“They feel emboldened because of leaders like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Viktor Orban [of Hungary], Salvini [of Italy], Bolsonaro [of Brazil], who telegraph the message that this sort of behaviour is OK, that it is OK to let your hatreds show, that political correctness is weak, that if you don’t like someone you can go beat them up.”
She says the rise in antisemitism comes from both the left and the right, arguing the stereotypes in which they trade and the impact of their bigotry is the same. Professor Lipstadt says far-right bigots tend to “own” and even celebrate their hatred while progressives often deny prejudice exists within their ranks.
Professor Lipstadt says many on the left, including Mr Corbyn, view the world through a prism made up of several facets – race, class and access to power.
“When someone like Corbyn sees a Jew, they see someone who is white, someone who wealthy, someone who is powerful. Therefore [they believe] that person cannot be a victim of prejudice.
“On top of that there is a second layer. Corbyn is always talking about how his mother was at Cable Street [referring to a famous 1936 street battle between left-wing demonstrators and British fascists]. What he is saying is that ‘I absorbed liberal values with my mother’s milk, so it is impossible to claim that I could be prejudiced.’
“Therefore if you can’t be a victim and I can’t be prejudiced, then you must have an ulterior motive [for your claims]; you want to harm the Labour Party, you support Israel.
“It is the only prejudice in which the liberals’ default position is not to believe the victim,” says Professor Lipstadt, who identifies her own politics as centre left. In 2016, she was portrayed by Weisz in the film Denial, a dramatisation of the ensuing high-profile trial after English author Irving sued Professor Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books for labelling him a Holocaust denier.
In her latest book, Professor Lipstadt notes that throughout his career Mr Corbyn has shared platforms with or offered support to antisemites or their causes, only to deny or explain the ties away after the event. She cites his defence in 2012 of an overtly antisemitic mural, featuring hook-nosed bankers playing Monopoly on a table resting on the backs of dark-skinned men, before it was removed from a wall in London’s East End. When screenshots of Mr Corbyn’s support emerged on social media in 2018, his staff released a statement saying he had not seen the mural when he defended it.
Professor Lipstadt also notes more than 20 Facebook pages “associated with Corbyn and Labour” – which collectively have more than 400,000 followers – contain messages of Holocaust denial and overt antisemitism.
“Is Jeremy Corbyn an antisemite?” Professor Lipstadt writes in her book. “My response would be that that is the wrong question. The right questions to ask are: has he facilitated and amplified expressions of antisemitism?
“Has he been consistently reluctant to acknowledge expressions of antisemitism unless they come from white supremacist neo-Nazis? Will his actions further facilitate the institutionalisation of antisemitism among other progressives?”
The answer to those questions is yes, according to Professor Lipstadt. But she says that since writing the book her view of Mr Corbyn has hardened. She says he has become so vehament in his rejection of any criticism about the issue, that “it is hard now to believe he is not antisemitic.”
The question of Mr Trump’s bigotry is also complicated, she says.
“I think he is a racist, there is evidence for that,” she says.
But she says his relationship with Jews both philosemitic and antisemitic.
“If you are someone who says, ‘I am in trouble with the law, I better get myself a good Jewish lawyer’ some people would say that is a compliment. I say, no, that is antisemitism.”
She believes Mr Trump has internalised antisemitic stereotypes about Jews – that they are good with money and in business, cunning in skirting laws – and appreciates them for these bigoted reasons.
Professor Lipstadt says she does not care “what is in his heart” or in Mr Corbyn’s.
What is more important, she says, is the impact of the President’s behaviour. She says Mr Trump has emboldened antisemites by refusing to distance himself from bigoted supporters. She also believes Mr Corbyn has done the same by refusing to acknowledge bigotry within his own political movement.
“No genocide, no pogrom, ever began with action,” she says. “It always begins with words. That doesn’t mean that everybody who uses these words will become a purveyor of violence, but it begins this way. And we are now in a time when those who engage in violence feel emboldened on the right. And on the left we see a refusal to take it seriously.”
Deborah Lipstadt will speak at the Antidote festival at the Sydney Opera House on September 1 and Melbourne Writers Festival on September 2 and 3. The Sydney Morning Herald is a media partner of the Antidote festival.
Nick O’Malley is a senior writer and a former US correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.