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 rejects demonisation of Jeremy Corbyn

  • Jeremy Corbyn did not equate Israel to ISIS
  • No foundation for allegations of antisemitic attack on Ruth Smeeth MP
  • Report places antisemitism in the context of racism

Free Speech on Israel (a Jewish-led coalition of Labour Party members and supporters and friends) broadly welcomes Shami Chakrabarti’s report and its focus on antisemitism in the context of racism. The report details steps the Party must take to be a progressive party in a diverse Britain, committed to representing people of all backgrounds.

Jeremy Corbyn’s response was thorough and brave in accepting the challenge to make the party one that people of all communities will look to to represent their interests.

The serious discussion which this report deserves has, however, been hijacked by two invented controversies.

Firstly the allegation by MP Ruth Smeeth that she had been the subject of antisemitic attack, in which she was accused of colluding with the media. Despite Ms Smeeth’s complaint, there is no evidence in her account of any antisemitic language or reference to her religion. The person accused of accosting her states he did not even know that she was Jewish.

Secondly, Corbyn’s forthright support for the Report on behalf of the Party has been hijacked by an invented allegation that he equated Israel and ISIS. He equated those who make false allegations about Jews to those who make false 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 worse than vexatious to wilfully misinterpret that as saying that Israel is equivalent to ISIS. It only makes sense as part of a campaign to demonise and undermine Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.

Free Speech on Israel looks forward in playing a full part in the hard work to help the Labour Party live up to the high expectations of the Chakrabarti report.

Free Speech on Israel network responds to Chakrabarti inquiry report

We will shortly publish a more detailed response. Initial thoughts:

The Chakrabarti Inquiry report refused to endorse the claims of the Zionist lobby either about widespread antisemitism in the Labour Party or the identification of anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

They interpreted their remit as not being a parallel process for evaluating the complaints already under investigation; that it is correct those processes have to follow their own track. However, their recommendations of a moratorium on new disciplinary processes, and that trawling through long forgotten tweets and posts should not be acceptable practice, is a strong and implicit negative comment on most of the ongoing complaints.

They make, what appear to be on first reading, sensible recommendations for improving the complaints process to both ensure that complaints of substance are fully and sympathetically dealt with and to inhibit further witch hunts.

The report gives no role to the Jewish Labour Movement in training or anything else (in fact they get no mention at all except as a submitter of evidence). The report has no mention of BDS or Boycott and it is reasonable to infer they find no antisemitic meaning in the boycott campaign.

It is instructive to consider this report along with the findings of the Fraser v UCU tribunal www.bricup.org.uk/FraservUCU.pdf. In both cases the Zionist lobby presented their strongest case through their leading advocates. In both instances when these case were subjected to legal scrutiny they fell apart. Except in partisan fora, the identification of anti-Zionism with antisemitism cannot be sustained.

The report only made two recommendations to limit the actions of Israel’s critics. Firstly to desist from the use of ‘Zio’, hardly a burden except when approaching a Twitter limit. Secondly to be sparing about suggesting Holocaust and Nazi equivalence, which can indeed short-circuit thought and hide more than it reveals, and is meaningless when the typical term of abuse for a traffic warden or obstructive bureaucrat is ‘Nazi’ or ‘little Hitler’. We need to deal with the specificity of Israel’s crimes, not resort to meaningless abuse.

The most significant long-term implications are very welcome ones. The Report echoes our view that antisemitism must be viewed in the context of racism and not in the context of Israel. The report is strongly critical of the Party’s record on equality and diversity and calls for swift action to redress the under-representation of members of BAME communities among LP staff and at all representative levels. The Report does see a great need for training in equality and diversity but they believe this should be done not by partisan groups but in collaboration with the Trade Unions and with Higher Education Institutions.

Corbyn responded with a thoughtful and unconditional welcome to the report. The press pack responded by only being interested in how quickly (and hopefully painfully) Jeremy would disembowel himself and wanted to be sure the cameras would be rolling when it happened.

Labour Party members need to seize this report and make sure its recommendations are implemented and not lost in a welter of well-meaning, to be generous, working parties. The party exists in a racist society (and since the referendum many of us have been disappointed to learn how little progress has been made in the last 40 years) and will incorporate some of this environment into its practices – expunging them will be at minimum a generations’ long struggle.

