UK Labor Party’s Defections Over Anti-Semitism Toll Warning Bell For U.S. Democrats

UK Labor Party’s Defections Over Anti-Semitism Toll Warning Bell For U.S. Democrats

Given the recent incidents of anti-Semitism on the American left, the UK Labour Party’s collapse invites examination—and may offer a warning to the American Democrat Party.
Erielle Davidson
By

The United Kingdom’s Labour Party is bleeding, and seem to have little idea of how to cauterize the wound. This past week, nine members of British Parliament resigned from the party in protest, eight citing anti-Semitism as one of their chief concerns. Given the recent incidents of anti-Semitism on the American left, the UK Labour Party’s plodding collapse invites examination—and offers perhaps a grim warning to the American Democrat Party, which faces its own recent accusations of anti-Semitism.

Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, disclosed that the party had received more than 650 complaints of anti-Semitism by its members since last April. Almost 100 members were suspended, and a dozen expelled.

Luciana Berger, one of the Labour Party’s most prominent Jewish MPs, stated in her resignation, “I cannot remain in a party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic…The leadership has willfully and repeatedly failed to address hatred against Jewish people within its ranks.” Berger’s resignation sent ripples within the national Labour contingency, given her small constituency in Liverpool had voted unwaveringly for the Labour Party for the entirety of its two-decade existence.

A Rash of Defections over Anti-Semitism

One of the latest defectors from the Labour Party, Joan Ryan, expressed that she was “horrified, appalled, and angered” at her party’s inability to eliminate its anti-Semitism, emphasizing that its leadership had permitted “Jews to be abused with impunity.” Ryan continued, “The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism. The problem simply did not exist in the party before his election as leader.”

The latest MP to quit the party, Ian Austin, referenced the “culture of extremism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance” that had come to dominate the party. As a former junior minister to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Austin is no stranger to criticizing Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Austin reiterated, “I am appalled at the offence and distress Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party have caused to Jewish people.”

The party’s response to the resignations has done little to quell the accusations of anti-Semitism. Following last week’s wave of resignations, Ruth George, the MP for High Peak, posted online a bizarre conspiracy theory that Israel was covertly funding the defectors, given that Berger was the former chair of the Labour’s “Friends of Israel,” a group within the UK Parliament that supports strengthening the British-Israeli alliance.

What Brought Things to This Point?

How did the UK Labour Party begin bleeding members? The question is complicated and probably equal parts anti-Semitism within the party, a slow burn of widespread indifference amongst the electorate, and a dramatic shift in the makeup of the party’s membership.

Most of the defectors have pointed rightfully to Corbyn as responsible for cultivating a culture of anti-Semitism within the party, and a series of recent incidents has supported such accusations. In 2014, Corbyn appeared at a ceremony in Tunisia honoring the Palestinian-Arab terrorists who perpetrated the 1972 Munich terror attack, where 11 Israeli Olympic competitors were brutally murdered. Corbyn even laid a wreath on the grave of one of the terrorists and, despite widespread condemnation, delivered no apology.

A few years prior to that incident, Corbyn had expressed public support on Facebook for a Los Angeles-based street artist after the artist complained that his mural depicting several anti-Semitic tropes was to be erased from a wall in London’s East End. The Labour Party leader was also a former member of the closed Facebook group Palestine Live, a forum where anti-Semitic memes are regularly shared. He left the group in 2015.

Corbyn isn’t alone. Accusations of anti-Semitism have swirled throughout the party for the past several years. Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London and once a part of the Labour Party’s senior leadership, engaged in frequent anti-Semitic behavior before his final departure from the party in 2018.

Livingstone was infamous for alleging that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism. When his remarks resulted in suspension, he later appeared on Iranian national television on Holocaust Memorial Day to discuss how the Holocaust had been manipulated to oppress non-Jews. It is worth noting that Livingstone was never actually expelled from the party for his behavior. He resigned on his own volition, another data point indicative of the party’s weak stance on anti-Semitism.

Another MP, Naz Shah, was suspended for posting on social media various anti-Semitic posts, including one indicating that Israel should be relocated to the United States and another stating that “the Jews are rallying” to alter the results on a particular vote regarding Israeli military action. Another MP, Paul Flynn, suggested that the UK’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel might have dual loyalties, stating that it would be preferable to have “someone with roots in the UK [who] can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty.”

Anti-Semitism So Far Isn’t Turning Off Enough Voters

The response among the electorate to the tide of anti-Semitism within the party has been less than encouraging. The hard data is that 40 percent of the electorate voted for Corbyn and his Labour ilk in 2017, a level that exceeded Blair’s turnout in 2005. As a former staffer for a member of Parliament reiterated dismally, either four out of ten people voting in 2017 did not care about rising anti-Semitism within the party or did not see it as a pressing issue.

This particular staffer did stress that very small minority of people would likely have voted for Corbyn because he is anti-Semitic, but that such a sentiment offers little comfort to those who genuinely fear the direction of the Labour’s leadership.

A consensus among UK policy figures regarding the party’s hard-left shift—and its simultaneous anti-Semitic swivel—is that changes in membership rules under Corbyn’s predecessor, Ed Miliband, are particularly to blame. Five years ago, Milliband simultaneously lowered party membership fees, resulting in a flood of younger, further left members, and scrapped the electoral college system that had been used to select the party’s leader in favor of a “direct democracy” selection process.

