Misleading claims continue to be made about anti-Semitism. This revolves primarily around the Israel-Palestine conflict. Is there a constructive way forward?

by richardhutton

A number of comment pieces appeared in the media, in the wake of the Labour Party’s conference of September 2017 – alleging that anti-Semitic incidents had occurred during the event; and that it represented the continuation of a wider problem within the party. It is not the first time that this has happened.

Are these claims supported by any evidence? If so, how can the problem be addressed effectively? If not, why are the accusations being made?

 

Sources and discourses 

First, let’s look at the allegations in question.

The media commentaries revolved primarily around one incident, involving a man called Miko Peled; who was reported to have said that freedom of expression should cover “the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum: there should be no limits on the discussion”.

Somewhat paradoxically, Peled had then gone on to talk about refusing to grant a platform to Zionists in discussions:

“It’s about the limits of tolerance: we don’t invite the Nazis and give them an hour to explain why they are right; we do not invite apartheid South Africa racists to explain why apartheid was good for the blacks; and in the same way we do not invite Zionists – it’s a very similar kind of thing.”

Peled would subsequently clarify his meaning in an email to the Guardian:

“The Holocaust was a terrible crime that we must study and from which we must all learn. I reject the idea that Holocaust deniers, foolish as they may be, should be treated as criminals and I doubt that supporters of Israel should be given the authority to judge who is or is not a racist and antisemite.

Promoters of racist ideologies should not be given a public platform, and to me that does include people who promote Zionism – which is a racist ideology whose followers have committed and continue to commit crimes against the people of Palestine.

If we are to do justice to the memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust, Jewish and Roma and many, many others, then we must engage in robust debate and education about the causes of current, ongoing violence and injustice.”

It should go without saying that Peled was not suggesting the Holocaust’s occurrence was open to debate; but rather, that Holocaust deniers should not face criminal prosecution. Furthermore, that people who promote state persecution should not be granted public platforms.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion about either facet of Peled’s viewpoint, it is clear that he was not expressing anti-Semitic sentiments of any kind. It also needs to be born in mind – as so many media commentaries failed to do – that Peled is himself a Jewish Israeli peace activist; which makes it somewhat implausible that he would have anti-Semitic sympathies [1].

 

However, a number of articles also referred to comments made by the Unite union leader, Len McCluskey, about accusations of anti-Semitism which had been leveled at the Labour Party during 2016.

In an interview with the BBC’s programme, Newsnight, McCluskey declaimed that he had never been at a Labour Party meeting “where there was any anti-Semitic language”. He also stated that he believed the allegations being made in 2016 were: “mood music that was created by people who were trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn”. As he continued:

“Unfortunately, at the time there were lots of people playing games. Everybody wanted to create this image that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership had become misogynist, had become racist, had become anti-Semitic and it was wrong”.

So, McCluskey was clearly making two points: first, that there isn’t a problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Second, that there was a political motivation behind the allegations.

 

What then were the complaints made in response to both Peled’s and McCluskey’s comments?

Writing in the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland contended that McCluskey – along with the film director, Ken Loach, and the Labour politician, Ken Livingstone – had not merely denied an existent problem; but were themselves engaging in anti-Semitism.

He suggested they:

“don’t just tell Jewish Labour supporters that they are mistaken to detect antisemitism around them: they tell them they have made it all up – and that they have done so for sinister, nefarious purposes”.

However, Freedland then begins to make a series of claims which are at odds with what any of the three men had said. With regard to McCluskey, he notes that:

“I believe it was mood music that was created by people who were trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn,” McCluskey told BBC’s Newsnight. (Again, for an avowed progressive to describe an ethnic minority’s experience of racism as “mood music” is quite a break from the usual accepted practice.)”

McCluskey clearly wasn’t describing “an ethnic minority’s experience of racism” as “mood music”, though. The quote Freedland himself provides makes plain that McCluskey’s reference had been towards Jeremy Corbyn’s political opponents.

Freedland then goes on to complain:

“Meanwhile, Livingstone was on the radio cheerfully saying that it was perfectly possible to say offensive things about Jews without being anti-Jewish. He too has long argued that this whole business is bogus and confected, and that Labour does not have any kind of antisemitism problem”.

What Livingstone actually said differs markedly from Freedland’s attribution; as anyone who follows the link provide in Freedland’s paragraph can readily discern:

“Some people have made offensive comments, it doesn’t mean they’re inherently anti-Semitic and hate Jews. They just go over the top when they criticise Israel. The people criticising Israeli government policy aren’t criticising people who are Jewish in Britain. They’re criticising a government like Jeremy Corbyn criticises Saudi Arabia for its abuse of many of its peoples.”

The meaning of this is plain enough.

Freedland’s reference to Ken Loach is no more accurate:

“Asked to react to a speaker at a Brighton fringe meeting who had said Labour supporters should feel free to debate any topic, including the veracity of the Holocaust – “did it happen or didn’t it happen”, as the BBC interviewer put it – Loach could not give a simple, unequivocal denunciation of Holocaust denial. ‘I think history is for all of us to discuss,’ he said”.

In fact, Freedland suggests that Loach was himself engaging in Holocaust denial:

“Loach had not been asked whether there should be discussion of the meaning of the Nazi slaughter of the Jews. He had been asked about the fact of it happening. And on that, he said there should be discussion – the same apparently innocuous formulation routinely advanced by hardcore Holocaust deniers”.

It’s noteworthy that Freedland does not provide a link to the actual interview.

Instead, Freedland’s source was an article in The Tablet; entitled ‘This BBC Interview Perfectly Illustrates Britain’s Left-Wing Anti-Semitism Problem’; and sub-titled “Famed filmmaker Ken Loach accused Jews of fabricating claims of anti-Semitism, then refused to condemn Holocaust denial”.

The Tablet article doesn’t provide a link to the actual BBC interview, either. Instead it provides a transcript, supposedly demonstrating the truth of its author’s claim:

COBURN: There was a fringe meeting yesterday that we talked about at the beginning of the show where there was a discussion about the Holocaust, did it happen or didn’t it… would you say that was unacceptable?

LOACH: I think history is for us all to discuss, wouldn’t you?

COBURN: Say that again, sorry, I missed that.

LOACH: History is for all of us to discuss. All history is our common heritage to discuss and analyze. The founding of the state of Israel, for example, based on ethnic cleansing is there for us all to discuss. The role of Israel now is there for us to discuss. So don’t try to subvert that by false stories of anti-Semitism.

Note the ellipses in the first paragraph.

The video footage of the interview is available on the BBC’s website. As it transpires, Loach had not been asked to condemn Holocaust denial; less still did he suggest that the Holocaust’s occurrence was open to discussion. In fact, the question initially put to him is perhaps the cause of misunderstanding herein.

