One of the top songs written in 1939 in Great Britain which rallied the nation through the terrible days of 1940-41 as the English endured the Nazi blitz and British soldiers went marching off to fight was entitled There’ll Always Be an England. Sadly in watching the anti-Semitic political outcries emerging over the past several weeks and even months from the British Labour Party, the title of this song has evoked new meaning; there’ll always be anti-Semitism in Britain.
The current leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was elected by party leader in September 2015, succeeding Ed Miliband who resigned after he failed to lead the Labour Party back to power following its prior loss to the Conservatives in 2010. Corbyn came not from the New Labour faction of the party but from the more left-wing of the party. He, himself, carried considerable baggage in terms of the Middle East and Jews, a matter which came rapidly to the fore during his first months in office. In fact his efforts to restate or qualify some of his positions and remarks appeared only to get him into deeper problems, especially as they began to suggest left wing anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian positions but anti-Semitic ones.
Over the past month or so, more and more Labour Party leaders at various local or national level have issued blatantly anti-Semitic remarks which have forced Corbyn and his party leaders to take serious disciplinary action against these individuals. (These Party leaders included former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah, MP.) Corbyn has been forced to answer not only to the media but to some members of his own party, including John Mann, MP, who leads the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism in the House of Commons.
This behavior is even more striking when seen against the backdrop of the Labour Party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which was seen as very positive towards Israel and understanding the Jewish concerns about any sign of anti-Semitism. The New Labour Party, as it was called, suggested that the Labour Party of the pre and post-World War II period was gone. These leaders rejected the political heritage of Prime Minister Clement Attlee and Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. There were many Jewish friends in the Labour Party who were committed to working with Labour who had befriended these leaders while at University and who had appeared to have helped to turn around the Labour Party. (One of the most startling observations seen during the ugly events of the past weeks has been the quiet of these very same former leaders and others as Labour has suspended over 50 members for racist and anti-Semitic statements; not only the very public figures such as Livingstone and ShahP.)
Last week in response to all the public attacks against Corbyn and Labour—not exclusively by the Jewish community—Corbyn decided to establish a commission to investigate anti-Semitism, whose deputy chair will be Professor David Feldman, head of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism; both Jewish and a Labour Party supporter. Many observers are suspect whether this group will be sufficiently aggressive in its investigation and whether it will permit the results to expose the historical, deep-seated anti-Semitism within the Party; not merely leftist opposition to Israel.
Unlike the physical attacks on Jews which have come to be accepted and tolerated on the Continent—where much of it is excused away as left-wing, pro-Palestinian reactions to events happening in Israel—Britain has only had periodic incidents of largely ugly verbal outbreaks against Jews and Israel. Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party could well be challenged over the next several months; but the alienation and break with Anglo-Jewry may take much longer to heal. It truly seems as if anti-Semitism largely more dormant in Great Britain for several decades has once again proven that it will always have England.