Does the Labour Party have ‘a problem with anti-Semitism’? No; and the accusations raise more questions than answers.

by richardhutton

Media Commentaries

Does the Labour Party have “a problem with anti-Semitism”? This accusation gained prominence in March 2016, when two Labour Party members, Vicki Kirby and Gerald Downing were removed from the organisation; generating several comment pieces in the national press. In addition to this, allegations had been made against Labour-affiliated students at Oxford University. The commentaries bemoaned the Labour party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for not doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism; and, in some cases, suggested that they have actually encouraged the prejudice.

So then, are these claims supported by evidence; and does the Labour party, or its leader, have a case to answer? No. In fact, what becomes clear when the various allegations are tested against the evidence is that they are not merely inaccurate, but in most cases false. This is cause for concern in its own right.

Firstly, let’s look at the allegations made against Vicki Kirby and Gerald Downing – the two people whose removal from the Labour party precipitated a deluge of commentaries.

As reported in the Guardian, on the 15th of March:

“Labour has suspended for a second time an activist at the centre of a row about antisemitic tweets. Vicki Kirby was a parliamentary candidate when she was put under investigation by the party in 2014 after a series of posts on Twitter in which she apparently suggested Adolf Hitler might be a “Zionist God” and that Jews had “big noses”. She was readmitted to the party with a warning after a period of suspension, but the controversy has resurfaced after she was appointed vice-chairman of Labour’s branch in Woking, Surrey”.

However, the news of this was first broken by the GuidoFawkes blog, a day earlier; which helpfully provides the source of its own story – a webpage by Woking’s Labour Party branch; dated the 22nd of February 2016. It announces that the “newly elected vice chair Vicki Kirby” had “been attending meetings” organised by a group called Save Our Services In Surrey – dedicated to opposing austerity.

The tweets in question were also compiled by the GuidoFawkes blog – there are six in total; dated between 2011-2014. Four of them are from August 2014. Kirby was suspended from the Labour party on 15th March 2016. So, both of her suspensions revolve around the same six tweets.

Moreover, the GuidoFawkes Blog had also broken the story about Gerry Downing [1]. It published a piece about him on the 8th of March 2016; decrying him as an apologist for Al Qaeda’s attack on the United States in September 2001. A day later it published a second piece on Downing, entitled ‘Gerry Downing “we must address the Jewish question”. So, those are the allegations of anti-Semitism made against Kirby and Downing; and it would be fair to say that the GuidoFawkes blog has played a key role in bringing these two stories to mainstream media attention.

Writing in the Guardian on the 19th of March 2016, Jonathan Freedland referred to the cases of both Downing and Kirby; and contended that Jeremy Corbyn bore a particular responsibility for them [2]. The article was entitled ‘Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem‘; and sub-titled ‘Under Jeremy Corbyn the party has attracted many activists with views hostile to Jews’. The only ‘activists’ cited are Kirby and Downing. Freedland refers to the aforementioned material – noting that Downing:

“said it was time to wrestle with the ‘Jewish Question'”; while Kirby “hailed Hitler as a ‘Zionist God’ and tweeted a line about Jews having ‘big noses’, complete with a ‘lol'”.

Freedland then expressly attributes responsibility for this to Jeremy Corbyn: “Thanks to Corbyn, the Labour party is expanding, attracting many leftists who would previously have rejected it or been rejected by it. Among those are people with hostile views of Jews”.

The facts of the case disprove Freedland’s claim, however. Neither Downing nor Kirby were attracted to the party by Corbyn – both had joined Labour before Corbyn had been elected to the leadership. As was plain from her first suspension from the party, Kirby had been a member of Labour at least as far back as 2014; whereas Downing was suspended from the party for the first time in August 2015, as he noted in a comment posted on the New Internationalist website. He also stated on Facebook that he has been a member of Labour “for some 30 years, with a few breaks”. So, Freedland evidently doesn’t have a point with regard to Corbyn here.

However, he goes on to make a more general point about ‘the left’ and anti-Semitism which is significant – specifically that Jewish people have spent “years, lamenting that parts of the left were succumbing to views of Jews drenched in prejudice”; and that these warnings have been ignored in “the belief that what Jews are complaining about is not antisemitism at all, but criticism of Israel”. On the same tack, reacting to the news about Vicki Kirby, on the 15th March 2016 Owen Jones had published a piece on the Guardian’s website, called ‘Antisemitism is a poison – the left must take leadership against it’; which had said much the same thing:

“It is incumbent on the progressively minded to take antisemitism seriously. We wouldn’t belittle the seriousness of other forms of bigotry, or seek to deflect from it. It is possible to passionately oppose antisemitism on the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Israel’s government and support Palestinian national self-determination. Both these issues have to be completely disentangled: a discussion about serious antisemitism should not be a launchpad into a debate about Israel”.

So both authors suggest that ‘the left’ has a problem with distinguishing anti-Semitism from criticism of Israel – which to all intents and purposes centres on the policies of the country’s government. They also imply that there is a straightforward distinction to be drawn between these two things.

However, neither the case of Kirby nor Downing support this viewpoint. On the contrary, they serve to demonstrate how difficult it actually is to establish whether a sentiment is anti-Semitic, or is criticism of Israel’s government. The GuidoFawkes site provides a screenshot of Kirby’s comments on Twitter, which are at the centre of the allegations against her. As can be seen, the majority of these were references toIsrael, rather than Jews:

The four tweets Kirby had posted in August 2014 alluded to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which had been taking place during July and August that year. Kirby’s reference to Jews having ‘big noses’ and ‘supporting spurs’, posted in 2011, is also more questionable than it initially seems – it appears to be a line partially misquoted from David Baddiel’s comedy about anti-Semitism, ‘The Infidel’; which had been released in 2010; and features the following exchange:

Rabbi: What do you know about Jews?

Mahmud Nasir: They’ve got big noses? They like money… oh, they do. Uh, sportsmen?

It would be fair to say that Kirby’s wording in these tweets is problematic; and it’s possible that the reference to Jewish people having big noses was a genuinely derogatory statement, rather than a quote – quite what the reference to the ‘charade’ relates to is unclear – but taken together, the tweets don’t seem to offer anywhere near as foregone a conclusion as Jones or Freedland suggest. Moreover, Kirby was not initially suspended for making references to Jews – but specifically for her criticisms of Israel’s military action, as reported by the Independent in August 2014:

“We invented Israel when saving them from Hitler, who now seems to be their teacher,” while another said: “I will never forget and I will make sure my kids teach their children how evil Israel is!” Another tweet read: “Apparently you can ask IS/ISIS/ISIL questions on ask.fm. Anyone thought of asking them why they’re not attacking the real oppressors #Israel?”

These are obviously unpleasant comments, irrespective of whether or not they were motivated by anti-Semitism. Kirby was punished for posting them, however; and warned of her future conduct. Given that nothing similar appears to have been posted by her since then, it would seem that the matter was dealt with effectively by the Labour party. It is also perfectly clear that the focus of them was upon Israel.

