A scurrilous and ill-informed attack on the left

Review of THE LEFT’S JEWISH PROBLEM: JEREMY CORBYN, ISRAEL & ANTI-SEMITISM

Dave Rich (2016, London Biteback Publishing)

I am writing this review as a long-standing Jewish feminist academic and activist. I am a social scientist and have been involved with research on higher education, feminism, gender and socialist politics throughout my academic life. I have written numerous personal, political and professional articles, chapters, and books – most recently Reclaiming Feminism: Challenging Everyday Misogyny (Bristol, Policy Press, 2016) and A Feminist Manifesto for Education (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2016).  Reclaiming Feminism is both a memoir and an argument for transforming the neo-liberal global academy in the direction of gender equality and socialist-feminist values. I focus especially on aspects of campus politics today. A Feminist Manifesto for Education is based upon my collaborative research, including with colleagues across the European Union (EU) (especially Ireland, Italy and Spain), to deal with gender violence and transformative politics. I was a founder member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) and the British Shalom-Salaam Trust (BSST) a charitable organisation giving funds for projects on education, health, welfare and women in Israel and Palestine.

All of this preamble might sound incredibly defensive – perhaps it is – but I mention it as I don’t want to be attacked for my lack of knowledge or rigour. I also don’t want to be attacked for my Jewish credentials, familiar though this is as a Jewish trait. By way of further justification, I am the daughter of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and I was brought up in Zionist-socialist family, attending Habonim throughout my adolescence. In adulthood I have wavered over my Jewish socialist commitments: my children attended a Northwest London Jewish day school. I remain committed to secular Jewish socialism and, living in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency, I am supportive of his approach.

Dave Rich argues that what he hopes to have done is to transform his ‘academic research’ for his PhD (although he never tells us who supervised it and in what field it was examined) into a more popular book. This is entitled, somewhat provocatively, The Left’s Jewish Problem where, on the cover, the o is a Magen David. The sub-title is Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism. Rich’s research is about the rise of the new left, mainly but not only in the UK, and its consequences in the UK Labour party today. However this is not a dispassionate or even a so-called insider account as a Jewish academic and activist. Either one of these approaches is what I expected. Not so: it is an extremely limited account of some narrow aspects of the British new left, those whom he dubs ‘the anti-Israel left of Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone and George Galloway…that now allies itself with Islamist extremists who demand Israel’s destruction’.

At first glance, the book appears quite erudite, having numerous endnotes for each chapter and a substantial index. There are 6 substantive chapters, with an additional introduction and conclusion and a brief foreword. But there the semblance of scholarship or rational argument ends. The organisation of the chapters is not particularly logical in terms of the history of socialism and its relation to nationalism and/or Zionism. Nor is there any account of the rise of the British Labour party and its association with the rise of the new left and the role of Jews and/or Zionists within this.

There is no bibliography or even list of references. Book and chapter titles and references are buried in the endnotes. Even a cursory search of the index reveals many lacunae in the scholarly international work on the rise of the new left. I searched for names of Jewish left activists normally associated with the new left: names such as Judith Butler (who gets one very cursory mention), the late Professors Hannah Arendt or Stan Cohen, Danny Cohn-Bendit, Claude Lanzmann (the French socialist who made the film Shoah in 1985), the late Professor Ralph Miliband, Professor Steven Rose, Jerry Rubin or Professor Michael Walzer (long-term editor of Dissent in the US) to name but a few.  None of them appear in the index. Yet they are part of the rise of the new left both intellectually and ideologically, and are critically important to its current formation.

The book starts off rather propitiously and I was initially drawn to the project of looking at the twists and turns in the politics of the British Labour party, with which I have an ambivalent relationship. I had hoped to get some clarity and peace of mind about the current debates about anti-semitism and anti-racism in the Labour party. These had led to the setting up and subsequent publication of the excellent Chakrabarti report, published on June 30, 2016.

Unfortunately, the book does not look at left-wing Jews and their relations with feminism, socialism and the Labour party. It is, in fact, a rather tedious journey through a particular brand of left-wing politics, with a focus on very minor political groups and individuals, cherry-picking issues such as anti-apartheid, anti-racism, anti-Zionism, Islam and Palestine.

The most important omission, however, is any reference to the key role played by Ralph Miliband in the rise of the new left, from the post-war period. Michael Newman’s brilliant biography entitled Ralph Miliband and The Politics of the New Left (The Merlin Press 2002) illustrates how Miliband ‘stood as a beacon on the international left for the way he articulated and redefined socialist politics’.

Even more curiously, there is absolutely no reference to either of his sons – David or Ed Miliband – and the role that they have played in the Labour party.  Are they also part of the Left’s Jewish Problem or are they immune from anti-semitism? Given these lacunae I lost faith with this book being at all credible: it is quite simply a scurrilous and ill-informed attack on the left.

Professor Miriam David

Richard Kuper’s review

Let’s not talk about racism

A major report was issued about endemic racism in a major British institution; few people are aware of that although the report was widely reported.

Shami Chakrabarti was commissioned by the Labour Party to investigate “antisemitism and other forms of racism” in the party. Chakrabarti and her vice-chairs took their remit seriously; Zionist organisations and the British media did not.