The interviewer states that: “there was a fringe meeting yesterday, that we talked about at the beginning of the show, where there was a discussion about the Holocaust – did it happen or didn’t it”. What the Tablet’s ellipses omit is that Loach interrupts mid-question, and says “I don’t think it was a discussion about the Holocaust”. The interviewer continues, however, asking “would you say that was unacceptable?”.

This is evidently not a valid question, given that it rests on a false premise. The comment at issue was Miko Peled’s reference, which was not a discussion about whether the Holocaust had occurred or not; instead it had been a statement of the need for free-expression when discussing history. A point which Loach evidently picked up on, and reiterated.

 

So, to summarise: the BBC’s interviewer misrepresented what had been said at a Labour fringe meeting. Jonathan Freedland then complained that Loach had not given a straightforward answer, to what was a misleading question. Surely a bit of commonsense needs to be applied here.

Loach was being asked to say whether a discussion which hadn’t happened was unacceptable. It’s not surprising that he was unable to “give a simple, unequivocal denunciation of Holocaust denial” – not least of all, because he wasn’t asked to do so at any point. When Loach went on to say that “history is for all of us to discuss”, it is more plausible to assume that he had been referring to the actual comment Peled had made: that there should be freedom to discuss history [2].

It is therefore untenable for Freedland to suggest that “distinguished men of the left are echoing, even inadvertently, the language of Holocaust denial”; or that “the leader of Britain’s biggest trade union is rehashing the age-old notion of a Jewish conspiracy”. None of the men quoted had said anything to either effect.

For all of the inaccuracy behind Freedland’s claims, it is clear enough that the three men alluded to had been making two general points: namely, that allegations about anti-Semitism being prevalent in the Labour Party do not tally with their personal experience; and that these allegations have been utilized for political reasons – specifically in order to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

So, there are several basic questions to answer here: firstly, if there is a problem of any extent with anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Secondly, whether the issue has been exploited to fulfill a political agenda. Third: can an effective remedy to both issues be devised?

 

One person who took issue with the remarks made by Len McClusky was Shami Chakrabarti; who contested the view that anti-Semitism was not a problem within the Labour Party.

Chakrabarti was interviewed by Newsnight on 26th September 2017; and was asked to comment on McClusky’s view that allegations of anti-Semitism had been “mood music”, intended to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

She replied that McCluskey was wrong; stating that “with the greatest respect to Len, I was the person charged with investigating this, it wasn’t Len; so I have seen things that clearly Len has not seen”. Chakrabarti further noted that “there are real reasons why somebody like Len might not have experienced racism and anti-Semitism”. That is, because McCluskey is not a member of an ethnic minority; nor is he Jewish.

However, Chakrabarti is also a political appointee of Jeremy Corbyn’s; and had been expressly requested by him to conduct an internal inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism within the Labour Party. So, two key allies of Corbyn’s have said different things. What is the truth of the matter?

 

There is perhaps not the conflict between the two viewpoints that initially appears. Moreover, what may be at issue here is the definition of having a problem – i.e. one which is widespread, and significant; or one which is minimal – but still existent, and in need of being addressed.

McCluskey et al had spoken about never witnessing anti-Semitic expressions at public meetings. However, abuse seldom occurs in public: incidents often take place in private settings, away from public attention; so it is something which can go on, with many people being left unaware of it happening.

But there is another – less obvious reason – why there may be a problem; yet people not witness it. The allegations being made in 2016 had revolved around comments posted on social media websites – specifically, on personal Twitter and Facebook accounts; and to a lesser extent, had concerned behaviour among students on university campuses. It stands to reason, therefore, that some people can have used abusive epithets; while others may remain unaware of it happening.

In addition to an issue of scale, it is also questionable what constitutes abuse. Chakrabarti had, of course, published a report on the matter. While this noted that “the Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism”; it had continued that “there is too much clear evidence (going back some years) of minority hateful or ignorant attitudes and behaviours festering within a sometimes bitter incivility of discourse” (p. 1). It also added that “I have heard too many Jewish voices express concern that antisemitism has not been taken seriously enough in the Labour Party and broader Left for some years” (p. 1).

It seems fair to conclude, therefore, that in so far as there is a problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, it is not extensive; but nonetheless, a minority of people have engaged in unacceptable behaviour, and that this needs to be addressed.

In that respect, Chakrabarti’s report alluded primarily to the use of language. It made a series of recommendations to improve “the tone of constructive debate” (p. 6). That is, establishing an atmosphere where people “can disagree with kindness and civility and where difficult issues are resolved without resorting to abuse” (p. 8).

This is where it would be helpful for a sense of proportion to apply. The suggestion being made that the Labour Party has an extensive problem with anti-Semitism is evidently not true; but nor is it valid to say that no problem at all exists.

Equally, what is at issue revolves around the use of language – especially during debates about the Israel-Palestine conflict (and to a lesser extent, secularism versus religion). This is not helped either by ignoring the need for more constructive dialogue; nor by histrionic – let alone misleading – media coverage, which disregards the point at issue [3].

 

Politicization of the issue  

However, as noted, the second concern here is whether allegations of anti-Semitism have been exploited for political reasons; either to damage the Labour Party, or to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. There is sufficient evidence to put the matter beyond any doubt [4].

Numerous commentaries have been published, in a wide variety of outlets, and on a regular basis; seeking to implicate Jeremy Corbyn in anti-Semitism, on the basis of comments made by other people.

This began during the initial leadership contest in 2015. It reached a nadir during the council elections of 2016, when data from the Labour Compliance Unit was continuously leaked to the media; which resulted in several members of Labour being suspended. A plethora of articles ensued throughout this epoch; with journalists and Labour MPs bemoaning Corbyn personally, on account of the issue.

Evidence indicates that people within the Labour Party were attempting to damage Labour’s electoral prospects; which was itself set to serve as a pretext for forcing Corbyn’s resignation – something which a number of Labour MPs had been planning for, immediately after he was elected to lead the Party in September 2015; and which would come to fruition in the wake of the EU referendum, on 24th June 2016.

While this effort ultimately proved unsuccessful, the theme continued in a Home Affairs Committee inquiry, which was concluded in October 2016 [5]; and, of course, it resurfaced during coverage of the Labour Party’s conference in 2017 [6].

 

There is a great deal more which can be said about this concerted effort; but it is not strictly necessary for present purposes. Suffice to say, a small number of party members had been reported to have made antisemitic comments; in the majority of cases, the people had been both members of Labour – and made the offending posts – before Corbyn had been elected to lead the party.

In each instance, the individuals were suspended promptly; the allegations were investigated, and action was taken when necessary. Moreover, opinion poll data – which the Home Affairs Committee had themselves cited – made clear that antisemitic attitudes were less prevalent in the Labour Party than in British society as a whole; as well as being lower than in the Conservative Party, and the UK Independence Party.

Corbyn had himself repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism; and commissioned Shami Chakrabarti to conduct an inquiry into the behaviour of Labour Party members – then devise a set of guidelines to address it effectively, where needed.

