My regrets at being exiled
POLITICS HAS ALL changed, and at the same time not changed at all. Over the past few weeks, almost all JC regular columnists, including me, have had something to say about the implausible rise of Jeremy Corbyn to lead Britain’s main opposition party. It is extraordinary that the far left, which has never before held power in the Labour Party, now dominates it. Yet the likelihood that Mr Corbyn can defy electoral history and win office on a programme so fantastical is extremely remote.
My guess — and it’s scarcely a rash prediction — is that Labour under Mr Corbyn cannot recover and will be severely bloodied in the 2020 election. And I regret that, because I want a moderate, reformist left-ofcentre party to be at least a plausible contender for office. Such a party usually wins my vote; a party led by Mr Corbyn will not.
Yet Labour’s trajectory has big costs not only for itself. It has caused serious concern among British Jews, and with reason. Readers of the JC will recall that Mr Corbyn offered an interview to this newspaper during his leadership campaign, and then withdrew on learning that his questioner would be me. The questions I would have asked him about his views and alliances remain current and pressing. They’ve become still more salient by Mr Corbyn’s extraordinary performance at this week’s Labour conference where he addressed a Labour Friends of Israel reception but was apparently loath even to utter the word “Israel”. What’s going on here is a pathology that has taken hold in the family of liberalism in recent years. It’s the notion that politics and diplomacy are about values that are clear, fundamental and attained through an effort of will. That’s not true of some of the things we hold most dear, such as the balance between liberty and equality, or the trade-off between personal wealth and economic security. It’s especially destructive when applied to national or regional disputes where rights conflict. Because Mr Corbyn and his allies see the IsraeliPalestinian conflict through a prism of colonialism, they don’t grasp the extraordinary vitality of Israel’s democracy and its importance for the values of secularism and pluralism in a region that is short of them.
Put bluntly, the struggle for Palestinian statehood is not the equivalent of the anti-apartheid movement of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It is a calumny to suggest that Israel is an apartheid state but, still more, it’s a factual error. The pluralist ethos of Zionism will be fulfilled when there is eventually a two-state solution between a safe Israel and a sovereign Palestine, and in the meantime policy-makers have a responsibility not to incite divisions that hamper it.
This used to be a commonplace notion of the left. It is held by the many dedicated Labour MPs and activists who are aghast at the way that Labour is becoming an insurrectionary and anti-Israeli cause. And when an entire nationality is besmirched in the name of progressivism, something has gone badly wrong with the idealism that informs it. The left now places itself not on the side of pluralism, democracy and the expansion of women’s rights, but with theocratic movements such as Hamas and Hizbollah that revile these values. British public life is being tarnished that way.
For us on the moderate left it will be a long exile, and a time for solidarity with British Jewry in all its political diversity.
Corbyn and his allies do not grasp the vitality of Israel’s democracy
Oliver Kamm is a columnist on The Times