By Issy Anthony – Comment Sub-Editor
I want us to question how we look at politicians, and more specifically, political leaders. This is the first election I will be voting in. I think for many, it appears to come down to a choice between the party leaders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. As the faces of their parties, they promote their manifestos, and it is likely that one of them will be elected Prime Minister on December 12.
However, we need to fight against our desire to choose in this way. I believe we should see it as a decision between Labour and Conservative, not Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. But it is near impossible to ignore what the media has said about both men. Most recently, the accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party, and of Mr Corbyn being an anti-semite himself. Eight MPs left Labour in February 2019 to sit as The Independent Group, citing the ongoing anti-Semitism claims as one of their main reasons, alongside the ongoing handling of Brexit. In 2012, Jeremy Corbyn spoke out against the removal of a street artist mural, which many found deeply anti-Semitic. It depicts caricatures of Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on a table supported by the backs of the poor. He has since said that the mural is anti-Semitic, and that he hadn’t looked closely enough at it before.
In 2013 he gave a speech where he stated that two Jewish men, who were arguing for Zionism (a movement for the re-establishment and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel), ‘having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives… they don’t understand English irony’. It has been taken as Jeremy Corbyn alienating them. Mr Corbyn defended this saying he had used the term Zionist ‘in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, but also stated he is “now more careful with how I might use the term ‘Zionist’ because a once self-identifying political term has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”
British Jews are divided on the subject. A recent poll found that 87% believe Corbyn to be an anti-Semite. With polls, it’s important to remember we do not know how representative they are, and what the political opinions are of those answering. Nevertheless, the number is significant. At the same time, I have read numerous articles by Jewish supporters, advocating for people to vote Labour, and stating that they don’t believe Corbyn to be an anti-semite. One Jewish activist, Em Hilton, wrote that the ‘Jewish community has been reduced to a political football’, showing her belief that the anti-Semitism accusations were merely a tactic to hinder Labour votes.
There has been a lot of focus on this particular issue in the media, and for Labour voters, it has been irritating. While Labour has been found to have ‘clear evidence of ignorant attitudes’ by the Chakrabarti report, there seems to be little mention of the ignorant attitudes displayed by the Conservatives. These include Boris Johnson referring to Muslim women as looking like ‘letterboxes’; he defended his words, insisting that the backlash against them was “confected indignation” at his “strong views” on Brexit. He also referred to tribal warriors as having ‘watermelon smiles’ (a historically racist caricature); which he later defended as having said “in a wholly satirical way” and claimed had been taken out of context.
The Conservative’s views on immigration and on allowing refugees to enter the country are known to be less liberal than those of the Labour Party. Racist and bigoted comments made by anyone, especially an elected politician, are not acceptable. The anti-Semitism scandal itself was so shocking to many, as it came from a party we believe to be actively working against bigotry.
At this point, I am going to have to state my political opinions. I support Labour (probably not a shock as this is published in the Sussex student paper). In my opinion, what Corbyn has said in the past can be interpreted as anti-semitic. And believe me, I was not quick to excuse him. In all honesty, I am not his biggest fan. I, along with many people, believe more needs to be done to tackle the ‘ignorant attitudes’ that were found to be within the party. I do not want Jewish people to think they are being easily brushed aside by Labour voters. What Corbyn said was wrong. But the alternative -the conservative’s staying in power-is much worse.
I am not voting based on the leader. I am voting based on the manifesto, which I believe will do the most good for the most people in this country. A manifesto that will make sure the NHS doesn’t become privatised, will give more funding to state schools, will end austerity, and will ban fracking-to name a few.
I cannot tell you who to vote for. All I can say is that idolising, or hating, a politician will do nothing. They are one person, and while it may seem like it, they do not reflect their whole party. Those refusing to acknowledge potential anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, or believing that all Labour Party members are anti-Semitic, are both ignoring facts.
We must be aware that the media, especially nearing the election, is less like a news source and more like propaganda. This article could arguably be called propaganda. Whether newspapers are telling you that Labour is plagued with anti-Semitism, or your social media is telling you it’s all malicious lies, neither is the full truth.
We cannot control what is said by one person. What we can control is what we listen to. Do your research and remember that they are just one person. Do not vote for or against a party because of their leader. While they are a representation of that party, their manifesto holds their true goals-and we can hold them to it. So, go vote!
Image credit: Tim Green