Yet the controversy continued – and, in fact, the Chakrabarti report would itself be subject to the same commotion; with various commentators who had initially praised it upon publication, suddenly denouncing it, after Chakrabarti had been made a peer at Corbyn’s suggestion. The contents of the report had not changed during the interim [7].

Needless to say, these complaints had no basis in fact. As anybody who took the trouble to read Charkrabarti’s report – or even the excerpts provided herein – can surely surmise, it was highly critical of the Labour Party, and the behaviour  some of its members had engaged in. It outlined a rigorous approach to tackling anti-Semitism – or any other form of prejudice – and delineated the respective problems of racist epithets, stereotyping, and inflammatory language; while providing guidelines on how Labour members should conduct themselves, with regard to each separate one. It also stressed the need to make disciplinary procedures more adequate.

It’s clear therefore the number of media articles and commentaries generated by this issue have been out of proportion with the scale of any actual problem; while many of the criticisms being made have been overstated, or inaccurate [8].

There clearly has been a collective attempt, from a variety of sources, to embroil both the Labour party and its leader in an ongoing furore over anti-Semitism. This includes input from the Conservative Party, along with numerous media commentators, a number of Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors within the Labour Party; and several Pro-Israel campaign groups. [9].

Regardless of how extensive any problem with anti-Semitism within the Labour party may be, therefore, the issue has evidently been exploited for various political purposes – both to damage Labour from without, and to undermine Corbyn from within [10]. What this primarily revolves around is discourse about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It would not be accurate to suggest that this was the sole factor at issue – for instance, the Chakrabarti report referred to “the painful experience of a Labour councillor who was told that he would be particularly good at a finance role (for no reason other than being Jewish)” (p. 10). However, the Israel-Palestine conflict is evidently the theme underscoring much of the acrimony in question. It is also the main point of concern for many of the individuals and organisations who are making misleading claims about anti-Semitism; regardless of their specific agendas.

 

Is there a constructive way forward?

Is it possible to maintain productive discussion, which strikes an effective balance between civility and free expression?

The Chakrabarti report includes a number of suggestions which are helpful here. As noted, it defined three separate problems:

  1. Explicit abusive language
  2. Stereotyping
  3. Insensitive and incendiary language, metaphors, distortions and comparisons

It then provided guidance on language and behaviour among Labour Party members accordingly. Namely:

“I recommend that the use of racist epithets has no place in the Labour Party”.

“critical and abusive reference to any particular person or group based on actual or perceived physical characteristics cannot be tolerated”.

“I recommend that racial or religious tropes and stereotypes about any group of people should have no place in our modern Labour Party”.

“I recommend that Labour members resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular”.

“I further recommend that excuse for, denial, approval or minimisation of the Holocaust and attempts to blur responsibility for it, have no place in the Labour Party”.

The report also recommends that people “use the term ‘Zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse”. This is all sound advice; and should prove easy enough for anybody to comply with.

 

However, Chakrabarti’s report was undertaken with Labour Party members in mind. There is a broader context which requires some consideration.

A factor which the Chakrabarti report does not allude to directly is false allegations. They are obviously not acceptable in their own right; but they make it far more difficult to tackle anti-Semitism when it is in evidence.

One charge often made by people on the receiving end of anti-Semitic abuse is that their complaints are not taken seriously. Untrue accusations are a part of the reason behind that. There are abundant examples of demonstrable falsehood on this theme, published across a variety of mediums: be they scurrilous articles, false statements made by politicians – or similar public figures; or websites and organisations purposely set up to run public relations campaigns on behalf of the Israeli government, which then engage in harassment and intimidation of its critics. This is the context in which disbelief exists.

While it is unlikely that such efforts will stop, people who are concerned with either anti-Semitism or the Israel-Palestine conflict can at least exercise caution – and check evidence. This has to apply both ways, however: the fact that so many commentaries exploit anti-Semitism as an issue, in this manner, obviously does not preclude its existence. But motivation and context remain important when making assessments; and certainly when those leveling these charges have a vested interest in drawing someone into disrepute, then prudence is needed before drawing conclusions.

 

A related factor is poor-quality journalism; which either fosters or perpetuates inaccurate claims. A number of websites and individuals are continuously treated as reliable sources of information by mainstream outlets; even when they are known to be untrustworthy. Again, it is unlikely that either facet of this scenario will change; but people can surely do better in their own right, and exercise due care, when attempting to address reported incidents properly.

Within the Labour Party itself, this will have bearing for disciplinary procedures. These can not justifiably be conducted via the media, even if journalists held themselves to higher standards than is currently evident. As Chakrabarti’s report noted:

“it is completely unfair, unacceptable and a breach of Data Protection law that anyone should have found out about being the subject to an investigation or their suspension by way of the media and indeed that leaks, briefing or other publicity should so often have accompanied a suspension pending investigation” (p. 17).

It is important to build confidence in disciplinary procedures, which will allay currently justifiable suspicions regarding witch-hunts. This would also help address anti-Semitic incidents effectively: how can accusations be investigated, and dealt with, if proper procedures are lacking?

 

Perhaps the most significant issue here, however, is the use of language. The Israel-Palestine conflict generates intensely bitter disagreement; and there are people on both sides of this debate whose behavior is counterproductive. One factor at issue in this area is people making allusions to Nazi Germany – likening Palestinians or Israelis to Nazis; or else, in a variety of ways, instrumentalising that period of history to serve contemporary political ends.

It clearly isn’t acceptable to attribute collective responsibility for Nazi crimes to Palestinians, nor to liken Israelis to the regime which persecuted and murdered many of their ancestors; often within living memory. A number of the Nazis’ Jewish victims are still living – and for that matter, are often poorly treated within Israel itself. Even if it were not ahistorical, however, it is both hurtful and false for people who had no involvement in the crimes of Nazi Germany to have blame ascribed to them.

It is also unhelpful. The Charkrabarti report alludes to this, in fact; and suggests that “surely it is better to use the modern universal language of human rights, be it of dispossession, discrimination, segregation, occupation or persecution and to leave Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust out of it” (p. 12) [11].

 

The Israel-Palestine conflict is evidently a problematic subject of debate. So, perhaps a question to ask yourself here would be – what is your aim? Is it to further the cause of peace, and justice? If so, how are your words and actions contributing to that goal? Are they making it easier, or more difficult, to achieve?

It is possible to conduct open and honest discussion about Israel and Palestine; while taking due care to avoid giving unnecessary offence. It not only facilitates productive dialogue, but will help to obviate the current moral panic over anti-Semitism; and make it much easier to address real instances of it in the process, when they have become evident. The same will hold true for anti-Muslim prejudice; which has itself been inflamed by rhetoric surrounding this issue.

There is also a need for integrity; and a bit of commonsense is evidently required, likewise. False allegations should have no more of a place in public discourse than derogatory rhetoric, or inflammatory language. Willfully distorting somebody’s meaning, or engaging in casuistry, is hardly constructive. Equally, people should consider how their wording is liable to come across to others. Civility and mutual respect are surely the basic foundations of productive dialogue; and peace.

