Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been doing the rounds this week to tell the media how serious the ‘Labour antisemitism’ problem is and how Labour’s leadership doesn’t properly understand it.
Having told the BBC’s Week in Westminster radio programme that antisemitism was not a problem under his leadership, he went on to claim:
It’s a horrible thing. It’s an ugly and really quite disgusting thing…
It has become a problem because I’m afraid the people around Jeremy Corbyn, maybe even himself, don’t really think it’s a problem.
Blair told the Independent that this politics had only entered the Labour Party in ‘the last few years’ – but does that claim stand up?
Blair’s claim, that antisemitism in the Labour Party only began in the last few years – with the clear implication that it happened ‘on Corbyn’s watch’ – is emphatically disproven by three pieces of evidence dating back to his time in office.
In 2005, Blair’s Labour was attacked for the implied antisemitism of its campaign against Michael Howard’s Tories, in which Howard was portrayed as a flying pig:
In 2007, Jewish groups complained about alleged antisemitic aspects of an investigation into claims that Lord Levy was involved in a ‘cash for honours’ scandal – charges later dropped:
Most significantly of all, in 2005 Luciana Berger – until then a member of the National Union of Students (NUS) National Executive Committee – resigned in protest at antisemitism that she attributed, in part to the above ‘flying pig’ campaign poster and another depicting Michael Howard as Dickens’ character Fagin – both put out by Blair’s Labour:
Ms Berger told the Telegraph:
I think the insensitivity surrounding all parties’ approach to asylum and immigration has a lot to say for the rise in not only anti-Semitism but any form of racism directed at immigrants. All parties have been responsible for not dealing with the issue in an appropriate manner.
Asked about Labour’s stance on immigration she sighed and said: “I have to be very careful what I say here. I’m disappointed by the fact that they are playing to other parties’ policies in order to discuss it all. Whereas the Labour Party in the past have been so strong and so active in combating and standing up for themselves, I’m surprised that on this particular issue, it’s unfortunate that it’s been played into.”
Miss Berger, who is studying a masters in government, politics and policy at Birkbeck College, London, said that it had been “misguided” and “wrong” for Labour to portray Michael Howard as a flying pig and Fagin in posters.
Blair’s assertion that antisemitic attitudes only entered the party ‘in the last few years’ was patently wrong – his own party was subject to high-profile public criticism for antisemitic content.
And not merely among some members, or in ‘pockets’, but as part of the party’s official campaigning and investigations – both of which Blair personally would have signed off.
It also bears consideration that Ms Berger was at the centre of the furore over the past week or so about Corbyn’s mural comment and Monday’s ‘Enough is enough’ protest. She told protesters:
“Being a bystander who turns their head the other way is not an option – the time for action is now.”
Ms Berger has been a Labour MP since 2010.
Other participants in the protest and the media outcry have been more explicit in attributing the supposed increase in Labour antisemitism to Corbyn’s leadership, with the CAA (Campaign against Antisemitism) even releasing a video yesterday comparing the alleged rise under Corbyn with the period leading up to Hitler’s control of Germany.
The CAA’s video was issued in spite – or because – of the emergence, via a SKWAWKBOX exclusive, of the organisation’s own data showing a steep fall in antisemitic sentiment among Labour voters under Corbyn’s leadership.
The idea that antisemitism is new to the party is demonstrably wrong – and the idea that it has increased under Corbyn’s leadership is also demonstrably wrong.
Last night, The Apprentice‘s Lord Sugar tweeted a picture of Jeremy Corbyn seated next to Adolf Hitler. He deleted the image after a huge backlash even among supporters of the ‘Enough is enough’ protest such as MP John Mann. But it served to crystallise the political nature of the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn that has exploited the legitimate concerns of Jewish communities after an increase in antisemitic incidents in the UK and an even worse rise in other parts of Europe.
Tony Blair’s attempted self-justification as part of that campaign may well turn out to have served the same purpose. By making provably false claims, he has drawn attention to the far from new nature of antisemitism in the Labour Party – and the fact that, under Corbyn, is has in fact declined sharply.
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