The report raises critical issues about the treatment of members of BAME communities inside and by the party. These were obliterated by a media stampede to make the report a sideshow in the get Jeremy funfair and by a disbelief from the Zionist hierarchy that Jewish concerns were not placed centre stage.

The presentation of the findings was hidden under two confections.

Firstly, a malicious allegation that Corbyn had equated Israel and ISIS. It was clear to anyone hearing him talk or reading his words later that he had done no such thing.  He equated those who make false and racist allegations about Jews to those who make false and racist allegations about Muslims. He said: “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.” It is vexatious to wilfully misinterpret that to Israel equals ISIS and only makes sense as part of a campaign to demonise and undermine Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.

Secondly an accusation that Ruth Smeeth had been subject to anti-Semitic harassment. It may only be a coincidence that she made her allegation against one of the few Black men in the room. Journalists asked a series of questions about anything but the content of the report; mainly irrelevantly about Corbyn’s future or about the disciplining of Livingstone which was ultra vires for fear of contaminating the complaints procedure underway.

One question was from a Daily Telegraph journalist about a Momentum leaflet on deselection of Labour MPs. The leaflet had been handed out by Marc Wadsworth, a Black activist and journalist.  He had refused to hand a leaflet to Ruth Smeeth who had been pointed out to him as one of the first MPs to call for Corbyn’s resignation – he had never come across her of heard of her before. Wadsworth had seen the Telegraph journalist, Kate McCann, hand her copy of the leaflet to Smeeth and the two sat together. Wadsworth accused Smeeth of collaboration with the media. Smeeth, whose Jewish heritage was totally unknown to Wadsworth chose to interpret the accusation as an antisemitic slur and departed the room. Later she claimed, despite video evidence to the contrary, to have fled the room in tears. This farrago became a major news story and was turned into an attack on Corbyn for failing to intervene in an event that had never happened. Ever since, it seems no media comment on the report fails to undermine it by referring to at least one these two imaginary events. Once an association has been promulgated it attracts a life of its own – fiction becomes historical fact.

The Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Community Security Trust, the Jewish Chronicle all gave major prominence to these two inventions even while giving guarded welcome to the report. The accusations were picked up by Jewish and Zionist bloggers and tweeters and broadcast globally; the content of the report and its welcome were not.

We do not assert that the Jewish and Zionist media and organisations deliberately set out to occlude the report’s findings on the racist treatment of BAME communities and its recommendations on curtailing and hopefully ending such behaviour. Such assertion is unnecessary to see an unconscious, but pervasive, disregard for the suffering of any other community than the Jewish one. An anti-racist response would be to celebrate that an investigation prompted by allegations of antisemitism, and a report wholeheartedly condemnatory of the occasional antisemitic behaviour it uncovered, was also led to reveal other and more widespread racist behaviour. Acknowledging the treatment experienced by other communities does not diminish the unacceptability of the racist treatment of Jews. There is however an unpleasant current in the Jewish community that sees the treatment of Jews as special and distinct from that suffered by others.

Chakrabarti was at pains to emphasise the distinctive nature of the Holocaust that should prevent it being used as an analogy for other historical or current events even other genocides. Each act of gross inhumanity has its own nature and needs its own consideration. It is necessary to understand the particular nature of each abuse, whether the Shoah, the Rwandan genocide, the Armenian genocide or the Atlantic slave trade – it diminishes each of them by lumping them together.

We expect people of all communities to oppose antisemitism; we equally expect members of all communities, and a fortiori their organised leadership, to oppose all forms of racism and discrimination and to use their experience to empathise with others not to compete in an abasing misery stakes.

Since the referendum street racist abuse, and violence, have escalated putting all minority communities at risk. Public racism has been become normalised in a way that we had hoped we had excised over the last four decades. So far, it seems, the abuse and assaults on Jews have not been the major problem. It is rampant Islamophobia and intolerance of anyone not speaking English that have been most prevalent.

We look to the Labour Party to defend members of all communities, it can only do that if it takes up Chakrabarti’s challenge to look at itself and embark on the long and painful process to reform itself. The report correctly commends the Party for promoting legislation over the last half-century to outlaw racism and other forms of discrimination, the Conservatives have no such record. As we all know the public actions are easier than the personal ones that challenge our own feelings and beliefs. It is much harder when petty and noisy squabbling drowns out the quiet voices of pain for short-term and factional gain.

Mike Cushman

Guardian publishes letter by 100+ Jews defending Corbyn and Chakrabarti

This letter appears in the Guardian on 9 August 2016

Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of Liberty and a lawyer with a well-deserved reputation for integrity, produced a thoughtful and important report on antisemitism and racism in the Labour party at the request of Jeremy Corbyn. It is highly regrettable that they are both now under attack because her inquiry did not find evidence to support allegations of rampant antisemitism in the party.

Such attacks say more about her detractors than they do about Chakrabarti. Their real objections concern her recommendation that the party’s disciplinary processes conform to the principles of natural justice, so that allegations of antisemitism and other forms of racism will be properly investigated, members cannot be suspended without knowing the charges against them, and people are protected against scurrilous and ill-founded allegations.