 

 

Notes

[1] Arguably the most egregious falsehood made in regard to Peled was by Howard Jacobson in the New York Times; who claimed that “a motion to question the truth of the Holocaust was proposed”. This has no basis in fact. Jacobson’s link goes to an article in the Guardian; which puts the inaccuracy of his claim beyond doubt.

It’s not particularly difficult to discern Jacobson’s motivation. See: ‘Let’s see the ‘criticism’ of Israel for what it really is‘ by Howard Jacobson; Independent (18th February 2009).

Oddly enough, writing about the libel case David Irving had brought against Deborah Lipstadt (concluded in 2000, in Lipstadt’s favour), Jacobson had himself opined that there should be:

“a decisive no to all neo-Nazi revisionism, but no as well to letting the Holocaust set as incontestable as stone. How will we adequately understand what it was, how it came about, what it goes on being in men’s minds, unless we are forever asking questions of it?

…in the general we are the poorer for every disagreement not voiced, every dispute not pursued”

Which bears a distinct resemblance to Peled’s own words:

“The Holocaust was a terrible crime that we must study and from which we must all learn…

If we are to do justice to the memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust, Jewish and Roma and many, many others, then we must engage in robust debate and education about the causes of current, ongoing violence and injustice.”

Perhaps common ground can be found here, after all.

 

[2] Ken Loach published a response to Jonathan Freedland’s article. See ‘Ken Loach responds to Jonathan Freedland‘ by Ken Loach; Jewish Voice For Labour (5th October 2017).

As he notes, Freedland had suggested that “Ken Loach, Len McCluskey and Ken Livingstone are not Jewish – a fact that might limit their authority to speak on the matter”. It clearly doesn’t do this – they were commenting on the incidence of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, as they saw it. Personal experience is not a prerequisite for bearing witness.

Be that as it may, however, numerous people who are themselves both Jewish and Labour Party members have made objections to the media coverage of this issue. For example, a letter published in the Guardian by a number of Jewish Labour Party members contended that:

“We do not accept that antisemitism is “rife” in the Labour party. Of the examples that have been repeated in the media, many have been reported inaccurately, some are trivial, and a very few may be genuine examples of antisemitism”.

They also stated that “we, personally, have not experienced any antisemitic prejudice in our dealings with Labour party colleagues”; and that:

“We believe these accusations are part of a wider campaign against the Labour leadership, and they have been timed particularly to do damage to the Labour party and its prospects in elections in the coming week. As Jews, we are appalled that a serious issue is being used in this cynical and manipulative way, diverting attention from much more widespread examples of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the Conservative and other parties”.

One signatory was Michele Hanson – who published an article on the subject, making much the same point; more acerbically.

 

[3] Low-quality journalism is a factor underscoring this furore. For an example of rushing into print with obviously unreliable claims, which turned out to be untrue, see ‘Naz Shah’s Apology Was Not Edited By Labour Officials’ – originally entitled ‘Labour HQ Deleted References To Anti-Semitism From Naz Shah’s Apology’ – by Jim Waterson; Buzzfeed (27th April 2016).

Arguably a far worse example of carelessness was printed in an article by Carole Malone, in the Mirror newspaper; which claimed that the Labour MP Luciana Berger had been the victim of anti-Semitic abuse – which she had been; but that the culprits were supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s. This was untrue, as Berger herself clarified via Twitter. See ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are like Lenin style bully boys who’d send women to the gulag‘ by Carole Malone; Mirror (16th July 2016). Also: ‘Web troll admits sending vile threats to Liverpool MP Luciana Berger‘ by Luke Traynor; Liverpool Echo (14th July 2016).

Rhea Wolfson was another person targeted in the same manner. This was ignored by the Parliamentary Committee report, supposedly written to address anti-Semitism; and by the majority of media outlets – notably, including those which have otherwise published an inordinate number of articles on the general issue.

Despite being both Jewish and a member of the Momentum campaign group, Wolfson had also been disbarred from contesting an election to the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, at the instigation of the former Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy; on the grounds that Momentum had been implicated in anti-Semitism. The cynicism required to undermine a Jewish politician by implying that they are anti-Semitic on a guilt-by-association basis is quite something.

More recently, in an article about the Labour Party conference of 2017, the Independent had reported a series of incidents, which were supposed cause for concern about anti-Semitism:

* The Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council warning it would need “reassurances” of action against anti-Semitism before the conference is allowed to return.

* A call for Mr Corbyn to investigate the Labour Party Marxists group, accused of producing and circulating a leaflet quoting a prominent Nazi.

* Criticism of the Labour leader for failing to attend a Labour Friends of Israel reception – despite speaking at a Daily Mirror party.

The article failed to note that “the Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council” was Warren Morgan; who has been openly hostile towards Jeremy Corbyn. This obviously casts a different light on matters. See ‘Local Labour Party taken over by ‘fringe left wing’, council leader claims‘ by Joel Adams; The Argus (13th July 2016).

The reference to “the Labour Party Marxists group, accused of producing and circulating a leaflet quoting a prominent Nazi” is equally misleading. It refers to an article created by an Israeli academic, called Moshe Machover; written in defence of Ken Livingstone – who had been suspended from Labour in 2016, for saying that Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism. Machover’s article provided a quote from the Nazi official – Reinhard Heydrich – which alludes to the policy in question. It would be fair to say that this attempt to vindicate Livingstone was poorly conceived; but it clearly was not an endorsement of Nazism, as the Independent’s article (by no means alone) intimated. The third point raised by the Independent is borderline nonsensical, so it can be left aside here.

 

[4] It is not possible to prove definitively that the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit was leaking information about Labour Party members to the media; but there is enough evidence to make it a plausible scenario.

During the council elections of 2016, supposedly anti-Semitic comments made by Labour party members were leaked to press outlets; and in particular, to the Guido Fawkes website. However, the comments in question had almost all pre-dated Corbyn’s election to the leadership of Labour.

It would seem that people within the Labour Party were seeking to exploit the issue, in order to damage their own party’s electoral prospects; and thereafter supplant Corbyn. See ‘Jeremy Corbyn facing ‘coup attempt’ over anti-Semitism row as ministers hold talks with plotters’ by Peter Dominiczak, Christopher Hope, and Kate McCann; Telegraph (30 April 2016).

This followed a succession of leaks, staged resignations, and public criticism across the course of the previous year; all drawing Corbyn and Labour into disrepute. The people in question would then stage their coup after the EU referendum, of 23rd June 2016. They announced their intentions beforehand – again, in the Telegraph. See ‘Labour rebels hope to topple Jeremy Corbyn in 24-hour blitz after EU referendum‘ by Ben Riley-Smith; Telegraph (13th June 2016). This effort would, of course, fail.

