Like many who have spent their lives in Labour, I despair at the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership’s handling of antisemitism. The European and American left cannot believe Labour has let itself be engulfed in this row. French, German, American and other news media have all reported Corbyn’s stubborn refusal to adopt what was originally an EU definition of antisemitism.
The IHRA is not a Jewish organisation but an NGO set up by Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister in 1998. It, and the EU’s 2005 definition of antisemitism, has been bitterly attacked by Islamist outfits and supporters of Hamas with its Charter demand for the elimination of Israel.
However, no party or parliament in Europe that has signed up to the IHRA definition has seen any drop in sustained attacks on the Israeli government, the Israeli prime minister and the policies Israel adopts towards Palestinians and their rights.
The Labour leadership’s idea that adopting the IHRA definition somehow stops criticism of Israel is beyond ludicrous as the briefest glance across the Channel at press and online articles or any number of books attacking Israel demonstrates.
So why this reluctance — and why is the rest of the democratic left in Europe in a different space from English Labour?
France has far worse examples of antisemitism than Britain, with French Jews being killed.
So while French papers carry strident denunciations of Israel that would delight every BDS supporter in Britain, no mainstream party other than the rebadged National Front (now called the National Rally) rejects the IHRA definition.
A key reason is that the roots of antisemitism are regularly discussed in popular culture in France. Three books on the long-list for the European Book Prize are about antisemitism.
Géraldine Schwarz, a Berlin journalist with a French mother and German father, has written Les Amnésiques about her paternal grandfather who took over a Jewish business in Mannheim in 1938.
She uses what happened to explore how antisemitism took over Christian Germans who had lived peacefully with German Jews for many years. She segues into how French officials and police sent 79,000 French Jews to the gas chambers.
Her father was born in 1943 and lived with his French wife in Germany working as a government economist. But it took decades before Germany was able to accept what it did to its Jewish citizens.
Lionel Duroy’s Eugenia is a classic story of love and survival in Romania of the late 1930s and through the war. The heroine is not Jewish but loves a Jewish playwright.
The book is like a Robert Harris page-turner but evokes just how easily Jew-hate can take off with the slightest political encouragement.
Alexis Ragougneau’s Niels is about a young Dane who works in the Paris theatre with a playwright in the 1930s, goes home to become an anti-Nazi hero and returns to France in 1945 to find his copain has come to believe Jews are disloyal to France, obsessed with money, and control the creative and media world.
These books are well-written, up for a major book prize and on sale in French bookshops. They allow today’s France to understand how antisemitism can arise so fast unless taken seriously.
Britain’s 1930s British press, notably the Daily Mail, was antisemitic and novelists depicted Jews in various negative lights.
I cannot think of any recent work that explores this antisemitism since Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, written 30 years ago. A TV series of the Right Club, a fascist sympathising network in the 1930s, whose motto was PJ (Perish Judah), might make gripping watching.
Or the stories of British citizens who died in the extermination camps the Germans built in remote corners of occupied Poland.
But it is not part of our island history. We have a blind spot on antisemitism which can now be seen most directly in elements of Labour leadership. When the next Mann Booker prize winner or Sunday series deals with antisemitism in Britain perhaps they will begin to get it.
Denis MacShane was a Labour MP for 18 years and chaired the House of Commons All-Party Committee on Inquiry into Antisemitism in 2008.