This week the focus has been on the Labour party and the claims that it has an issue of institutional anti-Semitism at its core is dominating the headlines. Labour MP Naz Shah resigned from her position as parliamentary private secretary to the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell for a social media post suggesting that Israel should be relocated to the US – a move which some believe was anti- Semitic. Former London Mayor Ken Livingston was then suspended after defending Shah during which he made after making a historical reference to Adolf Hitler in a discussion about Israel. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time supporter of Palestine, has been forced to deny there is a problem of anti-Semitism within his party, a problem many of his opponents see him as the cause of.
British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Livingstone’s comments, saying anti-Semitism, like racism, was unacceptable and adding: “It is quite clear that the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism”. But the response of the likes of Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson to Labour’s anti-Semitism row highlights that the party is not beyond religious-based discrimination.
Johnson took the opportunity to link Labour’s mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, to Livingstone’s comments despite Khan’s quick condemnation of them. Johnson told LBC Radio on Thursday afternoon there was an “ideological continuum” between the two politicians, adding: “There’s plainly some sort of virus of anti-Semitism within the Labour party that needs to be addressed.” Khan had called Livingstone’s comments “appalling and inexcusable” in a tweet an hour after the interview aired and he was the first high-profile Labour figure to call for Livingstone to be suspended. Despite this, the mayor chose to draw these non-existent links.
Boris Johnson’s comments are the latest in a series of Tory attempts to use Khan’s religious identity to score points in the London mayoral campaign. Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith has questioned Khan’s ability to run London due to supposed links to Islamist extremists. His efforts were backed by Cameron at PMQs who brought up Khan having spoken on a platform alongside south London imam Suliman Gani, who he said supported Daesh. However, Gani’s Tory links soon emerged- Gani was invited by a Conservative candidate to recruit fellow Muslims for a Tory supporters’ meeting and Goldsmith himself had a picture taken with the imam outside a Conservative party event.
The above is part of a government trend of equating Islam with extremism, especially since the rise of Daesh, and is a dangerous and divisive strategy. Last year, the PM accused some British Muslim communities of quietly approving of the ideology of Daesh, which he said “paved the way” for young people to join the extremists. In January, he was accused of stigmatising Muslim women after he announced plans for English language lessons and tests that could lead to deportation if failed, suggesting that language classes for Muslim women could help stop radicalisation. Cameron also came under fire after defending a letter sent by communities’ secretary Eric Pickles to 1,000 mosques calling for them to do more to tackle extremism and suggesting that Islam was inherently apart from British identity. The government’s Prevent strategy has been criticised for singling out British Muslims to the point where Baroness Warsi warned of a “cold war against British Muslims”.
While Shah and Livingstone’s comment were widely condemned in the strongest possible terms and the question of Labour anti-Semitism has been making headlines in recent weeks without little factual basis, anti-Islamic rhetoric frequently displayed by the conservative party is rarely scrutinized to the same extent. What the Labour anti-Semitism row demonstrates is that we need a political environment where political figures do not recruit the serious issue of anti-Semitism to silence legitimate criticism of Israel and where all forms of hate are equally condemned.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.