In fact, Freedland himself acknowledges how difficult it can be to discern anti-Semitism from criticism of Israel; which goes some way towards explaining why others would struggle to see it any more distinctly:

“Many good people on the left want to make things neat and simple by saying that Israel and Zionism have nothing to do with Jews or Judaism. That they can deplore the former even while they protect and show solidarity with the latter. But it’s not quite as easy as that…a recent survey found that 93% of British Jews said Israel formed some part of their identity. Through ties of family or history, they are bound up with it.”.

If Freedland sees it this way, it perhaps explains why other people take the same view, but from a negative standpoint; and how criticism of the one can segue into the other, without prejudice or racism necessarily being a factor. If the state of Israel and Jewish identity overlap in many respects, it is obvious that criticism can follow suit.

If anything, the distinction between anti-Semitism and reproaches of Israel’s government is even less clear cut in the case of Downing. The references to Downing’s essay misquote its title; and none allude to its content properly. It was not called “we must address the Jewish question” as the GuidoFawkes blog claimed; nor did it suggest that “it was time to wrestle with the ‘Jewish Question'” as Freedland suggested. Instead it was entitled ‘Why Marxists must address the Jewish question concretely today’; published on 22nd August 2015. So what is the ‘Jewish question’ it proposes to address?

According to the GuidoFawkes blog “The piece speaks for itself”; and this is supposedly illustrated by the following quote:

“The role Zionists have played in the attempted witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign is glaringly obvious… Since the dawning of the period of neo-liberal capitalism in the 1970s, elements of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie, from Milton Friedman to Henry Kissinger to the pro-Israel ideologues of the War on Terror, have played a vanguard role for the capitalist offensive against the workers.”

The ellipses denotes the removal of six and a half paragraphs. The actual text in question discusses something quite different to what’s implied here by the Fawkes site:

“The role Zionists have played in the attempted witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign is glaringly obvious. So is their role in British politics in general. In the last parliament, 80% of Tory MP’s supported the Conservative Friends of Israel. Leading figures in Labour like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are involved with Labour Friends of Israel, whose sponsor list is a roll-call of Blairite neocons and war makers. The Lib Dems were similarly affected. This gives immense power”.

So, this was evidently not a reference to Judaism, but to ‘Pro-Israel’ lobby groups. Downing’s article is by no means free from problematic qualities; but is it anti-Semitic? It’s more difficult to say than the commentaries discussing it suggest. In fact, despite its references to “Jewish militants” and “the Jewish bourgeois”, the piece itself is primarily about Israel. As it concludes: “The end of ethnocracy in Israel would spell the defeat of this extra resource of imperialism, which today’s Western ruling classes value highly indeed”. It is easy enough to see why somebody would read Downing’s piece and conclude that it is rooted in anti-Semitic hostility; but it seems to be more a badly written and ill-thought out treatise on the demerits of Western imperialism, written from a half-baked Marxist standpoint, than opprobrium aimed at people for being Jewish.

This is the point at issue, here: it isn’t entirely clear whether these two individuals are anti-Semitic; or whether their criticisms of Israel are poorly worded. It could be either which is true. Their views on Israel could be rooted in racism; but they could equally well not be. Either way, the facts of both cases fail to support the conclusion drawn by Freedland that Kirby and Downing’s membership of the Labour party has implications for its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Both of them joined the party before Corbyn was elected to lead it – both were removed while he leads the party.

Labour Friends Of Israel

Freedland is not alone in alleging that Jeremy Corbyn is implicated in anti-Semitism; nor is it a suggestion limited to media columnists. A number of the Labour party’s own MPs have written pieces – or made public statements – which contended that anti-Semitism has become a problem within the Labour party, specifically because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership [3]. Do they have any more of a point than Freedland? No. In fact, this is where the conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel’s government becomes deeply problematic.

Writing in the Telegraph,  Tom Harris – a former Labour MP – suggested that ‘The Labour Party is increasingly anti-Semitic'[4]. From the outset, however, Harris amalgamates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism; stating that: “The influx of anti-Israel far Left supporters has worsened the bias of the PLP against Jewish people”. The cases of Kirby and Downing are cited as the proof that this has been due to Corbyn’s leadership. Needless to say by now, this is untrue.

Moreover, throughout Harris’ piece, there is no reference to any form of sectarian hostility aimed at Jews; but, instead, repeated allusions to Israel. For instance:

“the recent growth in party membership as a root cause of Labour’s current anti-Semitism problem: hatred of Israel – real, blind, vicious, hatred – is felt most keenly and most loudly by those on the extreme Left, many of them Trotskyites who joined to shore up Mr Corbyn’s leadership and who see him as the world’s last best hope of overturning capitalism and, they hope, Israel while he’s at it”.

In fact, Harris goes on to make it plain that he sees criticism of Israel as intrinsically anti-Semitic: “anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, these people plead in their defence…Yet what is Zionism other than support for the creation and continued existence of the state of Israel?”. Harris concludes because of this that “Labour must not, cannot tolerate such a view”; and that “Labour does indeed have a problem with Jews”.

Moreover, Harris refers to another Telegraph article, quoting the Labour MP – John Mann – making the exact same accusations in relation to an alleged problem with anti-Semitism among a Labour student group at Oxford University [5]. Mann is backed-up on his calls for Jeremy Corbyn to act upon these claims by “Michael Dugher MP and Rachel Reeves MP”. This story had made news when the student leader of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, gave a public resignation; claiming that “a large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews”. As Chalmers states at the beginning of his notice, however: “This comes in the light of OULC’s decision at this evening’s general meeting to endorse Israel Apartheid Week.” So, it’s clear that allegations of anti-Semitism were being made with regard to peoples attitudes towards Israel.

The significance of this may not be immediately obvious. However, what the Telegraph neglects to mention, at any point, is that Tom Harris, Michael Dugher, and Rachel Reeves are all involved at some level in ‘pro-Israel’ lobbying. Dugher and Reeves are ‘officers’ in the Labour Friends of Israel lobby group; while Harris is listed as a ‘supporter’ of it. Louise Ellman, another Labour MP who was quoted in the Guardian’s piece about the Oxford University Labour Club making the same allegations against Corbyn, is also designated an ‘officer’ of this group. Furthermore, the Labour peer, Michael Levy, was quoted by the Guardian – warning that he would resign if anti-Semitism was tolerated by Corbyn’s Labour. As with the Telegraph, the Guardian does not refer to the fact that Levy is a key figure in the Labour Friends of Israel lobby group. This may not initially seem altogether significant; however, it serves to illuminate a problem which underscores persistent allegations of anti-Semitism made against people who have criticised the policies of Israel’s government. Namely, that they are often politically-motivated.

Harris et al are not the only Labour MPs to be affiliated with ‘pro-Israel’ lobbying, who have leveled charges of anti-Semitism at the Labour leadership, or at the party’s supporters. Wes Streeting is another Labour MP, who has alleged that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party has seen anti-Semitism within it increase [6]. As with the previous figures, this centres on Israel.