Institute of Race Relations tells Chakrabarti Inquiry the definition of racism has been debased

imagesIRR’S SUBMISSION TO THE LABOUR PARTY INQUIRY INTO ANTI-SEMITISM AND OTHER FORMS OF RACISM

Written by A. Sivanandan, Liz Fekete and Jenny Bourne

 

Below we reproduce the IRR submission to the Labour Party Inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, including Islamophobia.

1. Introduction: The intense publicity in the run-up to the formation of this independent inquiry ensures that its findings will also be subject to intense public scrutiny. Despite the seriousness of the accusations levelled at the Labour Party, we believe that this review provides a unique opportunity for new standards of political responsibility to be set in the related fields of countering racism and fostering good race relations and community cohesion.

2. The Institute of Race Relations: The IRR, a long-standing UK-based charity that educates for racial justice in the UK, Europe and across the world, opposes all forms of racism whilst acknowledging that racism is also specific, impacting on different communities in different ways, at different times and in different areas. However, despite the fact that racism may impact differentially, law, policy and educational initiatives must not themselves be differential. All communities must feel that any discrimination they experience will be treated equally in law and practice and that all allegations of racism are treated consistently. In that sense, although the inquiry’s terms of reference mention ‘anti-semitism and other forms of racism’, IRR believes that it is confusing and counter-productive to devise community-specific programmes and urges the inquiry to devise rules of conduct which can apply across the board to all forms of racism – including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Hence our emphasis on returning to first principles to provide the framework within which the Labour Party could work out its specifics.

3. Distinction between attitude and act: The IRR has, from its researches and interventions over the last fifty years, realised the necessity of distinguishing between ideas/attitudes/prejudices – which are all subjective and ‘not provable’ – and the objective acting out of such prejudice – in discriminatory acts, physical violence, institutional bias, government edicts, etc. – which is open, provable and prosecutable.[1] Hence our belief in education not penalisation as the correct response to racist ideas or prejudices, provided they are not manifested in discrimination, abuse or violence.

4. Definition of racism debased: The IRR believes that the problems that confront the Labour Party (as to how to define and provide guidance on racism) have their genesis in the fact that in the country in general there have been moves, since the 1980s, to shift the meaning of ‘racism’ from the objective to the subjective, to personalise it, allowing it to move from something tangible, and subject to prosecution, to anything that gives hurt, offence, discomfort. Racism has become adulterated by equating speech and deed, opinion and fact, attitude and act.

The move to the subjective has been compounded by the Macpherson definition of a racist incident: ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’.[2] We feel that, in the present febrile climate as regards racism in the Labour Party, to introduce such subjectivity into debates would not in fact clarify matters of racism but open them to personal interpretations and thereby cloud the issue.

In other words, anti-racism has moved from a concept relating to fairness, equality and justice to an exercise in purging people’s minds of ‘impure thoughts’ and indeed purging such people from the Party. Penalising people for perceived racist feelings or attitudes is itself biased (because based on subjective opinion), contrary to natural justice and unproductive, whereas enforcing the law when discrimination occurs is both educative and just. It is evident that certain parts of the Labour hierarchy are now so confounded by the cacophony of the changing mood music that even the use of words such as ‘Holocaust’, ‘Zionism’, ‘slavery’ can trigger an anxiety-provoked kneejerk reaction in which commonsense and natural justice go by the board.

5. Impact of identity politics: Simultaneously with the subjectivisation of racism has come the influence of identity-based politics, which tends to personalise the political and individualise the social, and move the fight against racism to a fight for culture. Obviously cultural exclusion can in certain circumstances lead to institutional racism (for example Sikhs in the 1960s being effectively banned from driving buses because the wearing of turbans was not compatible with the official uniform cap). And in other circumstances, a fight for culture can also be a fight against racism (e.g. the Gypsy and Travellers’ struggle for provision of sites). But it does not follow that all cultural or ethnic demands unmet by an organisation or state agency are tantamount to racism. This emphasis on cultural/religious/ethnic rights became official policy following Lord Scarman’s finding on the 1981 ‘riots’,[3] that ‘racial disadvantage’ and not institutional racism was the problem and could therefore be compensated by meeting ‘the problems and needs of the ethnic minorities’. In the event, it encouraged different ethnic groups to vie with each other for preference and reduced multiculturalism from meaning inter-culturalism to culturalism meaning separateness.[4]

6. Role of social media: What is now apparent, and no more so than in the recent cases the Labour Party has had to deal with, is that social media such as Twitter and Facebook have served to blur the crucial line between attitude and act. Previously, if you spoke perhaps thoughtlessly ‘out of turn’ about a person or a group it was in private, in the context of a conversation and at one moment in time. You could be pulled up for it there and then, made to see the error, offer an apology and so on at the time. But making that same remark on social media multiplies the offence and renders it not only out of proportion, but irredeemable.

