Why we must resist the hard left’s ‘stab in the back’ narrative over antisemitism

The recently leaked, 860-page Corbynite report into the Labour party’s handling of antisemitism aspires to be the founding myth of the left as it re-groups.

It is a classic ‘stab in the back myth’. It claims that the reason the Corbyn movement didn’t win in 2017 was because it was betrayed by its enemies within the party. If it had not been stabbed in the back it would have won.

All populist movements construct a myth of ‘enemies of the people’. It is necessary to explain why the movement fails to deliver its extravagant promises.

The ‘stab in the back myth’ is the founding myth. It explains how the enemies of the people have been responsible in the past for our misery and why the populist movement is needed.

The report rules out in advance the possibility that antisemitism in the Labour Party was connected to the politics of the Corbyn faction. It doesn’t even address it. It doesn’t say anything about the way that hostility to ‘Zionism’ became the litmus test of who was inside and who was outside the community of the good. It doesn’t say anything about Stalinist antisemitism or about BDS antisemitism or about the Corbyn faction’s record of jumping to the defence of antisemites against Jews.

It de-couples antisemitism from politics. It says that antisemitism came into the party because so many people came into the party and they were as imbued in antisemitism as the population as a whole.

It says that the Corbyn faction tried to expel the antisemites (the randomly bad people) but that their factional opponents sabotaged the procedural moves against the antisemites in order to facilitate the ‘myth’ that Corbyn had a political problem of antisemitism. 

It is a big lie. It blames the opponents of Corbyn, the opponents of antisemitism, for the antisemitism. 

The standard response to allegations of antisemitism is the Livingstone Formulation – that antisemitism is invented, in bad faith, or ‘weaponized’, with the secret dishonest motive of silencing the Palestinians and smearing the left.

This report takes the Livingstone Formulation and gives it a twist.

We always worried that the Corbynites would respond to their defeat by blaming Jews for it.

But Corbynite antisemitism was never explicit. It always constructed antisemitic discourse out of elements which were not themselves explicitly antisemitic. 

And that’s what this report does. It blames the issue of antisemitism for its defeat. It focuses the blame onto political opponents. And the Jewish communities which were loudest and clearest in their opposition to antisemitism are not really mentioned. They are the un-mentioned, unseen villain.

The ‘Israel lobby functioned as a way of doing antisemitic conspiracy fantasy without mentioning Jews. Now the allegation that Corbyn’s right wing factional opponents were the carriers of the antisemitism libel while at the same time being themselves responsible for the antisemitism, allows the Corbynites to re-organise with antisemitic politics but without explicitly blaming Jews.

David Hirsh is a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, Routledge, London, 2017. He tweets at @DavidHirsh

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