The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has just published a Report, Anti-Semitism in the UK. The first and most immediate question is why, when other forms of racist attacks are at an all-time high, the Committee should spend its time examining the least widespread or violent form of racism? By their own admission, anti-Semitic hate crimes, however defined, total just 1.4% of all such crimes, yet anti-Semitism has its own Parliamentary Report.
In its section ‘Key Facts’ the Committee informs us that there has been a rise of 11% in anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2016 compared with 2015. Shocking you may think. The rise is from 500 to 557. But 24% of the total, 133 incidents in all, were on social media. Of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents, fully 44 of the 57 were on social media. Obviously it is not very pleasant to receive anti-Semitic tweets such as those above (which were sent by Zionists!) but it is clearly different from acts of violence.
If one looks closer at the Community Security Trust’s Report quoted from then it turns out that there were just 41 violent incidents. If one delves a little deeper it turns out that there was actually a 13 per cent fall in violent incidents for the first half of 2015 and none of these were classified by the CST as ‘Extreme Violence’, i.e. they involved potential grievous bodily harm or threat to life. This is good not bad news. Why would the Select Committee wish to exaggerate the incidence of anti-Semitism?
Most of the anti-Semitic incidents involved ‘verbal abuse’ and it is difficult to know how many of these were genuinely anti-Semitic and how many were of the kind ‘why do you bomb children in Gaza’. G given that the Board of Deputies of British Jews does its best to associate Jews with Israel’s war crimes, is it any wonder that some people take them at their word?
Contrast this with anti-Muslim hate crimes. According to a report from the Muslim Hate Monitoring Group Tell MAMA, British Muslims are experiencing an “explosion” in anti-Islamic.
The annual survey by Tell MAMA found a 326 per cent rise in incidents last year, while the Muslim Council of Britain group of mosques said it had compiled a dossier of 100 hate crimes over the weekend alone.
Unlike anti-Semitism, ‘many attacks are happening in the real world – at schools and colleges, in restaurants and on public transport. The number of offline incidents rose 326 per cent in 2015 from 146 to 437’ The effect has been that many Muslim women – especially those wearing Islamic clothing –were being prevented from conducting normal “day to day activities”.
Yet the Committee, which was chaired by Keith Vaz, has shown no interest in anti-Muslim racism. Why might that be?
Somewhat confusingly for a Report that is supposed to be about anti-Semitism, another of its Key Facts tells us that ‘Research published in 2015 by City University found that 90% of British Jewish people support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and 93% say that it forms some part of their identity as Jewish people, but only 59% consider themselves to be Zionists.’  In reality this Report is not about anti-Semitism but the use of anti-Semitism as a weapon against anti-Zionists.
This Report dips in and out of what it is quoting without any attempt to put anything in perspective. It probably is true that 90% of British Jews support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, but how many of them appreciate that a Jewish settler colonial state is an inherently racist state? What is interesting is that although the Report admits that only 59% of British Jews consider themselves Zionists, 31% don’t. Even more interesting, the Report states that ‘in 2010, 72% of the respondents classified themselves as Zionists compared to 59% in the present study.’ As to why that is, the Report offers two different explanations:
Jews believe that criticism of Israel is incompatible with being a Zionist and
the frequent use of the term ‘Zionist’ in general discourse as a pejorative or even abusive label discourages some individuals from describing themselves as a Zionist.
If the latter is correct, then this is clearly a good thing as anti-Zionist criticism of the State of Israel is having some effect and is deterring Jewish people from identifying with a racist ideology. However the Committee draws the opposite conclusion because it considers Zionism a good thing. Therein lies the problem.
Amongst other ‘key facts’ was the report of a survey of Labour Party members who joined after the 2015 General Election, 55% of whom agreed that antisemitism is “not a serious problem at all, and is being hyped up to undermine Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, or to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel”. Clearly, despite the bombardment of the mass media about fake anti-Semitism, most party members are dismissive of this fable. When Owen Smith debated Jeremy Corbyn in Cardiff and claimed that he hadn’t taken ‘anti-Semitism’ seriously, he was booed. In reality very few Labour Party members sincerely believe in this hype.