On the 14th March 2016 the Huffington Post quoted Streeting claiming that: “I’ve had constituents in Ilford North write to me asking ‘What on earth is going on with the Labour party’; ‘Is there still a place for Jews in the Labour party’; ‘Why would Jewish people want to vote for the Labour party’”; and that “Labour is seen as a soft-touch on anti-semitism or looking the other way”. These were in reference to to the cases of Downing and Kirby.

Streeting also posted a statement on his Facebook account; asking: “Why, when Mr Downing’s case was first highlighted by Guido Fawkes, did it take over a day for the Labour Party to act…?”. This seems to be a self-answering question – claims being made by such a disreputable site obviously need to be investigated properly. Moreover, given that Kirby and Downing were removed from the party, Streeting lacks a point here. It would also appear that he is being disingenuous.

Streeting began making accusations that Corbyn was implicated in the anti-Semitism of others during the Labour leadership campaign; bemoaning Corbyn’s “remarkably one-sided and one-dimensional views on one of the most intractable conflicts and some of the unpalatable company he has kept during his long career in Parliament”. That is, the conflict between Israel and Palestinians; and Corbyn’s involvement with critics of Israel’s government. As Streeting goes on to say “when it comes to defending Israel’s security and right to exist, the Labour Party should always be consistent and uncompromising”.

Streeting subsequently outlines his own past opposition to the Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment movement. This was undertaken while he was the President of the National Union of Students. So, this is not merely a matter of opinion for his part, but one of political activism. As with the aformentioned Labour MPs, Streeting is a member of Labour Friends of Israel; and even once wrote an essay for them, entitled ‘Youth activism should be harnessed to make the progressive case for Israel’. It’s fair to say therefore, that Streeting not only elides anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel; but has been involved in ‘pro-Israel’ lobbying efforts. These factors clearly underscore the allegations he has made against the Labour party leader.

More indicative still are Streeting’s activities during his tenure as the NUS President. He visited the West Bank in December 2009; and spoke of it to the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, in beatific terms. Streeting had visited Bethlehem:

“which he says did not look like the “war-torn place” he had expected. “When we passed through, my first impression of the West Bank was that it was just like the place on the other side…. The surroundings were the same, the people were doing the same things – there wasn’t much difference between the two places.” The Palestinian economy in the West Bank seems “to be a lot more stable and active” than he had assumed, he added”.

Suffice to say, Israeli Human Rights groups provide a different portrait of life within the West Bank, during 2009. The reality of life for Palestinians in the territory has been documented in numerous reports published by B’Tselem. Untreated wastewater from Israeli settlements had been polluting the land of Palestinian farmers. Israeli authorities failed to treat wastewater themselves; and obstructed efforts by the Palestinian Authority to build water-treatment plants within Palestinian communities.

Bethlehem; December 2009.

Bethlehem; December 2009.

Israeli settlers were also documented harassing Palestinian farmers, and stealing their crops during the Olive harvest that autumn. The settlements themselves were expanded in 2009. Moreover, seventeen Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces during 2009. Torture and abusive detention were also recorded by B’Tselem. Those subject to these practices included minors; and residents of Bethlehem.

Bethlehem; 2009.

Bethlehem; 2009.

Freedom of movement was also severely restricted for Palestinians in the West Bank, by virtue of check-points, forbidden roads, and physical obstructions; along with a planning and zoning scheme, enforced by the Israeli government – as reported by the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian territory. This places severe curtailments on Palestinian use of land and resources; with marked effects upon housing, trade, and general living standards.

These were all a daily fact of life for Palestinians subject to Israeli policy in the West Bank during 2009, when Streeting visited the region. Perhaps he saw nothing of this; but it would seem to be something which can not pass unnoticed without making a determined effort to ignore it.

West Bank barrier.

West Bank barrier.

Streeting has continued in this vein since being elected to Parliament – expressing concern about anti-Semitism, but focusing on criticism aimed at Israel’s government. The elision is made plain by Streeting himself, in an interview he gave to the Jewish Chronicle; speaking about the Parliamentary vote to officially recognise the right of Palestinians to statehood, during 2014:

“Many Israel advocates say they will turn away from Labour as a result of Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander’s position during last summer’s Gaza conflict. So how does Mr Streeting deal with the harm their stance could do to his campaign?

“There’s no doubt that what Ed and Douglas have said on Israel has made some party members uncomfortable,” he said. “I think it’s part of a wider debate we need to have on the left here and in Israel. Issues like the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, that is gesture politics. We have a dangerous climate in this country where some Jews feel they can’t speak out. That’s a concern. They should never feel hesitant or feel that when they raise antisemitism they will get a rant about Israel back in return.”

It’s obvious how self-contradictory this point is. In fact, the Jewish Chronicle’s journalist makes the same conflation in this piece: “Mr Streeting’s own track-record on Israel is clear. During his NUS presidency he was praised for improving relations with the Union of Jewish Students at a time when anti-Israel activism on campuses was growing”. Streeting had expressed almost exactly the same sentiment himself in October 2009:

““It’s not fair for Jewish students to go about their daily lives feeling like they are expected to justify or defend the actions of the state of Israel”.

It’s a point Streeting repeated in November 2015, when the Labour party proposed to end its own contract with the security firm, G4S; citing reports of its unethical practices within the West Bank. Writing in Jewish News, Streeting implied that this was anti-Semitic: “G4S operates in around 125 countries, but it is telling that only its contract with Israel has been cited as a reason for the boycott”; before adding:

“I recently held an open forum at Redbridge Jewish Community Centre, where residents expressed worries about Labour’s stance on the Middle East and even our commitment to tackling anti-Semitism. Many of these residents have been lifelong Labour voters and are in despair, feeling that the Labour Party can no longer be an honest broker for Middle East peace”.

It’s evident that Streeting persistently conflates the state of Israel with Jewish identity; then accuses other people of being anti-Semitic for doing the same thing as himself – that is, failing to make a distinction between people who are Jewish, and Israel. If Streeting does not differentiate between the two, how can others really be faulted by him when they follow suit? It’s not something which can be had both ways.

Much the same is true of several other Labour MPs at the forefront of making allegations of anti-Semitic sympathies against both the Labour party and its leader; whose commentaries conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Chris Bryant published a piece in the Times newspaper – quoted in the paywall-free Independent – titled ‘If Labour gives in to antisemitism it loses its soul’; but subtitled ‘criticising Israel is one thing, but questioning its right to exist is another’ [7]. While, writing in Jewish News, the Labour MP, Angela Smith, opined that “for far too long, some on the left have exhibited a distorted logic when it comes to anti-Semitism by equating every aspect of Jewish identity and culture with the politics of Israel and the Middle East” [8]. So, on the one hand, Jewish identity is bound up with the state of Israel; but on the other, it is separate. Again, it’s not possible to have it both ways

Another Labour MP exhibiting the same tendency is the aforementioned John Mann, who appears not to be a member of Labour Friends of Israel; yet has arguably been the most voluble of Labour MPs in leveling allegations of anti-Semitism at critics of Israel’s government. Back in 2015, Mann decried “the significant increase in antisemitism which emanated from last summer’s conflict between Israel and Gaza” ; contending that “anti-Israel discourse can, at times, be polluted by antisemitism” as “language playing on myths and stereotypes of Jews is deployed”. There is no reference in Mann’s piece to anti-Semitism which does not revolve around Israel, however. Indeed, the report his Parliamentary group authored on the supposed increase of anti-Semitism since the summer conflict of 2014 contains over 200 references to Israel; and was evidently written in response to the reaction the war of 2014 produced [9].