See also:

Jeremy Corbyn faces open revolt after ‘incompetent’ two day reshuffle‘ by Steven Swinford, Ben Riley-Smith and Christopher Hope; Telegraph (5th January 2016).

Revealed: plot to oust Jeremy Corbyn by using veteran Labour MP Margaret Hodge to spark leadership contest‘ by Michael Wilkinson; Telegraph (3rd May 2016).

Labour anti-Semitism row threatens to divide the Party‘ by By Camilla Turner; Telegraph (6th March 2016).

The Telegraph was evidently provided with information. It was also the recipient of leaked material concerning one suspended Labour Party member; and was informed of the reasons for this suspension before the person in question had been.

The efforts undertaken by Labour MPs to undermine Corbyn began before he had first been elected to lead the party. See ‘Labour leadership election: MPs prepare to resist Corbynistas‘ by Daniel Boffey; Observer (5th September 2015).

For an overview of the campaign conducted by a number of Labour Party MPs against Jeremy Corbyn , see ‘No Easy Answers‘ by Daniel Finn; Jacobin (7th Match 2017).

 

[5] The Home Affairs Committee Report is perhaps what those who would (eventually) bemoan the Chakrabarti Report had wanted: namely, an excoriation of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party; which gave a veneer of authority to their claims that criticism of Israel’s government should be classified as anti-Semitic – and thereby unacceptable – at their say so.

The Committee report promotes this view, by virtue of citing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. This was itself derived from the ‘EUMC working definition’ of anti-Semitism; which had been created during 2004-2005. The purpose behind it was to conflate criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitic prejudice. As it notes: “such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”.

However, even this was not as overbearing as the Committee report is. For all of its shortcomings, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism prefaces the examples relating to the state of Israel, with the statement “contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include…”. The Committee report omits this qualifier; stating instead that “the IHRA goes on to list a number of contemporary examples of antisemitism, including…” (p. 9).

It also follows the same suit as a number of Pro-Israel lobbying organisations, in misconstruing a recommendation made by the Macpherson Report (i.e. the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry; paragraph 45.17). The Committee report states that “it is for the victim to determine whether a crime against them was motivated by a particular characteristic (the Macpherson definition)” (pp. 10-11). This is not the case; as is outlined by the Committee themselves shortly afterwards:

“for an incident to be found to be antisemitic, or for a perpetrator to be prosecuted for a criminal offence that was motivated or aggravated by antisemitism, requires more than just the victim’s perception that it was antisemitic. It also requires evidence, and it requires that someone other than the victim makes an objective interpretation of that evidence” (p. 11).

The report also focused overwhelmingly on the Labour Party. To suggest that there was not a political motive in evidence would be untenable. This was reaffirmed when Corbyn’s response to the Committee was derided by a number of Labour MPs who were hostile towards him. His published response to it, however, accurately discerned the shortcomings of the Committee report – namely, that:

“The committee chose not to look in any detail at – or come up with proposals for – combatting antisemitism in other parties, our major civic institutions, in the workplace, in schools, in all those places where Jewish people’s life chances might be at risk through antisemitism”.

Moreover, that:

“The Committee heard evidence from too narrow a pool of opinion, and its then-chair rejected both Chakrabarti’s and the Jewish Labour Movement’s requests to appear and give evidence before it. Not a single woman was called to give oral evidence in public, and the report violates natural justice by criticising individuals without giving them a right to be heard. The report’s political framing and disproportionate emphasis on Labour risks undermining the positive and welcome recommendations made in it”.

The poor quality of the Committee report is perhaps explained by its methodology, as much as the intentions behind it. The supposed examples of anti-Semitism revolved around the same comments quoted continuously throughout media articles during the Spring of 2016; and focused primarily on statements people had made about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

For example, the Committee report declaims that:

“Mr Corbyn was specifically challenged about the views of his Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, Seumas Milne, who had been filmed at a demonstration in 2009, at which he said that Hamas “will not be broken” due to the “spirit of resistance of the Palestinian people”. The Covenant of Hamas states that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it” and that “There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.”

Mr Corbyn told the Committee that he did not think it “appropriate” for him to be asked questions about the views of “every single member of staff” he employs, and said that he had not seen the video concerned, but described Mr Milne as a man of “immense intellect” and a “scholar”.

This is not an accurate representation of matters. The Committee report provides the source for Milne’s comments; and the “demonstration in 2009” had been a Stop The War protest against Operation Cast Lead. What Milne had actually said did not amount to an endorsement of Hamas’s covenant, as the Committee implied.

Instead, Milne had said: “it is a war that will fail, and is failing – even now, despite the horrific casualties, Hamas is not broken and will not be broken because of the spirit of resistance of the Palestinian people”. In other words, the war was taking peoples’ lives to no avail; and it needed to stop.

Furthermore, Milne’s stated aim was to press for an “arms embargo” – that is, for Britain’s government to stop providing the Israeli military with the weapons being used in this conflict. Given that Milne was suggesting the British government was culpable for the violence, it defies reason to suggest that he was being discriminatory towards Israel’s government, either.

As a further testament to the lack of quality in the Committee report, however, it notes

“A recent survey found that one in ten voters believe that Jewish people have too much influence in the UK; 6% disagree that “A British Jew would make an equally acceptable Prime Minister as a member of any other faith”; and 7% would be less likely to vote for a political party if its leader was Jewish”

This, of course, indicates how low levels of anti-Semitism within Britain are. Unstated by the Committee is that the data they were citing demonstrates negativity towards Jewish people was even lower among Labour Party supporters than amongst the general public.

This survey was compiled by Yougov, on behalf of Tim Bale; who had himself published an article in the New Statesman opining that there was a particular problem with anti-Semitism within the Labour Party – evidently in defiance of his own data. This is consistent with the overall quality of his output, in fairness. See for example: ‘Snap election a win-win for Theresa May: she’ll crush Labour and make Brexit a little easier’ by Tim Bale; Reaction (19th April 2017).

For a critical analysis of the Committee report, which did evaluate evidence responsibly, see ‘Crying wolf? A cavalier use of evidence in the UK’s latest Home Affairs Committee report is feeding a moral panic about antisemitism, rather than dealing with an increasingly racist, intolerant society’ by Richard Kuper; Open Democracy (24th October 2016).

One of the contributors to the Chakrabarti report was David Feldman, who is among the few people concerned herein to have genuine expertise on anti-Semitism. For his evaluation of the strengths and weakness behind various definitions of anti-Semitism oft cited, see: ‘Will Britain’s new definition of antisemitism help Jewish people? I’m sceptical‘ by David Feldman; Guardian (28th December 2016). And his more in-depth submission to a Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism: ‘Sub-Report For The Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism‘ by David Feldman (1st January 2015).

For an analysis of the problems behind the ‘EUMC working definition’ of anti-Semitism, and the related attempts to redefine anti-Semitism in order to include criticism of the State of Israel, see: ‘Hue and cry over the UCU‘ by Richard Kuper; Open Democracy (1st June 2011).