A Report whose primary motivation is to attack Corbyn and the Labour Left
It is curious that a Report on anti-Semitism should start off with a section ‘Anti-Semitism in the Political Parties’ before homing in on just one party, Labour. Labour is the target throughout this ill-conceived and politically tendentious Report. It immediately begins with the suspension of Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone and others (who it estimates range from 18-40) for’ anti-Semitism’. Since no one has been tried or found guilty of ‘anti-Semitism’ one can only assume that the presumption of innocence has been abandoned by lawyer Chuku Ummuna and his Tory friends. Livingstone expressed an opinion that Hitler supported Zionism. He may be right or wrong, it may even give offence to those who find the truth unpalatable, but anti-Semitic it is not. Naz Shah made a joke about how much nicer it would be if Israel was located within the borders of the USA as that would mean less death and destruction all round. She borrowed a map that originated with the Jewish Virtual Library, hardly the greatest act of anti-Semitism the world has known!
After noting that the vast majority of anti-Semitic attacks come from the far-Right, the Report then speaks about ‘the fact that incidents of antisemitism—particularly online—have made their way into a major political party’ despite not having established any facts to support this. It is this sleight of hand, asserting that which it is supposed to be proving, which runs throughout this Report.
The Report tried to come up with a definition of anti-Semitism but it did this in a very curious way by aiming to maintain ‘an appropriate balance between condemning antisemitism vehemently, in all its forms, and maintaining freedom of speech—particularly in relation to legitimate criticism of the Government of Israel.’ It is curious in two ways – firstly what has criticism of Israel got to do with a definition of anti-Semitism? The underlying assumption is that criticism of the State of Israel is somehow anti-Semitic. Because Israeli racism is based on its self-definition as a Jewish state, i.e. a state where Jews have privileges, it is assumed that criticism of its racism is therefore anti-Semitic. This is the ‘logic’ that the Report employes throughout. Anti-Semitism is hatred of or discrimination against Jews as individuals or violence against them. A state is not an individual or a victim of racism. Secondly what is ‘legitimate’ criticism of Israel and in whose eyes? Continue reading “Manufacturing consent on ‘antisemitism’”
The Home Affairs select committee was presented with many different views of the nature of antisemitism. The committee ignored all those which did not fit in with its narrow purpose. It should have considered how best to protect British Jews; it failed. Instead it cherry picked submissions that absolved Israel or attacked Jeremy Corbyn.
We reprint Free Speech on Israel’s evidence which we hope fair minded commentators will consider even if MPs would not.
Free Speech on Israel submission to Home Affairs Committee inquiry into antisemitism
4 July 2016
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.
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).
Advocates re-defining antisemitism so as to intimidate and silence pro-Palestinian voices, including making it a punishable offence to use the word Zionist “in an accusatory context”
Dismisses the Chakrabarti Report’s principled recommendations for fair and transparent disciplinary Labour Party proceduresin cases of alleged antisemitism and other forms of racism, proposing draconian, politically motivated measures instead
London, October 16 – The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee today issued a Report on Antisemitism in the UK that, while correctly identifying the far Right as the source of most hate crime, shows such bias in its sources and assessment of evidence that it calls into question the committee’s reputation and competence.
The Report, from a Tory dominated committee, takes up the weapons that have been used to try to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader by smearing those he has attracted to the Party with charges of antisemitism. The apparent collusion of Labour committee members reflects the dirty war being waged against Corbyn’s radical leadership by elements within the party.
Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, from the Jewish-led campaign group Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), said the select committee had aligned itself with extreme pro-Israel advocates, by setting restrictive limits on what may and may not be said, threatening to close down free speech on Israel and Palestine.
“The dire record of antisemitism over the centuries and especially in the last one means that vigilance is essential,” said Prof Rosenhead. “But antisemitism is not, currently, the major racist threat in this country; nor is it a significant problem in the Labour Party. This report loses all sense of proportion. It risks actually weakening the defences against true antisemitism (‘hatred of Jews as Jews’) by trying to extend its meaning to include many legitimate criticisms of Israel.
“For those of us who argue, along with many other Jews and Israelis, that the Zionist project has inflicted intolerable injustice on the Palestinians, the adjective ‘Zionist’ inevitably has an ‘accusatory’ aspect. But it is directed against the State of Israel and its founding ideology, not against Jews.”
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.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to be suspended once may be regarded as a misfortune; twice looks like carelessness. But whose?
Like all great mysteries, the defenestration of Jackie Walker from the Vice-Chairship of Momentum, and her renewed suspension from the Labour Party, has quite a back story. Where to begin? In 1954 when she was born? On May 14, 1948, Israel’s birth date? On 12 September 2016, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party? In 1920 when the organisation Poale Zion affiliated to the UK Labour Party, or in 2004 when it was re-launched as the Jewish Labour Movement? Or (as with most public accounts of the events causing Jackie Walker’s latest ‘offence’) at 11.30am on Monday September 26, ending one hour later when the training session on antisemitism at the Labour Party Annual Conference in Liverpool limped to a halt.
