Labour antisemitism? Conservative Islamophobia? What’s going on?
Paul Bickley investigates
In 2012, a graffiti artist painted a mural in Shoreditch, London. It depicts a Monopoly board covered in money, balanced on the backs of workers. According to the artist, the mural reflects on class politics and the men are corporate elites. According to others, the mural is antisemitic. The men ‘look’ Jewish and the painting draws on the idea that Jewish elites are at the heart of the capitalist order.
The artist published a Facebook post protesting this provocative piece of art’s removal. He received support from one Jeremy Corbyn, then the humble MP for Islington North but now the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition: ‘You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.’
When this exchange came to light early this year, it reignited an angry debate about antisemitism and the Labour Party which has burnt on into the summer. Two Labour MPs – children of Holocaust survivors, no less – faced discipline, not for antisemitism but for criticising the Party’s failure to adopt the full definition of antisemitism set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The fire has only burnt so hot because the ground was already parched. Two years ago, the Party was forced to run an inquiry into antisemitism. Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, had suggested that the Israel-Palestine conflict could be solved if Israel ‘were moved to the United States’. Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, then dug a very deep hole defending her with the historically dubious claim that Hitler supported Zionism. While Shah apologised, Livingstone repeated the claim several times. After a lengthy suspension, Livingstone resigned from the party in May 2018.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has been batting away accusations of Islamophobia which are bizarrely similar to those of antisemitism in the Labour Party. An organisation is pressing for an enquiry – in this case, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). There are internal critics sounding the alarm – in this case, the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi. And much of the conflict centres around definitions…
Paul Bickley is Director of Political Programme for the religion and society thinkthank Theos
This is an extract from an article that was published in the September 2018 edition of Reform