If you take Jeremy Corbyn at his word, then the leader of Britain’s Labour Party is no anti-Semite. It’s just that, like the Wild West preacher who keeps accidentally wandering into Fannie Porter’s house of ill repute, Corbyn has an odd knack for stumbling into the arms of the Hebraically disinclined.
Corbyn is facing public protests and scathing criticism again this week after it emerged that in 2012 he had questioned the removal of a London mural by artist Kalen Ockerman that looks like a scene drawn from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He now claims, unconvincingly, that he regrets not looking “more closely at the image.”
It also turns out that he was a member of several Facebook groups, one of which displayed “postings about the Rothschild banking family, Jews harvesting organs and theories connecting Israel with Islamic State,” according to London’s Jewish Chronicle. “Had I seen” anti-Semitism, Corbyn says, “I would have challenged it straight away.”
This was barely a month after Corbyn issued a Facebook post for Holocaust Memorial Day that included no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism. Following an outcry, Corbyn made public another message, this one mentioning “our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
Around the same time, a Labour Party briefing document urged its members to reject an effort to ban Hezbollah in Britain. In 2009, Corbyn had described the Lebanese terrorist group, along with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, as “friends.” Seven years later he explained he was merely using “inclusive language,” which “with hindsight I would rather not have used.”
Corbyn also met in 2009 with Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Belgian-Lebanese activist whose Arab European League had previously published a cartoon denying the Holocaust. Corbyn initially denied ever meeting the activist, then was “reminded” by a photograph of the two of them together. “We had, I think two times, lunch or breakfast together,” Abou Jahjah noted, “so I cannot say that Mr. Corbyn is a personal friend, but he is absolutely a political friend.” Abou Jahjah was later banned from entering Britain.
Then there was Corbyn’s association with the anti-Israel group “Deir Yassin Remembered,” founded by the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. Corbyn attended multiple meetings of the group. More recently, he has claimed that Eisen was not a Holocaust denier when he knew him.
And so it goes. Corbyn received 20,000 pounds for appearing on Iran’s English language Press TV. “I was able to raise a number of human rights issues, not just in Iran but other countries as well,” he says, by way of justification. He defended then-Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer, notorious for strident anti-Zionism, against charges of anti-Semitism: “Such criticism,” Corbyn wrote, “is part of a wider pattern of demonizing those who dare to stand up and speak out against Zionism.” He publicly praised as “a voice that must be heard” the Islamist preacher Raed Salah, who has said Jews used gentile blood for religious purposes.
Does all of this make Corbyn an anti-Semite? Not necessarily. He vehemently denies it. You can never know with certainty what’s in a person’s mind or heart unless he tells it to you straight. Motives can be complex. Self-delusion plays its role.
Then again, what does that matter? Corbyn is 68 and has been a member of Parliament for 35 years. He has risen to the pinnacle of British politics. Until he became leader of the Labour Party nearly three years ago, he proudly and defiantly flaunted his association with people whose anti-Semitism is not remotely in doubt. You can stumble upon Fannie Porter’s house once and call it an honest mistake. Corbyn tripped into it a half-dozen times. Inadvertance long ago ceased to be an excuse.
Corbyn is now urgently seeking meetings with Jewish leaders while saying he is “sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused.” Note the passive voice. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic incidents in Britain hit a record high last year. Corbyn’s rise may not be the cause of it, but it’s unmistakably a symptom. Countries that care about the safety of Jews don’t elevate leaders who have spent their careers being dismissive of it.
The election of Donald Trump has caused waves of justified fear about the unique threat he poses to civil liberties in the free world. Yet Jeremy Corbyn may be the next prime minister of Britain, much to the delight of progressives on both sides of the Atlantic. What happens now will be a test for the global left: If it is willing to let Corbyn off the hook, it can have no honest case against Trump. No claim to moral respect, either.