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Conceptual Vandalism, Historical Distortion: The Labour Antisemitism Crisis and the Limits of Class Instrumentalism
This article analyses the British left’s response to allegations of antisemitism within the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It uses as its foil a collection of essays on the topic written over the course of the Corbyn era for leading online outlets of the contemporary Anglo-American left, and given away as a free e-book by Verso, the world’s biggest leftist publisher, during the 2019 British election campaign. On the basis of this collection, the article suggests that the Labour antisemitism crisis was the culmination of a long process of political and theoretical degeneration within the left. It argues that the tendency to reduce of the question of antisemitism to that of class “interests,” with antisemitism understood primarily as an “instrument” used by the powerful to divide the “oppressed,” leaves many leftists unable to comprehend the possibility of exterminatory antisemitism as an end-in-itself. The appeal of this approach lies in the apparent alibi against antisemitism it provides for those on the left, like Corbyn, whose interests supposedly coincide with those of “the oppressed,” and means that accusations of antisemitism within the left can be similarly denounced as cover for the underlying ‘interests’ of those making the accusation. The article argues that the insistence that the State of Israel is “a racist endeavour,” a claim which lay at the heart of the Labour antisemitism dispute, rests upon an arbitrary and ahistorical rejection of the notion of Jewish peoplehood. This critique itself draws upon a long history of right-nationalist and liberal-republican antisemitism in which Jews were viewed as an illegitimate “anti-nation,” and in its partiality is radically distinct from a critique of the nation-state as such. The article suggests that this same partiality and ahistoricity reappears in the inability of a class instrumentalist perspective to apprehend the intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, relationship between Israel and antisemitism, and the genocidal antisemitism of the Holocaust in particular.
Jeremy Corbyn; antisemitism; Israel; antizionism; class; UK Labour Party; genocide; Holocaust; IHRA
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