Tellingly, Mann was involved in an employment tribunal during 2013; which tried – and failed – to have Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions debate designated as anti-Semitism on university campuses. The tribunal transcript is worth reading in its entirety – not least of all because Mann was joined in this endeavour by several other people who feature in the present matter. With regard to Mann, however, (and the former Labour MP, Denis MacShane), the tribunal judgment noted that they had been questioned about a report “which had described Jewish students feeling threatened on campus”. Representatives of the University and Colleges Union had “explained that they wished for further information because that matter called for investigation”. However:

“The parliamentarians did not provide any detail and did not genuinely respond to that inquiry at all. Mr Mann led for them and the more conciliatory tone of Dr MacShane gave way to a somewhat hostile display in which Mr Mann made no bones about his view that the union was operating in an anti-Semitic way and that those at its head must address the problem. He did not explain what the anti-Semitic behaviour was supposed to have consisted of besides referring to the boycott debate and characterising any boycott of Israel or Israeli institutions as itself anti-Semitic” (p. 25).

Furthermore, during the tribunal itself, Mann claimed that:

“when it came to antiSemitism in the context of debate about the Middle East, he announced, “It’s clear to me where the line is …” but unfortunately eschewed the opportunity to locate it for us” (p. 37).

The same trait has been apparent in Mann’s statements on anti-Semitism since at least 2006, when he published a letter in the Guardian proposing to “redraw the line between acceptable debate and veiled anti-semitism”; which focused on discourse surrounding Israel. Bemoaning “the incipient growth of anti-semitism on the left under the cloak of anti-Zionism”, Mann complained about critiques that do “not draw a line beyond which legitimate debate becomes illegitimate, and where hostile becomes offensive”. So, what constitutes this line? It’s not made clear – if anything, Mann keeps it opaque. For example, in the same letter, Mann cites ‘the AUT academic boycott’ as crossing the putative line. But what is this boycott, if not an objection to the discriminatory practices within Israeli universities; and therefore opposition to Israeli government policy?

Also during 2006, Mann had published a Parliamentary report into anti-Semitism; which again focused overwhelmingly on criticism of Israel’s government – and arguably serves as a precursor for the same problematic tendencies exhibited by his colleagues: decrying a refusal to distinguish between Jewish people, and Israel; but then advancing precisely this conflation himself. So, on the one hand, Mann bemoans the fact that “some of those who are hostile to Israel make no distinction between Israelis and Jews”; but on the other, exclaims:

“Israel is the world’s only Jewish State and Zionism its founding ideology…moreover, there is a strong attachment between the British Jewish community and Israel. Many British Jews have relatives in Israel and it forms one of the key themes of Jewish education and identity” (pp. 16-17)

So what does apply here? Either Jewish identity is intrinsically bound up with the state of Israel, or it isn’t.

All told, the more Mann and his peers opine on the subject, the less distinct the difference between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism appears; and if these commentators cannot draw a definitive divergence, then it’s unreasonable for them to fault others when they follow suit. This persistent confusion perhaps goes some way towards explaining why so many problems accrue when attempting to discern anti-Semitic sentiments from criticisms of Israel. This was evident in the comments made by Vicki Kirby and Gerry Downing at the heart of this, after all; most of which were devoted to criticisms of Israeli policy, while making references to people who are Jewish.

Political Partisanship

There is a difference between confusion, and outright cynicism, however. Some accusations of anti-Semitism leveled at the Labour party and its leader are rooted in political partisanship; if not in some cases outright malice. As will become clear, these are also remarkably hypocritical.

On the 23rd of March 2016, in Parliament, David Cameron opined that:

“I have to say that we do see a growth in support for segregation and indeed for anti-Semitism in part of the Labour party, and I say to its leader that it is his party and he should sort it out”.

This was during a Parliamentary discussion about the Budget, which had been delivered amidst a great deal of controversy several days prior. Aside from being a very blatant attempt at changing the subject, David Cameron was himself once openly affiliated with an anti-Semitic politician from Poland, called Michal Kaminski; during 2009. Both Cameron and Kaminski had been members of the European Conservatives and Reformists group. Significantly, Cameron’s involvement with Kaminski was defended by the Jewish Chronicle’s editor, Stephen Pollard; which serves to demonstrate how duplicitous these accusations can be.

On the 17th of March 2016, Pollard insinuated – as he would do again, several days later – that Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic, on the basis of his past association with people who had themselves been accused of holding anti-Semitic views. However, Pollard had defended Cameron’s collusion with an openly anti-Semitic politician. Not only that, but Pollard had spoken out on behalf of Kaminski himself. It is perhaps predictable by now, but Pollard focused on Kaminski’s attitude towards Israel.

Dismissing the allegations against Kaminski as “anti-Semitic mudslinging of the worst kind”, Pollard subsequently complained that:

“There are few things more despicable than anti-Semitism, but here’s one of them: using a false charge of anti-Semitism for political gain. Yet it seems there are few depths to which some will not sink in their desperation to damage David Cameron. …Far from being an anti-Semite, Mr Kaminski is about as pro-Israeli an MEP as exists”.

It perhaps goes without saying, but the allegations against Kaminski were documented in fact. He was undoubtedly an apologist for the massacre of Jews by Polish auxiliaries of the Nazi SS, at Jedwabne; during the onset of the Holocaust in July 1941. Pollard was being disingenuous.

As Antony Lerman noted at the time, Pollard’s viewpoint: “whereby you assess the salience of someone’s antisemitism or their perspective on Jews, and whether they are a respectable political partner, on the basis of their views on Israel” results in a set of perverse outcomes: on the one hand, supporting anti-Semites because they are ‘pro-Israel’; on the other, concluding that somebody is anti-Semitic because they criticise Israel’s government, despite the fact that they do not hold any antipathy towards people for being Jewish. It is obvious that Pollard – and for that matter, Cameron – apply the double standards they do on this issue for political gain.

