Losing the moral compass

JVL Introduction

We recently posted an analysis by Robert Cohen, dissecting the sub-standard and morally-challenged analysis that the once-respected is now deploying to portray anti-Zionism as antisemitism.

In that context the article below by a Jewish Labour Party member, recently published (anonymously) in Labour Briefing, is worth reading. It highlights Sacks’ increasingly destabilised moral compass, this time in the form of ungrounded attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.

The article also shows other bigwigs rushing to abandon their intellectual and moral rigour…

Insulting Corbyn

Labour Briefing
March 2019

For at least 6 months there has been an escalating arms race in progress. It is as if there were a competition – to see who can make the most outrageous attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s probity and character. Of course that prize has now been awarded to Tom Bower who has scraped the bottom of the barrel for his new book Dangerous Hero. But dishonourable mention should go to the earlier trail-blazers.

For decades Tom Bower has made his living writing unauthorised biographies of notorious characters, many of whom merited the treatment – Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black stand out in a long list. But he is an equal opportunity, one could say opportunistic, muck-raker and Corbyn’s evident probity offers no defence against half-truths and guilt by association from Bower.

But Bower had predecessors in the hyperbole business, with more elevated intellectual and public standing than he has. That means both that their words carry more weight, and that they might therefore be expected to weigh their words with some care. However….

I will start with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi for 22 years from 1991. In his earlier years he was respected both as a significant intellectual and a progressive force within orthodox Judaism. But in August last year he said that some coments by Corbyn at a public meeting had been ‘divisive’ and ‘hateful’.

Sacks was talking about an off-the-cuff remark by Corbyn about two very upfront pro-Israeli activists who have often disrupted meetings about Palestine. They had given the Palestinian Ambassador a hard time after a speech of his, whose subtlety of argument they had failed to grasp. Corbyn’s comment described them as Zionists, and suggested that they didn’t understand English irony. This had then been interpreted and inflated as Corbyn saying that all Jews were arguably un-English! For Sacks this was beyond ‘divisive’ and ‘hateful’. It was, he said, “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech”!

There is inter-faith consensus on the question of Jeremy Corbyn. This January Lord Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, put it more obliquely in an interview for an Israeli network when he said that “his statements can give the impression that he is, deep-down, somebody who doesn’t like Jewish people”. There is a delicacy about this formulation; however, translated into normal speech he is saying that Corbyn is an antisemite.

Carey’s attack was less than a week after a broadside from Deborah Lipstadt, the US historian who famously brought down David Irving over his holocaust denial. Her take was that “No respectable politician would associate with anyone who used the ‘n’ word. The same should apply to Corbyn over antisemitism.” I think we are supposed to presume that Corbyn has been caught using the ‘z’ word. Or maybe she is saying that Corbyn has associated with people who do that. Either way, we should treat him as having dirty hands.

In fact that was a bumper week for Corbyn-bashing. Between these two denunciations we had Vernon Bogdanor, previously a generally respected emeritus Professor of Politics and Government, and expert on constitutional issues. In his lengthy article for the Jewish Chronicle he trained his fire on the direction in which Corbyn is taking the Labour Party rather than directly at the man himself. But that is a distinction without a real difference.

Bogdanor’s article stokes paranoid fears. A Corbyn government “would undermine their [Jews’] right to equal citizenship. Jews would be subject to further abuse and would be deterred from expressing support for Israel…. A Corbyn government would spread the lesson that Jews are not quite like other citizens, that they are in Britain on sufferance, as it were, to be tolerated as long as they are prepared to suppress their views.” But what evidence does he offer? It is the opinions of those other campaigners against Corbyn: Claire Kober, Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth, Jonathan Sacks. In other words, his opinion piece is based, almost entirely, on the selected opinions of those who agree with him.

To be fair, he did offer one piece of evidence: that back in 2016 the student Labour Club at his old university, Oxford, had been over-run by people who “have some kind of problem with Jews”. Evidently he is quite unaware of the demolition of this whole story, within months, as a scam.

So we have academics who rely on assertion rather than evidence, spiritual leaders who fail to show empathy and generosity of spirit, historians who make wild comparisons. There appears to be little difference between them and the muck-raking journalist who does it to make his living.

But evidently there is a difference. These people, one must assume, are doing it out of conviction. They believe it, even if without evidence. They believe it because versions of  guilt by association, guilt by selective quotation are endlessly recycled. They believe it because of horrendous but anonymous social media postings by people who say they are Corbyn supporters. They believe it because the media including the authoritative BBC and the sainted Guardian are telling them so. They believe it because everyone they know believes it.

Antisemitism is present in the Labour Party because it is present everywhere. There are many people who have a very good grasp of the extent and seriousness of this problem within the Party. They also know that it will be rigorously challenged whenever it appears; and they have every reason not to tolerate it. They are the members. Who listens to them?


Comments (1)

  • Richard Hayward says:

    The shocking corruption of intellectual life by these ‘antisemite’ tropes was brought home to me most forcibly when an article by Rowan Williams (in the New Statesman) quietly endorsed the exaggerated fabrications.

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