingers have vocally opposed this propaganda campaign.
But the smears aren’t going away just because Corbyn’s stepping down as Labour leader. The right-wing Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), for example, has now pushed all Labour leadership candidates to back a highly controversial list of demands. Many Jewish left-wingers have firmly opposed this divisive list – which, as Jewish Canary editor Emily Apple has written, essentially asks Labour to “ignore socialist Jews” and “Jews who don’t support the actions of the Israeli state”.
The smear campaign worked, and is still alive
At last night’s debate, Thornberry claimed that she and right-wing favourite Keir Starmer had frequently called for “regular reports to the shadow cabinet” about antisemitism allegations. She added “I don’t think Rebecca did”, and Long-Bailey responded: “I did, I think you’ll find”. Long-Bailey also referred to her support for the BoD’s recent demands, saying:
As leader I will be signing up to the 10 pledges. I would expect my shadow cabinet and all those within it, all our members and MPs within Parliament to follow my lead on that
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Out of all the leadership candidates, Long-Bailey has made the most progressive policy pledges so far. But her support for the BoD’s exclusionary demands has disappointed and alienated many Jewish and non-Jewish left-wingers. One petition (which almost 5,000 people had signed at the time of writing) asks Long-Bailey to change tack and reject the BoD pledges. A new poll, meanwhile, suggests that a large majority of Labour members and left-wingers believe that antisemitism allegations against the party have been “wildly exaggerated by the right-wing media and opponents of Jeremy Corbyn”.
It’s understandable that Long-Bailey wants to appeal to as many people as possible and avoid the smears that hit Corbyn. But she herself has expressed awareness of the need to fight back effectively against Britain’s hostile billionaire press and its establishment allies. Indeed, because of the key role this toxic coalition has played since 2015 in turning voters against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, she has argued that “a rebuttal unit” is necessary to resist the propaganda. Her support for the BoD’s demands, however, suggests capitulation rather than resistance.
Capitulating will only strengthen the right-wing assault
Long-Bailey’s left-wing policies are promising. But last night’s debate highlighted a big problem for her; despite her capitulating to the BoD demands, her opponents are still coming after her with charges of ‘being weak on antisemitism allegations’. And as long as she and others fail to fight back, the smear campaign will continue.
Capitulating didn’t help Long-Bailey to appease the right; it only helped to alienate people on the left whom she should be appealing to. So if she wants to turn things around, she desperately needs to start fighting back against the propaganda.
Featured image via screenshot, with additional content via Press Association
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