Equally rooted in animus were the accusations made against Jeremy Corbyn by the former Conservative MP, Louise Mensch, during the Labour Party’s leadership campaign in the summer of 2015. Mensch purported to have uncovered evidence that Corbyn’s supporters were targeting another leadership candidate, Liz Kendall, with anti-Semitic abuse. Averring “this is the sewer that is Jeremy Corbyn’s support”, Mensch produced a screenshot, compiling a series of auto-completed searches for Liz Kendall’s name on Twitter; supposedly indicating repeated searches for Kendall’s links to ‘Jews’. In reality, Mensch had conducted these searches herself. As was pointed out by another Twitter user, the crosses to the right of the words mean that these were terms Mensch had put into the Twitter search-engine:

o-MENSCH-570

Mensch was ridiculed for this. However, the risible efforts at fabricating material perhaps resulted in the intentions behind it being overlooked. This was a clear example of somebody forging material, and making false allegations of anti-Semitism, in an attempt to influence the outcome of a democratic election.

Similarly, Nick Cohen writing in the Observer also alleged that Jeremy Corbyn was implicated in anti-Semitism; citing Corbyn’s:

“support for an Anglican cleric who linked to extremist sites that blamed Jews for 9/11, and his defence of an Islamist who recycled the libel that Jews dined on the blood of Christian children from the bottom of a medieval dung heap”.

These claims do not withstand basic tests of evidence and logic [10]. The “Anglican cleric” in question was Stephen Sizer. Sizer had posted a comment on Facebook, linking to an article on the Wikispooks website entitled “9/11 Israel did it”; adding: “Is this anti-Semitic? If so no doubt I’ll be asked to remove it. It raises so many questions”. This occurred in January 2015. Corbyn had indeed written a letter in support of Sizer – but that had been in April 2012. Moreover, Corbyn had expressed his support for Sizer after the latter had “come under attack by certain individuals intent on discrediting the excellent work that Stephen does in highlighting the injustices of the Palestinian Israeli situation, in particular by his very thorough analysis of “Christian Zionism”. So, not only was this about criticism of Israel, it had been three years before Sizer’s reference to 9/11.

The “Islamist” Cohen alludes to was Raed Salah. Salah is undoubtedly a highly controversial figure – an Israeli citizen, and a branch-leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel; with a history of political dissidence, and open conflict with the legal authorities in his home country. It is also true that Salah had cited the notorious ‘Blood Libel’. There is more to this case, however, than Cohen implies. In June 2011, Salah had arrived in Britain, in order to attend a Palestine Solidarity Committee event in the house of Commons, featuring Corbyn – only to be arrested and detained on the grounds of breaching a travel ban to the UK.

To cut a long and complex story short, following an appeal against the Home Office’s decision, the case against Salah was found to be overwhelmingly false; and was subsequently dismissed by a UK Upper Tribunal. This did not exonerate Salah on the charge of making his ‘Blood Libel’ statement; nonetheless, what came to light during this tribunal was that most of the allegations of anti-Semitism made against Salah were baseless, and in at least one instance was based upon fabricated material [11].

Ultimately, the case against Salah was dismissed; and the decision for barring his entry to the UK was overturned by the immigration tribunal. Corbyn’s involvement therein centred on contesting the mechanisms behind Salah’s deportation order. To suggest that this implicates Corbyn in anti-Semitism is devoid of basis in fact; and for Cohen’s part, the accusation is evidently rooted in malice. Cohen has written a series of articles deriding Corbyn, with a regularity bordering on the obsessive – linking him, variously, to terrorism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism; denouncing him as “self-righteous” and “wallowing in cruelty“, and “anti-West“, while accusing him of “hijacking Labour“, and being “Hezbollah’s man in London“. These claims are obviously vindictive; and are uniformly rooted in falsehood.

Student Politics

Something not dissimilar is evident in at least one piece published about the Oxford University furore. Responding in the Guardian to the resignation of Alex Chalmers from the Oxford University Labour Club, Aaron Simons contended ‘It’s time we acknowledged that Oxford’s student left is institutionally antisemitic’. As with the previous commentaries, Simons’ allegations of anti-Semitism focus primarily on criticisms of Israel:

“A committee member stated that all Jews should be expected to publicly denounce Zionism and the state of Israel, and that we should not associate with any Jew who fails to do so. It has been alleged that another OULC member organised a group of students to harass a Jewish student and to shout “filthy Zionist” whenever they saw her”.

There is no evidence provided to back these specific claims up; and the article promptly descends into a polemic against ‘the radical left’, bordering on the hysterical in places:

“The radical left interprets Israeli politics through the “settler-colonial” paradigm. Not only does it take a quite incredible lack of compassion to see a Jewish holocaust refugee as a skull-capped Cecil Rhodes, it is no coincidence that Jews are seamlessly aligned with white colonialism – the radical left’s highest manifestation of whiteness, power, and oppression”.

Needless to say, this does not add up. The settlement policy of the Israeli state is not coterminous with a Jewish refugee who survived the Holocaust. One is a government policy which victimises Palestinians; the other was a victim of a different government’s policy. This is merely a crude attempt at conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel’s government and its policies. Moreover, several of Simons’ assertions are contradicted by the material he cites as evidence.

For example, Simons claims: “One of Oxford’s online political forums removed members with Jewish sounding surnames from the group”. This appears to be untrue. The link provided in support of this claim leads to an article published on Cherwell News, called ‘Concern at No HeterOx “purge” from Facebook group’. It does not contain a reference to anyone’s surname being a factor behind their removal from the Facebook discussion group – the article expressly states that people were removed for their political alignments. What it does reveal is that there was a dispute between people over use of the term ‘Zio’ as short-hand for Zionist; which saw accusations of anti-Semitism being made, again, based on criticisms of Israel.

As quoted in the Cherwell News piece: 

“I believe that some of the responses to my viewpoint were overtly anti-Semitic: the original poster of the ‘Zio’ comment accused me of spreading Israeli propaganda (referring to me as ‘the above Zionist’ and repeating the word I had asked them not to use in a way which was overtly confrontational) in language which resembled an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. When another (non-Zionist) Jew called out their use of anti-Semitic tropes, no action was taken by the admins.”

By all accounts, this seems to have been a trivial dispute, based on questionable inferences; among an online group, dedicated to ‘Queer’ politics. If it does signify anything, it is yet another elision of anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel.

Simons follows this claim up, contending that “one notable far-left student politician said, “I don’t like being smeared as antisemitic, but I don’t bleed from it either.” This doesn’t really indicate very much, as quoted. However, the article being cited is again about the Israel/Palestine conflict; entitled ‘Israel’s defendants have questions to answer’. Its author, James Elliott, discusses “the war crimes committed against Palestinian students”; which he had witnessed when visiting the Israeli military court system. Noting that “Palestinians are taken to prisons in Israel in violation of Geneva Conventions, frequently abused and tortured, then convicted by kangaroo courts on ‘secret evidence’”. The prisons in question “were equipped by G4S”; which Elliott clearly wants Oxford University to withdraw its financial investments from. He then says:

“How anyone could justify a university holding investments in such a company is beyond me, but this is the position of those who oppose boycotts. I don’t like being smeared as anti-Semitic, but I don’t bleed from it either”.