For an assessment of the British government adopting a problematic definition of anti-Semitism, see ‘Defining Anti-Semitism’ by Stephen Sedley; London Review Of Books (4th May 2017).

For an overview of contemporary anti-Semitism in Britain, 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 Review (May 2015).

 

[6] Another supposed incident of anti-Semitism at the Labour Party conference concerned Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, of the Free Speech on Israel group. As reported by the BBC:

“At a fringe event later on Tuesday, JLM chair Jeremy Newmark said her remarks – which were applauded by some in the hall – accusing Jews of colluding with the right-wing media amounted to anti-Semitism”.

This is not accurate. According to the BBC:

“She told delegates the Jewish Labour Movement would have “a bit more credibility” if it “didn’t spend so much of its time running to the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph with stories”.

Wimborne-Idrissi had therefore specifically criticized the Jewish Labour Movement. This was recorded by the BBC. Wimborne-Idrissi begins speaking at roughly 2 hours 10 minutes into the video; and had been referring to the rule change proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement at the conference – which would result in people being banned from the Labour Party if they make anti-Semitic statements.

She then states “the person who moved it from the Jewish Labour Movement would have a bit more credibility if his organisation did not spend so much of its time running to the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph with stories”. This is very obviously not the same as “accusing Jews of colluding with the right-wing media”.

Moreover, it is a matter of public record that leading members of the Jewish Labour Movement, including Newmark, have complained about the Labour party via the pages of right-wing news publications; as well as to other media outlets. See for example: ‘Why does Labour find it so hard to weed out antisemitism?‘ by Jeremy Newmark; Telegraph (17th February 2016)

See also in passing: ‘Corbyn’s day of disaster: ANDREW PIERCE on the tidal wave of criticism Labour has faced since delegates aired anti-Semitic views at a conference event’ by Andrew Pierce; Daily Mail (27th September 2017)

The text of the rule change proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement, was not adopted in its entirety. Instead, after a consultation with Shami Chakrabarti, a different resolution was passed. It is not entirely clear from media reports what this comprised. It was alluded to by Chakrabarti in the Newsnight interview linked-to previously; and the somewhat unreliable Skwawkbox website claims to have received a leaked document containing Chakrabarti’s amendments. This needs to be treated with some caution; but a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee has stated that the rule change adopted by Labour was less draconian than the one proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement.

Much the same has to be said about Jeremy Newmark’s claims on this issue. Newmark was found to have been making false allegations about anti-Semitism, during an employment in 2013. See paragraphs 131 and 148 in the Employment Tribunal: Fraser Vs University College Union transcript.

Jewish Voice For Labour have posted a piece by Jamie Stern-Weiner on their site, which provides a far more evidence-based assessment of the allegations about anti-Semitic incidents at the Labour Party conference of 2017, than appeared anywhere in the mainstream media. See: ‘Labour Conference or Nuremberg Rally? Assessing the Evidence‘ by Jamie Stern-Weiner; Jewish Voice For Labour (12th October 2017).

As a final point here, there is a very obvious problem with citing ‘anti-Semitic tropes’ – namely the fact that this can encompass anything at all, at will. For example, both Jeremy Newmark, and Richard Angellamongst others – had accused Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of using an anti-Semitic trope. They were thereby clearly suggesting that her criticism of the Jewish Labour Movement was not honest. Wimborne-Idrissi is Jewish; and deceitfulness was a trait long ascribed to Jewish people by anti-Semites. So, were Newmark and Angell et al using an ‘anti-semitic trope’?

 

[7] Responses to the Chakrabarti Inquiry were initially positive; if, in some cases, determined to use it as a petty exercise in politicking. For example, Richard Angell of the Progress organisation, ‘graded’ the report; and misrepresented its content. Angell opines that “not surprisingly the leader who commissioned the report avoids criticism for having called Hamas and Hezbollah ‘friends’ and the implications for debate in the party”. In reality, the Chakrabarti report addressed precisely this issue:

“Sharing a platform or having a meeting around some kind of problem or injustice never has meant, does not and never will mean, sharing any or all of the views (past, present or future) of everyone in the room. It is instead the business of peace-building and of the promotion of fundamental human rights” (pp. 13-14).

Angell also complained that:

“at the event Jeremy Corbyn had an opportunity to put his words into action and slap down the use of an antisemitism trope – that Jews conspire with the media – when Marc Wadsworth of Momemtum Black Connexions – having circulated a press release calling for the deselection of MPs – focused his wrath on Jewish Labour member of parliament Ruth Smeeth for ‘conspiring with the Daily Telegraph’ in front on the whole press conference”.

This suggestion does not withstand any real scrutiny. While the incident in question was unpleasant, it is not tenable to claim that Wadsworth had suggested “Jews conspire with the media”; nor anything to that effect. Angell would repeat this allegation, in 2017. His motives are evidently borne of a political animus directed towards Jeremy Corbyn; rather than any sincere concern.

Less single-minded in their response was the Board of Deputies; which initially welcomed the Chakrabarti Report – then denounced it as a “whitewash”. The Community Security Trust followed suit – welcoming it in June; denouncing it in October.

While these responses were evidently opportunistic; a more determined excoriation was undertaken on the anniversary of the Chakrabarti Report’s publication. This was conducted at the behest of Judith Ornstein; who published both a book and a short film, decrying the Chakrabarti Report as a Whitewash.

The film was written by David Hirsh; who has a track record of making untrue claims about anti-Semitism – as noted in the same Employment Tribunal of 2013 as Jeremy Newmark; in which Hirsh (along with a colleague from his Engage lobbying organisation, Jane Ashworth) had been found to have borne false witness. Their efforts in this regard go back to at least 2005; when they published an article on the Progress website, entitled ‘The state they’re in‘.

This tendency is borne out by the film itself. It opens with an edited portion of Corbyn’s speech to a Stop The War meeting in 2009, in which he says:

“Tomorrow evening it will be my pleasure and honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well”.

Hirsh edits out Corbyn’s statement after this section, that they had been invited “so that we can promote that peace, that understanding and that dialogue”; and omits Corbyn’s reference that “unfortunately the Israelis would not allow them to travel here”.

Hirsh’s film then quotes Corbyn saying:

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people, and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region, should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake”

Again, it omits what Corbyn goes on to say: “and I would invite the government to reconsider its position on this matter and start talking directly to Hamas and Hezbollah – that is the only way forward to bring about peace”.

The full video is available on Youtube; and I have written about this issue previously. Suffice to say, the suggestion that Corbyn was eulogising Hamas and Hezbollah, rather than promoting the need for dialogue in order to end the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2008-2009, is devoid of sense.

