For those campaigning to paint Labour as a party infested with anti-Semitism, and its leader Jeremy Corbyn as part of the problem, the moment of reality came yesterday evening when veteran back-bencher Margaret Hodge gave an interview to Sky News. And what she said brought the whole campaign to a shuddering halt.
Why this should be can be deuced from what she said. “On the day that I heard they were going to discipline me, and possibly suspend me, it felt almost like … I kept thinking, what did it feel like to be a Jew in Germany in the 30s … because it felt almost as if they were coming for me, and it’s rather difficult to define, but there’s that fear, and it reminded me of what my Dad used to say. He always said to me as a child ‘You’ve got to keep a packed suitcase at the door Margaret, in case you have to leave in a hurry’”.
There was more. “And when I heard about the disciplinary, my emotional response resonated with that feeling of fear, that clearly was at the heart of what my father felt, when he came to Britain”. She also told “It’s a very fine line between being pro-Palestinian and being anti-Semitic and I think [Corbyn]’s gone the wrong side of that line”.
So not only did she sell the pass with a ridiculous comparison of a political party giving due consideration to complaints from members to the genocidal tendencies of the Third Reich, she was suggesting that the anti-Semitism row really was about Israel and the Palestinians - and that this was some kind of zero sum game. So what happened next?
This morning, there were no front pages taking her words as further condemnation of Labour. No coming together of the Pundit Establishment in support. No more inventions of what Jezza didn’t actually do when he went to Tunis. Instead, there has been only condemnation and ridicule. Because the Labour anti-Semitism campaign is now bust.
After Sky News confirmed “Jewish Labour MP @margarethodge says the moment she found out she faced investigation for confronting @jeremycorbyn over anti-Semitism made her think about ‘what it felt like to be a Jew in Germany in the 30s’”, the feedback began.
Michael Segalov was one of those passing adverse comment. “This is complete nonsense from Margaret Hodge. It is not a 'fine line' between fighting anti-Semitism and supporting Palestinian people in their struggle. You can do both just fine. To suggest anything otherwise is dangerous and disingenuous … This interview isn't just ridiculous, it also completely undermines the intervention she made last week. I wanted to give Hodge benefit of doubt when she called Corbyn an anti-Semite. She was wrong to, but I hoped maybe she was just exasperated. Stuff like this makes that hard”. Rather too hard.
Others were less restrained. “My Uncle survived Belsen, and came to the UK after, he found out his wife and two young daughters had been murdered. Margaret Hodge’s comments sicken me to the very core! … Margaret Hodge has cheapened, trivialised the memory of Jews in Nazi Germany. She should be ashamed of herself over this abuse of the most painful episode in Jewish history … My mother lost almost 40 members of her family in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. For @margarethodge to compare her treatment for vilely abusing the leader of her party to this experience is repulsive & reflects only her own deep narcissism, insensitivity, ignorance & stupidity”.
Then came the pundits, with Priyamvada Gopal putting it directly: “Margaret Hodge has genuine concern neither for the victims of anti-Semitism nor for the victims of anti-Arab racism which also brutalises so many. A disgraceful abuse of a righteous cause”.
Owen Jones was equally forthright. “The struggle for Palestinian liberation and the struggle against anti-Semitism spring from the same place: a belief in equality, freedom and justice. To suggest there’s a fine line between Palestinian solidarity and anti-Semitism is an utter disgrace”. And Mehdi Hasan added “'Fine line'? Sorry, this is an outrageous statement by Margaret Hodge. Outrageous on so many levels. Let's please tackle anti-Semitism on the left without throwing Palestinians, or their supporters on the left, under the bus please”.
Elsewhere, Ms Hodge was not getting away with that Nazi comparison, as Jo Phillips showed: “I'm gay, have a mental health issue and am a far left Socialist. Margaret Hodge - you have just compared the mass murder of people like me by Nazis to getting a 'ticking off' at work. We weren't allowed to work. We lived in fear. We were incarcerated, murdered. Apologise!” Aaron Bastani was similarly unimpressed.
“This is like me saying I know how my dad felt as a refugee without the right to work for 3 years when my boss cut a Saturday shift. Outrageous and utterly disrespectful to ancestors”. Then came the ridicule. Rather a lot of it.
“When I skipped lunch the other day, it was the same hunger my Irish ancestors would have felt when they were starving during the potato famine … When I had too many Punk IPAs and I had a headache the next day it was the same as my Tatar great grandpa being shot in the head by Communists who thought he was a German spy after being captured … When I had to run for the bus the other day, I suddenly felt like it must have been the same fear my Huguenot ancestors felt as they rushed to board the ships to escape the Siege of La Rochelle”. All that, and no press sympathy.
We were told the Labour anti-Semitism row was not about criticism of Israel. And that Nazi Germany comparisons were totally out of order. Now Margaret Hodge has shown it is about Israel, and gone full Nazi Germany comparison in the process.
With that interview, the campaign to paint Labour and its leader as anti-Semitic ran out of steam, out of road, and out of credibility. All the backing of the right-wing press has been as nothing: one clumsy intervention has scuppered it all. Game over.
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