The rest of Simons’ claims about anti-Semitism proliferating left-wing student groups are equally tenuous. For instance, he claims that “One leader of the Oxford student left, who was co-chair of the Oxford Student Council for Racial Awareness and Equality, openly mocked Jewish students protesting antisemitism”. Again, the actual source cited doesn’t really support this claim. It shows two tweets – the one in question:

kbtweet

And the one it had been posted in reply to:

islamophobic-tweet2-e1440514961143

However dubious these kind of comments may be, to suggest that they provide evidence of institutional anti-Semitism is off the wall. They were comments posted on Twitter; and the student later apologised for this.

Simons further claims that the “Goldsmiths student union refused to commemorate Holocaust memorial day”. That turns out not to be true, either. The source provided is an article in the student newspaper, The Tab; which itself misrepresents matters. It transpires that several students objected to what they deemed a ‘Eurocentric’ series of commemorations, proposed by a student union motion. Needless to say, the claims being made about anti-Semitism by Simons which can be tested against any evidence, don’t withstand any real scrutiny; and as with all of the previous examples, his allegations of anti-Semitism revolve primarily around peoples’ criticism of Israel.

Another person adding their voice to this discussion of anti-Semitism, in light of the Oxford University furore, was Jeremy Newmark; Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. Asking ‘Why does Labour find it so hard to weed out antisemitism?’, Newmark ventured that “it is partly about refusal to engage with contemporary antisemitism as it is understood by most Jewish people today”. It isn’t entirely clear what this understanding actually comprises, however. Newmark proposes that “antisemitism is a constantly mutating virus”, and that “today antisemitism takes a very different form” – but doesn’t really elucidate what form this has taken. There are indications of what he has in mind, though.

The sub-title of his article states “the scandal at Oxford Labour Club shows how antisemitism has mutated since the Nazis, into an obsession with ‘Zionism'”. He also contends that his own group encourages “robust criticism of Israel’s government and its policies. We do not take the “Israel right or wrong approach”. So, despite proving abstruse, it’s reasonable to conclude that Newmark is referring to criticism of Israel when he describes contemporary anti-Semitism. Ultimately, Newmark’s commentary is confusing; and prompts questions, without providing any real answers. This, again, perhaps demonstrates precisely why responses to allegations of anti-Semitism, delivered in this manner, end up in prevarication.

It’s also noteworthy how tendentious the commentaries on the Oxford University furore are. Throughout them, there is no effort made to ask students for a contrary opinion. One was provided in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle, however, by Jon Lansman – a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s. Perhaps the key point of relevance here is Lansman’s reference to the careless use of language; which is, in various ways – and with widely differing motives – what seems to underscore the contentions made by all of the previous commentators.

As Lansman avows:

“I am entirely willing to criticise people on the left, as I have done with Ken Livingstone, for sloppy use of language: for using the words Zionist, Jewish and Israeli, interchangeably, as if they meant the same thing. Doing so is always ill-advised and counter-productive. Sometimes it can be an indicator of antisemitism. That can only be judged in context and is often not the case”.

This seems to be the real point at issue: the use of language; and the problems this can cause, following the elision of Jewish identity with Israel. What’s more, Lansman’s commentary stands apart from all of the previous examples in identifying different political forms of Zionism – namely, “right-wing Zionism”, as opposed to “Labour Zionism”. This seems to be a salient point which could help to clarify matters, considerably – and the truth of it is indicated by the relentless admonishment of ‘the left’ by authors identifying themselves simply as Zionists; whose political sympathies are clearly conservative.

Lansman also posits the possibility of another – less sympathetic – reason for allegations of anti-Semitism to have surfaced at the Oxford University Labour Club, however; specifically, that it had become “a key battle ground” between supporters and opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, “for control of Labour’s youth section”. Until the investigation into this matter has been finalised, there are sufficient reasons to justify ambivalence [12].

Paradoxically, if there is one factor which stands out clearly from these various commentaries, it’s their absence of clarity. With widely varying degrees of accuracy and sincerity, all of them revolve around criticism of Israel’s government being deemed anti-Semitic. There isn’t a clear line which demarcates the two things; and this causes problems when trying to confront prejudice, or establish safeguards against it. When does legitimate criticism of a government’s policies become illegitimate? To judge by the claims considered herein, there isn’t a straightforward answer. Moreover, whatever distinction between them does exist has been purposely blurred at times by people whose concern in the matter is less than objective.

Some of the allegations being leveled at the Labour party and its leader are evidently not being made in good faith. Faulting people for not taking allegations of anti-Semitism at face value is not responsible in these circumstances. There are compelling factors which deter drawing hard and fast conclusions when addressing accusations of this kind; and they need to be dealt with carefully and rigorously, if their level of validity is to be established. Alleged incidents of anti-Semitism which prove to be baseless, and are designed to serve an ulterior purpose, do not warrant being taken seriously. There are also contentions which are simply incorrect. This makes a degree of ambivalence unavoidable – the accuracy of claims obviously has to be tested before they can be acted upon.

Some commentaries, however, evince a genuine confusion on this subject, arising from the persistent conflation of Israel and Jewish identity; which results in criticism of one being adjudged hostility towards the other. There are times when this conclusion has been drawn, despite being made questionable – or even being contradicted – by evidence. In fact, this is a problem which authors such as Brian Klug and Antony Lerman have previously attempted to address in slightly different circumstances; and it is something which clearly needs to be given consideration today [13].

Care is required here; along with a sense of proportion. Just as people need to be careful over their use of language, others also need to be sensible with the inferences they draw from it. If people do want to tackle anti-Semitism effectively, then strident assumptions and sweeping generalizations are unhelpful; if not counterproductive at times. There is clearly something wrong with the understanding of what anti-Semitism is, when a dispute over use of the term ‘Zionist’ on an internet forum for students is cited as proof that a broad swathe of people are anti-Semitic; while actual involvement in openly anti-Semitic politics is overlooked, because somebody declares themselves ‘pro-Israel’. If it’s no longer clear what is or isn’t anti-Semitic, where are people supposed to start taking issue with it? There needs to be more sense and clarity on anti-Semitism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

[1] According to Downing he was a “member for some 30 years, with a few breaks, was expelled on 11 August” of 2015. Downing posted this via Facebook on 16th December 2015. The Facebook post appears to have been deleted; but was accessed via a cached document on 31st March 2016. Its original URL was:

https://www.facebook.com/events/131040630594841/permalink/147628388936065/

As it happens, allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at Downing are ultimately irrelevant; as he was not removed from the party on the grounds of being anti-Semitic. In the first instance, of August 2014, he was suspended because of his Marxism. Downing cites the letter of confirmation he received:

“I understand that the reason for the NEC’s decision to auto-exclude you from membership, was the support you have shown through social media, for the organisation Socialist Fight. Your Twitter account also states “ I am a Trotskyist retired bus driver with ambitions to end capitalism on the planet by socialist revolution”, which against the aims and values of the Labour Party”.