Ornstein’s respective works on this theme were derived from submissions made by – amongst others – Ruth Smeeth MP, Howard Jacobson, and Ruth Deech, to a specially devoted website: http://www.whitewashed.co.uk/

They also featured Luke Akehurst – a former Labour Party Councillor, who has an overt political hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn; and a background in Pro-Israel lobbying efforts. For example, his involvement in a website called We Believe In Israel; which aims to facilitate public relations campaigns on behalf of the Israeli government, particularly during its military operations.

Akehurst has also made inaccurate claims about anti-Semitism recently; as adjudged by an Ofcom ruling. The Al Jazeera news channel had published a documentary about lobbying being conducted within Britain, by an Israeli government official.

Akehurst had complained that the programme was anti-Semitic; but Ofcom declared otherwise. Significantly, Ofcom had cited the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (“IHRA”) working definition of anti-Semitism” (p. 24), that Britain’s Government adopted in December 2016; which was purposely designed to conflate criticism of Israel’s government with anti-Semitism. Even within this conducive framework, Akehurst’s claims were found to be devoid of basis.

Needless to say, none of the people claiming that the Chakrabarti Report was a “whitewash” have ever provided evidence of any wrongdoing. Instead, the accusations ensued as a result of Chakrabarti being made a peer at Corbyn’s request, in October 2016. See for example:

UK Jews fume as lawyer in ‘whitewash’ anti-Semitism report gets top Labour job‘ in The Times of Israel (7th October 2016)

Shami Chakrabarti has ‘sold out the Jewish community’ for shadow cabinet job, Board of Deputies claims‘ by Kate McCann; Telegraph (7th October 2016).

The agenda at work here is clear enough; and had been indicated by the Board of Deputies in their initial response to the Chakrabarti report: “the report was weak on the demonisation of Israel and omitted any mention of party figures who have displayed friendship towards terrorists”.

Writing in the Guardian, one of the people who had submitted evidence to Chakrabarti’s inquiry – Keith Khan-Harris – had presciently forewarned that while the Chakrabarti Report deserved “to be discussed seriously and calmly”, this would not happen; and the report would instead be subsumed in political wrangling. Khan-Harris then demonstrates the point, by doing exactly that.

He writes:

“Corbyn is under attack for saying at the launch that: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”

A generous interpretation of this line is that the Labour leader was trying to make a point about how we need to draw a line between minorities in the UK and what their brethren are doing elsewhere. Yet the apparent equivalence drawn between Israel and Isis was, at the very least, tone deaf and ignorant of how it would be received in a constituency with which he needs to build bridges”.

The link leads to to an article by Harriet Sherwood. Both Sherwood and Khan-Harris seem not to have taken much care, here. What Corbyn had actually said was easy enough to understand:

“To assume that a Jewish friend or fellow member is wealthy, part of some kind of financial or media conspiracy, or takes a particular position on politics in general, or on Israel and Palestine in particular, is just wrong.

Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu Government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations. Nor should Muslims be regarded as sexist, antisemitic or otherwise suspect, as has become an ugly Islamophobic norm. We judge people on their individual values and actions, not en masse.

No one should be expected either to condemn or defend the actions of foreign powers on account of their faith or race.”.

Needless to say, “various self-styled Islamic states or organisations” clearly precludes one Islamic State from being the point of reference. Corbyn’s words were derived from the Chakrabarti Report itself – which Khan-Harris had suggested was meritorious. Chakrabarti had written about this particular issue at length on pages 10-11 of her report: the very obvious point being made, by both her and Corbyn, was that racial/religious stereotypes and notions of collective guilt should have no place in the thinking of Labour Party members.

It perhaps goes without saying that none of the various commentators – or Labour MPs – accusing Chakrabarti of being compromised by her peerage said anything similar about Janet Royall, on account of hers. This is despite the fact that the two had published similar reports; and Royall had contributed to the Chakrabarti Inquiry.

On a purely personal note, Chakrabarti’s report evinces an optimistic tone; which is not an outlook that I share. I had written two thirds of a research essay in 2009-10 (before falling ill for several months, and deciding not to complete it); about the claims that a new form of anti-Semitism had emerged among ‘the Left’. It remains relevant, unfortunately. I received a number of abusive comments in response, and several threats as a consequence of writing that essay. The counterpart would perhaps be when a far-right Christian website replicated a portion of it, for their own unpleasant purposes; which was not any more encouraging.

 

[8] As noted, an abundance of articles were published during the Spring of 2016, all reiterating the same basic claims about anti-Semitism within the Labour party. While these do not vary much in their assertions or quality, they nonetheless demonstrate the inordinate level of coverage the issue received:

Is the Labour Party’s problem with racism beyond repair?‘ by Dan Hodges; Telegraph (17th February 2016)

Anti-Semitism is a poison – and the left must take leadership against it‘ by Owen Jones; Guardian (15th March 2016)

Revealed: How Jewish members of Labour are fed up at party bosses over ‘sickening’ anti-Semitism in the party as a candidate is suspended for a SECOND time for sending a series of tweets attacking Israel‘ by Matt Dathan; Daily Mail (15th March 2016)

Jeremy Corbyn ‘impotent’ as he fails to halt Labour’s anti-Semitism, warns Jewish leader‘ by Michael Wilkinson; Telegraph (16th March 2016)

Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem‘ by Jonathan Freedland; Guardian (18th March 2016)

What is it about the Left which makes anti-Semitism so common?‘ by Abi Wilkinson; Telegraph (25th March 2016)

Anti-semitism at the heart of Corbyn’s Labour Party: Devastating dossier exposes how extensive anti-Jewish bigotry is in Labour and poses profoundly troubling questions its leaders MUST answer‘ by Guy Adams; Daily Mail (2nd April 2016)

Corbyn not doing enough to stamp out anti-Semitism‘ by Stephen Pollard; Daily Express (9th April 2016)

Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism‘ By Ross Hawkins; BBC (13th April 2016)

Jeremy Corbyn told to ‘get a grip’ of anti-Semitism in the Labour party‘ by Kevin Schofield, Emilio Casalicchio, Agnes Chambre and John Ashmore; Politics Home (13th April 2016)

Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of tackling Labour’s anti-Semitism problem‘ by Alan Johnson; Prospect (25th April 2016)

Labour has “serious anti-Semitism problem”, peers warn‘ by BBC (28th April 2016):

Labour’s anti-Semitism row explained‘ by ITV (28th April 2016)

If Labour wants to stamp out anti-Semitism, it should take a lesson from Naz Shah
by Henry Zeffman; New Statesman (28 April 2016)

Labour’s anti-Semitism problem stems from its grassroots‘ by Douglas Murray; The Spectator (28th April 2016)

‘Top Jewish figure hits out at Corbyn over Labour’s “anti-semitic demons”‘ by Joseph Watts; Evening Standard (28th April 2016)

I saw the darkness of antisemitism, but I never thought it would get this dark’ by Nick Cohen; Observer (30th April 2016)

Corbyn may not be antisemitic. But is he a real leader?‘ by Matthew D’Ancona; The Guardian (1st May 2016)

Ken Livingstone and the hard Left are spreading the insidious virus of anti-Semitism’ by Ephraim Mirvis; Telegraph (3rd May 2016)

Jewish leaders call for UK’s Labour Party to act on anti-Semitism “cancer”‘ by Michael Holden; Reuters (4th May 2016)

Momentum, anti-Semitism and the problem with Labour’s grassroots activists‘ by Julia Rampen; New Statesman (4th July 2016)

This list is by no means exhaustive; nor were articles of this kind limited to the British media. I have written about this period in more detail. See ‘Does the Labour Party have ‘a problem with anti-Semitism’? No; and the accusations raise more questions than answers‘.