As Jews whose views are not represented by the chief rabbi, the Board of Deputies of British Jews or the pro-Israel lobbyists of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, we dissociate ourselves from the attacks on Chakrabarti and urge Corbyn to hold firm in implementing the positive recommendations in her report.
George Abendstern
Liane Aukin
Daphna Baram
Julia Bard
Sue Bard
Hannah Basson
Sandi Beecher
Shereen Benjamin
Sarah Benton
Craig Berman
Jo Bird
Rica Bird
Carla Bloom
Jenny Bloom
Louise Bloom
Professor Haim Bresheeth
Elizabeth Carola
Linda Clair
Mike Cushman
Ivor Dembina
Dr Judit Druks
Claudio García Ehrenfeld
Nancy Elan
Mark Elf
Liz Elkind
Deborah Fink
Sylvia Finzi
Louella Frankel Jones
Kenneth Fryde
Tessa van Gelderen
Claire Glasman
Monica Gort
Tony Greenstein
Abe Hayeem
Rosamine Hayeem
Professor Susan Himmelweit
Sue Hughes
Claire Jackson
Dr Vivienne Jackson
Selma James
Riva Joffe
Ann Jungman
Michael Kalmanovitz
Roisin Kalmanovitz
Monash Kessler
Simon Korner
Richard Kuper
David Landau
Pam Laurance
Leah Levane
Rachel Lever
Les Levidow
Susanne Levin
Rosalind Levy
Vivien Lichtenstein
John Lohrenz
Ruth London
Professor Yosefa Loshitzky
Deborah Maccoby
Professor Moshé Machover
Beryl Maizels
Jenny Manson
Miriam Margolyes
Stephen Marks
Martine Miel
Professor Simon Mohun
David Mond
Professor Mica Nava
Chaim Neslen
Diana Neslen
Esther Neslen
Helen Pearson
Rina Picciotto
Frances Rifkin
Roland Rance
Michael Rosen
David Rosenberg
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
Leon Rosselson
Maureen Rothstein
Michael Sackin
Caroline Salinger
Ben Samuel
Professor Donald Sassoon
Ian Saville
Miriam Scharf
Amanda Sebesteyn
Glyn Secker
Khalil Secker
Sam Semoff
Alexander Seymour
Professor Avi Shlaim
Ray Sirotkin
Dr David Sperlinger
Vanessa Stilwell
Alexandra Trone
Professor Clare Ungerson
Professor Philip Wadler
Margaret Wayne
Naomi Wayne
Sam Weinstein
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Devra Wiseman
Naomi Woodspring
Ben Young
Dr Gillian Yudkin
Professor John S Yudkin
Professor Nira Yuval-Davis

A Right Royall Mess

In Mid-February this year the Labour party announced an inquiry into antisemitism allegations in the Oxford University Labour club, following the resignation of Alex Chalmers, a vice-chair of the club who wrote on Facebook that: “A large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.” The resignation, and the outcry that followed, came swift on the heels of the club deciding to support Israeli Apartheid Week.

It was clear from the immediate reactions that many accepted the accusations at face value and such people found no difficulty is getting a spot in the media. John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, for example, who, as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary group on Antisemitism has form, finds antisemitism everywhere. He called for the party to sever ties with the club. Louise Ellman, vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel was “deeply disturbed by the news that Oxford University Labour Club has decided to support Israeli Apartheid Week and by the revelations from Alex Chalmers about the troubling tone of the discourse in which this debate appears to have been conducted.” She said comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa were “a grotesque smear and the Labour party should dissociate itself from them”.

Baroness  Royall, a Labour party whip in the Lords, was appointed to investigate and produced a report in May. Curiously, only a brief summary of the report was published, in which Royall made clear that she did not believe there was institutional antisemitism within OULC, but there were issues of ensuring a safe space for Labour students to debate and campaign. No reason was given for the non-publication of the Report and it was generally but erroneously assumed that it would be released when Shami Chakrabarti published the results of her wider investigation into the topic of antisemitism, racism and the Labour party.

Two rumours circulated as to why the report did not see the light of day. The first was that it revealed so many embarrassing incidents of antisemitism, its publication would do the Labour party untold damage. The other was a simpler one: that the report itself was a shoddy and embarrassing piece of work, best left unseen.

The Report has now been leaked to the Jewish Chronicle and we are in a position to assess these conflicting interpretations. The JC, unsurprisingly, headlines its story Baroness Royall report reveals Oxford Labour students engaged in antisemitism. The full Report is available for download here.

Naomi Wayne

See also Tony Greenstein’s analysis of the report: Baroness Royall’s Flawed Report on ‘anti-Semitism’ at Oxford University Labour Club 

FSOI deplores attacks on Shami Chakrabarti

Shami Chakrabarti, a human rights lawyer with a justified high reputation for integrity, produced a thoughtful and important report on antisemitism and racism in the Labour Party at the request of leader Jeremy Corbyn.

It is highly regrettable that both she and Corbyn are now under attack from sections of the Jewish community, incensed at the prospect of her joining the House of Lords simply because her inquiry did not find evidence to support their hysterical charges of rampant antisemitism in the party.