The result? A growing divergence between the political views of the Labour MPs and the party’s more radical members, who ultimately select the party’s leader. The recent defections seem the culmination of these ugly fractures.

There are upsides to making a party—and politics, in general—more accessible and relevant. However, there lie inherent difficulties in predicting a party’s shape following such tectonic shifts. Here, it seems anti-Semitism has become the soup du jour.

The American Parallel

What has taken place in the UK Labour Party is not distinctly different from what appears to be unfolding in the American Democratic Party. It perhaps offers a warning signal to Democratic leadership in the United States.

The flood of young people into the Democratic Party—mostly college-educated, white progressives—has pressured the party further leftward. As David French wrote last week in National Review, “When you look at the data, the people who are primarily moving the goalposts — the folks in charge of the change — are white progressives…In 2001, 42 percent of Democrats identified as moderate, 32 percent identified as liberal, and a surprising 23 percent identified as conservative. By 2018…46 percent of Democrats identify as liberal and 35 percent as moderate. Conservatives were down to 17 percent.”

Unsurprisingly, the UK Labour Party and Corbyn have long been a fan-favorite of the American Democratic Party’s hard-left wing, which sees the populist elements of Corbyn’s rise as parallel to its own anti-establishment rhetoric. Earlier this month, freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared glowing praise of a phone call with Corbyn, tweeting, “It was an honor to share such a lovely and wide-reaching conversation with you, @jeremycorbyn!”

Similarly, Democratic 2020 hopeful and socialist bulwark Sen. Bernie Sanders has a history of praising Corbyn. Over the past several years American commentators have lauded the UK Labour Party aplenty as a model for the American Democratic Party, and a force to fight “Trumpism” (see here and here).

Yes, there is something to profound to learn from the UK Labour Party. The slow implosion of the UK Labour Party is a reminder of where the American Democratic Party could be headed, if it allows its more volatile, hard-left progressive ranks to swallow the entire party.

Correlation Between Leftism and Racism

The recent controversy surrounding the anti-Semitic comments made by freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar offers a depressing form of deja vu for anyone who has watched the UK Labour Party gradually devolve into its current anti-Semitic mess. Omar’s comments weren’t an isolated instance of anti-Semitism from the left but in step with anti-Jewish sentiment that has been creeping within the ranks of the Democratic Party and left in general.

Recall that several leaders of the Women’s March have a history of anti-Semitic commentary, one even praising Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as her “mentor.” Farrakhan is an anti-Semitic, racist bigot whose most memorable quotes include labeling Hitler a “very great man” and Jews “termites.”

Omar’s comments weren’t an isolated instance of anti-Semitism from the left but in step with anti-Jewish sentiment that has been creeping within the Democratic Party.

Farrakhan’s connection to the Democratic Party goes much deeper. Several lawmakers who comprise the new House majority leadership have either attended events where he has spoken or had private meetings with him. Former president Barack Obama even posed for a photo with the man.

So when Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, attempted to distance herself from the Women’s March, declaring that the anti-Semitism within its ranks were unacceptable, the condemnation rang hollow. It seemed she could muster the strength to condemn the leaders of the Women’s March but not her own colleagues.

Democrats’ complacence with anti-Semitic rhetoric doesn’t stop with Farrakhan. The entirety of the boycott, divest, sanction movement against Israel is propelled by progressive groups and formalized by Democratic leaders.

Those who suggest such a movement is solely about Israel and not Jews should try to point to any other country that the left has systematically sought to economically and diplomatically isolate to the point that entire groups on college campuses are devoted to and obsessed with this one sole mission. The image of Jewish professors being kicked off of German university campuses in the 1930s is an image BDS supporters are keen to recreate in the United States—except using an Israeli passport to justify such expulsion.

Who supports such a movement outside of college campuses? The answer is predictably easy: Democrats. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Omar are two Democratic politicians who have openly embraced the BDS movement.

Attempting to Hide the Growing Anti-Semitism Problem

Recently, Democratic Senators blocked the vote on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) anti-BDS bill, because a vote would likely expose the left’s anti-Semitism. But perhaps, if the Labour Party’s fate is any indication, that’s just what the left needs. Indeed, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi having a conversation with Omar is grossly insufficient to address this problem.

Like the UK Labour Party, the anti-Semitism that remained on the fringe of progressive causes has crept into the formal institutions of the American Democratic Party. Although Democrat leaders have done their best to minimize accusations of anti-Semitism, it is only normalizing the anti-Semitism they nominally reject. Much in the same way Corbyn’s lukewarm response has allowed anti-Semitism to fester within the Labour Party, Democrats’ milquetoast answers could likely bring the same result.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi having a conversation with Omar is grossly insufficient to address this problem. If Democrats are serious about confronting anti-Semitism within their ranks, they should be stripping leadership positions from those who peddle anti-Semitic rhetoric and forcefully condemning such individuals. But no such removals are taking place, and instead of forceful condemnations with legitimate repercussions, we are witnessing juvenile “conversations” that seem to be the epitome of virtue-signaling.

Democrats aren’t ready to come to terms with anti-Semitism within their own party, but if the UK Labour Party’s slow collapse is any indication, they ought to before it’s too late.

Erielle Davidson is a Senior Contributor at the Federalist and a law student at Georgetown University Law Center. She previously was an economic research assistant at the Hoover Institution and a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. She graduated from Middlebury College with a B.A in Russian, with a focus on Eastern European security issues. Find her on Twitter at @politicalelle.

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