In March 2015, he was removed from the party for his comments regarding 9/11 and his expression of support for arming Isis. See ‘We must give tactical military assistance to Isis’ says Trotskyist who was readmitted to the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn’ by Matt Dathan; Daily Mail (10th March 2016): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3485784/We-tactical-military-assistance-Isis-says-Trotskyist-readmitted-Labour-party-Jeremy-Corbyn.html

Downing’s own piece was entitled ‘The social and political meaning of 9/11 conspiracy theory’ (24th January 2016): http://socialistfight.com/2016/01/24/the-social-and-political-meaning-of-911-conspiracy-theory/

The reference to Isis appears as”We defend the ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq against the bombing of US imperialism but do not ally with them against the Kurdish defenders of Kobane and Rojava (Western Kurdistan)”; as outlined on his website Socialist Fight’s page ‘Where we stand’: http://socialistfight.com/contact-us/platform

As with Downing’s other pieces, these seem to be examples of half-baked Marxist approaches to complex world events, rather than anything more sinister. It doesn’t seem likely that Downing is anti-Semitic, so much as ingenuous in how this material comes across.

 

[2] Jonathan Freedland has penned a number of vituperative articles disparaging Jeremy Corbyn. For example, suggesting that he resembled a sex-offender, in one article; condescendingly dismissing his supporters as narcissists in another; and likening Corbyn to a dinosaur in a third. See:

‘The Corbyn tribe cares about identity, not power’ by Jonathan Freedland; Guardian (24th July 2015): http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/24/corbyn-tribe-identity-politics-labour

‘Jeremy Corbyn has to represent all of Labour, not just himself’ by Jonathan Freedland; Guardian (18th September 2015): http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/18/jeremy-corbyn-represent-all-labour-national-anthem-debacle

‘With each misstep, Jeremy Corbyn is handing Britain to the Tories’ by Jonathan Freedland; Guardian (27th November 2015): http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/27/misstep-corbyn-terror-mao-labour-alienating-supporters

Despite claiming not to accuse Corbyn of being an anti-Semite, Freedland has of course done precisely this on the same guilt-by-association basis as other individuals discussed herein; which is quite noteworthy given that his own editor at the Jewish Chronicle once publicly defended the anti-Semitic politician, Michal Kaminski. See ‘Friends who are enemies’ by Jonathan Freedland; Jewish Chronicle (17th September 2015): http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/columnists/145154/friends-who-are-enemies

This piece in particular makes it plain what Freedland’s concern revolves around: ” Devoted supporters of Israel will take one look at his long record of vocal opposition to the country and decide he’s no friend of theirs”. Freedland bemoans Corbyn’s supporters for branding “his accusers McCarthyites, smearing him through guilt by association”; a point he then proves by doing precisely this: “what will push Jewish voters away is something more nebulous. At its simplest, it’s the company the new leader keeps”.

Oddly enough, Freedland was himself once accused of being an anti-semite by an opinion piece in the Guardian; which insinuated as much. See ‘Taking exception to making exceptions’ by Elizabeth Jay; Guardian (1st March 2009): http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/mar/01/israeli-elections-2009-gaza

 

[3] In the period immediately before and after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a number of Labour MPs claimed that anti-Semitism was burgeoning in UK politics. As with today’s furore, this was focused on criticism of Israel. For example, Stephen Byers was quoted in the Independent, contending that:

“the ‘line is now being crossed from legitimate criticism’ of the Israeli government into ‘demonisation, dehumanisation of Jews and the application of double standards'”.

James Purnell is also quoted in this article, having spoken in Parliament about anti-Semitism. The actual Parliamentary record makes plain that, again, this revolved to a fair extent around Israel:

“Anti-Semitism is not only a growing threat but it has mutated into a new form of race hatred that has found cover in extreme and unreasonable anti-Zionism”.

What follows is a lengthy discussion about imagery and language, which – as is generally the case – proves self-contradictory and confusing: veering between anti-Semitic incidents, such as attacks on synagogues; and references to Israeli politics. See ‘Anti-Semitism is ‘infecting’ British politics, MPs warn’ By Marie Woolf; Independent (20th April 2004): http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/anti-semitism-is-infecting-british-politics-mps-warn-56945.html

And the Parliamentary debate, entitled ‘Anti-Semitism’ by Hansard; 20th April 2004: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmhansrd/vo040420/halltext/40420h01.htm

Two months beforehand, Melanie Phillips had written a piece in the Guardian entitled ”Return of the old hatred – Anti-Semitism is on the increase and its roots are not in the Right but in the Sharon-hating Left’ which bemoans “the demonisation and dehumanisation of Israel based on systematic lies, libels and distortions”. Needless to say, these commentaries did no more to clarify matters than their present day equivalents.

 

[4] The Telegraph has published numerous articles on this issue; which all make identical claims, citing the same examples, in the same manner. Reading these pieces rapidly proves monotonous; which perhaps raises another possible reason why their allegations are ignored by some people. As an example of how nebulous and questionable some allegations of anti-Semitism are, see ‘Shadow cabinet minister on ‘hostile’ list is being targeted ‘because she is Jewish’, MPs claim’ by Kate McCann; Telegraph (24th March 2016): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/Jeremy_Corbyn/12203865/Shadow-cabinet-minister-on-hostile-list-is-being-targeted-because-she-is-Jewish-MPs-claim.html

It’s not possible to evaluate the claims made therein, because they rely on hearsay and anonymous attributions – which is a recurrent factor among commentaries on this subject. It defies reason to presume that discretion would be opted for if somebody’s concerns were genuine.

 

[5] Mann had made similar allegations against Ed Miliband in 2014; suggesting that Miliband had failed to support the Labour MP Luciana Berger, when she had been subject to anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter. Miliband is Jewish himself, of course; and the person who had threatened Berger was jailed for 4 weeks, leaving Mann seemingly without a point. He was a Neo-Nazi. See ‘Labour’s first Jewish leader is losing the Jewish vote’ by Dan Hodges; Telegraph (30th October 2014): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ed-miliband/11198691/Labours-first-Jewish-leader-is-losing-the-Jewish-vote.html

Also, as a point of fact, the votes cast by Jewish Britons appear to have been consistent with the overall populace at the General Election of May 2015 – if not slightly favouring Labour more than average when socio-economic circumstance was factored in. See pages 23-24 in ‘Where Jewish votes may matter most’ by Jonathan Boyd; The Institute for Jewish Policy Research (May 2015): http://www.jpr.org.uk/documents/JPR.Where_Jewish_votes_may_matter_most.Guide_to_2015_General_Election.pdf

 

[6] Further to this, the Ha’aretz article writes that:

“Streeting arrived in Israel last week, the same day a London judge issued an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni for her involvement in Operation Cast Lead. “It’s just hugely embarrassing,” he said about the incident. “I guess to Israelis it must just seem so really ignorant. Of all the people whom you could try to pin war crime charges on, Tzipi Livni is a really strange choice of character,” he added. “If Britain wants a role in the peace process it needs to engage with the broad range of perspectives,” he said, calling for the legal “loophole” that enabled the arrest warrant be closed”.

