Tony Lerman argues that we should ditch the IHRA definition because it does more harm than good. It both fails to tackle antisemitism and erodes free speech on Palestine and Israel. This article is reprinted from Open Democracy by permission of the author
In politics, neutralising a toxic controversy and moving on by taking a strategic decision to retreat, withdraw or compromise, may be a prudent course of action. But if this is what members of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) are planning to do today by ditching the amendments it made to some examples of antisemitism in the guidance notes of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) ‘working definition’ of antisemitism, and embracing the entire text lock, stock and barrel, they would be party to a travesty of justice. The more the definition is held up to the light and subject to public scrutiny, the more we see holes and cracks in its flimsy fabric. Not only is there now overwhelming evidence that it’s not fit for purpose, but it also has the effect of making Jews more vulnerable to antisemitism, not less, and exacerbating the bitter arguments Jews have been having over the nature of contemporary antisemitism for the last 20 to 25 years. Arguments that are inextricably linked to the Israel-Palestine conflict and generated by two questions: Are there forms of criticism of Israel which equate to antisemitism? If so, where is the line between ‘legitimate’ criticism and criticism that spills over into antisemitic hate speech? Continue reading “Labour should ditch the IHRA working definition of antisemitism altogether”
Why conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism makes fighting antisemitism impossible
Robert Cohen explains why Sacks’ comments are dangerous for British Jews as well as attacking Palestinian rights. Reprinted from Patheos by permission of he author
Earlier this week Rabbi Jonathan Sacks made himself look foolish, tarnishing his worldwide reputation as a man of considerable Jewish learning and wisdom by making outlandish criticism of the Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.
This morning, on the BBC Andrew Marr Show, he did it again:
“He [Corbyn] implies the majority of British Jews are essentially alien to British culture…he is as great a danger as Enoch Powell.”
For younger readers and those less familiar with U.K. political history, Enoch Powell was a Conservative MP from the 1950s through to the early 70s who Andrew Marr explained to his viewers is “probably the most reviled British figure of the 20th century”. Continue reading “Sacks Vs Corbyn”
Free Speech on Israel deeply regrets that Ken Livingstone has been driven out of the Labour Party by a concerted campaign of misrepresentations of what he said. FSOI has always stood beside Ken and his statement on resignation clearly lays out why we have been right to do so. He is demonstrably not an antisemite but his opponents want to use his case to intimidate the rest of us into silence on Israel’s crimes. They will fail.
Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became a serious contender for Labour Party leader and later when he ran a surprisingly competitive election campaign, the UK Israel Lobby has been sharpening the knives against him. He is insufficiently pliant to Israeli interests. He is not subservient to the Lobby in the way previous Labour Party leaders have been. In addition, UK Jews are overwhelmingly Tory voters, so the prospect of a genuinely left-wing Party leader has given them the willies. It has motivated the UK Lobby to escalate its efforts.
The accusations of antisemitism came right from the beginning, and they haven’t ceased for a second. They come in waves, all orchestrated by the Board of Deputies, the Israeli embassy, Bicom and their ancillary lobbying entities.
When one wave of accusations recedes, another one comes along. This campaign is readily facilitated by the UK press. Of Course the Tory tabloids and broadsheets like the Sun, Mirror, Mail and Telegraph offer screaming headlines about the fatal scent of anti Semitism in the ranks of Labour. Even supposedly liberal papers like the Guardian have lent their pages to the fulsome fusillades.
U.S. publications like the NY Times, not to be outdone, sic their pro Israel columnists on Corbyn’s alleged fatal flaw of Jew-hatred. We even witnessed the spectacle of an attack from resident pro Israel scribe, Bret Stephens. Bari Weiss can’t be far behind.
Among the latest charges: that several Corbyn insiders belong to a 2,000 member private Facebook group which has published antisemitic comments. So get this, several key figures in Corbyn’s circle either joined and were joined (depending on how your permissions are configured, sometimes Facebook Friends can sign you up for a group without your even approving it) were members of a group of 2,000 people among whom there were unspecified members who posted antisemitic material. Corbyn’s folks didn’t post these comments. In fact, we don’t even know if any of them posted even a single comment in the group. None of them commented upon, liked or approved of the antisemitic posts. So what exactly is the offense? That they didn’t take the offending member out and shoot him? Or that they didn’t denounce the rhetoric? How could they if they didn’t participate in the group? What does it mean that you are listed as a member of the social media group? That you are personally responsible for every word published there? Nonsense.
