All this occurs in the context of a long-running anti-Semitism scandal within the Labour Party, which was recently exacerbated by criticism that the party’s new code of conduct on anti-Semitism doesn’t go far enough to include certain criticisms of Israel—such as calling the state’s existence a “racist endeavor”—as examples of contemporary anti-Semitism. Jon Lansman, a member of Labour’s national executive committee, wrote in defense of the new code that it ensures that “people are able to make legitimate criticisms of Israel, while prohibiting comments that discriminate against Jewish people, deny their right to self-determination or treat Israel differently to the universal standards that apply to all countries.”
While the backlash has prompted Corbyn to apologize or at least attempt to distance himself from the events in question, the true fans aren’t going anywhere. “There is a section of his support base who come from a very hard-left tradition whereby for them Jeremy can do no wrong,” Adam Langleben, a former Labour councillor and an executive member of the Jewish Labour Movement, told me. When the party or its leader denies allegations or fails to confront them openly, he said “it allows his hard-core group [of supporters] to believe what they want about Jeremy, to perhaps indulge in their own anti-Semitic conspiratorial ideas because Jeremy is so unclear, and because there is that vacuum and that silence.”
Left-wing news sites such as Skwakbox and The Canary offer prime examples. Known for defending the Labour leader against negative media coverage, both websites have been at the forefront of Corbyn’s defense throughout the anti-Semitism scandal, publishing posts that have dubbed the accusations against Corbyn as “fiction,” a “cynical manipulation” by the right-wing press, or attempted smears by the political establishment. In this way too, Trump and Corbyn are similar: They benefit from the presence of a political scapegoat—be it the “establishment” figures who they claim ignore or dismiss them, or the “mainstream media” who they claim work against them.
In a statement Friday night, Corbyn said that, in the 2013 video, he had “described those pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people.” He added that he would be “more careful” when using the term in the future, acknowledging that it has been “increasingly hijacked by anti-Semites.”
Just as the video is unlikely to change many Corbyn supporters’ minds, his clarification is unlikely to mollify his critics. But the video has caused at least some former supporters to abandon their defenses of Corbyn, including Lengleben. “He may not have used the word ‘Jew,’ he may have exchanged it to the term ‘Zionist,’ but for any Jewish person watching the video we will have heard ‘Jew,’ because most Jews in Britain subscribe to being a Zionist or supportive of the state of Israel—not the policies, but the existence,” he said. As a lifelong member of the Labour Party, Langleben told me he has long pushed back against allegations that Corbyn himself is anti-Semitic. “My position has always been that Jeremy Corbyn, in his 25 years of righteous advocacy for a Palestinian state, had often ended up getting too close to anti-Semites who use the Palestinians to pursue their hatred or dislike of Jewish people.” Indeed, Corbyn came under fire for once referring to members of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends,” a characterization he has since said he regrets. “I always thought it was a blind spot.”
British Jews find their voice
The new video, he said, has changed his position. “I’ve been a member of the Labour Party now for 13 years—my whole adult life. I’m reaching a point where I don’t think I can stay,” he said. “This is a matter of conscience … Jeremy could be the world’s global fighter on anti-Semitism if he took this seriously. No one would command more respect than him if he finally understood this issue. But at the moment it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”