I think that we can do better than that.
Defining holocaust and antisemitism
I will start with that infamous training session and work back. It is by now well known that Ms Walker a) belittled Holocaust Memorial Day; b) said that the fuss about the danger of attacks on Jewish schools was being over-blown; and c) saw no need for definitions of antisemitism. Some facts will intrude on the elegant simplicity of this story.
On Holocaust Memorial Day she got her facts wrong, saying that it only commemorated the Nazi Holocaust, and ignored other genocides including that perpetrated on Africans by the slave trade. In fact International Holocaust Memorial Day does in principle mark all genocides from the Nazi holocaust onwards. In practice, however, the commemorations virtually ignore the slaughter of some 2 million Romani, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled and many others under Hitler’s regime, and for example, only pays lip-service to Rwanda. It is the Jewish narrative that dominates.
But consider that arbitrary cut-off date. It handily excludes those undoubted but historically inconvenient earlier genocides. Evidently the United States might have felt sensitive about an annual focus on the deaths of so many millions of Native Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (even though historians dispute whether this was deliberate – or just stuff that happened). Britain had its significant role in the slave trade and the treatment of aborigines in Australia to keep out of the picture. And so on. The absence from Holocaust Memorial Day of the millions of slaves who died on the Atlantic crossing and then through the brutal conditions of slave labour is no accident, no act of God. And it is no sacrilege for Jackie Walker to point up this glaring omission.
It has been taken as read by most mainstream commentators that when Jackie Walker said (while asking a question of the training session tutor, Mike Katz, of the Jewish Labour Movement) that “I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with”, what she meant was that it wasn’t worth defining because it wasn’t that important. What actually happened before her intervention sheds a quite different light.
I was present at the training session, and have also had the advantage of consulting a transcript of the proceedings. This shows that a few minutes before Jackie Walker’s intervention a (Jewish) attendee at the session asked Katz “We don’t know what you’re working from. Do you think you can give us what your definition of AS is?”. Katz replied “The standard definition of antisemitism is actually the European Union Monitoring Centre….” at which point several other members objected that the EUMC definition had no status, was deeply flawed etc. This context clearly shows what definition Jackie Walker was objecting to.
How not to define antisemitism
The ‘EUMC working definition’ is a cause celebre. It is called a ‘working definition’ because it was never formally adopted by EUMC (which itself no longer exists). When it existed it was the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. In 2004 it commissioned a definition from a working group, which was effectively taken over by the European Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, both bodies with a strong Zionist orientation.
It was in fact the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on antisemitism and extremism, attorney Kenneth Stern, who was the main author of the EUMC definition. Stern is deeply concerned about what he calls “politically-based antisemitism, otherwise known in recent years as anti-Zionism, which treats Israel as the classic Jew. Whereas the Jew is disqualified by antisemitism from equal membership in the social compact, antisemites seek to disqualify Israel from equal membership in the community of nations.” In other words, according to Stern, if you are opposed to the Zionist political project, or indeed advocate a boycott of Israel, then you are an antisemite. So, despite its name, the EUMC definition did not originate in the EU at all but from a pro-Israel lobby group in the USA. With this understanding, the American spellings in the document become understandable.
But why take so much trouble over a definition of something so straight-forward as antisemitism? Brian Klug, an Oxford academic who specialises in the study of antisemitism manages it in 21 words: “Antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”. The EUMC working definition by contrast took 500 words, a whole page. That is because it lists a whole raft of types of statement that can be considered prima facie evidence of antisemitism, most of them about Israel. The purpose, which should have been transparent, was not to define antisemitism as commonly understood, but to extend its reach so as to embrace and proscribe a range of common criticisms of Israel, often called ‘the new antisemitism’, or even ‘antisemitic anti-zionism’.
The institutional history of this definition is chequered. It is called a ‘working definition’ because the EUMC itself never adopted it. When the EU closed down the EUMC in 2007 its functions were transferred to the Fundamental Rights Agency, which declined to endorse the definition and indeed removed it from its website. The FRA is on record as stating that it is “not aware of any public authority in the EU that applies it”, and that it has “no plans for any further development” of it.
In 2006 the EUMC definition was taken up and promoted in a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism under its chair (then MP) Denis MacShane. But in 2015 under its new chair, John Mann MP, the group brought out a further report which did not repeat this call. Instead it commissioned a sub-report from Professor David Feldman (later Deputy Chair of the Chakrabarti inquiry) which came down in favour of – the Brian Klug definition. In 2011 my own union, UCU, after one failed attempt to use the EUMC definition internally, resolved at its annual conference to exclude it from any future role in disciplinary cases. In 2013 the BBC Trust agreed that the definition had no standing.