Guess what happened next? The UK Israel Lobby thought better of their shameless posturing and accepted Corbyn’s invitation to meet…with no conditions. Exactly the approach they should’ve adopted from the beginning. So Jeremy Corbyn and Jewdas taught the Lobby derech eretz, an ancient Jewish custom of showing decency to your fellow human being.
What especially irks me is hearing non-Jewish, non-progressive MPs telling Corbyn and the rest of us who are the good Jews and who are the bad. And using a yardstick that has nothing to do with Judaism or Jewishness and everything to do, not just with Israel, but with an ultra-nationalist Likudist vision of Israel. Excuse me, but Moses didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai with tablets on which the Zionist creed was inscribed. He came down with Ten Commandments, which taught us as Jews how to be decent, ethical human beings. Not good Zionists, but good humans. That’s Jewdas’ vision and mine as well. Maybe it’s yours too.
Strangely, though the charges are articulated in a fashion which assumes they pose a self evidently fatal blow to Corbyn, they aren’t. He bounces back as strong as ever. In fact, if anything, these scurrilous attacks ricochet and strike at the ones who launched them. Corbyn soldiers on, gaining support from quarters impervious to the traditional gutter snipe politicking of the tabloid press.
U.S. Israel Lobby Levels Antisemitism Charges Falsely at African-American Progressive Democrats
The Brits are not the only ones suffering from this ridiculous malady. Here in the U.S., our very own homegrown Israel Lobby and its media organs like the Algemeiner, Jewish Press, Washington Free Beacon, etc., stand like sentinels in the night protecting us from the anti Semites lurking among us.
The problem is that they always manage to dig up the usual suspects, and for some strange reason they’re always Democrats. Not just any Democrats, but progressive Democrats, least beholden to Israeli interests and the power of the Lobby. They are often African Americans, as well.
These attacks harken back to an era when Blacks and Jews first diverged from their mutual embrace of the civil rights agenda of the 1960s. Beginning in 1967, many Jews drew away from the Black struggle for justice and were drawn into Israel’s nationalist euphoria after its victory in what was called the Six Day War. This was also the era when Meir Kahane first developed his racist, nationalist platform, which is now triumphal within Israeli politics.
Ever since this period, pro Israel Jewish communal leaders have viewed the community’s interests as divergent from, and even inimical to the Black community’s. We saw this most clearly in the campaign by wealthy, white Jewush leaders to cast suspicion on Barack Obama’s bona fides as a supporter of Israel. He was called closet Muslim, anti Israel and even anti Semitic by some. The pages of the Jewish Forward were even filled with such false and provocative ads paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Nothing Obama did could assuage the naysayers and doomsayers. Though he was a traditional Democratic presidential candidate, captive to the Lobby, none of it did any good. The Lobby, under the influence of its Likud masters in Israel never warmed to him.
Even worse after Obama left office, Lobby groups like the ADL are suggesting he should apologize for being photographed in 2007, before he even ran for president, at a Congressional Black Caucus luncheon with Louis Farrakhan. Thankfully, Obama has ignored such nonsense.
Things are, if anything , worse with Bernie Sanders. A true populist, though with a strong pragmatic streak, he is seen as far too independent for the Lobby. His views on Israel, though calibrated in an extremely cautious fashion (long time lib-Zio DC operative, Matt Duss, manages his Israel messaging), elicited extreme fear and loathing from the Lobby.
But there is one major problem it has in attacking him: he is Jewish. Not religiously Jewish. But Jewish in the traditional cultural-political sense. He’s a liberal Democrat from New York. He sounds like us, looks like us, and thinks like us. So the usual attacks don’t stick. Sanders too, has been careful to manage his Israel messaging (and I don’t mean this as a compliment). Though it is distinctly to the left of Obama’s, he is careful not to rock the boat too heavily. After all, his main issues are domestic and economic. He is not a foreign policy wonk. That’s not where his passions lie. So Bernie is not prepared to die politically on a hill called Israel.
