"Britain's next prime minister might well be an anti-Semite." Theodore Dalrymple, an English psychiatrist and distinguished author, began a recent article with that striking speculation. He wasn't kidding. He was discussing what some in U.K. politics call "the Labour Party's Jewish problem," embodied in the person of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader and, conceivably, the next prime minister.
As Dalrymple explained, we can't say whether Corbyn's anti-Semitism is a sincerely held prejudice or merely a matter of electoral calculation -- there are far more Muslims than Jews in Britain.
"But either way, his failure to condemn anti-Semitism in his own party and his penchant for consorting in friendly fashion with extremist anti-Zionists of genocidal instincts" have created among British Jews more anxiety than anyone since Sir Oswald Mosley, the much (and correctly) maligned British fascist leader of the 1930s.
If not an anti-Semite himself, Corbyn is quite tolerant of anti-Semitism in others, including his fellow Labourites. Or perhaps he doesn't think this issue deserves his attention. Corbyn maintains good relations with Jewdas, a group self-described as "Radical Voices for the Alternative Diaspora." They are Jews but anti-Zionist. They organize trips under the name Birthwrong, a reference to an official Jewish program, Birthright, which sponsors student trips to Israel. Birthwrong caters to "anyone who's sick of Israel's stranglehold on Jewish culture."
Corbyn dismayed many Jews when he defended a blatantly anti-Semitic mural in the East End of London. It depicted stereotypical hook-nosed Jewish bankers manipulating the world's finances on a Monopoly board supported on the backs of the poor. Corbyn championed the artist on the ground of freedom of speech, later explaining that he didn't notice the offensive Jewish stereotypes.
The controversy swirling around him is part of a broader political phenomenon, the persistent appearances of anti-Semitism on the left. Dislike of Jews has afflicted many leftish people in the past -- and even over on the tyrannical left, Stalin looked with lethal suspicion on Jews. But now that ancient hatred shows up frequently, not only in British Labour but also among leftish Democrats in the U.S. and the NDP in Canada.
One explanation lies in the almost universal notoriety of colonialism. To many leftish people, conditioned to despise any form of Western imperialism, Israelis can look like conquerors and Palestinians like their helpless colonial victims. The campaign to boycott Israel draws its strength from the way it presents itself as virtuous and focuses on the less attractive of Israel's policies. It's also a way of disguising a semi-secret Jew hatred as international benevolence.
In the U.S., activists on the left have a way of applauding fellow leftists even if they are bigots. This leads to anti-Semitism by association. Leftists may be judged not by their own actions but by the people they praise. Whom do they learn from? Whom can they tolerate? Tamika Mallory, an organizer of the anti-Trump national women's march, can barely restrain her enthusiasm for Louis Farrakhan, leader for the past four decades of the Nation of Islam. He blames Jews for the African slave trade and speaks of "that wicked state of Israel." Mallory has tweeted, "Thank God this man is still alive and doing well." The NDP invited her to address its recent biennial convention.
Richard Marceau, the senior political adviser for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said he found the Mallory invitation troubling: "While there is a vocal and active minority of NDPers who have some kind of unhealthy anti-Israel obsession," the NDP doesn't embrace Farrakhan's views. But at that same convention, 14 of the 45 resolutions on world affairs submitted by NDP riding associations were either pro-Palestinian or critical of Israel, supporting Marceau's claim of an "anti-Israel obsession."
Diana Richardson, a liberal Democrat and a New York State assemblywoman from Brooklyn, was accused recently of delivering an anti-Semitic rant during a caucus meeting in Albany. She's said to have blamed Jews for gentrification in her constituency, an odd version of the blame-the-Jews slogan used for generations by anti-Semites. The state Republican chairman told the New York Post she should resign from the state assembly for "her hateful, anti-Semitic comments."
Perhaps the connection between leftists and anti-Jewish bigotry was best explained in a few words attributed to August Bebel, a 19th-century carpenter in Germany who rose to national prominence in politics. "Anti-Semitism," he said, "is the socialism of fools." Thinking about Jeremy Corbyn adds a fresh relevance to that ancient adage.