When Labour’s ‘antisemitism crisis’ erupted after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the party, Ken Loach, when interviewed on TV at that year’s Labour Party conference in Brighton, stated that he had never experienced antisemitism in over 50 years of Labour Party membership. Loach’s lack of experience was echoed by Ken Livingstone who added that because someone was offensive to Jews didn’t mean they were being antisemitic.
Then again, neither of them, as I recall, attended the meeting that I attended over 30 years ago.
In 1983, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon the year before, there was significant anti-Israel and boycott Israel agitation on the Left (plus ça change!). A particular focus for the protest and anger was the Sabra and Shatila massacre, when Israeli soldiers, under orders, stood by as the Christian Phalangists entered the camp and slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children.
I was living in Manchester and attended a pro-Palestine meeting that took place at the regional TUC HQ in Salford. It was a well attended meeting, and the speakers were senior trade union and Labour Party officials. There was also a speaker who was announced as a member of the PLO’s national committee, who would speak at the end.
As the meeting progressed, I and some others in the audience – Jewish and not Jewish – began to feel increasingly uncomfortable. The entirely justified anger and criticism emanating from the platform from various speakers about the actions (or non-actions in the case of Sabra and Shatila) of the Israelis was accompanied by familiar and increasingly virulent tropes about the ‘Zionist controlled media’, ‘the powerful Jewish lobby’, ‘Jewish finance’, ‘replacing Israel with a Palestinian state’, etc.
Eventually the PLO representative stood up to speak. He first turned to the speakers sitting up on the platform and roundly criticised them for their blatant antisemitism and their betrayal of socialist values. He pointed out that the Palestinians were involved in a political not a religious struggle, and that their struggle for national determination was with the Israeli government not world Jewry. He reminded them that 20% of the Israeli population within the old Green Line were Christian and Moslem Palestinians – at which point, in order to demonstrate the nuanced complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, he reached in to the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out his Israeli passport.
There is a long, ignoble and well-recorded history of antisemitism on the Left*. Ken Loach may never have experienced it, and the Labour Party likes to think it is immune from the virus. It isn’t.
* Colin Talbot -The Left’s Problem with Antisemitism
Steve Cohen – That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Antisemitic http://you-dont-look-anti-semitic.blogspot.co.uk/