RACISM, BRITISH STYLE
Leaders of both of the main British political parties have
lately been subjected to charges of racial insensitivity.
Labour’s left-wing Jeremy Corbyn has had to defend himself and his party against charges of antisemitism. Corbyn insisted that, while he is a critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, he is certainly not hostile to Jews, and he declares there is no room in the Labour Party for anti-Semites. In fact, he supports a proposal to adopt as Labour policy the definition of antisemitism drawn up by an international Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial.
Still, his critics insist that in his past he had an unfortunate tendency to attend meetings not only of groups bitterly hostile to Israel, but even of some that were clearly antisemitic. Moreover, his acceptance of the international committee’s definition of antisemitism has been contingent on the elimination of examples that might be used to limit the right to criticize Israel.
Meanwhile Conservatives are caught up in charges of hostility to Muslims. Since Muslims number ten times the 260,000 Jews in the British population (and increasing rapidly) it would appear unwise for mainstream politicians to offend them. Yet here is the Conservative party’s Boris Johnson, Theresa May’s Foreign Secretary until he found her soft on Brexit, provoking furious criticism from Islamic leaders by suggesting that Muslim women wearing the face-covering burqa looked like “letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Still, while Johnson’s remarks provoked criticism from other Conservative leaders, they unleashed a flood of supporting letters to the conservative Daily Telegraph. And he was defended on free speech grounds by Rowan Atkinson, star of the comedies Blackadder and Mr. Bean. Johnson, he said, had made a “pretty good” joke, and “you should really only apologize for a bad joke.”
Corbyn, too, had defenders among the satirists, notably the Guardian cartoonist, Steve Bell, who lambasted Israel policies as akin to apartheid. On the other hand, Corbyn was caustically imitated by Tracey Ulman on her BBC show. She has him defending himself against a man in a skullcap accusing him of antisemitism: “I hear you. I’m all over it like cream cheese on a bagel…I want you to know that I am completely on top of all this Jewish stuff. I have spoken to every single antisemite in the Labour party and I’ve told them – in no uncertain terms – tone it down a bit.”
As I see it:
Corbyn on Israel has been a strong critic
Which taken alone is not antisemitic.
But why must be such a fulsome extoller
Of radical groups like Hamas and Hezbollah?
And then there were meetings he clearly attended
When Jews and their feelings were deeply offended
If it happened just once it’s a charge he could flatten
But critics declared it a regular pattern
Conservatives also are torn and divided
Because Boris Johnson is widely derided.
Women in burkhas he angrily clobbers:
They’re like letterboxes or even bank robbers.
Other Tories admit he is caustic and clever,
But their party with Muslims they’d rather not sever.
His support from their members they think is a pity
And wish that he wasn’t so damnably witty.