7. Personalised racism and party politics: The danger is that in the realm of party politics, such personalisation of racism can easily take on the form of character assassination and, helped on by the mass media, become a decoy for political vendetta.

8. Racism v offence: The second major shift, which the inquiry needs to acknowledge, is the attempt to move the meaning of racism to the giving of offence – something evident in the UK since the debate over the book Satanic Verses published in 1988. The book clearly upset and offended many Muslims and might not therefore have been a wise move in terms of furthering good community relations. But it did not incite hatred, it was not unlawful or prosecutable in any way and therefore the author’s right to freedom of expression had, in a democracy, to be upheld. What is becoming blurred under pressure from various sectional interests is the line between what is illegal and what unpleasant; between what should be punished or outlawed and what can be informally dealt with, through education, for example.

The issue of what constitutes anti-Semitism and what anti-Zionism will no doubt be addressed by a number of groups giving evidence to the inquiry. What the IRR suggests is that, rather than looking just at the specific and hotly contested matter, you examine it first in terms of a larger principle: what constitutes racism and what offence. And this in the recent climate when subjective claims over aspects of identity have become elevated, and the line blurred between (religious) rites and (civil) rights. Continue reading “Institute of Race Relations tells Chakrabarti Inquiry the definition of racism has been debased”

Advisory position paper for TU & Labour members & delegates on antisemitism, training & disciplinary procedures

This is a downloadable leaflet.

Who We Are – Free Speech On Israel 

Free Speech on Israel is a network of labour, green and trade union activists in the UK, mainly Jewish, who came together in April 2016 to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for Justice for Palestinians as antisemitic. Many of us are members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jews for Jeremy, Jewish Socialists’ Group, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Young Jewish Left and Jewdas.

  • We do not believe there is a wave of antisemitism in the Labour Party
  • The attacks form part of two highly orchestrated campaigns: one is to undermine the Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. The other is to suppress the pro-Palestinian voices of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others of many faiths and none, campaigning for freedom, justice and equality, of which Jeremy Corbyn has been a leading spokesperson.
  • We reiterate our strong commitment to combating all forms of racism and to defending those who are subjected to it. This means opposing Islamophobia, prejudice against migrants and racism against ethnic and religious minorities, including antisemitism.
  • We reject the suggestion that questioning the current Zionist ideology of the Israeli state and its supporters, both Jews and non-Jews is antisemitic. Not all Jews are Zionists. Not all Zionists are Jews. Zionism is a political ideology, it is not an article of religious faith nor is it intrinsically a part of Jewishness.
  • In the very best traditions of the British Labour movement we campaign to end the injustices inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people.

The Jewish Labour Movement

  • The JLM is affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), a major funder of the illegal settlements.
  • The JLM is an affiliate of the World Labour Zionist Movement (WLZM), supporting its Jerusalem Programme – which claims its homeland to be Eretz Yisrael (Great Israel), i.e. all the land from the sea to the Jordan river, thus appropriating the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
  • The WLZM claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, which means expelling the Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
  • The purpose of the JLM is to justify the actions of the Israeli state, whomsoever is in power. 
  • The JLM’s parent party is the Israeli Labour Party, which has never condemned the occupation. Labour’s Premier, Herzog, recently stated, “I wish to separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible…we’ll erect a big wall between us”. There are 1.4 million Palestinians who live in Israel itself.

Leading Israeli Cabinet members have made the following statements:

  • Speaking of Israeli Arab members of Parliament, Defence Minister Lieberman said, “The fate of the collaborators in the Knesset will be identical to […] those who collaborated with the Nazis […] executed after the Nuremberg trials at the end of the War. I hope that will be the fate of collaborators in this house.” And, “When there is a contradiction between democratic and Jewish values, the Jewish and Zionist values are more important.”
  • Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, posted on Facebook during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, “The entire Palestinian people is the enemy […] including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”
  • The JLM makes no criticism of these statements nor disassociates itself from them. In fact Herzog sought to join his Israeli Labour Party to Netanyahu’s coalition government.

For these reasons many Jews in the Labour party do not accept that the JLM can represent us. Continue reading “Advisory position paper for TU & Labour members & delegates on antisemitism, training & disciplinary procedures”