False claims by Israel Lobby oligarchs like Saban against Ellison
But Bernie has political allies who aren’t as insulated as he is from such attacks. Take Rep. Keith Ellison, who ran unsuccessfully for Democratic Party chair. The Lobby went into full attack mode then. They dredged up decade old comments he’d made praising Louis Farrakhan.
In 2009, I’d reported on secret Justice department wiretaps of the Israeli embassy which showed that the Minneapolus JCRC was tracking Ellison’s visit to Gaza with WA Rep. Brian Baird, after the 2012 Gaza war. The JCRC in turn passed this data on to the Israeli embassy, which also monitored Ellison’s activities, along with those of fellow African-American Muslim Rep. Andre Carson.,
Ellison is a proud progressive with a national profile. He is not beholden to the Lobby. Therefore, he poses a threat. That’s why its minions have dredged up an an old story that Ellison attended s 2009 dinner hosted by Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani. Farrakhan attended the same dinner which was falsely reported by the Forward as a “private dinner” with the three of them. In fact, 150 guests attended and Farrakhan was seated across the room from Ellison.
What do we learn from this? That the Israel lobby in both the UK and U.S. is threatened by true progressives. They prefer pliant, conservative politicians who do what they’re told without argument. We also learn that these two Lobbies are racist and Islamophobic. They they are anti populist and anti-democratic. They prefer Tories and Republicans. They prefer oligarchs and the white, monied classes. In short, they disapprove of everything many of the rest of us stand for. Even the Jews among us. Especially the (progressive) Jews among us.
Daniel Finn writes how, for weeks, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been the target of a defamatory campaign meant to undermine it. He describes the agents of these attacks and their unsavoury connections
Reprinted from Jacobin by permissionThe dominant narrative in the British media about Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and antisemitism is false and defamatory. Labour does not have a leadership that tolerates or encourages prejudice against Jews. It is not a safe haven for bigots. There is no evidence that antisemitic views are more prevalent in Labour than in other parties, or in British society as a whole.Anyone making those elementary points is likely to face an indignant response. Hasn’t Corbyn himself admitted that Labour has a problem? How can you deny the evidence staring you in the face? Continue reading “Corbyn Under Fire”
Review of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, David Hirsh, Routledge 2017
David Hirsh, besides running the Engage website, which campaigns against the academic boycott of Israel, is a lecturer at Goldsmith’s College, University of London; and his book claims to be a work of objective academic scholarship. In the penultimate chapter — entitled “Sociological method and antisemitism” — which is an odd mixture of autobiography and methodology, he writes of undertaking sociological investigations “employing methodological rigour from the traditions of ethnomethodology and discourse analysis”. Yet underlying this very thin veneer of scholarly objectivity is a passionate rage which makes the book more readable than many other academic tomes and even gives it a certain entertainment value (hence the two stars on Amazon rather than the one that it really deserves). Contemporary Left Antisemitism is essentially a temper tantrum couched in sociological jargon.Continue reading “Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism”
The claims revolve primarily around the Israel-Palestine conflict. Is there a constructive way forward?
A number of comment pieces appeared in the media, in the wake of the Labour Party’s conference of September 2017 – alleging that antisemitic 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.
I supported and voted for Corbyn partly because I saw him as somebody who didn’t reflexively kneel to press barons and other manipulators of public opinion. He displayed great courage. I will be extremely disappointed if, after that show of courage, the Labour Party gets back down on its knees. – Brian Eno, Kensington CLP
We, the undersigned members of the Labour Party, condemn the expulsion of Moshé Machover from our Party. This decision is a political attack on a life-long socialist activist, and a scholar of international renown. Continue reading “Don’t expel Moshé Machover”
It was difficult to ascertain on the basis of media reports whether Brighton played host this month to a Labour Party conference or a Nuremberg rally. This article investigates claims of antisemitism at the Labour conference and finds them to be without factual basis.
The 2017 Labour Party conference was a success for supporters of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn snubbed a reception held by Labour Friends of Israel, a group which lobbies for close UK-Israel relations, and put enjoyably little effort into his excuse. According to the Telegraph, this ‘was the first time in over two decades that a Labour leader has not attended the annual event’.