This was the ‘definition’ that Mike Katz and the Jewish Labour Movement refer to as the ‘standard’ definition – and which Jackie Walker said she could not work with.
The Jewish Labour Movement
The Jewish Labour Movement, mostly under its former name of Poale Zion, has been an affiliated organisation of the Labour Party since 1920. Its origins were as a movement of Jewish/Marxist/Zionist workers across Europe in the early days of the twentieth century. With Jewish immigration to Israel it became a major force there, and through a dizzying series of splits and re-mergers became the origin both of Mapai (Israel’s governing party for decades) and of its left rival Mapam.
In 1920 Poale Zion in the UK could be seen as an authentic representative of the then numerous Jewish working class. In the 1930’s its supporters included Labour NEC member (later party chair) Harold Laski. Postwar it retained influence – this was a period when almost all progressive people in the UK were moved by the trauma of the holocaust, excited by the socialist experiment of the kibbutz movement, and admiring of ‘plucky little Israel’ trouncing its many Arab neighbours. Prominent parliamentary backers included left icons like Ian Mikardo and Sidney Silverman. In 1946 Poale Zion had 2000 members.
How things have changed. Nearly 50 years of illegal occupation and settlement, population punishment by blockade, and the repeated deployment of a formidable state killing machine against civilians with nowhere to hide long ago ended the love-in. Large swathes of the left, and indeed of the centre ground of British politics, believe that the automatic support for Israel by the governments of the UK and other developed countries is both morally indefensible and in the longer term pragmatically disastrous.
How did all this affect Poale Zion? In effect it shrank, and despite a 2004 attempted rebrand as ‘Jewish Labour Movement’ became inactive and nearly invisible. It remained, as it still is, affiliated not only to our Labour Party but also to the Israeli Labour Party and the World Zionist Organisation. However as late as 2015 its website remained totally inactive, though it seems to have maintained an email list. In February 2016 its chair Louise Ellman MP (who during this year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool asked for her own constituency Party in that city to be suspended on grounds of entryism) stepped down, to be replaced by Jeremy Newmark. It is from that point on that a new, brash and aggressive Jewish Labour Movement leapt into view. There is no publicly available information on where its evidently ample funding comes from.
Newmark is active in his local Labour Party, but was until the other day far more known for his former role from 2006 until 2013 as Chief Executive of the umbrella group the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC). Before that he was communications director for the then Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs.
It was while in charge of the JLC that he gave evidence at a 2013 Employment Tribunal case alleging anti-Semitic behaviour by the University and College Union (my own union, by the way), brought by one of its members. In dismissing the case in its entirety (“We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”) the judgement remarked that “we have rejected as untrue” the evidence of Mr Newmark concerning an incident at the 2008 UCU Congress. And that’s not all – one “preposterous claim” by Newmark was described as a “painfully ill-judged example of playing to the gallery”. And yet more – Newmark’s statement (in the context of the academic boycott controversy in 2007) that the union was “no longer a fit arena for free speech”, was a comment “which we found not only extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.”
Clearly Newmark is a man with a mission. It seems to be the identification and rooting out of antisemitism. And his arrival on the national Labour Party scene has coincided with the uproar about left antisemitism.
The surge in antisemitism
What surge in antisemitism? We do know that antisemitic incidents reported in the UK in the first 6 months of this year, as recorded by the Community Security Trust, rose by 15% above those for the previous year. But percentage changes like these tell only part of the story. The actual number of such incidents recorded for the first half of 2016 was 557. And that figure is still below that for 2014, which were boosted by the Israeli assault on Gaza, so no surge.
By comparison, the official figures for hate crimes of all types in the UK has averaged over 220,000 annually over the most recent 5-year period. Antisemitism is a foul attitude which has had dire effects over the centuries. Vigilance is needed. But right now in the UK it manifests itself as a pimple on the bum of the far too many other offences committed out of hatred or fear of the Other.
Is it possible that despite the low levels of antisemitic behaviour in the general population there is significant antisemitism within the left and specifically the Labour Party? Attempts have been made to show that such views are either historically endemic on the left, or brought on by the Corbyn ascendency. (That these explanations are mutually contradictory is glossed over.) Those who really want to see this argument in extenso could consider reading David Rich’s recent book, timed for publication just ahead of the Labour Party conference. But there is contrary evidence.