Such cheap attacks tell us more about the character of her detractors than they do about her. Her report recommended that the Labour Party radically transform its procedures so that well-founded allegations of racism and antisemitism can be fully investigated and action taken against perpetrators, while protecting members against scurrilous and ill-founded charges.

Black People Matter – Jackie Walker responds to the Chakrabarti Inquiry Report

Via Momentum.
Jackie Walker is Vice Chair of Momentum Steering Committee.

Shami Chakrabarti’s Inquiry into Anti-Semitism and Racism in the Labour Party made big news soon as it was published – and for all the wrong reasons, just one of the ongoing consequences of the “occasionally toxic atmosphere” that is “in danger of shutting down free speech within the Party rather than facilitating it.” Chakrabarti makes it clear her intention is not to “close down debate on delicate issues around all kinds of personal and political differences within the Party” but to conduct these debates “in a more trusting and constructive environment.” My response is made with the same intent.

As a recently suspended Labour Party member, and the only person as yet (at the point of writing) exonerated, I was bound to read Chakrabarti’s report, and the coverage that followed, with more than a little interest. I write as a long time Labour Party and anti-racist activist for whom Chakrabarti’s findings are personally and politically important. My partner is Jewish, his family observant, but I comment as a woman of mixed Jewish and other heritages who identifies as, and is perceived by others as, a black person of African descent.

Much of the mainstream media response to the Inquiry focused on anti-Semitism, was superficial, poorly informed or with one intent – destabilising Labour and its present leadership. Chakrabarti’s generally well expressed ‘state of the Party’ contextualisation of race relations, and her many well thought through and sensible recommendations, were sidelined as charges of anti-Semitism yet again took centre stage, immediately undermining the Inquiry’s key findings on BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) members.

At the core of the debate is the way competing claims by minorities are positioned in the (at this point in time) supercharged arena of Labour Party politics. In the political arena, perhaps more than elsewhere, race is about power – who has it, who is chosen to represent the Party, who gives power to others and how that power is communicated. Two areas are highlighted in the part of the Chakrabarti Report that focuses on BAME members – that of representation and vocabulary.

Chakrabarti begins with evidence; that in 2010 the BAME community voted for Labour more than double in relation to whites. She describes an unwelcoming environment and a lack of representation at all levels, including in Parliament, but also in the administrative structures of the Party, singling out the lack of black members in the NEC for special mention. What an irony then that it is the voices of people of colour, in particular those of African descent, that were so effectively sidelined in reporting of the Inquiry.

In today’s Labour Party Chakrabarti situates anti-Semitism within a set of feelings and responses as reported in many submissions by some in the Jewish community. Stereotypes limit the ability of peoples to be treated and respected as individuals and Chakrabarti’s comments on the need for sensitivity in the language of debate, whether on issues that relate to Israel or elsewhere, are to be welcomed. But there is acknowledgement that it is power, or the lack of it, that excludes and discriminates against BAME people in the Party, as it does of course in the rest of society. Blacks do not only feel under-represented, or stereotyped in the Party. They are under-represented. They may be members and supporters, they are of course, particularly in Labour’s urban heartlands, often the foot soldiers and voters, but BAME members are effectively excluded where it matters – from power.

Given the terms Chakrabarti was given for her inquiry it is difficult to see how this could have been avoided. If anti-Semitism is set apart from ‘other forms of racism’, can we be surprised when the Inquiry fails to attract a significant number of submissions from BAME groups, or when black individuals are significant only by their absence at its launch? The reception of the Inquiry in the media and elsewhere simply underlined the powerlessness of the BAME community. The paucity of any black response, at a national level, confirms the exclusion the report attempts to redress. In this three card trick discrimination against BAME members is the card that appears, I hope only for the moment, to have been made to magically vanish.

I come now to the issue of vocabulary, in particular comments on the use of the term ‘holocaust,’ a point that concerns many people of African descent who await both recognition or recompense for past wrongs inflicted.

Chakrabarti makes plain her Inquiry is an attempt to bring people together. To stand in solidarity, as Chakrabarti suggests all minorities need to, people of African descent must see the structures that exclude them from power, and have kept them silenced for so long, being changed. This is the only way in which attempts to build an inclusive Party will succeed.

Groups that have suffered oppression need to have conditions, a level playing field, in which they can form united political fronts, working in solidarity with others, rather than having to fight for a place at the table, forever bogged down in disputes about equity, access to power, or the meaning of the past. If the Party does not succeed in this, Labour will remain entangled in the impossible task of being a moral referee as minority ethnic groups engage in a ‘competition of victimhoods’ in order to gain, build or protect recognition.

Others have argued elsewhere for dropping the use of the contested terminology of ‘holocaust’ and replacing it with ‘genocide’. Some suggest opening Holocaust Day more fully to all communities that have suffered mass murder. As Jews retain the word Shoah, so peoples of African descent refer to Maangamizi for their holocaust. Maangamizi describes the slave trade and history of enslavement when millions of Africans were killed, tortured, kidnapped and enslaved for profit but it also refers to the genocides and deprivations of colonialism and the ongoing, consequential suffering and oppressions of peoples of African descent.

