openDemocracyUK: Opinion

How has Jeremy Corbyn allowed so many to be so hurt by anti-Semitism?

When it comes to Hamas, Hezbollah – and LGBT+ rights – Corbyn needs to think more about human rights and less about civil liberties.

Jonathan Cooper
13 November 2019
Jeremy Corbyn graffiti
Beware allies
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duncan c/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0. Some rights reserved.

I have an abiding affection for Jeremy Corbyn. He has genuine empathy with the vulnerable, marginalised and dispossessed. Watching him – and listening to him – give people a voice who would otherwise stay silenced is remarkable. He cares profoundly about the consequences of disadvantage and inequality.

Yet there is a real mystery at the heart of his leadership. I won’t be surprised if or when the Equality and Human Rights Commission finds that Jeremy Corbyn’s period of leadership of the Labour Party has also seen a spike in a culture of anti-Semitism within the Party. He will be responsible for that. And it is unforgivable. Yet I’m sure Jeremy hasn’t a racist bone in his body.

How has he presided over such a shaming period in Labour’s history? How has he allowed so many to be so hurt? Here, based on 30 years of observation of Jeremy, is an explanation and a solution that I continue to hope for.

A friend of mine was one of those so-called 'loony left' Islington councillors in the 1980s. He was gay (and some years later died from AIDS). Jeremy was truly supportive of gay rights. LGBT people were under siege. It wasn’t just the gay bashers and the police that targeted us. It was the government and No. 10 that led the assaults. Jeremy, a newly elected MP, was one of the few who was prepared to stand up for us, a lone voice. My friend’s sister won’t have a word said against Corbyn. His politics aren’t hers, but she’d vote for the man not his policies. So many people whose lives he’s touched have his vote.

Ironically, it is his willingness to give people a voice that makes him an outsider

Jeremy is driven by social justice. When the Human Rights Bill was going through Parliament, he sat through all the stages. He wanted to understand what the Human Rights Act would mean. He’s backed it ever since. Jeremy champions human rights. His Labour Party opposed the ditching of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as part of UK law post Brexit. He understands that when politics fail, if nothing else, human rights must be there as a last resort.

Why then are his approval ratings so low? Ironically, it is his willingness to give people a voice that makes him an outsider.

Jeremy’s gift is to give people a voice. That gift to the homeless and isolated, he has also given to others. This includes groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. No doubt what interested him originally was their struggle against injustice and inequality, but Hamas and Hezbollah are also peddlers of hate. That hate has many targets, principally Jews. Dressing up their anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism doesn’t make the anti-Semitism any less real. They take aim at Jews. The stereotyping of Jewish people by those associated with and supportive of Hamas and Hezbollah is repellent. No doubt others that Jeremy gives a voice to may have equally odious views, but the opinions of an older lady in a food bank are not newsworthy. Jeremy does not need to challenge her.

But Hamas and Hezbollah are different. Their anti-Semitism infects. The garbage that has come from the mouths of some Corbyn supporters within the Labour Party would not be out of place at meetings of a Hamas local council group. By giving Hamas and Hezbollah a voice, permission is given to express their views. That is the danger of unbridled free speech. It also suggests something inconsistent about Corbyn’s commitment to human rights. He respects them at home, but can they be overlooked abroad? The Hamas administration in Gaza, for example, presides over some of the worst human rights atrocities anywhere in the world. Hezbollah is not much better.

And what of LGBT equality? Others took up the cudgel in the UK and made that equality happen here, but the LGBT community are indebted to Jeremy. I can still recall my gratitude in those dark years that someone would speak up for us. But how can that be reconciled with his giving a voice to Hamas? It is one of the most gay-hating organisations. They cause untold misery to the lives of LGBT Palestinians. They’re happy to retain the criminal laws targeting LGBT people bequeathed by the British when Palestine was a colony. The West Bank got rid of theirs. Jeremy also expressed no criticism of Fidel Castro’s anti-gay policies, which even included camps for people with AIDS.

Back in 2017, Jeremy gave a knighthood to a Labour MP, David Crausby. Crausby’s a union man. No doubt he’s hardworking. He’s also got an appalling record on LGBT equality, not only voting against equal marriage and adoption rights, but voting to retain the infamous section 28, which forbade local government from promoting or supporting LGBT rights. I am still bewildered by Corbyn’s honouring of this man.

When Hamas and Hezbollah seek to take away the rights of others, Corbyn is obliged to speak out

Jeremy has a strong libertarian streak. And to a degree that vindicates him. By giving Hamas and Hezbollah a voice we hear everything that they have to say, and by letting them speak we know them for what they are.

But civil liberties only go so far. Human rights provide a far more effective solution to the crisis that Jeremy finds himself in.

By enabling us to hear what Hamas and Hezbollah have to say, Jeremy has assumed duties and responsibilities to us all. Where they seek to take away the rights of others, he is obliged to speak out. He needs to explain in a clear and hard-hitting way that their views on Jewish people are reprehensible and have no place in a world committed to ending social injustice and inequality. And neither can they seek to justify those anti-Semitic views by dressing them up as anti-Zionism. If Jeremy does this, the anti-Semitic culture that appears to thrive in his Labour Party will wither. If as a result, Hamas and Hezbollah no longer wish to share a platform with Jeremy Corbyn, that is the price of freedom of speech.

Returning to the gays! Jeremy needs to regain that zeal for LGBT equality. His legacy should be ensuring that all those who suffered at the hands of UK anti-gay policies have their voices heard. If he does that, Labour could once again become the political home of the LGBT community. If Labour supported an inquiry into the harm caused, let’s hope that Sir David Crausby will feel compelled to bear witness.

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