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27 April 2016

When it comes to Labour and anti-Semitism, there’s only so much this left-wing Jew can suck it up

When it comes to who the hell I’m going to vote for in 2020, I can’t help feeling that I have to choose which is more important: my Jewishness or my leftness.

By Eleanor Margolis

“Suck it up,” I think to myself, every time a new detail of Labour’s anti-Semitism epidemic is revealed.

The origin of the phrase “suck it up” is quite gross. Allegedly, it’s what WWII pilots were instructed to do if they vomited into their oxygen masks, to avoid drowning in their own puke.

If I don’t “suck it up” when, say, a Labour councillor praises Hitler, or the Oxford University Labour club gets itself into a spot of Jew-hating bother, I run the risk of something very nearly as gross as drowning in vomit: becoming a Tory.

That isn’t to say I have genuine sympathies for a party so comic book villain evil it just told 3,000 refugee children to fuck off. But every time an accusation of anti-Semitism levelled at Labour is brushed off, by some Labour supporters, as a “Zionist smear”, a kind of political sado-masochism is sparked in me, a left-wing Jew.

“FINE,” I think, “I’m not wanted here. Might as well cross over to the dark side. They have money, I hear.”

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That’s before I suck it up. I have a cup of tea. I bury my face in my cat and tell him how jealous I am of his stupidity. I play a somehow really aggressive game of Candy Crush, stabbing phone and gritting teeth while hissing that I refuse to buy the hoary old anti-Semite line, that “It’s not Jews, it’s Zionism.”

I sucked it up this week when Naz “let’s move Israel to North America” Shah (who I genuinely thought was one of the good guys, and not just because she quite resplendently dethroned George Galloway as MP for Bradford West) was revealed to be yet another symptom of her party’s increasingly less surprising problem with Jews.

Whether I can continue suck it up after it took Naz Shah’s own insistence that, yes, she had been anti-Semitic, to convince Jeremy Corbyn to agree to suspend her, I’m not sure. We all know how much Corbyn loves principled stands. I’m pretty sure they’re his version of hot baths or cake. The fact that he’s just very nearly shunned an opportunity to take a principled stand (against racism, of all things) is perhaps quite telling of just how little he really cares about the problem.

When it comes to who the hell I’m going to vote for in 2020, I can’t help feeling that I have to choose which is more important: my Jewishness or my leftness. And, weirdly, the more anti-Semitic Corbyn’s Labour is revealed to be, the more Jewish I feel. Possibly out of obstinacy. I’m secular, and constantly have to explain why I eat bacon and grew up celebrating Christmas. But, recently, I’ve realised that – in left wing circles – I’m far more wary of “coming out” as Jewish than I am of coming out as gay. Even a homophobic lefty knows what he can and can’t say about gays. And he’ll probably stick to the rules. There are no such rules when it comes to Jews, as casual anti-Semitism is something that many on the left either don’t understand (although my god do they love to try and explain it) or don’t care about.

I’m no longer taken aback, for example, when an otherwise rigidly PC person cracks a joke about Jews and stinginess. If I’m feeling generous, I’ll even concede that this person has probably never knowingly met a Jew (there are very few of us) and, through pure lack of interest rather than any real malevolence, sees them as these mythical beasts who (apparently…) “have… like, gold. Something about gold”.

Until now, I’ve avoided writing about Labour’s anti-Semitism problem, or even commenting on it outside of the occasional “enough, already” tweet. It’s a deeply uncomfortable situation that’s forcing me, and many others, to choose which crucial parts of their identity they value the most. And no man is a Dyson. There’s only so much I can suck up. 

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
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