I am in agreement with Chakrabarti there are, and can be, no hierarchies of suffering. The Inquiry rightly warns of dilution of effect ‘if every human rights atrocity is described as a Holocaust’. However, I cannot see the term ‘holocaust’ as something the Labour Party can, or should police, though it may provide a useful forum where terminology can be discussed. As ever, the Labour Party must recognise the right of minorities to both name themselves and choose how their history is narrated.

It is in the ability of the labour movement to listen to the experience of people of African descent and other BAME peoples where I now place my trust. It is with hope that I ask that our leaders listen to the concerns of people of colour whose voices before and during the Inquiry, and even now, remain barely heard. I look forward to the changes to come.

Chakrabarti Rocks

Jonathan Rosenhead.

In this comment I will try to sketch out

  • the background to the Chakrabarti Inquiry
  • a summary of the Report’s conclusions
  • how it has been received by those who generated the panic
  • a scorecard of what it has achieved and avoided.

Despite having been Jewish all my life I have only experienced two antisemitic incidents. Neither had anything to do with the Labour Party. And I first joined the party in 1961! This is not a uniquely charmed life. The ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, interviewed on television, rather embarrassedly confessed that he had not himself experienced a single antisemitic incident. There can be no doubt that antisemitism, an ugly deformation in any society, has a continuing underground life in Britain as elsewhere, and that we should be alert to its existence and possible increase. But its public manifestations are currently so small that it is really impossible to say whether it is actually going up or down.

How then to explain the moral panic over antisemitism, specifically in the Labour Party, that struck the UK body politic earlier this year? There is ample circumstantial evidence that it is the result of a manoeuvre, brilliantly successful, perpetrated (if that is the right word, and I think it is) as a joint enterprise by the friends of Israel and the enemies of Corbyn. These two groups, whose memberships overlap, made common cause, exploiting both their network of contacts in the media and the paid PR apparatus that boosts Israel wrong or wrong. The cause is common because the Labour Party enemies of Corbyn resent his election and are determined to take ‘their’ party back, while Israel has every reason to try to reverse the innovation of a major UK party leader who is a committed supporter of the Palestinian cause.

The Inquiry

Although quite wonderful in many ways Jeremy Corbyn is perhaps not a natural leader for a party or a movement; nor is he fleet of foot in dodging enemy bullets or turning them back on their originators. Which makes the establishment of an inquiry into Antisemitism and Other Forms of Racism in the Labour Party almost the exception that proves the rule. It was an intervention which quelled the hubbub, in particular because the chair of the Inquiry, Shami Chakrabarti, has such an unshakeable reputation for probity, and indeed a strong public affection. Her assistants, David Feldman and Janet Royall provided the necessary backup in terms, respectively, of antisemitism and the workings of the Labour Party. But they did not write or have to approve the Report. It is hers.

The report lists 85 organisational submissions, and there was also an unknown number (probably large) of individual contributions. Judging by their names about 30 of the organisations are likely to have taken what I will for convenience call a ‘pro-Israeli’ line (stressing antisemitism as a crisis needing strong action); and some 20 came from explicitly pro-Palestinian organisations. Another 10 came from within the trade union and Labour movement, while 10 came from other religiously-identified groups, mostly Muslim. (Not all are easily classifiable in this way.) The submissions by the considerable group of Jewish organisations that mobilised against the moral panic are collected together at the Free Speech on Israel website. (For completeness, a collection of opposing submissions is also available.)

Given the copious leaks about suspensions from the Labour Party that could only have come from the Labour’s HQ bureaucracy (effectively working for dissident MPs rather than the elected party leader) unusual precautions were taken about the report launch. The aim was to avoid selective leaks with their accompanying negative spin. Only one copy of the text was produced and, so we are informed, that was passed directly from Chakrabarti to Corbyn. However….

The Report

The launch of the report, despite measured speeches by Chakrabarti and Corbyn, was effectively hijacked by a press corps which only wanted to ask the latter about his travails with disloyal MPs, and by media-oriented stunts about antisemitism of exactly the kind that provoked the Inquiry in the first place. The result is that the content of this significant report has not had the attention that it deserves.

Any summary of the report is bound to be selective. The points I would pick out are Continue reading “Chakrabarti Rocks”

Labour Jews to Chuka Umunna – Stop using antisemitism smears against Corbyn

Dear Chuka Umunna,

We write as Jews who are members of the Labour Party. Some of us are also members of Momentum. We were shocked to witness the cynical manner in which you weaponised false allegations of antisemitism to launch an attack on the leader of the Labour party and on Momentum at the session of the Home Affairs Committee on Monday July 4th. [The questioning of Corbyn by Umunna starts at 17:02:50]

Some of the comments made at the press conference launching the Chakrabarti inquiry on June 30 by Mr Wadsworth (not a representative of Momentum as you claimed) were rude and unwarranted, however there is no evidence they were motivated by antisemitism. Wadsworth was clearly angry that the Daily Telegraph journalist had shared one of his leaflets with Labour MP Ruth Smeeth. He makes no reference to Ms Smeeth’s religion and asserts he had no knowledge she was Jewish and there is no evidence that this is not true. We have searched assiduously, including scrutinising the video footage of the incident, but have found no evidence of antisemitism, as opposed to incivility, in his words or actions.

