A man with a record of open anti-Semitism may soon lead Great Britain. With the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party government in turmoil, Jeremy Corbyn, the head of that country’s opposition Labour Party, seems a real threat to win the next election there. What’s more, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi, pointed out in a chilling speech delivered to the House of Lords, the growing body of proof of Corbyn’s ties to Jew hatred as well as demonization of Israel hasn’t seemed to impact his popularity.
Yet Corbyn’s rise seems to be a minor story on the other side of the pond. Few here, even in the Jewish community, seem particularly alarmed about the Labour Party leader. That’s a mistake. As remote as Britain’s problems may seem to us, the drift of the European left to a position of comfort with open anti-Semitism sets an unfortunate precedent, especially at a time when the Democratic Party is celebrating Democratic socialists that seem cut from the same radical mold as Corbyn.
Part of the problem is that many Jews consider anti-Semitism to be only a problem when it comes from the far right. Many are so eager to label President Donald Trump as an anti-Semite because of his ill-advised statements about Charlottesville or even his stand on immigration, that they tend to ignore the fact that neo-Nazis and the KKK are marginal figures with few adherents and zero influence. Meanwhile, they ignore the fact that the ranks of anti-Semitic Israel haters on the left are growing, as well as the mass following of a figure like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan or the way he has been normalized — even by someone like former President Bill Clinton, who shared a stage with him at singer Aretha Franklin’s funeral.
Nevertheless, comparisons between the Democrats and Labour are misleading.
Though Labour went through a modernizing period under Tony Blair, it has now reverted to its traditional support for socialism and other radical causes. By contrast, the modern Democratic Party is capitalist and centrist by European standards. The question about the Democrats is whether it is about to take a decisive step to the left.
While the extent of their influence is debatable, there’s no question that two avowed socialists — Sen. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — are being treated as the rock stars of the party. That shows the appeal of the left for progressives. It also demonstrates the power of intersectional ideology — in which the struggles against prejudice at home are seen as linked to those of Third World peoples against the West — which, to one extent or another, people like Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and those organizing the anti-Trump “resistance” have embraced.
For those who succumb to the appeal of intersectionality, Israel is a villain. That goes a long way toward understanding why a progressive like Corbyn make common cause with so many Jew-haters.
Criticism of Israel’s government isn’t anti-Semitic. But opposing the right of the sole Jewish station on the planet to exist or to defend itself is anti-Semitism. That’s especially true when, as is the case with Corbyn, he has gone out of his way to make common cause with Islamist radicals who spout hatred for Jews and honored terrorists who have shed Jewish blood.
Yet even as the UK Jewish community has correctly labeled Corbyn as an existential threat, most of the British left has circled the wagons around him.
Even worse, if he achieves power, Corbyn will be seen as the model for all left-wing politicians around the world, including Americans who long for a challenger to Trump who will be as brutal to their opponents as the president is.
It’s doubtful that Democrats would nominate anyone as radical as Corbyn for president in the foreseeable future. But as the party continues to drift away from a position of support for Israel — as the stands of their two socialist celebrities and other prominent left-wingers indicate — that means progressives must be on their guard to avoid falling into the same ideological trap as the Brits.
But the real problem is that as long as a critical mass of Americans — and U.S. Jews — are convinced that anti-Semitism is solely a problem on the right while minimizing the even more serious growth of Jew hatred on the left, Corbyn’s popularity presents a daunting challenge that Democrats must not ignore.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.