Delegates cheered as Corbyn’s keynote speech pledged ‘real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict’.
Jewish Voice for Labour must be greatly encouraged by the reception it received at Labour Party Conference.
As a brand new organisation with very limited resources and no paid staff, they did not anticipate the scale of its impact. Its launch meeting attracted over 300 people when JVL had been doubtful about filling a room that seats 180. As well as attracting many conference delegates, leaders of two trade unions, Unite and ASLEF, attended and pledged their support. In addition to stimulating speeches, brimming with, fact and ideas from leading Israeli academic Professor Avi Shlaim, retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley and respected Jewish socialist activist David Rosenberg, the audience heard from leading film maker Ken Loach who spoke from the floor.
The message from all the speakers was clear, consistent and enthusiastically welcomed by the audience. There are Jewish voices that the Labour party is wilfully ignoring. The party needs to listen attentively to the whole of its Jewish membership and not just those individuals and groups who defend Israel’s crimes against humanity; its occupation of Palestinian land; and its increasingly Apartheid-like regime. The message of the meeting was clear: that antisemitism is as unwelcome in the Labour Party, as it should be everywhere; but that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is not antisemitic. Rather, JVL continues the long tradition of Jewish defence of the oppressed and recognition of the humanity of all. As descendants of victims of oppression over centuries all Jews should join with JVL in denouncing injustice.
The impact of JVL was not only at the fringe of conference. Leading JVL members Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Leah Levane roused conference to its feet with their calls for justice and peace in Palestine and for just procedures inside the Labour Party. Their reception paved the way for Jeremy Corbyn to pledge the Party to support Palestinian rights.
Why the rule change is inadequate and dangerous
JVL applauds the Labour Party’s renewed concern with combatting discrimination within the Party and in wider society. They recognise this has been central to Jeremy Corbyn’s entire political career. While the agreed measure on this topic avoids some of the worst features of other proposals circulated, JVL is concerned that the rule change adopted may not be effective in advancing that cause and fears its misuse. It can be seen that JVL’s anxieties are around four issues.
Firstly, the rule change does not spell out how to embody the recommendations of last year’s Chakrabarti report including that there should be no trawling of ancient social media postings in the hope of targeting specific individuals; and that all processes of investigation and discipline must be transparent and follow natural justice norms. Previous experience has been of selective vision; perverse textual interpretations; opaque procedures; and media vilification preceding hearings. The Party must determine to end such abusive ways of working.
Secondly the procedures for drawing up the code of conduct have not been specified. JVL expects that the NEC will consult with all groups that may experience discrimination and with all currents of opinion within these groups. A draft of the code must be circulated to all local parties. It is a lesson from all anti-discrimination initiatives that unless there is wide involvement from the start there is no ownership of the final process and failed implementation. There are particular issues with regard to the antisemitism aspect of the code. Over the last 18 months, criticism of Israel has, too often, been taken as evidence of antisemitism in Party disciplinary cases. The code must not include proposals that would brand anti-Zionism as antisemitism. We have seen too many examples where fear of being labelled antisemitic has silenced voices that, while critical of Israel, are in no way antisemitic. The code of conduct must not be used as a way to smuggle in a draconian reading of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism.
Thirdly, it is alarming that the rule includes the notion that beliefs can be the subject of discipline. Objectionable beliefs may well give rise to statements and actions that are unacceptable. It is such statements and actions that are the appropriate object of sanction. Trying to punish belief is what Orwell derided as thought crime.
Fourthly, the new rule does not lead to a distinction that Chakrabarti clearly alluded to. Some unacceptable statements arise from ignorance and confusion and need to be addressed through education to lead the perpetrator to understand the negative consequences of their actions. Other statements and actions arise from malice and are the proper domain of disciplinary action. Neither type of hurtful action is acceptable but the way to deal with them, and to build a stronger, more inclusive party, vary.
JVL must look forward to building on its progress in Brighton and its boost in membership. It has committed itself to playing its role in strengthening the Labour Party and securing the Labour Government pledged to achieving the domestic and international justice that we desperately need.