The questions about Mr Wadsworth had been asked and answered several times by the time you asked your questions. Quite evidently your questions were not designed to elicit information but to pursue an internal Labour Party vendetta in a public forum. This relentless concentration on a confection designed to damage the Labour Party inhibits proper discussion on an important report into how the Labour Party can be more effective in combatting all forms of racism including antisemitism.

In your questioning you repeatedly employed guilt by association. For instance, you made reference to David Watson’s case. This is still under investigation and, as your legal background should have informed you, the allegations against him currently remain untested and unproven. These are allegations that, had you performed due diligence before asking your questions, you would have known are based on flimsy, if not fabricated, evidence.

We have been quite unable to detect any hint of animosity towards Jews in any of Watson’s social media posts. His critique of Zionism is one that many Jews share, in particular that the political Zionism dominant in Israel today is a racist ideology, both discriminating against Palestinians and stereotyping Jews as incapable of living alongside non-Jews in diverse societies. To then suggest that anyone who shares a platform with Watson is implicitly condoning antisemitism, and further that Jeremy Corbyn is answerable for all events organised by Momentum, is absurd.

You cite the example of the Oxford University Labour Club, and claim that “time and time again in these incidents of activity” in which offence is caused “to and against Jewish people Momentum seems to pop up quite frequently”. Yet Baroness Royall found no evidence of institutional antisemitism in OULC, and reported on at least one case of serious false allegations of antisemitism which had been reported to the police.

We ask you to cease your relentless undermining of the Labour Party. It would be more appropriate for you to concentrate your considerable energy on working to unite the Party so that we can displace this destructive Tory Government as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Sue
Bard
Edinburgh East & Musselburgh
Graham
Bash
Hackney North
Haim
Bresheeth
Hornsey & Wood Green
James
Cohen
Wanstead and Leyton
Sylvia
Cohen
Finchley & Golder’s Green
Ruth
Conlock
Manchester Withington
Judith
Cravitz
North Islington
Mike
Cushman
Streatham
Miriam
David
Islington North
Kenneth
Fryde
Cambridge
Alex J
Goldhill
Ealing Central & Acton
Tony
Greenstein
Brighton Kemptown
Mike
Howard
Hastings & Rye
Riva
Joffe
Holborn & St Pancras
Michael
Kalmanovitz
Hampstead & Kilburn
Shlomit
Ferguson
Enfield North
Arye
Finkle
Chipping Barnet
Abe
Hayeem
Harrow East
Rosamine
Hayeem
Harrow East
Richard
Kuper
Holborn & St Pancras.
Frank
Land
South West Devon
Stephanie
Lee
Gorton
Leah
Levane
Hastings & Rye
Rachel
Lever
Hastings & Rye
Yosefa
Loshitzky
Hornsey & Wood Green
Kay
Manasseh
Streatham
Miriam
Margolyes
Vauxhall
Stephen
Marks
Oxford
Karen
Merkel
East Ham
Diana
Neslen
Ilford South
Dr Brian
Robinson
Milton Keynes
Denise
Robson
Gateshead
Jonathan
Rosenhead
Hackney South & Shoreditch
Rina
Rosselson
Brent Central
Ian
Saville
Brent Central
Glyn
Secker
Dulwich & West Norwood
Sam
Semoff
Riverside
Roger
Silverman
West Ham
Vanessa
Stilwell
Dulwich & West Norwood
Stephen
Tiller
Hackney South & Shoreditch
Jackie
Walker
South Thanet
Sam
Weinstein
Hampstead & Kilburn
Naomi
Wimborne-Idrissi
Chingford & Woodford Green

You can watch the video of the Home Affairs Committee session here. Chuka Umunna begins questioning Jeremy Corbyn at approx. 17:04:00

Chakrabarti – A Missed Opportunity to Develop an Anti-Racist Policy for Labour

The Free Speech on Israel network broadly welcomes the Chakrabarti inquiry report into antisemitism and other forms of racism. Nevertheless, we are publishing below the first in a series of responses that is more critical of the inquiry’s focus and findings.

By Tony Greenstein.

Corbyn and ChakrabartiOn 29th April, as the media hyped ‘anti-Semitism’ hysteria in the Labour Party was in full swing, with daily revelations from those doughty fighters against racism at the Daily Mail, Jeremy Corbyn set up an inquiry into racism in the Labour Party under the former Chair of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti. Chakrabarti is no radical and when it was announced that Baroness Royall of Labour Friends of Israel was to become a Vice Chair of the Inquiry I feared that this Inquiry would simply become a rubber stamp for the Right of the Labour Party and the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement.

The other Vice Chair, Professor David Feldman, was attacked by the Jewish Chronicle for his links to Independent Jewish Voices, a group which had expressed its concern “at the proliferation of sweeping allegations of pervasive antisemitism within the Labour Party.” ‘Labour inquiry professor has links to group that says antisemitism claims are “baseless”,’ Jewish Chronicle 2.5.16. I made a long submission to the Inquiry  and I gave evidence to the Inquiry two weeks ago.