In response to a moral panic about Left antisemitism seemingly expanding without limit, the group Free Speech on Israel coalesced in April out of a loosely-knit band of Jewish Labour Party supporters. Some 15 of us got together at a couple of days’ notice for the inaugural gathering. We found that over our lifetimes we could muster only a handful of antisemitic experiences between us. And, crucially, although in aggregate we had around 1000 years of Labour Party membership, no single one of us had ever experienced an incident of antisemitism in the Party.
Some time in May the ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was interviewed on Radio 4 about the antisemitism ‘crisis’ by now gripping the nation. Helpfully his interviewer invited him to share some of his own personal experiences of antisemitism. His response, from memory ran rather like this: “Well….actually I have never experienced antisemitism myself. Which is odd, because most people know that the Chief Rabbi is Jewish”.
The ex-Chief Rabbi and Free Speech on Israel are at one on this, if on little else.
The conundrum of evidence-free assertions
How then do we make sense of a ‘crisis’ for which evidence is so lacking? Well, one solution if you want a crisis and lack enough evidence is to invent some. Another is to redefine innocent behaviour as evidence of criminal intent.
The ‘crisis’ seems to have taken off big-time in February this year with the allegations (now known to be fabricated) of rampant antisemitism in the Oxford University Labour Club, leading to the establishment of an enquiry under Baroness Royall. Yet this ‘fact’ was factitious. The two students who made the claims have (respectively) resigned from the Labour Party and been kicked out of it! Both seem to have been supporters of another party. One of them formerly worked at BICOM, the well-funded PR operation that promotes Israel’s image.
As long ago as April a report in openDemocracy on accusations of antisemitism which led to early suspensions showed that nearly all of them related to remarks that people made, not about Jews, but about Israel and Zionism. Historical Facebook postings and Twitter feeds had been ransacked (by whom?) to find a careless nuance. A Labour member using the word ‘Zionist’ as a purely descriptive adjective in a tweet can be treated as a suspected antisemite for it. (I refer to the case of the Vice-Chair of my own constituency Labour Party, still suspended as I write.)
Curiously the mainstream media continue with their established narrative. Do their journalists investigate? Can they read?
Since the answer to at least one of these questions must be ‘yes’ we do need to look for another explanation of why, and indeed how, a crisis of antisemitism in the Labour Party which doesn’t actually exist has become a ‘fact’.
If I were to say that there was a conspiracy to make this happen I would no doubt be accused of antisemitism (Jewishness is no defence) for an antisemitic trope and condemned to one of the circles of hell (the 6th probably), or at least suspension. So I won’t. But anyhow conspiracy was almost certainly unnecessary. There is a community of interest plus overlapping membership.
It is impossible to know from the outside exactly what and who have made this moral panic go with such a swing. Key individuals may well be Jeremy Newmark, well-placed in JLM, though only just in time, to fan these flames. The wily Mark Regev took up his post as Israeli ambassador in London at the start of April. In July Ella Rose left her job as public affairs officer at the Israeli Embassy to become Director of JLM. Who knows? Organisationally, judging by their public pronouncements there is an at least informal coalition of forces involving JLM, Progress (the Blairite pressure group), and Labour Friends of Israel which have all been promoting the idea that the left is permeated with antisemitism.
What has made this alignment of forces a natural is that they have all wanted the same thing – the ejection of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour leadership. The Blairites (but let’s not forget the Brownites) understood that his consolidation in post threatened their whole vision of the Labour Party and its place in an orderly capitalist society with a human face. The Israelis had every reason to wish for a short tenure for the first major party leader in a developed country to have a record of supporting Palestinian rights. All the significant Jewish community organisations, now including JLM, sing from the same psalm book – the refrain is that an attachment to Israel is an integral part of Jewish identity in the twenty-first century.
So – if attacks on Israel’s Zionist project of securing the maximum territory with the minimum number of Palestinians can be construed as antisemitic, and this can somehow be blamed on Corbyn, everyone gains.
The whole operation has been breath-takingly successful for the last 8 months. And it is not over. JLM, for example, is pressing for a change in the Labour Party’s constitution that would make it (even) easier to exclude people on suspicion of harbouring antisemitic tendencies. It has influence at the highest levels in the Labour Party. The very training session run by JLM that led to Jackie Walker’s second suspension was set up by the Labour Party bureaucracy in direct contradiction of the Chakrabarti inquiry. Their report recommended against such targeted training, and in favour of broader anti-racist education. But, hey, who’s counting? Not the Labour Party apparatus.
