Labour’s anti-Semitism problem is an election issue for non-Jews, too

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the University of Lancaster, Nov. 15, 2019. (Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

(JTA) – Just like the Democratic Party in the U.S., Britain’s liberal Labour Party usually counts on star power for a boost.

Ahead of the upcoming Dec. 12 general election, for instance, Labour has scooped up endorsements from major celebrities such as former Oasis lead singer Liam Gallagher, pop star Lily Allen and comedian Eddie Izzard.

But for the first time in decades, Labour is also beginning to take serious flak from celebrities and other significant parts of the electorate over a festering anti-Semitism problem.

Two dozen prominent non-Jewish Brits — including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, novelist John le Carré, author Fay Weldon and actress Joanna Lumley — said in a letter published Thursday in The Guardian that they will not be voting for Labour because of the anti-Semitism controversy.

“The coming election is momentous for every voter, but for British Jews it contains a particular anguish: the prospect of a prime minister steeped in association with antisemitism,” the celebrities wrote. “Opposition to racism cannot include surrender in the fight against antisemitism. Yet that is what it would mean to back Labour and endorse Corbyn for Downing Street.”

The letter is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that British Jews are not the only ones who have been following the Labour scandal. The party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, is becoming increasingly unpalatable to non-Jews, too.

In a Jewish News poll last month of more than 1,000 non-Jewish voters, 55 percent agreed with the statement that Corbyn’s “failure to tackle anti-Semitism within his own party shows he is unfit” to lead.

In the poll, 51 percent said Labour has a “serious anti-Semitism problem” – up from 34 percent when the same question was asked by an earlier ComRes poll. Just 18 percent disagreed.

According to a YouGov survey from May, 80 percent of British voters are now aware of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis, and just 19 percent are still convinced by Labour and Corbyn’s arguments that they are not anti-Semitic.

The Guardian letter was published a week after The Jewish Chronicle, Britain’s oldest Jewish paper, published an op-ed on its front page addressed directly to non-Jews asking them not to vote for Corbyn, who was elected to lead Labour in 2015.

“Throughout his career, he has allied with and supported antisemites such as Paul Eisen, Stephen Sizer and Raed Salah,” the op-ed said.

“He has described organizations like Hamas, whose founding charter commits it to the extermination of every Jew on the planet, as his ‘friends.’ He has laid a wreath to honor terrorists who have murdered Jews. He has insulted ‘Zionists’ — the word used by antisemites when they mean ‘Jew’ because they think it allows them to get away with it — as lacking understanding of ‘English irony,’” the article continued.

Corbyn has argued consistently that he is a committed anti-racism campaigner without any anti-Semitic bias. But last year, Labour was placed under a probe of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government watchdog, over its handling of an explosion of anti-Semitic incidents that occurred after 2015.

Following Corbyn’s takeover of the party, hate speech against Jews and Israel began proliferating in Labour’s ranks. Thousands of incidents have been recorded both by internal Labour groups like Labour Against Anti-Semitism, and external ones, including the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

In 2016, an interparliamentary committee, which included Labour representatives, accused the party of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

The issue continues to haunt Labour in the general polls. Although Boris Johnson, who has suffered a succession of policy defeats, has the lowest approval ratings of any British prime minister in over 40 years, his Conservative Party has opened up a lead of approximately 11 points. The Conservatives have been the majority in British Parliament for the past decade.

“Voters aren’t stupid,” said Jonathan Arkush, the previous president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “There is now a pretty widespread perception that there’s something rather nasty around Labour.”