The General Election is this week. Despite the fact that there are plenty of candidates standing for other parties, the reality facing us is that the real competition is between Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and the Conservatives, ‘led’ by Boris Johnson. This has been, in my opinion, one of the nastiest election campaigns in recent history, and as such I have actively tried to stay away from it as I knew where my vote was going the minute the election was called. But among the many, many aspects of this election campaign that have seriously disturbed me, there is one issue that has really done so more than others, and that is going to be the focus of this post.
The Anti-Semitism Row
For well over a year now, the row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has raged on, both within the party and in the media. Labour MPs and members have left the party as a result of it and many Jewish people have been left feeling politically homeless. Jeremy Corbyn has been widely criticised, both for his handling of it and for allegedly being anti-Semitic himself. Now, I like Jeremy Corbyn. I think he is a principled politician who has, for the most part, been on the right side of history and has shown incredible resilience in the face of a targeted media campaign against him since he became Labour leader. But I wholeheartedly agree that he has failed when it comes to this issue. Some of Corbyn’s supporters may say anti-Semitism in the party is not there or is exaggerated. That is not correct. There is anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and on the left in general and, when you think about it, this shouldn’t come as such a surprise to people. Racism is a part of this country’s DNA. It is entrenched in every echelon of society, in practically every institution, and so it stands to reason that the Labour Party would not be immune from that. But what is really disappointing is that Jeremy Corbyn failed to deal with it properly when it first started to become a serious problem and, in doing so, he has let his party and his supporters down as the narrative surrounding it has spiralled. Now that we are going to the polls, many prominent members of the Jewish community have publicly condemned Corbyn and the Labour Party and have said they will never vote for him, and other people shouldn’t either.
I get it. Honestly, I do. Even if I didn’t have ten million other reasons to never vote Tory, the Windrush Scandal alone would mean I could never. So, if after this row members of the Jewish community feel like they can’t vote Labour, I get it and I support their right to make that choice. But – and yes, there’s a ‘but’ – I have a real problem with the way some of these objections to voting for Labour have been framed. In making these objections, some Jewish people – and the media in gleefully reporting and repeating those messages – have thrown other minorities under the bus and erased us from this election.
And how is that?
There have been a number of comments by prominent members of the Jewish community that have essentially said that if Jeremy Corbyn was anti-Black, or anti-Muslim, or anti-gay he would never be so close to becoming Prime Minister, and that complaints of racism, Islamophobia or homophobia would be taken more seriously, and there would generally be more ‘outrage.’ This was repeated by Nick Robinson during the Leaders’ Debate on the BBC last week when he was questioning Jeremy Corbyn on anti-Semitism.
These comments are ahistorical, insensitive, and insulting. I have to admit that I find it absolutely staggering that anyone can make such an argument when Boris Johnson is our current Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson called Africans “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and wrote that the problem with the African continent is that “we are not in charge anymore.” In case you didn’t notice, this is anti-Black.
Boris Johnson said that women in burkas look like “letter-boxes.” In case you didn’t know, this is Islamophobic.
Boris Johnson referred to gay men as “tank-topped bum boys.” I don’t know if you know, but that’s homophobic.
Boris Johnson said all these things, none of which he has explicitly apologised for (no, saying “I never intended to cause any offence” does not constitute an apology), and STILL BECAME PRIME MINISTER. So the idea that an anti-Black, homophobic Islamophobe could never become Prime Minister of this country is blatantly untrue, because we have one in office right now.
By saying this, what those members of the Jewish community, and the media, and everyone repeating this argument as if it is fact, are doing is completely and utterly erasing the racism, Islamophobia and homophobia that Black people, Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community face every single day that consistently goes unaddressed. It is painful to those of us who are members of those communities to hear you essentially say that we get preferential treatment by the establishment when in fact the establishment proves time and time again that it does not care about us at all. The Windrush Scandal is a prime example of this as it should really be a significant issue in this election, especially in the wake of the tragic death of Hubert Howard, but it isn’t. As a Black woman there are three points I really want to drive home about this. If Jewish people, and non-Jews standing in solidarity with them, do not want to vote Labour that is completely understandable but when making your objections to voting Labour please remember this:
- There is no need to weaponise Black people’s pain to make that point. Protest Labour all you want. Protest Corbyn all you want. Leave Black people’s pain out of it. Rachel Riley, I am looking at you.
— Sara B. (@MissSaraB_) November 21, 2019
Rachel Riley’s t-shirt was horrendously offensive to Black people, and when she was told as much by Black people (including Black South Africans), her response was to double down, refuse to apologise, and say that people criticising her “don’t know the history.” Whew. The arrogance is honestly strong in that one but I’m not going to go into a rant about everything I think of this (as you can see I tweeted about it above. Follow me while you’re checking out the thread please!). However, I will say that these kinds of stunts are insensitive at best and much of the time when it comes to standing up for Black people in the face of racism, people like her are strangely silent but yet are the first to draw for Black people to make their ahistorical and offensive analogies. Stop. It.
- Black Jews exist. I’m not Jewish, and I do not want to speak over Black Jewish people on this topic. But I do want to point out that there are Black Jews in the UK, who will have experienced both racism and anti-Semitism in this country and who deserve to have a much more amplified voice in this conversation, a voice they are not being given. And for those Jewish people erasing anti-Black racism, how do you think that makes Black Jewish people feel? There is a certain level of mindfulness and general regard for others that is lacking here, and it is more than a crying shame, it is damaging.
- Do not vote-shame other minorities. Comments like “a vote for Labour is a vote for racism” and that if you vote Labour then you can’t possibly be a true anti-racist, are unhelpful, untrue, and do little to show any kind of solidarity, which we will need more than ever if the Tories win. Furthermore, if you are making these comments about Labour while staying silent about the bigoted sewer that is the Tory party, you are hypocritical at best. You cannot attack other people’s anti-racism when you only speak up about the racism that you face or the racism you’ve decided to care about. It is not enough to say “well I don’t support the Conservatives/Boris Johnson either.” If you are soooo passionate about anti-racism, you need to be just as loud in your criticism of the Tories as you are about Labour. Some members of other minority groups feel caught between a rock and a hard place as they feel like no political party truly represents them and their interests and so, although they may be upset by the issue of anti-Semitism in Labour, they have chosen to go with the much lesser of two evils. They have as much right to make that choice as Jewish people do to not vote Labour.
I’m not here to tell anyone, especially Jewish people, how to vote in this election. I’m not here to challenge the Jewish community’s feelings of hurt and anger at the anti-Semitism within the Labour Party; those feelings are valid. I’m just here to remind everyone that other minorities have suffered and continue to suffer, and simultaneously being thrown under the bus and weaponised in this way simply works to rub salt in a gaping wound and entrench divisions between minority groups.
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