Free Speech on Israel aims to expose this soufflé of a Ponzi scheme. It rests on the shifting sands of unreliable evidence, and on assertions that contradict our (Jewish and non-Jewish) everyday experience. Not least, the claims about a Jewish community united in its alignment behind Israel is yet more make believe. The best survey evidence we have is that 31% of UK Jews describe themselves as ‘No, not Zionist’; and many of the remainder are deeply concerned over Israel’s policies.
We should suspend our belief.
Acknowledgement: I have been helped in writing this article by research carried out by The Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley, and by his advice.
Jackie Walker was speaking at a public event titled “Jewish Socialists Against the Anti-Corbyn Witchhunt,” Sunday September 25, hosted by Free Speech on Israel.
Why I’m reading from a script.
You have a situation where the most innocuous video can be used to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of anti-semitism, where my local, once UKIP, now born again Tory MP can make public the names and faces of women suggesting that their protests outside a local arms factory making parts for Israeli drones that drop bombs on Gaza are anti-semites! Being offended is not the same as having experienced racism.
I’m asking what is the cost to us as a movement when Macpherson is taken out of context and used against freedom of speech, when, encouraged by disproportionate media attention, claims of racism are weaponised. Where Chakrabarti’s reccommendations seem to me so far to have been pretty much ignored?
Jamaican mother of Sephardic descent, Portuguese Jews.
Russian Askenazi father left Moscow in 1914 for the US.
Met in New York, he was a communist, like many Jews of his time. Committed to fight for the rights of oppressed groups. An Internationalist, he believed the struggle for desegregation and equality for all peoples was part of his struggle.
That proud tradition of Yiddish speaking, now mostly destroyed, of Left, universalist, Jewish intellectuals and activists, is the Jewish history I claim as mine and is what I am most proud of. And that is the history that is going to be celebrated very soon at Cable St. I’m not interested in the liberation of one section of humanity, I’m a socialist. I’m committed to the liberation of all humanity. This is what guides my politics – and it is crucial to who I am.
My parents were brought together by politics. My black mother was tortured and deported for un-American activities during the McCarthy period, the witch hunt where thought police, denunciations, media frenzy whipped up hatred to enable the Establishment to maintain their control on American society. A witch hunt that terrorized and gripped a nation, a witch hunt that saw many prominent Jews (and by the way I didn’t say all), as well as others, silenced, ostracized, removed from employment.
But to move from the general to the particular ….
My partner is Jewish and we have a number of Jewish friends and comrades. I have been a member of a number of Jewish organisations, egJFJFP for some time.I have worked in and been a victim of racism all my life so you can understand my bewilderment when in May
I was suspended from the LP amidst false allegations of anti-Semitism. These allegations were lifted and addressed in parts of the Chakrabarti Report, though given continuing harassment of me you’d barely know it. I’m not responding to those allegations here but if you want to have a look at my response go to JFJFP.
We have been told Jews are terrified to go to Labour Party meetings. That women are terrified. That Momentum is anti-semitic (let’s forget that both the Chair and vice Chair and many leading figures are Jewish). I keep reading that the cause of all this terror is Jeremy Corbyn.
Interestingly I’ve also read articles claiming that racism only occurred in the Republican party when Obama was elected.
Irony is, we have never had a leader so involved in anti racism, not just in theory but in the practice of his life. It’s part of his political and personal DNA.
Interestingly, when I’ve responded to critics by pointing this out, apart from being next told ‘Corbyn’s a terrorist sympathiser’ and other nonsense, the response has then become ….. It’s not him, it’s his followers … it’s people like me….
First let me be clear, all racism is abhorrent. I’m not saying that Anti-semitism does not exist in the LP. The LP is after all a reflection of society. I am saying that claims of its significance are being exaggerated for political purposes and this has been done at huge cost to our movement, to communities and to many individual people, in and outside of the party.
I’m also saying that anti-semitism is no more ‘special’ than any other form of racism. All racisms have their own characteristics and histories. All genocides their own contexts. All holocaust denial, whether it is of the Jewish or African holocaust, is a blasphemy against humanity.
So what purpose do allegations of anti-Semitism have.
Why is it happening? Who is paying the ultimate cost?
It seems to me there is little, if any, hard evidence that the Labour party has a major problem with anti-Semitism though there is as Chakrabarti says an ‘Occasionally toxic atmosphere’.
The most fundamental aim of such allegations I suggest is to undermine Jeremy, silence his supporters, and ensure any chance of an alternative to the neo-liberal diet of cutting services and taxes that has been dished up to us as politics until Jeremy got the leadership never actually gets to the table.
Then there’s silencing any criticism, or any potential criticism, of the Israeli state, attacking and undermining anyone who supports Palestinian Rights, the BDS (boycott) movement, ensuring the flow of money and arms to Israel continues unabated and at whatever the cost.