When I gave evidence to Chakrabarti she made it clear that the Inquiry Report was hers and hers alone. Baroness Royall of Labour Friends of Israel would not determine its findings or outcome. She was an advisor, nothing more.  So although my worst fears were not realised and the Inquiry did not become a repetition of Royall’s rubber stamp ‘Inquiry’ into allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club, the Chakrabarti Report is nonetheless problematic.

There is no merit in pretending that Chakrabarti found for the supporters of the Palestinians and opponents of Zionism in the Labour Party. Whilst there are some welcome recommendations, in particular over disciplinary procedures, the Inquiry clearly falls down on the side of the Zionists politically.

The Chakrabarti Report has been welcomed by both Richard Angell of Progress, for whom any criticism of Zionism is de facto anti-Semitic Grading the Chakrabarti report, and Jeremy Newmark Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, who called the report a “sensible and firm platform” to combat anti-Semitism. Report says UK Labour Party not racist,  Jerusalem Post 1.7.16.

Chakrabarti has also been welcomed by John Mann MP, the boorish loud mouth who hectored and bullied Ken Livingstone. It is true that in a Parliamentary Labour Party with an overrepresentation of the stupid and vain, Mann stands head and shoulders above his compatriots. Nonetheless when he declares that he was ‘delighted that every single one of the proposals I made [to Chakrabarti] in (sic) included in her report’ John Mann: The anti-Semitism report gives a route out of this mess this cannot be ignored. Mann stated that “For the first time, it makes the use of ‘Zionist’ in a derogatory way a disciplinary offence.’ Even a stuck clock is right twice a day.

The best thing about the Report is the first line which states that ‘The Labour Party is not overrun by antiSemitism, Islamaphobia or other forms of racism.’  This is important because it negates the whole campaign which gave rise to this report. However there are two problems with this. Chakrabarti immediately rows back on this saying that ‘I have heard too many Jewish voices express concern that anti-Semitism has not been taken seriously enough in the Labour Party and broader Left for some years.’ 

Chakrabarti avoids the central reason behind the setting up of the Inquiry, the false use of anti-Semitism as a weapon against those who oppose Zionism and the Apartheid State of Israel. Coupled with this is what can be described as ‘false victimhood’.  Although Chakrabarti accepted our submissions over the Zionists’ misuse of the MacPherson principles, she doesn’t draw any conclusions as to why the Zionists have tried to subvert the MacPherson definition of a racial incident. Why are the Zionists so insistent that only they can define what is an anti-Semitic incident?

What would Chakrabarti have said a quarter of a century ago if opponents of Apartheid in South Africa had repeatedly been told that they were ‘anti-White’ racists?  It is a constant of Zionist discourse that anyone supporting the Palestinians or opposing their treatment by Israel is accused of ‘anti-Semitism’. An example of this occurred at the Chakrabarti Report press conference itself when Marc Wadsworth, a Black anti-racist activist, accused Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, a spin doctor for BICOM, the main Zionist propaganda group in this country, of feeding information to The Telegraph. Former Israel lobby spin doctor aims for seat in UK parliament, Wadsworth made no mention of Smeeth being Jewish, indeed he didn’t know she was Jewish, yet this was spun by Smeeth and the media as being an anti-Semitic incident.

The problem with Chakrabarti is that false claims of ‘anti-Semitism’ can be directed with impunity at Black anti-racist activists. It substitutes the subjective for the objective, yet Smeeth proudly boasted on Twitter that Chakrabarti had apologised to her.

The whole Report is suffused with subjectivity. Instead of defining anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism from the outset and rejecting the ‘new anti-Semitism’ which sees opposition to the Israeli state as anti-Semitic and Israel as the ‘Jew among the nations’, Chakrabarti ignores the issue completely. There is no excuse for this. A number of submissions, including my own  and IJV’s, spent some time on defining what is and is not anti-Semitism. How can you have a report on anti-Semitism which fails to define what it means by anti-Semitism?

The Institute of Race Relations IRR’s submission to the Labour Party Inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism emphasised the difference between attitude and acts, the subjective and objective. According to the poisonous logic of identity politics, the rights of every group – be they an oppressor or oppressed – are equally valid. So the rights of the Zionists are equally as valid as those of the Palestinians. The rights of ethnic cleansers are as important as those they drove out. If you challenge this then you are engaging in a ‘hierarchy of oppressions’ which is not allowed. The subjective demands that you take all claims at face value. Both bogus claims of racism and actual racism are equal. It therefore drains racism of any meaning and reduces it to personal antagonism.

The Chakrabarti Report depoliticises racism. Instead of being a product of the power relations in a society built on colonial exploitation, including the slave trade, racism is nothing more than a difference in colour or ethnicity. Black people can therefore be equally as racist as White people.  Racism is reduced to the personal. It has nothing to do with imperialism or Zionist settler colonialism. Indeed the very use of the word ‘Zionism’ is deprecated. Continue reading “Chakrabarti – A Missed Opportunity to Develop an Anti-Racist Policy for Labour”

Free Speech on Israel submission to Home Affairs Committee inquiry into antisemitism

Today, the House of Common’s Home Affairs Committee will question Jeremy Corbyn for its anti-Semitism inquiry. Below is our written contribution to the inquiry.

