The Need For Sense & Clarity On Anti-Semitism.

by richardhutton

This week has seen two Labour MPs – Naz Shah, and Ken Livingstone – suspended from the Labour party, having both made comments which were deemed anti-Semitic. The merits of these decisions are currently being adjudicated by Labour; and can be left aside for present purposes.

More pertinent are the demands for Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to address the issue effectively. This is something which can be achieved- but it is perhaps not as straightforward as commentaries within the media have suggested.

The primary elephant in the room is the Israel-Palestine conflict; which is what all of the cited incidents revolve around. The secondary one is that these allegations are intended to blacken the names of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

Other than Livingstone’s remarks today, all of the tweets, Facebook posts, and sundry other comments unearthed recently, were made several years ago – mainly during the conflict in Gaza, during August 2014. All of the people in question joined the Labour party before Corbyn was elected to lead it – and have each been suspended under his tenure. It hasn’t stopped people pretending that Corbyn has personally created this problem.

What’s worse is that, for various reasons, a lot of people seem to be genuinely confused about what is or isn’t anti-Semitic – and a large part of this is due to the discourse surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict: from many voices on both sides of that divide. It is virtually impossible to act fairly on allegations of this kind.

It’s fair to say that people need to be careful with their use of language – but other people need to be careful with the conclusions they draw from what somebody has said; and while there isn’t any excuse for racism, there isn’t any valid reason for people to willfully misconstrue what somebody has said, either. This is a subject which is proliferated with false allegations and contrived exaggerations- they need to stop. Accusations need to be taken seriously – crying wolf continuously precludes this happening.

Corbyn should take the initiative on this – he could set up a special task-force, which investigates claims objectively and rigorously; and if anti-Semitism is evident among people within the Labour party, it can be rooted-out and tackled effectively. It would also be a constructive step if Labour devises clear guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable as a mode of discourse on the Israel-Palestine issue – from both parties to that debate; because neither behave impeccably.

But this does not justify turning the matter into a witch-hunt; let alone making claims which are false. Incidents which are brought to light can be dealt with properly, easily enough – but only ever as and when they arise; and this is being made more difficult than it ever should be by the obvious political-cynicism swirling around this. How can people reasonably be expected to take at face-value allegations which are being made by unreliable commentators?

And for what little it matters, personally, I think the Israel-Palestine conflict is best avoided as a topic of discussion in politics, as far as possible. It seldom brings anything but the worst out in people. This week has made that perfectly clear.