This political use of accusations has not only weaponised anti-Semitism, it has became a weapon of political mass destruction and like all nuclear options hasentailed a high degree of collateral damage, not just to the Labour movement as a whole.
I’m drawing attention here to another, barely mentioned, outcome of this strategy.
What is extraordinary, amongst what can only described as atumult of accusations, is that at this point, when discussion of racism in the Labour party has the most media attention I’ve ever known, is that no person of colour, no group representing the interests of BAME people has been heard, has been allowed to insert their perspective on the debate, let alone be seen as significant to it. Black people yet again have been made invisible.
Chakrabarti of course made a number of powerful observations about the exclusion of BAME people from the party, but that voice was soon drowned out against the clamor by the press and others to eke out the story that some seem to prefer; that of anti-Semitism.
Blacks may vote disproportionately for Labour, 2:1 – what they don’t have is representation where it counts – in positions of power. This most pressing aspect of Chakrabarti’s report has not just been silenced, we are barely allowed to mention the position of BAME members in relation to Chakrabarti in case we are seen as denying a problem which, as far as I have experienced as a black Jewish woman with a Jewish partner and many Jewish comrades, exists on the margins of the party, and is certainly not reflected in who our representatives are, either within the internal structures of the party or in our representatives in parliament.
All this has been aided and abetted by the complicity of a media that at times seems rabidly –anxiously anti-Corbyn. The Boris Johnson style racism of the Tory party that renders Johnson’s cheerful rendition of blacks with watermelon smiles as tolerable enough to see Johnson promoted to deal with the pickeninies (his description of blacks) overseas as Foreign Secretary barely causes a stir.
You really have to have a sense of humour, or a very thick skin, black or otherwise, to be involved in anti racism and politics at the moment.
And it’s no longer just the Labour right involved in the debate, it’s the right of the Tories (as in my own MP) and the far right joining together in a most unpalatable pact. Fascists in my own constituency in South Thanet, where Farage stood, turn up outside meetings, no longer goose- stepping and shouting ‘Hitler was right’, instead they feel empowered to shout ‘anti-semite’ at Labour and anti-racist activists, telling us how they now like the Jews while screaming abuse against what they call the ‘Muslamics’.
Now I’ve had to get used to harassment, and to some extent I have, but for the other victims of accusations of anti-Semitism,publicizing their names and photos across the media and social media …. Has made the vulnerable to threats, to abuse, to threats of loss of employment and worse – it’s terrifying.
And by the way, anti-semitism is not, as my MP would have it recently, anything like a virus. It’s learned, not caught, and as such can be unlearned otherwise we would all have to give up, go and live in our separate ghettos …. Calling racism a virus is the language of separation.
Racism is about material reality. Racism is, and always has been, essentially about power.
In terms of political parties, including Labour, it is most importantly about exclusion from power, lack of representation, voices never heard.
As ever, people of colour, marginalized and oppressed for centuries, victims of genocide, holocaust, a stateless diasporic people in this and other Euro-American countries, have been effectively silenced and put intotheir place – the political abyss.
So let’s understand the actions of the right, that their focus colludes with the enemies of our movement, colludes with the exclusion of people of colour from our party… and that they do this and are prepared to do this mercilessly, and with one aim in sight – to further their own political agendas.
Let’s talk about the problem about racism in the LP. Here’s my challenge to the right – if you want to talk about racism …..let’s do it, let’s have that discussion please, on a level playing field, together, all sections of the party, all minority groups, and let’s start it right now.
Danny Finkelstein asks in the Jewish Chronicle ‘Is our Corbyn Strategy Working?’ The JC notes that Finkelstein is associate editor of the Times; it does not note that he is a Tory peer. So who is the ‘our’ in ‘our strategy’? Is it the Tory Party, is it the Zionist community, is it Tory Zionists? The article does not directly tell us so we have to infer ownership from the content.
Finkelstein gives three examples of alleged ‘antisemitism’; each one related to Israel and not British Jewry. He goes on to write:
For years, anti-Israel feeling has been growing on the left and it has slowly been changing into an antisemitic theory about Zionism as the ideology of worldwide imperialist occupation. By this means, every act of Western foreign policy has been linked to Israel and to Jews.