SUMMARY

  • Those who claim to represent the Jewish community, and who are given voice by the media, do not represent a sizeable Jewish minority who are highly critical of Israel and the violations of Palestinian human rights.
  • There is no wave of antisemitism in the Labour party, whilst peaks of antisemitism in the general community correlate with the attacks on Gaza.
  • The allegations essentially constitute a campaign against the left leadership of the Labour Party and the success of the Boycott movement.
  • There is a conflation of Jew, Israel and Zionism such that criticism of Israel or Zionism is defined as antisemitism.
  • A particular form of Zionism, committed to territorial expansion and the expulsion of Palestinians, today informs both the Israeli government and the international Jewish establishment.
  • Where Israel, Zionism and Jew are conflated into one identity it should not be surprising that criticism of Israel’s actions or of its current political ideology may cause some Jews to feel personally uncomfortable or insecure. It is, however, incumbent on the critics to ensure criticism of human rights violations, and/or of the ideology which informs them, are accurately focussed and do not slide into criticism of Jews and become antisemitic.
  • Israel receives privileged attention because it has a special relationship with the UK, the EU and the USA, and claims to be a liberal democracy.
  • The EUMC committee’s ‘working definition’ of antisemitism has not been adopted by the EU and has been disowned by it’s successor committee, the FRA. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is a private body and cannot be cited to accord the ‘working definition’ any international legal status.
  • The Jewish Labour Movement’s proposed Labour Party rule change would be a gross violation of the principles of natural justice.
  • Due to its partiality, the JLM is not a fit body to provide the Labour Party with advice and training on antisemitism.
  • Very occasionally individuals on demonstrations display references to the Nazis and refuse to remove them. Streets are public places and it would not be possible to remove them without force. Citing this microscopically small and insignificant minority as representative of the demonstrations or their organisers is a calumny.

CONCLUSION

  • It is incumbent on Parliament and its Committees when taking evidence to include the Jewish groups which dissent from the mainstream Jewish narrative.

1. Who we are.

a ‘Free Speech On Israel’ is a network of Labour, Green and trade union activists, mainly of Jews drawn from Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jews for Jeremy, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Young Jewish Left, and Jewdas. It came together to counter the campaign to brand support for justice for Palestinians antisemitic, and at concern for the lack of due process in the suspensions from the Labour party, with no published evidence.

b. Those interviewed or referenced by the Committee who claim to represent the Jewish community all identify themselves as Zionists who defend Israel from all and any criticism, namely the Board of Deputies of British Jews, The Jewish Leadership Council, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Community Security Trust, British Information Communications Media Organisation (BICOM), and the Zionist Federation. They are all well resourced, with their views amplified in the media. However, large sections of the Jewish community reject Zionism and between our different groups we believe we are representative of these sections.

c. A survey last year by Yachad, a liberal UK Zionist group found:
31% did not self-identify as Zionists
24% would support sanctions if they believed it would push Israel into a peace process,
This rose to 41% of under 30’s

A similar USA survey last year (only published in Hebrew) found:
just 42% believe Israel wants peace
only 38% believe Israel is a civilised society
only 31% believes it is democratic
21% believe the US should side with the Palestinians

It is evident that within the Jewish community there is considerable and deep disquiet concerning the nature of Israeli society, the Occupation and the discriminatory policies of the Israeli government. This diversity of opinion has been underrepresented in the media and, so far, in the public deliberations of your Committee.

2. Why the flood of accusations of antisemitism now?

a. In our collective experience running to thousands of person years, we have experienced only a tiny number of antisemitic incidents, none of which have been in the Labour Party, and we have seen no recent upsurge. Most of the current allegations relate to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

‘Could we see it as part of a broader campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, as the leading pro- Palestinian politician, and against the Boycott movement. Politicians have been silenced by fear of the antisemitic trope, which is intended to close down ethical, historically informed debate […] Settler and soldier brutality, casual killings, child arrests and imprisonment and abuse, land theft, house demolitions, and racism escalate daily. But criticism is deflected (by being defined) as visceral hatred of the Jewish state.’

These words (summarised) are not those of a conspiratorial antisemitic leftist, but of the internationally respected Oxford University Professor and author Avi Shlaim, who is also Jewish.

3. Understanding the nature of the complaints – the conflation of Jew, Israel and Zionism

a. The current accusations identify three areas as targets of antisemitism: Jews, Israel and Zionism. It is the tripartite conflation of these which creates the logic that criticism of any one is an attack on Jews and is therefore antisemitic. (Initially any criticism of Israel was so defined, recently however there has been a degree of moderation such that now not all criticism of Israel is defined as illegitimate).

This conflation is endorsed by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis, who has said, “You can no more separate it (Zionism) from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.” Continue reading “Free Speech on Israel submission to Home Affairs Committee inquiry into antisemitism”