EXCLUSIVE: What was it like being a Jew at the Labour Party Conference?

David Collier is a British Jew who specialises in going undercover to find and expose anti-Semitism. There was a time when such work would have meant being submerged in the open sewer that is the neo-fascist far-right. In contemporary Britain however Collier finds more fruitful hunting grounds amongst the hard-left. I spoke to him last month about his experiences as a Jew at the Labour Party’s 2017 annual conference, how anti-Semitism became a big issue on the British hard-left and to what extent Jeremy Corbyn has allowed it to flourish.

Collier explained that he’s been ‘going undercover to campus events and looking at the hard-left’ in order to unearth anti-Semitism. As part of this work Collier joined the Labour Party, specifically so he could attend its 2017 annual conference in Brighton. That an activist fighting anti-Semitism felt it worthwhile to infiltrate the Labour Party shows us just how much British politics has changed in the past few years.

Sheikh Raed Salah, arrested in Israel for spreading the anti-Semitic bloody libel, was described by Corbyn as an ‘honoured friend’ and invited to the British Parliament. 

We get into specifics. Collier outlines the incidents which concerned him, many of which have been reported elsewhere. The fringe speaker suggesting that whether the Holocaust really happened is a legitimate subject of debate.  The activists comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and decrying ‘Zionist scum’. The calls for the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel to be expelled from the Labour Party. More generally though Collier is clear that ‘I wasn’t shocked by what I heard, I was shocked by where I heard it…I expect to hear it on campus, I expect it from elements of the SNP, I do not expect to hear it at the Labour Conference’. He explains that the most hurtful thing ‘wasn’t the words, it was the atmosphere…they had speeches going on in the conference hall and the more anti-Israel the statement the louder the applause. It was the atmosphere, that feeling of just looking around and feeling the hate’.

We get onto discussing how the Labour Party developed a problem with anti-Semitism, and with a form of anti-Zionism so extreme it’s virtually impossible to distinguish from anti-Semitism. Collier outlines two root causes. Firstly a section of the hard left likes to ‘buy into conspiracies…there are people in rooms above us that are pulling all the strings and that the world is controlled by an elite’ and ‘it’s not a difficult jump from this to the idea that its Jewish power, Jewish money, Jewish control’. He claims that a section of the hard-left have ‘crossed the word ‘Jew’ out of all of the ancient tropes’ and replaced it with the word ‘Zionist’. In particular he notes, with reference to the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, that as part of his work ‘I’m Facebook friends with many of these [far-left] activists’ and on their pages ‘you see things like the Protocols of the Elders of Zionism swirling around’.

On top of this is an obsessive hostility to the Middle East’s freest democracy, Israel, which has developed from a mutated and mutilated form of ‘anti-Imperialism’. In particular Collier sees the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, which demands a boycott of Israeli goods, as an aggressive movement masquerading as a humanitarian one. He claims the groups end goals amount to ‘the destruction of the state of Israel’ adding ‘the only way this movement can work is through war’. In particular he draws attention to the chant frequently heard at BDS rallies in the UK: ‘From the river to the sea Palestine will be free’. As the chant refers to the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, thus encompassing all of the state of Israel, Collier interprets this as an undisguised call for Israel’s destruction.

Collier is clear that the situation within the Labour Party has got for worse since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party in September 2015 as after this ‘a lot of people have jumped into the party who weren’t in the party and these are the most dangerous elements’. Regarding Corbyn personally Collier believes there are two possibilities – ‘either he has brought into the idea of Jewish power or he’s allowing Jews to be bullied in his party for political expediency’. More generally he thinks it would be ‘very difficult’ for Corbyn to properly stand up to anti-Semitism and maintain his base because ‘that base he’s sitting on is inherently anti-Semitic’.

Before we finish Collier makes two final points. Firstly he notes that the difference between hard-left and hard-right anti-Semitism ‘is that hard-right anti-Semitism is universally opposed. If it comes out on the street, and it does sometimes, there will be a massive counter-demonstration against it’. By contrast ‘when hard-left anti-Semitism walks the streets it waves the humanitarian flag’ and too many on the left have been unable to see through this. Collier also believes an unofficial alliance has developed between ‘the far-left and the Islamic far-right’ who are ‘natural bed partners’ when it comes to anti-Semitism and extreme anti-Zionist sentiment. Watching some on the far-left trying to cover over the enormous ideological differences between themselves and Islamic fundamentalists has certainly produced a particularly grotesque form of verbal and intellectual aerobatics.

After the interview I came across a poll showing that 83% of British Jews think the party is too tolerant of anti-Semitism. Once this would have shocked me. Now I’m only surprised the figure isn’t higher.


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