 

[9] One example is the self-styled Campaign Against Antisemitism UK; which is in reality a pro-Israel lobbying group, set up to counter criticism of the Israeli government and military, in the wake of Operation Protective Edge (2014). This is an effort being conducted with the interests of Israel’s government in mind; disguised as a community concern with anti-Semitism.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism UK harasses various people – including some who arguably have made anti-Semitic comments – by posting their personal details on the group’s Facebook page; and thereafter encouraging its followers to report the person in question to their employers. It also runs profiles of “antisemitism in political parties”, with an overwhelming amount of cases supposedly being evinced by Labour politicians. Suffice to say, very few of these incidents withstand any real scrutiny; and revolve primarily around comments made about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Despite claiming to be apolitical, the organisation’s patrons are listed on its website; and comprise a number of mostly Conservative politicians, along with Richard Kemp – who has repeatedly made excuses for war crimes perpetrated by Israel’s military. Kemp has also served as an advisor to the Gatestone Institute, which promotes anti-Muslim authors and far-right politicians. One of the Gatestone Institute’s funders is the Middle East Forum; which has itself set up various ‘watch’ sites to harass and intimidate their political opponents.

Another Campaign Against Antisemitism UK patron is Ruth Deech – who is involved in the lobbying organisation UK Lawyers for Israel. It’s fairly obvious that this patronage is rooted in an attempt at defending the state of Israel from political activism. Deech has worked to undermine criticism of Israeli policy, on UK campuses; having written a letter to several universities, discouraging students from taking part in Israeli Apartheid week by intimating that legal consequences might arise.

The actual staff of the Campaign Against Antisemitism UK follow a similar suit. As with many similar organisations, its claims evince the basic dynamic of a witch-hunt – namely, leveling accusations at people; then when somebody denies their accuracy, casting their denial as further proof of guilt.

The key individuals involved in this group are Gideon Falter, Nathan Hopstein, Stephen Silverman – and to a lesser extent, Jonathan Sacerdoti. Falter, in particular, has a track-record of making false claims about antisemitism.

As an example of its work, the Campaign Against Antisemitism UK bemoaned Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election to lead the Labour Party, in September 2016 via the Daily Express. They also published a statement on their website; which declaimed that they had “instigated disciplinary proceedings against Jeremy Corbyn over his promotion of the lie that accusations of antisemitism are dishonest and nefarious”.

The organisation’s complaint was fairly prolix; but according to the letter they submitted to the Labour’s Party’s Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, their case against Corbyn was that he had promoted “the allegation that Jews lie and deceive in order to further hidden agendas” and that this “is an age-old antisemitic trope”. The incident they cite does not support this, however. As the Campaign Against Antisemitism UK eventually get around to outlining:

“Although Mr Corbyn and his allies have a long history of association with antisemites, it was not until 5th April this year that he crossed the line and made an antisemitic statement. At that point, when his brother, Piers Corbyn, characterised the antisemitic abuse complained of by Jewish MP Louise Ellman as a politically motivated “absurd” attack on his brother, Jeremy Corbyn agreed, saying his brother “was not wrong”.

This should not require any further comment; however, the Campaign Against Antisemitism UK had misrepresented matters. The comment made by Corbyn had originally appeared in an interview with The Sun newspaper.

Piers Corbyn had posted on Twitter: “ABSURD! JC + All #Corbyns are committee #AntiNazi. #Zionists cant cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”. The Sun notes:

“Today the hard-left Labour leader defended his brother saying: “No, my brother isn’t wrong”.

Questioned by The Sun after a speech in Harlow, Essex, the Leader of the Opposition added: “My brother has his point of view, I have mine and we actually fundamentally agree – we are a family that were brought up fighting racism from the day we were born.”

A more responsible reading, therefore, would be that Jeremy Corbyn was stating his brother “was not wrong” to say they were both opponents of racism. Perhaps more to the point, those at the forefront of this furore are seldom themselves Jewish. Nonetheless – to the best of my knowledge, at least – there has never been an ‘anti-Semitic trope’ about politicians continuously whinging to the press.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism UK has also exaggerated the extent of anti-Semitic opinion in Britain; having promoted a distorted interpretation of data. It has focused these efforts on Muslims; as have many of the individuals and organisations it is linked to. The obvious unreliability of this organisation as a source did not stop it being cited throughout the Home Affairs Committee report into anti-Semitism, however.

 

[10] The issue of anti-Semitism among Labour Party members was exploited for political ends by the Conservative Party, amongst others. It had pushed these accusations during the local and Mayoral elections of 2016; while simultaneously conducting a defamatory campaign against Sadiq Khan, on account of his Muslim background.

David Cameron had raised both issues during Prime Minister’s Questions on 4th May 2016. This was evidently a part of the Conservatives electoral campaign; and as with everything else to David Cameron’s name, it resulted in failure. The person Khan had ‘shared a platform with’ was a Conservative Party supporter; who had subsequently sued Michael Fallon for repeating Cameron’s remarks. Cameron was himself protected from litigation by Parliamentary privilege. Oddly, and perhaps predictably, Cameron has himself been involved with an openly anti-Semitic politician called Michel Kaminski.

This resurfaced again during the Conservative Party conference of 2017 – when Theresa May had reiterated the same basic claim as David Cameron; namely that the Labour party was “riven with the stain of anti-semitism”. As it happens, a number of Conservative MPs have themselves courted controversy with their remarks about the Israel-Palestine conflict; whilst Alan Duncan would become the target of an Israeli government official, seeking to undermine his position, seemingly because of Duncan’s prior criticisms of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Several other Conservative, and Liberal Democrat, politicians have followed suit; as mentioned in David Feldman’s submission to a Parliamentary Committee in 2015. So why hasn’t any similar furore erupted over these political parties? Surely if the concern about anti-Semitism was genuine, it would have done.

For a more blatant example of Conservatives seeking to exploit the issue of anti-Semitism for political gain, see ‘The Jewish Labour Movement is fighting our friends and propping up our enemies‘ by Jeremy Brier; Jewish Chronicle (3rd May 2017).

 

[11] While the Chakrabarti report focused on the problem of people using references to the history of Nazi Germany when criticising the Israeli government, there is a long-standing counterpart of using the same theme to criticise Muslims. See ‘Islamofascist slanders‘ by Anne Karpf; Guardian (4th November 2008).

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