This starts from a valid premise: the left, but not only the left, has grown increasingly critical of the actions of the Israeli state. It is also true, but not noted, that it is becoming increasingly common for people who pay attention to Palestine/Israel to identify the criminality of the state to be organically linked to the Zionist ideology that led to the founding of the state and is used by it to justify its actions. However, Finkelstein then makes a daring leap into fantasy by not only identifying criticism of Zionism as an ‘antisemitic theory’ but claiming that Zionism is seen as the ideology of imperialism and that everything is blamed on the Jews. Because he is preaching to the gallery he sees no need to provide any evidence for this claim; fortunate for him as such evidence is scant or non-existent.
What is true is that Zionism sits easily with western imperialism. It is a settler-colonial project that is only legitimate within an imperialist view of the world. A view that any territory, anywhere can be alienated from its long term inhabitants for the benefit of militarily superior invaders. It is also true that Israel has geo-political interests in the Middle East and that they lobby the US and other Governments to take action that would advance Israel’s interests. A recent inconvertible example of this was Israel’s intensive lobbying to try to derail the deal to end Iran’s nuclear adventures.
None of this remotely supports the contention that ‘every act of Western foreign policy has been linked to Israel’. It is possible that somewhere on Twitter you can find a seriously misinformed, or seriously malevolent, individual who has alleged Israeli or Zionist or Jewish involvement each time a Western state has acted badly. However, Finkelstein’s claim is not about an individual misusing their keyboard: it is a claim that the mass of those challenging Zionism believe ‘it is all the fault of the Jews’. A serious but false and unsubstantiated charge.
Finkelstein declares ‘these very same people jeer when obvious examples of antisemitism are raised’. He can only write this because he cannot accept that with very few, if any, exceptions there is no obvious antisemitism once the exaggerations, misquotations and downright deceits are exposed. The jeering is for the cynical exploitation of Jewish fears not for any victim of abuse. The groans are for yet another instance of portraying the aggressor as the victim.
So who are the owners of ‘our strategy’. It is those who fear, correctly, that a Corbyn led Labour Party will challenge inequality and exploitation in the UK as well seeking the end of British exculpation of Israel’s crimes. The strategy is for the benefit of the wealthy and privileged and for the architects of Israeli apartheid. It is deeply regrettable that so many Labour Party MPs have signed up to a strategy at such sharp variance with Labour Party ideals and of such great assistance to the enemies of the Party and those it defends.
The campaign being waged by Jewish millionaire Michael Foster against Jeremy Corbyn is one of the most fascinating stories in the ugly battle to lead Britain’s Labour Party.
For some reason, it hasn’t been adequately covered by the British media — perhaps because both of the involved parties are perceived as being on the wrong side of the story. One is a Labour donor who, up till recently, controlled Rights House, a literary and media agency that represented prominent actors like Sacha Baron Cohen and Hugh Grant, as well as authors such as Simon Schama and Jeanette Winterson. Foster’s empire also controlled TV production companies such as Carnival Films, which was behind the TV series “Downton Abbey.”
The other person is Corbyn, the man most of the media loves to hate.
If you asked people on the street who Corbyn is, you’d most likely hear opposing views. His supporters believe he’s the right person to head the British Labour Party, a man of integrity and principles who fights for his views, not a chameleon who changes colours according to public opinion. In their eyes, he’s the right person to stand up to the Conservatives and fight for the rights of the working and disadvantaged classes in Britain, in contrast to the policies of austerity and cuts of the present government.
His opponents, however, see him as a dangerous man with extremist positions, and whose stubbornness could lead to the breakup of the venerable left-wing party.
For the ex-media agent, Corbyn is a reviled figure, the leader of a “group of thugs” Foster terms the Sturm Abteilung (Nazi storm troopers).
The struggle within Labour is an ideological one concealed behind a personal battle. Behind the personal arguments against Corbyn for his lack of charisma and inability to lead, there are power struggles from the party’s right, trying to preserve the hegemony it attained during the rule of Tony Blair. Opposing these are thousands of Labour members who joined the party after Corbyn’s 2015 election as leader. These are new members, or ones who’d left and are now returning to the fold. They view Corbyn as the person who can restore the socialist hue the party lost during Blair’s tenure (1994-2007). Continue reading “The Jewish Millionaire Trying to Oust Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn”
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.
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.
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 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 reporthas not had the attention that it deserves.
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.
Edinburgh East & Musselburgh
Hornsey & Wood Green
Wanstead and Leyton
Finchley & Golder’s Green
Ealing Central & Acton
Hastings & Rye
Holborn & St Pancras
Hampstead & Kilburn
Holborn & St Pancras.
South West Devon
Hastings & Rye
Hastings & Rye
Hornsey & Wood Green
Hackney South & Shoreditch
Dulwich & West Norwood
Dulwich & West Norwood
Hackney South & Shoreditch
Hampstead & Kilburn
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