Livni was member of the Israeli government’s war cabinet during Operation Cast Lead. This is not the time or place to discuss the matter; suffice to say, there were valid grounds for issuing an arrest warrant against Livni, as she was suspected of war crimes. See ‘British court issued Gaza arrest warrant for former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni’ by Ian Black and Ian Cobain; Guardian (14th December 2009):
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/14/tzipi-livni-israel-gaza-arrest

Streeting’s reference to the need “to engage with the broad range of perspectives” is rendered somewhat incongruous by the occasions when Streeting has faulted Corbyn for doing precisely this.

It is also noteworthy that Bethlehem is within short distance of the Dheisheh Refugee camp; which is home to c. 13,000 Palestinian refugees. See the Dheisheh Refugee Camp Profile by the The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East: http://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/camp/dheisheh-camp

For more in-depth information on the state of human rights in the West Bank during 2009, see ‘B’Tselem’s annual report ‘Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: 1 January 2009 – 30 April 2010’ (2010): http://www.btselem.org/campaigns/2009_annual_report/english/

 

[7] Strangely enough, Streeting and Bryant are members of both the Labour Friends of Israel and Labour Friends Of Palestine and the Middle East lobby groups. However, whereas Bryant voted to support the Parliamentary recognition of Palestinian statehood; Streeting opposed it. See ‘How Labour MPs voted on recognition of Palestinian Statehood’by Labourlist; 13th October 2014: http://labourlist.org/2014/10/how-labour-mps-voted-on-recognition-of-palestinian-statehood/

 

[8] Angela Smith also referred to the anti-Semitic abuse which the Labour MP, Luciana Berger had experienced in March 2016; stating:

“Let us remember too the vile online abuse suffered by Luciana Berger, the Labour MP, in recent days. This is not to say that all those attacking her in the most terribly racist terms were party members, far from it”.

There is currently no evidence that any of those responsible were members of the Labour party. See ‘No place in my party for apologists of anti-Semitism’ by Angela Smith; Jewish News (18th March 2016): http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/opinion-angela-smith-mp-the-increasing-and-disturbing-evidence-of-anti-semitism/

 

[9] Many of these commentaries claim in passing that anti-Semitism has risen in Britain. This is untrue. It is equally inaccurate to suggest that it is less common among people on the Right of the political spectrum than it is on the Left. In reality, it is primarily older generations of poorly educated right-wing males who have negative attitudes towards people who are Jewish. This has been documented by the Pew Research Centre. See ‘Unfavorable Views of Jews and Muslims on the Increase in Europe’ by Pew Research Centre (17th September 2008): http://www.pewglobal.org/2008/09/17/unfavorable-views-of-jews-and-muslims-on-the-increase-in-europe/

It notes that “Great Britain stands out as the only European country included in the survey where there has not been a substantial increase in anti-Semitic attitudes. Just 9% of the British rate Jews unfavorably, which is largely unchanged from recent years”.

In a more recent report from 2015, 7% of Britons held unfavourable views of Jewish people. See ‘Anti-Minority Sentiment Not Rising’ by Bruce Stokes; Pew Research Center (2nd June 2015): http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/06/02/chapter-3-anti-minority-sentiment-not-rising/

While there is a difference between the volume of anti-Semitic opinion and the number of anti-Semitic incidents, it seems fair to say that the proliferation of anti-Semitism in Britain is consistently exaggerated by the media.

 

[10] Cohen’s agenda is obvious enough. Should it remain in doubt, see ‘Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party: one of them must go’ by Nick Cohen; the Spectator (18th August 2015): http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/08/corbyn-labour-party-one-must-go/

Cohen has previous form on making allegations of anti-Semitism against his political opponents; and this stretches back to at least 2005. See:

‘Anti-Semitism isn’t a local side effect of a dirty war over a patch of land smaller than Wales. It’s everywhere from Malaysia to Morocco, and it has arrived here’ by Nick Cohen; New Statesman (10th October 2005): http://www.newstatesman.com/node/162996

‘Hatred is turning me into a Jew’ by Nick Cohen; jewish Chronicle (12th February 2009): http://www.thejc.com/comment/comment/hatred-turning-me-a-jew

‘How the left turned against the Jews’ by Nick Cohen; Standpoint Magazine (April 2012):
http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/features-april-12-how-the-left-turned-against-the-jews-nick-cohen-anti-semitism-israel-islamism

All of these pieces repeat the same basic claim that ‘the left’ are anti-Semitic; with the same dearth of evidence each time.

 

[11] The allegations against Jeremy Corbyn regarding his past associations with Raed Salah and Stephen Sizer – amongst others – have been made repeatedly; beginning during the Labour leadership contest of 2015. None of them withstand any real scrutiny; but this has not deterred columnists who are hostile towards Corbyn from repeating them ad nauseum. Needless to say, the accusations all centre on Israel. I wrote about these in greater detail while the Labour leadership contest was still underway. See ‘Jeremy Corbyn, The Left, And Accusations Of Anti-Semitism – What Are They Really About?’: https://richardhutton.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/jeremy-corbyn-the-left-and-accusations-of-anti-semitism-what-are-they-really-about/

 

[12] To date, there have been two instances where Labour students have been subject to false allegations of anti-Semitism. See: ‘Labour Reinstates Suspended Stirling Uni President After False Anti-Semitism Allegations’ by Jamie Ross; Buzzfeed (31st March 2016): http://www.buzzfeed.com/jamieross/president-of-stirling-uni-labour-party-suspended-over-anti-s#.bcqlJq1zo

See also ‘Labour NEC Entrant In Smear Scandal’ by Luke James; Morning Star (26th February 2016):
http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-45c6-Labour-NEC-entrant-in-smear-scandal#.Vu7UKdKLS9L

For a discussion of this overall issue, which alludes to the Oxford University furore, see ‘Young Labour in Left landslide but chaos, manipulation & smears mar NEC election’ by Left Futures (February 2016): http://www.leftfutures.org/2016/02/young-labour-in-left-landslide-but-chaos-manipulation-smears-mar-nec-election/

 

[13] Antony Lerman in particular has written extensively on this subject. See:

‘Sense on Antisemitism’ by Antony Lerman; Prospect Magazine (20th August 2002): http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/features/senseonantisemitism

‘Antisemitic, or just offensive?’ by Antony Lerman; Guardian (2nd April 2009):
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/apr/02/tony-lerman-oliphant-cartoon-israel

‘The “new antisemitsm”‘  by Antony Lerman; Open Democracy (29th September 2015) https://www.opendemocracy.net/mirrorracisms/antony-lerman/new-antisemitism

The need for greater clarity was discussed in a report attempting to monitor anti-Semitism in the UK. See ‘Could it happen here? What existing data tell us about contemporary antisemitism in the UK’ by Jonathan Boyd and L. Daniel Staetsky; Institute for Jewish Policy Research (May 2015): http://www.jpr.org.uk/documents/JPR.2015.Policy_Debate_-_Contemporary_Antisemitism.pdf

See also ‘Let’s have a sense of proportion’ by David Goldberg; Guardian (26th January 2002): http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/jan/26/religion.uk1

 

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